In the days leading up the Western Conference Final, Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane was asked about the Los Angeles Kings and called them "a better version of the St. Louis Blues."
It would be hard to argue with Kane, considering the Kings and Blues do play a similar style, and Los Angeles has ended hockey season in St. Louis two years running. So the challenge for the Blues is pretty simple in 2013-14: catch up to the Kings (and the Blackhawks, who will be more direct competition in the Central Division).
The Blues are deep and they are talented. David Perron and Andy McDonald are gone, and likely to be replaced in the top nine by free-agent signing Derek Roy and either newcomer Magnus Paajarvi (who arrived in the Perron trade) or Jaden Schwartz.
Roy was the marquee add, but there is newfound depth at center for the bottom two lines as well with free agents Maxim Lapierre and Keith Aucoin on board. The biggest item of business this offseason for the Blues has actually yet to happen -- No. 1 defenseman Alex Pietrangelo is a restricted free agent and needs a new contract.
2013-14 FANTASY PREVIEW: BLUES
Under-valued: David Backes --
After two big seasons from 2010-12, Backes took a major step back last season, finishing with six goals, 22 assists and five power-play points. However, a potential move back to the wing should help him, and a return to his usual 25-30 goals, 50-60 points and 100-plus penalty minutes should be expected.
Over-valued: Jaroslav Halak --
Halak has put up stellar numbers in his three seasons in St. Louis, but the Blues have Brian Elliott and Jake Allen waiting in the wings, which could result in Halak getting traded at some point. Between the logjam and his injury history, Halak's fantasy value will diminish this season.
Sleeper: Jaden Schwartz --
The production wasn't there last season (seven goals, six assists in 45 games), but if the Blues' line combinations during the playoffs are any indication (he played with Backes and Alexander Steen), Schwartz has plenty of upside. The 14th pick of the 2010 NHL Draft is worth a flyer late in fantasy drafts.
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Once he signs, the Blues will have their defense corps and trio of goaltenders from 2012-13 intact. Preventing goals has not been the problem with coach Ken Hitchcock behind the bench, but the Blues need to scratch out a few more of their own if they are going to be more than the third or fourth-best team in the West in 2013-14.
Here is the projected lineup for the Blues:
Patrik Berglund - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Vladimir Tarasenko - Derek Roy - Chris Stewart
Jaden Schwartz - Vladimir Sobotka - Alexander Steen
Magnus Paajarvi - Maxim Lapierre - Ryan Reaves
Chris Porter - Keith Aucoin
Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo
Jordan Leopold - Kevin Shattenkirk
Barret Jackman - Roman Polak
NOTES: Other than Hitchcock being interested in seeing how Roy and Stewart work together, the top three lines could be all over the place. Backes and Sobotka were both better than Berglund on faceoffs last season. While Berglund's goal total (17) might also seem like a good reason to move him to the wing, his shooting percentage is likely to decrease in 2013-14, and Backes will likely shoot "better."
There are at least 10 guys fighting for spots in the top nine, and that doesn't count Lapierre as the potential No. 3 center or top prospect Dmitrij Jaskin. Tarasenko, Schwartz and Paajarvi (and even Jaskin, potentially) can make the Blues younger and more fleet afoot up front.
Provided Pietrangelo signs, the defense corps is likely to look a lot like it did against the Kings in the first round of the playoffs. Jake Allen looks like he is ready for the NHL, but he's still the No. 3 goalie on the Blues' depth chart … for now. Both Halak and Elliott are unrestricted free agents after the 2013-14 season, so Allen could be the No. 1 guy in the near future.
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