Monday, May 03, 2010

Pool Outlook for St. Louis

At about the two-thirds point of the season, it looked like the St. Louis Blues were going to make another magical run towards the playoffs, much like they did in 2009.  Unfortunately for them, it was a much tigher race among the other nine teams that the Blues were not going to get much help and thus they settled for a 9th place finish in the West, 5 points out of the last playoff spot.  The Blues managed to do some good things in their European start, but the team really did struggle after opening up their season in North America.  I think that was one of the leading contributors to their tough season.  They did manage to bounce back for the most part, but found some speed bumps along the way.

There couldn't have been much doubt that Chris Mason wasn't going to be the number one guy in St. Louis going into this season and he made good on that role, playing in 61 games for the Blues, picking up a record of 30-22-8 with 2 shutouts, bringing his points total up to 64 for the year.  Mason ranked 16th among all goalies in the league, 62nd in points altogether.  That's a pretty good season for a goalie that didn't make the playoffs and I would have to think that the 34-year old keeper will definitely get another shot at making a run next season.

The group of forwards that the Blues carried through the 2010 season were not terribly consistent through the year and they only managed to get one forward in the top 100 of pool scoring, Andy McDonald.  McDonald finished 83rd in pool scoring with 57 points in 79 games played, which was only 59th among all forwards.  T.J. Oshie, David Backes, Alex Steen and David Perron, the future of the Blues, all had reasonable seasons, finishing between 103rd and 108th, but none of them really stepped up and did the business for extended periods of time.  The Blues also had some under-achieving seasons from Brad Boyes, Paul Kariya and Patrik Berglund, which could all be linked to the underwhelming season that St. Louis managed to post.

The defense for the Blues was complete again after Erik Johnson finally returned to the blueline after missing all of the 2009 season with a knee injury that required some major surgery.  Johnson managed to come back with 10 goals and 39 points in 79 games for the Blues, ranking him 25th among all defensemen.  The Blues had two other blueliners in the top 100 of their positional scoring, as Carlo Colaiacovo and Roman Polak had pretty good seasons for St. Louis.  Everyone else on the Blues blueline was a little underwhelming, which is quickly building the need for some of their younger players to step up, take charge of a spot and grow with the team.

Ty Conklin proved to be a pretty good back-up for the Blues in 2010, who managed to get some action in 26 games.  Conklin finished with a 10-10-2 record during the year, adding 4 shutouts and an assist for 29 points, good enough to be 38th among goalies in the pool, which is good enough to be considered as a good second goalie in the Draft for next season.  Conklin should be around to take the back-up role again, but he isn't really worked his way up to number one status quite yet.

2011 Season Outlook
The Blues have a very flexible Summer ahead of themselves, but they will have to deal with some important free agents of their own before they can tackle too much of the marketed free agents.  The young core should be together again for the 2011 season, which means the Blues can move forward with building their own team chemistry with a lot of their own pieces.

Andy McDonaldRoman PolakTy Conklin
T.J. OshieBarret Jackman
David BackesEric Brewer
Brad BoyesAlex Pietrangelo
Jay McClement
Patrik Berglund
B.J. Crombeen

The group of players on the team list comes in at a miniscule $28.5 million, which is a tiny amount heading into the Summer. I did throw Alex Pietrangelo on the list, for which I have a good feeling that he'll be making the team next year. The Blues will likely need their flexibility to sign some of the key names missing from the list above.  It's going to be a busy Summer in St. Louis, but that's probably alright by them. 

Heading the list of unrestricted free agents that the Blues will be facing include Chris Mason, Paul Kariya, Carlo Colaiacovo and Mike Weaver, while Brad Winchester, Darryl Sydor and Derek Armstrong may present less of a priority and may get another look if the rest of the high-profile free agents get snapped up quickly.

The group of restricted free agents, although somewhat still their own property, won't be much easier on the ol' pocketbook.  Alex Steen, David Perron and Erik Johnson are all likely going to require some significant paydays, but they should all be qualified by the team without issue and therefore the team would be eligible for compensation, if an offer sheet were to arrive on their doorstep.

The Hockey News decided to name Alex Pietrangelo as their number one prospect outside of the NHL this year in their Future Watch and for good reason.  He had an excellent World Junior Championship, a pretty good year in the OHL and he has already seen some time with the Blues.  I think he's all but a lock for one of the jobs on the blueline this year, but it might still be a good idea to play wait-and-see for his ice-time numbers before making him an active  If there were a couple other names that I would be looking to possibly make the Blues out of camp next year, they would be Lars Eller and Ian Cole, a forward and a defenseman, which might keep costs down, if they are budgeting next season.

The Blues hold the 14th overall pick in this Summer's Draft and I would wager that if they are to use this pick, it will be to draft what they feel is the next best pick available.  If I had to lean on a more definite idea, I would say that they would be looking more for a playmaking centre or winger, just to give some help to some of the scoring talent they already have.

What I said at this time last year: "Sleeper city, St. Louis... wait your pool opponents out for the Blues and you should get some good sleepers. If you go after them too early, you may have given up on some more regular players, but a good pick out of St. Louis late could be clutch. I would also look for Mason to get a lot of starts out of the gate next year and if the Blues show the same sort of success that they did at the end of the 2009 season, Mason is a clutch keeper for your team."

Last year, like this year, I went on about Chris Mason and the amount of starts he was able to pick up.  Mason did get his starts in 2010 and managed to do okay with them, being close to the top half in goaltenders is a pretty good feat these days.  Also, earlier in the post last year, I did drone on about Pietrangelo and how good he should be.  I really don't want a repeat performance there, because that would just be embarrassing.  Nevertheless, there wasn't as many sleeper picks in the good sense, more a lot of picks that would have put your team to bed much earlier than expected... unless you went with Mason or possibly Erik Johnson.

For 2011, I think I will be a little more hesitant.  There is definitely no reason to rush to St. Louis for any of your fantasy needs, but when the time comes and you find that there is a Blues player in the neighbourhood of points value that you're drafting at, then have at them.  They might be better off as bargains/even money/slight losses, rather than big gambles.  Saying that, they do have plenty of flexibility under the cap, Keith Tkachuk has retired, opening a spot up for another youngster, so keep an eye on them, they should be able to tempt you with something shiny and new.  As a team, the Blues will be in that fight for the playoffs, not sure if they'd make it or not though.

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