The 2010-11 season started off well for the St. Louis Blues. They began the season 9-2-1 and claimed the top spot on ESPN’s Power Rankings. However, with injuries to key top six forwards (David Perron, Andy McDonald, TJ Oshie), the season began to unravel. Unable to cope with the loss of their top talent, the Blues season ended less successfully than was anticipated.
GM Doug Armstrong vowed to add depth to the roster this offseason to offset any potential injuries and improve the club’s chances to contend. With key signings and re-signings, Armstrong has created a team that will can absorb a degree of injury and is more balanced. Depth and balance are critical in the Western Conference, which has only gotten tougher to play in as several teams have acquired components that will fill out their rosters. Following are Armstrong’s key moves this offseason—and what they mean for the Blues:
TJ Oshie ($2.35 million for 1 year): Oshie’s off-ice commitment to the team was questioned this past season when he failed to show up for a practice. Oshie also missed 31 games due to a broken ankle, consequently not giving the Blues a full season’s production. Until the front office sees how much Oshie can produce over 82 games, they will be hesitant to commit to a longer term. However, he will receive a nice paycheck in 2011-12—essentially, a “prove it to us” year. If things go well, look for Oshie to be locked up long term next summer.
Patrik Berglund ($2.25 million/2 years): Berglund is quickly making a name for himself in the hockey world. After a strong finish to the 2010-11 NHL season, Berglund was a noticeable force at the IIHF World Championships Tournament, finishing with 10 points in nine games. Berglund inked a two year extension early in the offseason, wishing to get the contract done and shift focus to training. As Berglund adjusts to hockey in North America and gains confidence in the NHL, he is positioned to become a coveted center around the league.
Matt D’Agostini ($1.65 million/2 years): When the Blues failed to extend a qualifying offer to RFA D’Agostini, speculation about whether or not the 24-year-old right winger would remain in St. Louis began to circulate. Ultimately, the Blues retained the young Canadian, completing a deal that keeps D’Agostini in St. Louis for two more seasons. After posting 21 goals and 46 points in 2010-11, the Blues are eager to explore what D’Agostini can do in an expanded role as a member of the top 9.
Roman Polak ($2.750 million/5 years): Polak is built like a tank and brings size and grit to the right side of the Blues defense. Though he will likely fill out the third pairing (behind Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk), Polak is a solid defensive defensemen capable of playing top 4 minutes. Though he brings limited offensive ability, he will more than earn his paycheck with his intangible assets—he can log big minutes, shut down the opposing team’s top players, and rarely gets caught out of position.
Vladimir Sobotka ($1.300 million/3 years): A pleasant surprise, Sobotka has proven to be the Blues’ jack-of-all-trades. Sobotka has played on the top line and the bottom, on the power play, on the penalty kill. He is a high-energy guy who doesn’t hesitate to stand up for himself and his teammates. Small but spunky, Sobotka put up career numbers in 2010-11. Though he’s not expected to be a top goal-scorer, Sobotka serves an important role for the Blues as a speedy agitator who can hop into the lineup and make a difference when least expected.
Scott Nichol ($700k/1 year): With the loss of Jay McClement in the St. Louis/Colorado blockbuster trade last February, the Blues needed to acquire a face off specialist; by bringing in Nichol, they have satisfied that hole. Nichol will be a strong penalty killer with the ability to take key face offs—Nichol consistently posts a 60% face-off win percentage.
Kent Huskins ($1 million/1 year): Huskins adds depth to the Blues’ defensive corps. At 6’4” and 210 pounds, Huskins brings a big, physical body to the team. Huskins will likely challenge Nikitin for ice team on the third pairing alongside Roman Polak and fill in as injuries occur. Overall, Huskins adds a veteran presence with Stanley Cup experience to a young up-and-coming group.
Brian Elliot ($600k/1 year): Elliot will contend with Ben Bishop for the back-up job behind Jaroslav Halak. Though Elliot struggled in Ottawa and Colorado last season, Armstrong is confident a change of scenery will do the young goalie some good. At just 26, Elliot has time to grow and reestablish himself as a legitimate NHL caliber goaltender. Having capable back-ups behind Halak should also push Halak to get better and provide support should he get injured or need rest.
Jamie Langenbrunner & Jason Arnott (Identical Contracts: $2.5 million/1 year): The former Devils/Stars players bring a veteran presence this team has craved for the past several seasons—both have Stanley Cup rings, both have captained winning teams, and now both are making fresh starts on a young team with untapped potential. Langenbrunner and Arnott should blend perfectly with the Blues’ young core, creating a team that possesses youth and speed alongside grit and experience.
The Blues are also anticipating the return of David Perron, with whom the Blues will have a complete and dangerous top 9 for the first time in several years. Armstrong continues to put his stamp on this team, and so far, he has not disappointed. With a full season from Chris Stewart and Shattenkirk, the Blues’ young core, now infused with veterans, looks diverse and balanced. 2011-12 is shaping up to be a season that promises new chemistry, breakout performances, and the potential for success.