After the 2014 NHL Trade Deadline a lot of people (including myself) considered the St. Louis Blues to be favorites to win the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately their run in the playoffs didn’t even last one round thanks to their division rival Chicago Blackhawks.
The team finished sixth in goals scored during the regular season and with the loss of Ryan Miller, GM Doug Armstrong knew it would be an offseason dedicated to keep the teams scoring numbers high.
Three forwards from last years success won’t be returning to the lineup this season with Vladimir Sobotka, Brenden Morrow and Derek Roy all finding employment elsewhere.
Sobotka signed a three-year deal with Avangard Omsk in the KHL for the American equivalent of $6 million a year over three years. Despite winning 61% of his face-offs last season, his 33 points last year would be hard to justify with $6 million a year.
Morrow and Roy signed deals in Tampa Bay and Nashville respectively. Morrow, who will turn 36 this season, and Roy, 31, weren’t seen as part of the future with younger and more talented options available.
But it was far from an off-season defined by losses in St. Louis. Just hours into the July 1st free agency GM Doug Armstrong made a splash with inking Paul Stastny to a four-year $28 million contract. While some remain skeptical with $7 million per year Stastny is coming off of yet another point producing season with Colorado (25-35-60). Since his outstanding 2006-2007 rookie campaign Stastny has put up an average of nearly a point-per-game and even eclipsing the mark 07-08. Furthermore the addition of Stastny will relegate Patrik Berglund to the third line (whether at center or not), a spot that should allow him to flourish against opposing line matchups.
Another player that could wind up on the third line and could actually bump Berglund from the center position is 2008 third round draft pick and 2009 Finnish league MVP Jori Lehtera. After taking home the MVP hardware in ’09, Lehtera jumped to the KHL, which undoubtedly provided a stiffer competition. In his four years there he was also averaging just slightly below a point per game, leaving us to believe come October he should be able to produce despite probably not being a top six forward.
In a perfect world Berglund will move to left side of Lehtera and the final member of the third line could be today’s signing, Peter Mueller. Despite a concussion-plagued career the Blues are taking a chance on the former first rounder who spent the previous season in the Swiss league. Finishing third in scoring in the league the Blues inked the 2008 8th overall pick to a two-way deal, something I’m surprised more teams were not interested in. Mueller also brings strong possession numbers with him, something that will undoubtedly benefit whomever he plays with and the team as a whole.
If (and that’s a big IF) this all pans out, this could leave Steve Ott with a fourth line role and potentially being flanked by two of the following; Dmitrij Jaskin, Maxim Lapierre, Joakim Lindstrom, Magnus Paajarvi, Chris Porter, and Ryan Reaves.
Another factor that looms over those names is the yet-to-sign Jaden Schwartz. It seems likely Schwartz’s negotiations will reach an agreement sooner than later and solidifying his role only puts the Blues in a better spot. Schwartz seems most suitable to fill the second line left wing spot across from Vladimir Tarasenko who could hold down the right.
With all of this being said the top line of Steen-Backes-Oshie remains in tact and poised to strike again. Considering all of the options below them, whomever Hitchcock decides to position within the lineup, there is undeniable talent that should see the Blues maintain their top-tier ranking in scoring for the upcoming 2014-2015 season.
Thanks for reading!