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Central Divison Preview: St. Louis Blues

The Central Divison preview series chugs along with a team that barely missed the playoffs last season.

St Louis Blues v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The St. Louis Blues refuse to miss the playoffs two consecutive seasons.

After being eliminated in a heartbreaking winner-take-all game against the Colorado Avalanche the final game of the season, the St. Louis Blues took the summer as an opportunity to retool their roster. Whereas the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars failed to address their weaknesses, the St. Louis Blues correctly identified their flaws and fixed them.

Now, the St. Louis Blues look like a team ready to give the Nashville Predators and the Winnipeg Jets all that they can handle. That begs the question: what have the Blues exactly been up to this summer?

Key Additions

Center talent, or rather the lack thereof, sunk the St. Louis Blues’ playoff hopes last season. However, via the return of Robby Fabbri and acquisition of Ryan O’Reilly, the Blues immediately remedied this issue.

2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic - Chicago Blackhawks v St Louis Blues Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Sometimes, getting healthy is the best remedy for success. A largely forgotten part of St. Louis’ core was center Robby Fabbri, who missed the majority of the last two seasons due to knee injuries. His absence last year created major depth issues for the Blues at center. Although his return was not hyped up by the hockey world this off-season, his return will be huge for the Blues this season.

What was hyped up by the hockey world was the trade made by the St. Louis Blues for Ryan O’Reilly. O’Reilly had always been a solid scoring center for the Buffalo Sabres, and his acquisition stabilized their first forward line. His entire career, Vladimir Tarasenko has played without a bona fide first line center. Is O’Reilly a bona fide first line center? Well he put up 61 points on a bad Buffalo team last season, so the answer points to yes. The St. Louis offense looks like it can let loose and score five goals in any game this season.

Key Departures

Carter Hutton, oddly enough, is the biggest loss for the St. Louis Blues this off-season. He provided consistency as a backup and, for stretches of last season, was the best goaltender for the Blues.

Other than Hutton, the Blues did not lose any key pieces to their roster. That’s a great spot to be in.

Best Case Scenario

The offense gels and Vladimir Tarasenko wins the Hart Trophy after putting up 90+ points this season. Even if he is snubbed, he wins the Selke by a landslide. The Blues powerplay becomes one of the most feared units in the league. Furthermore, having more rest over the last two seasons than the Predators and Jets, the lack of speed on the Blues’ blue line is not properly exposed by the top of the division. Through pilling up goal after goal, the Blues look down at the end the season and realize they finished on top of the Central Division.

Worst Case Scenario

The St. Louis defense is slow. Jay Bowmeester still is somehow on their second pairing. Outside of Alexander Pietrangelo, not one defenseman on St. Louis can be categorized as fast. Their issues on the back end cause Head Coach Mike Yeo to restrict his forwards, giving them more duties to compensate for their slow defense. Before long, this becomes a standard, slow, classic Mike Yeo team. Then, without Carter Hutton, the lack of a reliable secondary option becomes exposed as Jake Allen’s inconsistencies arise as they always do. Similar to last season, the Blues barely miss the playoffs.

Prediction: 3rd in the Central Division

St. Louis Blues v Chicago Blackhawks - Game Four Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

On paper, this is an elite NHL offense. Their first power play unit is going to be one of the best in the league, as no player works the half-wall with as much poise and control as Vladimir Tarasenko. It would not be a hockey season in St. Louis without goaltending inconsistencies, and the defense should get exposed by better teams. However, they have the size to really push other teams around. Robby Fabbri will be the only player under 6 feet tall on their opening night roster. So long as their defense is disciplined and does not break down during opposing set plays, the Blues’ defensemen will out-muscle smaller teams and get their sticks in the needed lanes. However, they will be vulnerable to counterattacking hockey. Their flaws keep them out of the running for home ice in the first round of the playoffs, but they still finish just a few points below 2nd in the Central Division.