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MHH Previews the Lesser 29: St. Louis

Welcome to a new installment where we will preview each of the other NHL teams who simply make up the bulk of the league the Avalanche play in. Today, we preview the St. Louis Blues.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Their head coach: Ken Hitchcock, the hungry hockey hippopotamus. Hitch definitely owns the title as heaviest NHL coach, and he always looks like he’s gone too long without a meal just because of how grouchy he always looks. I’d stay the hell out of his way if he was behind me at McDonald’s. This will be Ken’s final year of coaching before hanging up his suit and tie. Maybe the Blues will finally win the Stanley Cup once he leaves. OH WAIT HOLD UP. They have already hired Mike Yeo to assume the position starting next season. Nope! This team will never win the Stanley Cup. At least not as long as these guys are holding the reigns.

Their captain: Just recently appointed Alex Pietrangelo. Not the first guy you think of when someone brings up the Blues. I think of Tarasenko before anyone, then old friends Paul Stastny and Kevin Shattenkirk or Alex Steen. But nope, it’s Pie. The 26 year old defenseman has been a steady force on the Blues’ blue line since 2010 and helped Canada win gold in Sochi two and a half years ago.

Their 15-16 season: Well they finally won a playoff series for the first time in a gazillion years. Like I said in the Blackhawks preview, the series those two teams played in the opening round was incredible. Some insanely good hockey we should feel blessed to have watched. After that, they took down the Stars in seven before meeting their match in San Jose wherein the Sharks won in six. I feel like as a bystander it was a good year for them just because of the fact they didn’t squander a great regular season once again in the first round. Had they lost to the Blackhawks at home, in a Game 7, in the opening round of the playoffs, all hell might have broken loose in Scottrade Center. Now that they’ve climbed that hurdle, they just need to get to touch Lord Stanley. Problem is, they got worse this summer. More on that below.

How did they do against the Avs? My single favorite moment from an Avs game happened against St. Louis. Here she is! What a fun goal. I loved that play. The other notable moment between these two teams’ meetings is that it was in a Blues’ trouncing of the Avs that Matt Duchene looked in the stands. The season series was won by Colorado 3-2.

When do they play the Avs this season? At St. Louis on November 8th, in Denver on March 5th, March 21st, and March 31st (!!!!!), and at St. Louis on April 9th (season finale).

Will they be good? Not as good as they have been lately. It’s still a playoff team, but they did some odd stuff this summer. Not signing Backes back (haha word play) was a bold move, and the Brian Elliott trade to Calgary still makes no sense to me just because of the fact they only got a 2nd rounder in return. If you’re going to trade a goalie who carried you at multiple points in the playoffs, get a good active player in return. Not a prospect that will have to prove himself down the line. I see them finishing 3rd or 4th in the Central and going out in the 1st round against Chicago, Dallas, or Nashville. I’m not as sold on this roster they’ve got.

3 Questions with their SB Nation blog, St. Louis Game Time:

-The Blues got somewhat picked apart in free agency. Which player that you lost worries you most? While David Backes, a Blues draft pick and 10-year NHL veteran, had a huge impact on the team as captain and strong two-way forward, I think moving forward his and Troy Brouwer's impact are the same: size and experience. They both performed well during the playoffs. They both have size and know how to use it. They go to the net and play in traffic. They're booth good at corralling rebounds and deflecting shots. If you look at the roster for the Blues as it's built right now, they don't have a lot of size to play in front of the net. And when I say a lot, I say almost none.

Sure Patrik Berglund could suddenly learn to do that. And youngester Dimitrij Jaskin could try to play that way, but they haven't yet and it would be foolish to assume so. That's why Ken Hitchcock is already talking to reporters about how he has to rethink how the team plays with the puck and how he's picked the brain of new assistant coach/head coach to be Mike Yeo about how his Minnesota Wild played effectively with a smaller lineup.

Let's sum up. Two of the team's best playoff performers and the two key big body forwards are gone so the veteran coach in his mid-60s in his self-proclaimed final year in coaching has to go back to the drawing board to play a different way because of how the team has been built. Sounds like a winning formula to me.

-What are your lasting feelings on the Brian Elliott trade? At every opportunity, the St. Louis Blues have chosen not Brian Elliott. To me, it's organizational memory. When he signed with the Blues in summer of 2011, he signed for the league minimum and on a two-way contract. Any of the 29 other teams if they had wanted him could have signed him for a pittance more. And none did. You don't sign a potential starting goaltender to a two-way contract. That's backup city. So when he played well paired with Jaroslav Halak and won a playoff series against San Jose when Halak was injured, it was a shocking turn of events. In 38 games, he stopped 94 percent of the shots he faced and had a goals-against average of 1.56. He was the starting goaltender again the next season and saw the Blues lose in the first round. Then shit got weird. The next season the Blues traded for Ryan Miller. GM Doug Armstrong was quoted as saying the deal was worth it if it improved the team's goaltending by 5 percent. Take the Blues, increase the goaltending by 5 percent and it equaled a second straight first-round loss. Two seasons ago, they chose Jake Allen to start in the playoffs. Last season Elliott started the season as the starter. By Halloween, he was on the bench for a week at a time. An injury late in the season to Allen ensured Elliott was the starter. And even during a fantastic run, Allen came in and relieved Elliott in the San Jose series.

Jake Allen was drafted to be the starting goaltender for the Blues. Elliott was signed to be a backup. And two all-star selections. the best save percentage and most shutouts in team history didn't change that. So I can totally understand if Elliott wasn't guaranteed the starting job this coming season how he would want a trade.

Now a 31-year old starter with the resume Elliott has built despite being picked over the last five years would maybe merit something better in trade than a second-round pick, but that's more the market. Very few teams were looking for a goaltender. When there aren't teams competing for a trade, it's always going to look underwhelming.

-You guys got over the hurdle of making it past the 1st round last year, and the 2nd for that matter. So what needs to happen that hasn’t already for the Blues to reach the top of the mountain and win the Cup? Your guess is as good as mine. All the words above this set up the idea that in the span of a few months, the Blues have a new look, new tactics and new questions. They lack size up front, so they aren't going to be the physical force they were last playoffs. Jake Allen is now the starter in net no matter what. The backup will be a youngster. No safety net. You have the questions surrounding Kevin Shattenkirk's future with the team. He's going to command a salary around Alex Pietrangelo next summer, but Jay Bouwmeester is on the books for this season and two more at more than $5 million a year. It's too much salary cap to commit to three defensemen. So if any team wants an offensive right-handed defenseman near the East Coast that's willing to part with a power forward, that would be a big help. Thanks in advance.

Thanks to Brad Lee for taking the time to answer!