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(Page 24 of 161)
Features

Blues add center depth to already formidable lineup

Thursday, 08.14.2014 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2014-15

Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

There are a lot of great teams in the Western Conference, and it has been that way for much of the salary-cap era.

In the past three seasons, no team in the West has won more regular-season games than the St. Louis Blues. Only the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins have won more in the NHL.

The Blues have famously had very little success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs during this time. While either the Los Angeles Kings or Chicago Blackhawks have won the Cup each of the past three seasons, one of those two clubs has also ended hockey season in St. Louis.

Like several other teams in the West, the Blues decided they needed more help at center and acted. Paul Stastny was the best free agent available at the position, and Jori Lehtera was finally convinced to come to North America.

The Blues also lost Vladimir Sobotka to the Kontinental Hockey League, and are going in a different direction in net. Will they finally be able to translate regular-season success into the postseason?

Here's a look at the projected 2014-15 lineup for the Blues:

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Stastny's impact, goalies among Blues' five questions

Thursday, 08.14.2014 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2014-15

Louie Korac - NHL.com Correspondent

The St. Louis Blues have had to stand by helplessly and watch the Los Angeles Kings (twice) and Chicago Blackhawks hoist the Stanley Cup the past three seasons.

After consecutive losses to the Kings in 2012 (second round) and 2013 (first round), and to the Blackhawks last spring, the Blues knew they couldn't stand pat. They had to upgrade in positions that the Kings and Blackhawks used as strengths in order to expose the Blues' weaknesses.

Here are five questions facing the Blues as they try to challenge for a Stanley Cup:

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Blues happy to get Lehtera to NHL at last

Thursday, 08.14.2014 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2014-15

Louie Korac - NHL.com Correspondent

When the St. Louis Blues selected Jori Lehtera with their third-round pick at the 2008 NHL Draft, an element of the unknown followed the Finnish-born center, one that had nothing to do with his on-ice skills.

The looming question was whether the Blues could get Lehtera to North America.

Lehtera, 26, made impressive strides at the international level as well as playing for Yaroslavl Lokomotiv and Sibir Novosibirsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. Ultimately, he turned out to be the wild-card free agent signing that nobody in St. Louis saw coming.

When Blues general manager Doug Armstrong attempted to get Lehtera to the NHL before the 2013-14 season and was turned down, it was viewed as a possible last-gasp attempt to bring him to St. Louis.

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Blues look for answers to playoff struggles

Thursday, 08.14.2014 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2014-15

Louie Korac - NHL.com Correspondent

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout August.

Talking about how and why they lost in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs was bad enough for the St. Louis Blues. Little did they know they would be addressing the same issues as reasons for being ousted one year later.

Those points of emphasis are what the Blues have been dealing with since losing in the first round to the Chicago Blackhawks in April. The six-game loss to the Blackhawks followed the same script as 2013, when the Blues lost to the Los Angeles Kings in six games after they had grabbed a 2-0 series lead.

Amid what seemed like a myriad of issues, one problematic obstacle always seemed to hover as an Achilles' heel: the inability to score the timely goal.

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Goaltender Allen leads Blues' top 10 prospects

Thursday, 08.14.2014 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2014-15

Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

The St. Louis Blues have two things going for them: they're highly skilled up and down the roster and their top players still have their best years ahead of them.

However, that makes it very difficult for any young player looking to break into the lineup.

"It's a tough situation for a young player coming in," Blues director of player development Tim Taylor told NHL.com. "We can be very easygoing with them and patient with players to develop because we don't need them to step in and be a big part of the team. We let them mature and when they're ready, and we feel they're ready, they can step in."

A few of those players might be ready this season, but the majority will have to bide their time while refining their game at lower levels.

Here's a look at the Blues' top 10 prospects, according to NHL.com:

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Thornton loss takes color from Bruins' Merlot Line

Wednesday, 08.13.2014 / 9:21 AM / NHL Insider

NHL.com

Daniel Paille isn't sure when it will sink in that Shawn Thornton isn't his Boston Bruins linemate anymore, but Paille expects it will be more verbal than physical.

"With his absence, you're not going to know until the season starts," Paille told the Boston Herald on Tuesday. "That's when you'll have those moments when you think, 'Jeez, Shawn would have said this.' Or he would have brought something to the table."

Paille saw his friend at Thornton's annual Putts and Punches for Parkinson's charity golf tournament, held in Middleton, Mass. The Bruins chose to let Thornton sign with the Florida Panthers as an unrestricted free agent.

The Panthers visit the Bruins at TD Garden on Nov. 4.

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Blackhawks motivated to move past near miss

Wednesday, 08.13.2014 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2014-15

Brian Hedger - NHL.com Correspondent

The way their season ended left a bitter taste for the Chicago Blackhawks and the offseason hasn't erased it.

An overtime goal scored by Los Angeles Kings defenseman Alec Martinez in Game 7 of the 2014 Western Conference Final cut short Chicago's quest to repeat as Stanley Cup champions and made the Blackhawks even hungrier.

Watching the Kings win the Stanley Cup drove the point home even more.

"I watched a little bit [of the Stanley Cup Final], but not much," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said this summer, the day he and right wing Patrick Kane signed identical eight-year contract extensions. "I especially watched the celebration at the end, when the Kings hoisted the Stanley Cup again. I let that sink in a little bit. I think we all realize how close we were. That's not to say we were going to cruise through the Stanley Cup Final. There's no such thing. But we like to think that we were a goal away from getting another chance."

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Blackhawks boast elite-level talent throughout lineup

Wednesday, 08.13.2014 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2014-15

Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

The Chicago Blackhawks could become the first franchise to win the Stanley Cup three times in six years since the Detroit Red Wings did so in 1997, 1998 and 2002.

Of course, the Blackhawks weren't far from becoming the first team to win the Cup three times in five years since 1990, but the Los Angeles Kings scored in overtime at United Center during Game 7 of the Western Conference Final. The Kings and Blackhawks have won four of the past six NHL titles, and appear to have ignited a rivalry akin to the Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche in the 1990s -- sans the line brawls.

The Western Conference remains loaded, so it is not just the Kings and Blackhawks in 2014-15, but they'll be the favorites to meet in the conference final for a third straight season. Chicago's biggest addition, Brad Richards, is a response to the disadvantage the Blackhawks had down the middle against Los Angeles in May.

Chicago is still loaded, and the expectations remain the same. Either the Blackhawks conclude the 2014-15 season with a party in Grant Park, or it is a disappointment.

Here's a look at the projected 2014-15 lineup for the Blackhawks:

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Cap, center depth top Blackhawks' five questions

Wednesday, 08.13.2014 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2014-15

Brian Hedger - NHL.com Correspondent

They finished one goal short of reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight season, and the focus hasn't dipped for the Chicago Blackhawks.

They still have their eyes on the Cup and took steps in the offseason to compete for it in the short and long term. They signed 34-year-old free-agent center Brad Richards to help out this season, and then negotiated identical eight-year contract extensions for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the faces of the franchise.

"Whenever you see someone [else] lift the Stanley Cup, once you've done it once yourself, it kind of fuels the fire a little bit," left wing Patrick Sharp said. "It's definitely difficult to win it back-to-back, I think that's been proven over the years. Not only myself but the group of players we have, we're all excited to get back to training camp and go get that thing again."

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Richards' presence could put Blackhawks over the top

Wednesday, 08.13.2014 / 3:00 AM / NHL.com's 30 in 30 package: 2014-15

Brian Hedger - NHL.com Correspondent

At first glance, it looks like a perfect match between center Brad Richards and the Chicago Blackhawks.

Each has the goal of hoisting the Stanley Cup again and each has something the other needs.

Richards, who felt the sting of losing the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, needed another Cup contender after the New York Rangers bought out his contract this offseason. The Blackhawks, after losing in overtime of Game 7 in the Western Conference Final, needed more skill at center on their second line.

Square peg, meet square hole.

It didn't take long for Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman to sign Richards on July 1, once Richards indicated his willingness to sign a salary-cap friendly one-year contract worth a reported $2 million. He'll start training camp in the middle of that second line between Brandon Saad and high-scoring right wing Patrick Kane.

"It gives us a lot more options," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "You can never have enough depth in the middle, and I think he's just going to enhance our skill and our talent in the middle of the ice. So, way more options as a coach with him in there and it gives us way more depth in all our lines."

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Quote of the Day

We think that Randy is a very good coach. Our players think that Randy is a very good coach. We think that he's going to get the most out of this group. With the addition of the two assistants, a bit of a different dynamic, we're very comfortable that this is a quality coaching staff that's going to maximize the potential of this team.

— Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis on head coach Randy Carlyle and his staff