Here we are Blues fans. Hockey season is finally back! This off-season, for the Blues, has been filled with positives and negatives. Going back to the bubble when the team was sent home early to the hands of the Vancouver Canucks (still stings). The disappointment of learning Pietrangelo was moving on and Tarasenko was having another shoulder surgery. Then there were the positives that got us all excited for another Cup run. That excitement gets balled up and thrown into an expedited training camp that begins today and will end with the season starting on January 13th. I think there are plenty more than 5 to get excited for but here are the five things I’m keeping an eye on once camp begins.
1. How does this defense look?
This might be the top question on everyone’s minds headed into this season. A year that is beginning without the long-time captain Pietrangelo, who is now in Vegas and Bouwmeester who is headed to retirement. For me, those losses have turned into gains in other areas. The addition of Krug and a full season of Scandella should put the excitement back into everyone’s thoughts once this season begins. This team, for the first time in a long time, now has a strong mix of speed and offense on their defensive side. Krug, Faulk and Dunn provide the scoring punch at even strength and on special teams. While Parayko is on a fast-track to being at elite level. Scandella, Bortuzzo and Gunnarsson provide the size and strength in their own zones that put together a strength for the upcoming expedited season, in a division that will without a doubt be physical.
2. Which Binnington are we getting?
If we are talking about defense then we have to talk about the goaltending because your defense is only as good as the guy behind them and vice versa. Binnington did not play well in the bubble and that should be no surprise to anyone but I am a bit surprised by how many people forgot that he won 30 games (2nd to Vasilevsky in NHL) during the regular season. That, following a short-ended offseason seemed to go by the waist-side by the struggles he had in the bubble. For me, I think we see the exact same Binnington we saw during the Cup run. The start of this season will provide Binnington something he hasn’t had yet as a full-time goalie, a normal off-season. No parade, no ESPN award ceremonies, no 2-week off-season. This year Binnington was gifted an off-season that started on August 22nd. Four months of training, resting and preparing for a year that he heads to free agency. All of these factors make for a hungry Binnington, and I will be backing that horse all the way to the finish line.
3. The offensive upgrades
Mike Hoffman anyone? Yes, that name should excited anyone as much as the words “tickets now available for Blues games” will be. For me, it goes beyond the Hoffman addition. It’s what Hoffman does to this line-up going into this shortened season. There will be some juggernaut teams in this division and for the way Colorado was stacked offensively and for how Vegas is defensively, the Blues needed firepower. I think this offense is going to be similar to what life was like in the late 90s-early 00s when the Blues were dominating ever aspect of the game. Hoffman brings depth of scoring for the Blues. He slots into a top-six role while Tarasenko is rehabbing pushing a Sanford and Blais to a 3rd line role with Bozak. But, when Tarasenko returns Hoffman could be playing on the 3rd line and that presents Berube with the opportunity to throw any line out at any time and have the chance to score. That is the fight that keeps on giving this season.
4. How special can the special teams be?
When Mike Hoffman was signed, the first thing I thought of was what the power-play set ups would look like. Having a Hoffman on the off-wing, on the ice with Perron, O’Reilly, Schenn and (oh yeah) Torey Krug creates a dynamic that can change the Blues game. Recall the Cup run by the Blues, they won it with a struggling power-play. Last season they struggled to find the back of the net at 5-on-5 AND on the power-play and that resulted in a first round exit. Now, you have added a player who has scored the 6th most PP goals in the last 4 seasons and a defenseman with the 2nd most PP assists in the last 6 seasons. That creates a dimension of the game that causes teams to be less physical as to avoid the power-play. Less physical means more space at even strength which results in a dual threat. Watch out for this power-play folks.
5. What does this depth look like?
The only area of weakness for the Blues this season is depth at goaltending but that’s only if Husso struggles. But the depth everywhere else gives the Blues something that Craig Berube told me would be “the most important thing” for this season, bodies. Let’s look at defense first, you know the normal six which would put Gunnarsson as the 7th defenseman. But, guys like Mikkola, Walman and Reinke will be playing in the minors or on the taxi squad and are chomping at the bit for a shot at the NHL club. The reigning Hoby Baker award winner Scott Perunovich who is going to have a shot to impress. The defense could be an area of strength for this team with how many bodies can jump into play whenever needed.
Then there is the offense. A normal roster holds 21 players which means you could be looking at a Kyrou, MacEachern or de la Rose that didn’t make the club. Also it could have a Blais or Clifford sitting as a healthy scratch for a game. You also have guys like Poganski, Stevens and Walker who impressed in their time with the NHL club last season and a few depth players like Curtis McKenzie and Sam Anas who put up 50+ points each last season in the AHL.
Needless to say there should be plenty of intrigue surrounding this team for the next week during training camp. This season will be unlike any other with 56 games played in 5 months and nearly a game every other night for these teams. Top 4 teams from each division make the postseason and that won’t be an assured thing for St. Louis. But, this team is at its best since they won the Cup and that should have everyone’s hopes through the Enterprise Center roof starting January 13th.
Blues 2020-21 regular-season schedule
Jan. 13 at Colorado Avalanche – 9:30 p.m.
Jan. 15 at Colorado Avalanche – 8 p.m.
Jan. 18 vs. San Jose Sharks – 7 p.m.
Jan. 20 vs. San Jose Sharks – 8 p.m.
Jan. 23 vs. Los Angeles Kings – 7 p.m.
Jan. 24 vs. Los Angeles Kings – 7 p.m.
Jan. 26 at Vegas Golden Knights – 8 p.m.
Jan. 28 at Vegas Golden Knights – 8 p.m.
Jan. 30 at Anaheim Ducks – 8 p.m.
Jan. 31 at Anaheim Ducks – 7 p.m.
Feb. 2 vs. Arizona Coyotes – 7 p.m.
Feb. 4 vs. Arizona Coyotes – 7 p.m.
Feb. 6 vs. Colorado Avalanche – 2 p.m.
Feb. 7 vs. Colorado Avalanche – 2 p.m.
Feb. 9 at Minnesota Wild – 7 p.m.
Feb. 11 at Minnesota Wild – 7 p.m.
Feb. 13 at Arizona Coyotes – 6 p.m.
Feb. 15 at Arizona Coyotes – 3 p.m.
Feb. 18 vs. San Jose Sharks – 7 p.m.
Feb. 20 vs. San Jose Sharks – 7 p.m.
Feb. 22 vs. Los Angeles Kings – 7 p.m.
Feb. 24 vs. Los Angeles Kings – 8:30 p.m.
Feb. 26 at San Jose Sharks – 9:30 p.m.
Feb. 27 at San Jose Sharks – 9:30 p.m.
March 1 at Anaheim Ducks – 9 p.m.
March 3 at Anaheim Ducks – 8:30 p.m.
March 5 at Los Angeles Kings – 8 p.m.
March 6 at Los Angeles Kings – 8 p.m.
March 12 vs. Vegas Golden Knights – 7 p.m.
March 13 vs. Vegas Golden Knights – 7 p.m.
March 15 at Los Angeles Kings – 9 p.m.
March 17 at Los Angeles Kings – 9 p.m.
March 19 at San Jose Sharks – 8 p.m.
March 20 at San Jose Sharks – 8 p.m.
March 26 vs. Anaheim Ducks – 7 p.m.
March 27 vs. Anaheim Ducks – 7 p.m.
March 29 vs. Arizona Coyotes – 7 p.m.
March 31 vs. Arizona Coyotes – 6:30 p.m.
April 3 at Colorado Avalanche – 2 p.m.
April 5 vs. Vegas Golden Knights – 7 p.m.
April 7 vs. Vegas Golden Knights – 8 p.m.
April 9 vs. Minnesota Wild – 7 p.m.
April 11 vs. Minnesota Wild – 2 p.m.
April 15 at Arizona Coyotes – 9 p.m.
April 17 at Arizona Coyotes – 5 p.m.
April 20 at Colorado Avalanche – 8:30 p.m.
April 22 vs. Colorado Avalanche – 7 p.m.
April 24 vs. Colorado Avalanche – 2 p.m.
April 26 at Minnesota Wild – 7 p.m.
April 28 at Minnesota Wild – 6 p.m.
April 30 vs. Minnesota Wild – 7 p.m.
May 1 vs. Minnesota Wild – 7 p.m.
May 3 vs. Anaheim Ducks – 7 p.m.
May 5 vs. Anaheim Ducks – 7 p.m.
May 7 at Vegas Golden Knights – 9 p.m.
May 8 at Vegas Golden Knights – 9 p.m.
All times listed are Central