Let me start by saying this has been my most frustrating blog post to date as I’ve had to rewrite it several times due to the Blues recent injuries and roster announcements. Now that I have that off my chest, let’s look at my 2017-2018 season preview for the St. Louis Blues.
Lines/Pairings and Goals Predictions
My objective in building this lineup is to put together the highest team goal total. I look at previous seasons’ goal totals for each player and take into account number of games played, injury situations, linemates, and growth/recession in coming up with these predictions (season goal predictions next to each player). I’m going to construct my lineup assuming Steen and Bouwmeester are healthy as they are on schedule to be back within the second week of the season. I’m counting Fabbri (season), Sanford (season), and Berglund (out until December) as on injured reserve.
|Schenn (25)||Tarasenko (45)|
|Schwartz (25)||Stastny (18)||Paajarvi (15)|
|Jaskin (10)||Barbashev (13)||Sobotka (12)|
|Sundqvist (3)||Brodziak (7)||Megan (5)|
Out of the gate, I’m going with Brayden Schenn as the Blues #1 Center between Steen and Tarasenko. As I talked about in my reaction to the Schenn trade, I am not a proponent of putting the best playmaking center with Vladdy. If you watch highlights of all 39 of his goals last year, Tarasenko is similar to a Patrick Kane in that he wants to lead the rush and either cut to the middle with his lethal wrister or distribute to a trailer. How many times in the past two years did we see Jori Lehtera be given wide open looks only to shoot the puck directly at the goalie’s chest. Let’s get a finisher for Tarasenko to make passes to instead this year. Schenn should fill this role nicely (he’s scored 25 and 26 goals the past two years). I am a little concerned about his faceoff ability as this will be important to the more offensive zone starts the line will get (Schenn is a career 45% on the dot). I think Steen has a bounce back year as well and plays the playmaker role on this line getting the puck up ice to Tarasenko and Schenn for more chances off the rush.
On the second line, I’m going with Paul Stastny in the middle with Schwartz and Paajarvi on the flanks. This is the year Schwartz needs to step up and show he score without playing on a line with Tarasenko. The Blues need a more balanced lineup in order to give the top line more of a cushion from the other team’s top defensive pairing. I think Stastny fits better in this second line role much like he did in the 2016 playoffs playing on a line with Fabbri and Brouwer which lead to some of the most Blues playoff magic in my lifetime. Expect a good season out of Stastny as he is in the final year of his contract. Paajarvi impressed me down the stretch (and in person during Game 5 against the Wild) and surprisingly scored at a 20-goal pace after Yeo took over. This line, and more importantly Schwartz, is the X-factor to the Blues’ success this season.
Third line is going to be the all-Euro line. Barbashev is really in the middle out of necessity with the Fabbri and Berglund injuries. Look for Sobotka to take some D-zone faceoffs as he was considered elite in the dot before his Siberian hiatus. Jaskin gets the nod on left wing in his final shot with the team. This is a make-or-break year for him as he’s been one of the most underperforming players in recent years. All three players could move up in the lineup should they start to show some upside or god forbid more injuries. I wouldn’t be surprise if Little Vladdy swaps with Paajarvi or Steen in my lineup to help balance out the scoring even more.
Fourth line is a mix of the leftovers. Brodziak is the only true fourth liner on the team while his wingers, Megan and Sunqvist, are more inserts due to the team’s injuries. Megan impressed me in the Penguins preseason game but don’t expect too much out of this line.
|Edmundson (5)||Pietrangelo (15)|
|Bouwmeester (2)||Parayko (10)|
|Dunn (4)||Bortuzzo (1)|
My defensive pairings are pretty boring (it’s a good thing for a team if your pairings are boring). The right side is pretty much set with Pietrangelo and Parayko stabilizing the top two pairings. Edmundson impressed me a ton in last year’s playoffs and I want to see how he compliments Petro on the top pairing. I think that Bouwmeester has lost a step over the years and Parayko can be a better partner with his incredible reach and skating ability. On third pairing, I’m inserting rookie Vince Dunn on the left side along with Bobby Bortuzzo on the right. I like Dunn’s offensive upside to put another puck-moving rear guard on the ice. Look for Pietrangelo to have a big offensive year playing on the top powerplay unit distributing to Tarasenko and Steen for one-timers.
|Berglund (10)||Upshall (3)||Thorburn (2)||Gunnarson (0)|
Bergy is slated to play about half a season and will be crucial to maintaining the team’s scoring balance. He’ll like takeover the third line center role and bump one of the kids out of the lineup. Upshall and Thorburn are meh. Personally, I wouldn’t have signed Upshall and gave his spot to either Blais or Thompson and made Sundqvist the extra.
No need to justify this selection.
Regular Season Prediction
For the season, I have the Blues totaling 250 goals for the season or 3.05 goals per game. That would put the Blues tied for fifth with the Toronto Maple Leafs based on last year’s team goal totals. The highest scoring team for 2016-17 was the Pittsburgh Penguins with 278 (3.39 per game) while the Western Conference champion Nashville Predators totaled 238 goals. My 250-goal prediction would be a 17-goal improvement over the previous year when the Blues finished twelfth in the league.
Elite regular season teams in the NHL typically have at least a 0.50 differential in Goals For versus Goals Against per game (last year, only the Capitals, Penguins, Blue Jackets, and Wild eclipsed that mark). Using this benchmark, the Blues would need to be at 2.55 Goals Against per game or better to pass the “elite” test. Given the Blues ended the previous season with a 2.63 mark – and remembering the terrible first half of Jake Allen – it is not unrealistic to expect the Blues to improve to 2.55 per game with a more consistent season from Allen.
My best case scenario for the current Blues roster is 3.05 Goals For per game and 2.55 Goals Against per game. The 0.50 differential would put the team in the 100-105 points range for the season good for sixth through ninth in the NHL based on the previous season standings. Given the Central Division is going to be the most difficult in the NHL this year, I’ll go with the low end of the spectrum with 100 points – a one point improvement on the previous year’s 99. The Blues are most likely looking at a third or fourth place finish in the Central – good enough to make the playoffs again.
What makes the Blues a Stanley Cup Team?
In order to be a serious Cup contender, this teams need a legitimate second line scoring threat capable of scoring 30 goals to take the pressure off of Tarasenko. Right now, only Alex Steen has achieved that mark outside of Tarasenko. Unfortunately he is on the decline of his career. Jaden Schwartz might be capable of this feat but he hasn’t proven himself able to play away from Tarasenko to date (although candidly he hasn’t been given the opportunity to). Should Schwartz struggle playing away from Vladdy, I think the team should give serious consideration into adding another proven scoring threat at the trade deadline (hello John Tavares, Matt Duchene, James van Reimsdyk or Kyle Turris). The Blues have some exceptional prospects in the cupboard to use as trade chips – I’ll save this for another blog although I hope I don’t need to blog on the subject.
Outside of the forwards, this team needs a serious Norris Trophy candidate performance out of either Pietrangelo or Parayko in order to lock down the backend and provide some supplementary scoring. With Shattenkirk gone (or out of the way), both rear guards will be relied on heavily. Let’s hope the two can resurrect the Pronger/MacInnis duo that Blues fans became accustomed to. One of the two needs to exceed 50 points and be one of the plus/minus leaders in the league.
Finally – and perhaps the biggest eternal question mark for this franchise – the Blues need Jake Allen to lock down the #1 goalie spot. No more “Shaky Jakey” like we saw last year which required Martin Brodeur to take over goalie coach duties at the end the season. That being said, I actually think Jake Allen can play on the same level that stole the first round series against the Wild. I witnessed, in person, how much he tormented Minnesota fans after Game 5. I’ve been that fan who thinks they’ve run into the second coming of Dominic Hasek. I like a goalie that can make a fan base think they are cursed. Jake Allen can be that guy. The Blues need him to be that guy
Final Prediction for 2017-2018
Do I even need to type this out? I’m a true St. Louis Blues fan – it’s always our year.
If you enjoyed this blog check out my first blog “NHL Draft Fan Fest 2017 – A Microcosm of Being a St. Louis Sports Fan in Chicago” where I recap a great Blues experience from this summer which inspired me to start the Central Hockey Notes blog.