Singing the Blues (Reviewing the St. Louis Blues)
When Forbes released valuations for all 30 NHL franchises a couple of weeks ago, it was surprising to note that the St. Louis Blues came in last, valued at $130M. The Blues are coming off of a season where they finished just two points short of claiming a Presidents trophy, they have a roster stocked full of young talent, and according to ESPN ranked ninth overall in attendance in 2011-12. In fact, St. Louis averaged almost 19,000 fans at their 41 home games which accounts for a 98.2% capacity. Although the report seems puzzling, surely if they keep this up their valuation and ranking will rise very quickly.
Despite a rapidly improving group of young players, one could argue the main reason for the Blues turnaround has been the arrival of Ken Hitchcock. Say what you want about Hitchcock's methods, but he has gotten results wherever he has coached. Heck, he even took the Columbus Blue Jackets to the playoffs in 2008-09, while making Steve Mason look like an actual NHL goalie in the process. That's not an easy task.
While Hitchcock's style often translates to success on the ice, it doesn't always do the same for fantasy owners. Saying his tactics are defensive, is like saying Carl Lewis is better at sprinting than he is at singing the Star Spangled Banner.
The Blues were first overall in goals against per game last year giving up just 1.89 per contest. Anyone who had Brian Elliott or Jaroslav Halak on their squad is probably forever indebted to Hitchcock for their 2011-12 campaigns. St. Louis, however, only sat 21st overall in goals for per game, leaving many to believe some of their offensively skilled players may be able to better flourish elsewhere.
It should be noted that if there is a shortened season obviously everyone's numbers will be down. The key thing to keep an eye out for is what kind of pace those numbers would equate to over an 82-game year.
Let's have a look at a rundown of the Blues by position, and their realistic expectations for the 2012-13 campaign.
The aforementioned Halak and Elliott combined for 15 shutouts last season, and made up one of the more dominant goaltending tandems in recent memory. The question is how much of that was because of Hitchcock and the Blues defensive style?
Out of the two, Halak seems like the one most likely to duplicate his success. Although his goals against average was a career best 1.97, Halak's save percentage numbers were not far off some of his other totals in the past. If you consider that he posted a .924 mark in 2009-10 with the Montreal Canadiens, his .926 percentage last year isn't that farfetched.
Elliott on the other hand recorded a whopping .940 save percentage while his previous best was just .909. In 2011-12 he also posted nine shutouts which equaled his career total going into the season. Elliott seemed to benefit the most from the arrival of Hitchcock, but his small sample of strong play is a reason to be cautious.
Elliott also struggled mightily in the playoffs giving up 18 goals in only eight games, including 13 to the Los Angeles Kings who finished 29th in goals for last season. Look for the Blues to slowly shift away from splitting time between the two goalies in 2012-13 and lean a little more heavily on Halak if he can remain healthy. Elliott isn't a terrible option to have around, but if it's a choice between the two, Halak seems like the smarter play.
In my piece last week, ranking the top 20 Western Conference defensemen, both Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk made the cut. I even had Pietrangelo ranked at number one because of his strong upside, leaving a few readers to question my logic and sanity. One even wondered if I just formed my rankings by pulling names out of a hat. For your information, it was a margarine container, thank you very much.
Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk combined for 94 points last year, and there is good reason to believe they can do it again. Each excelled on the power play and the pair racked up a total of 42 points with the man advantage. The interesting thing is how they feed off of each other when it comes to points. Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk rarely played together in even strength situations, but were out there over 42% of the time on the power play. The two combined for 26 of those 42 points when they were on the ice together.
Outside of Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk, the Blues don't offer a ton of value fantasy wise right now on defense. If you're in a much deeper league Roman Polak could help you out in the hits and blocks department, and if you are feeling really risky you may want to have a peak at Kris Russell. The former Blue Jacket showed some flashes of brilliance in Columbus.
It was difficult to get a clear view of what the Blues forwards were capable of under Hitchcock, since key contributors Andy McDonald and David Perron both missed significant time in 2011-12 with concussion issues. Upon their return, McDonald notched 22 points in 25 games, while Perron countered with 42 in 57 games. It doesn't take Stephen Hawking to figure out that the offense of the Blues needs those guys healthy for an entire season.
T.J. Oshie and David Backes tied for the team lead with 54 points, but if you add in the fact that Backes had nearly twice the hits and 234 shots, he is the much more valuable of the two. Patrik Berglund did have 19 goals in 2011-12, but his lack of power play production was troubling. However, if he has McDonald to his left for most of 2012-13 then he could turn out to be a sleeper.
The wild card of the forward group is Chris Stewart, who has seen his numbers drop considerably since arriving in St. Louis. It was only two seasons ago when he posted 28 goals and 64 points for the Colorado Avalanche, but bottomed out last year with just 30. He did have over 100 PIM though, so he can help you there.
The Blues also have a couple of forwards you are going to want to look at closely if you are in a keeper league. Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko are not far away from having a major impact at the NHL level.
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