2021 is finally, blessedly here, and with it, hockey. The Blues’ camp begins on Sunday, and on-ice drills begin Monday. The new season begins in Colorado on January 13th.
There are, as always, questions heading into the new season; this year some of the questions are ones that the fans and the franchise would love to probably have avoided. The Blues not only had the pressure of adjusting their defense with the loss of Jay Bouwmeester, they also had to make changes to accommodate the loss of Alex Pietrangelo in free agency. Later in the off-season, Alexander Steen announced his retirement, opening up both cap space and a hole in team leadership.
If you guys can think of any more pressing questions you believe the Blues are going to have to answer, please leave them in the comments section. This is by no means a complete list.
The Blues will need steady goaltending this season.
It’s weird to say that about a Stanley Cup winning goaltender, but after a subpar (by his standards, we assume) 2019-2020 season and an even less than subpar postseason, Jordan Binnington’s back to being a bit of an unknown quantity. Doug Armstrong traded Jake Allen to the Montreal Canadiens at the start of the offseason, so the team obviously has placed their faith in Binnington. There’s as much reason to doubt he’ll bounce back as there is to believe that he will, thanks to an extraordinarily small sample size of games played and a very short track record in goal, but it’d be irresponsible for him to not be aware of the expectations on him this season, and there’s a lot of motivation for success.
Husso will more than likely get more playing time this season by virtue of the tight schedule and the ten back to back series that the Blues have. He’s been fine in the AHL but hampered by injury. He’s also had stretches of very solid play. He, like Binnington, is probably more than aware of the pressures and expectations on him for this year, and should work to meet them.
They’ll have to compete hard against the Avalanche and Golden Knights in the West.
The West may (or may not be) have an easier quality of the competition overall than the Central, but the Blues are in a new division with two of the top teams in the traditional Western Conference. The Avalanche made up ground against the Blues and kept pace through the end of the shortened season, and the Golden Knights clawed their way to the top of the Pacific pretty handily by the end of the year. The Knights re-signed goaltender Robin Lehner to a five season extension and threw money at Alex Pietrangelo, but they had to make room for each deal. Paul Stastny returned to Winnipeg in exchange for defenseman Karl Dahlstrom, and shipped fan and teammate favorite Nate Schmidt out to Vancouver in a trade that left his teammates and Schmidt himself stunned. It will be interesting to see how the loss of two veteran players impacts the Golden Knights’ overall play, but the Blues are going to have to deal with Alex Pietrangelo eight times this season, so that alone can’t be something to look forward to.
The new leadership corps will step up.
This goes without saying. There’s no weak link in that leadership team. Parayko’s learned from Bouwmeester and Pietrangelo, Tarasenko’s been here for eight years, and Ryan O’Reilly and Brayden Schenn lead by example. It’ll be tough to replace the insight of Steen and Pietrangelo, but there are a lot of guys who don’t wear letters who can help out as well. Kyle Clifford, David Perron, and Jaden Schwartz all need to - and probably will - make their voices heard.
Someone will need to aim for scoring 30 goals.
As close as the Blues got were Brayden Schenn and David Perron’s very respectable 25 goal seasons, and Jaden Schwartz’s 22 goal season. None of these are anything to sneeze at, but without a healthy Vladimir Tarasenko, will any of these guys be able to get over that 30 goal hump - or is that what Mike Hoffman’s for?
The power play will be more dangerous this year.
The power play has Torey Krug, (probably) Mike Hoffman, and hopefully a newly focused Justin Faulk - along with Colton Parayko’s shot, David Perron’s 27 regular season power play points, and Brayden Schenn’s 10 power play goals. There were times last season - especially at five against three - where it was maddening to watch the team’s power play. That might just not be an issue this season.