I'm at the keyboard, I've got a bottle of whiskey at the ready, Jim Thomas is somewhere on I-55 on his way back from Traverse City, so it looks like it's time to chat. I've just come back from the Enterprise Center, checking out the new and improved building (it's improved), camp starts Friday and Jordan Schmaltz has signed a two-year contract. That said, here we go.
Can it be both? If you went to the Icebreaker event at Ballpark Village, it's clear that expectations are high. Real high. Massively high. Above average. Should this team stumble out of the gate, that will not be a good position to be in. Fingers will be pointed. I don't think there will be any rash decisions, but if the team doesn't make the playoffs, very very few people will be happy.
He's 26, so you'd like to think there's room for growth. Give him a top-class center or two, and see what happens. It's not like a lot of guys are scoring 50 goals a season right now, so that would be a stretch. Heck, there were only eight guys last season who scored 40. He's a good place to start your offense and he's a guy who can make goals out of nothing.
By next year, Petro, Edmundson and Parayko will all be pretty experienced. Dunn will have finished his second season and we'll have to see how he develops this season. Walman and Schmaltz both still have things to prove, but Schmaltz's just-signed contract says both sides are looking for things to happen next season. And there will be money to spend with Bouwmeester and Gunnarsson coming off the books.
I don't know what the Seattle team will be called or when they will start up. When they do, it will be interesting to see what the expansion parameters will be. They'll want the same deal Vegas got on players they can get, while the rest of the league will not want to give them the same deal. (The whopping expansion fee they'll pay will ultimately win out and the team will get what it wants, most likely.) And then there will also have to be some division juggling to even things out.
Content with the forward corps they have and not wanting to pay another guy $7 million.
Well, if you're looking at the 25 players capfriendly lists, Schmaltz and Jordan Nolan are the odd men out. But that list doesn't include Thomas and Kyrou, who both have decent chances of making the team. If they make it, then you're looking at people like Sundqvist, Barbashev and Thorburn being in doubt. Thorburn is an easy guy to make a healthy scratch every night. Barbashev is probably a guy you want to keep playing, so the Blues are going to have to hope they can slip these guys through waivers.
The Blues look like they have three good lines, certainly better than last season when they had three third-lines at times, and then a bunch of guys who look a lot alike competing for the last five spots. I don't know that those guys at the bottom have much in the way of trade value -- there's not going to be a line for Soshnikov -- and after getting this far, the Blues have to see what Kyrou and Thomas can do. Armstrong said at the end of last season that he didn't think more than two of the young guys would make the team this season, but I think the team feels good enough about its depth right now to keep what they've got. The fourth line will likely have a different feel to it this season, not the energy line of the Kyle Brodziak era but another line that can go do things on offense, but just get less minutes to do it in. And injuries will happen.
Anybody who's contract is about to run out, for starters is a movable piece. A lot would depend on why the season went south. Was it injuries? Then you keep what you've got and hope for better luck. Was it the goaltending? Then you look for a replacement there, though that's easier to do in the offseason. And if someone turns into Jori Lehtera, Patrik Berglund or Vladimir Sobotka, they would be an option. I think the core would stay intact.
I don't know that he's a longshot. A lot of people think he'll make it. The fourth line isn't going to be a grinder group like we've seen in the past, in part because there aren't those kind of players on the team. Kyrou could play there to get his feet wet, but so much will depend on his training camp. If he shows well, he'll get the chance. If he doesn't, he'll learn the best Tex-Mex restaurants in San Antonio. A few years back, we all thought Petteri Lindbohm was going to make the team out of camp. Then Parayko and Edmundson came along and bumped him out of the way. Kyrou won't be given anything, but if he makes the team -- and this goes for Thomas too -- he will play. They won't scratch him.
Only to the extent that he'll be feeling better going into camp. How he does against the big boys will determine where he is on opening night.
Because he can. He's probably closer to the cap this year than he would like, but to bring in all the offensive pieces he wanted, that's what he had to do. You can get cap relief for a long-term injury. The Blues will skimp and save along the way -- they've gone with just one extra forward frequently over the past few seasons -- to open space for later. I think the feeling is, if that's what it costs to get the team you like, that's what it costs.
Herein lies the key to this season: Jake Allen. You can talk about lines and power plays and defensive pairings, but the success or failure of this season will rest on Jake Allen (and Chad Johnson). If you look at the stat of goals above replacement, the Blues are actually down this season from last year. How can that be with all the forwards they added? Because they lost Carter Hutton, who had a whopping GAR. If Allen has his somewhat traditional January swoon, and Chad Johnson can't pick up the slack, there goes the season. The Blues were as close as they were last season because of Hutton. If he hadn't played as well as he did, the Blues aren't playing for a spot on the last day of the season. Allen can do it. We've seen him do it. He can be an exceptional goalie. He just needs to do it all -- or at least an awful lot -- of the season.
O'Reily will be a candidate in most cases, depending on what's at stake. Ten seconds left, up a goal, defensive zone start? O'Reilly's probably your guy. Sometimes it might depend on which side of the ice they're on, or if someone's having a strong game.
The Blues will have to decide before he plays in his 10th NHL game. After that, they could send him back, but they'd have burned a year on his contract, so everyone makes the decision before that game. And it's not games played by the team, it's games played by the player. So if he was a scratch a time or two, that would extend the time he could stay around.
Zach Sanford is very much the forgotten man. It was easier to make last year's team than this year's team. This is a team that was using Kyle Brodziak as its second-line center at the end of last season. If Sanford had been healthy, there were opportunities. Now, the team is loaded up the middle. Last year was a lost season for him, first with the injury in camp, then he got hurt when started up again in the AHL. He'll likely get more a chance to show things in the A this season. There's a lot of people going for very few spots; it won't be easy for him to make it out of camp.