The St. Louis Blues can't wait to return to the ice and defend the Stanley Cup.
"They're hungry," Blues coach Craig Berube said Wednesday. "They want to get back. We got good motivation, I believe, coming back and playing and trying to repeat. Our guys are in a pretty good spot now."
The NHL announced its Return to Play Plan on May 26, which will involve 24 teams competing for the Stanley Cup. The tournament will begin with a 16-team, eight-series Qualifying Round and a Seeding Round Robin among the top four teams in each conference to determine seeds for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
St. Louis went from last in the Western Conference on Jan. 3 to winning the Stanley Cup last season. The Blues (42-19-10, .662 points percentage) led the Colorado Avalanche (42-20-8, .657) for first place in the Central Division and Western Conference when the NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
St. Louis did so for the most part without their top offensive player, forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who last played Oct. 24 because of a shoulder injury. But Tarasenko, who scored 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 10 games, has recovered from surgery, and Berube said in early April that he likely would have been back the week the season was paused.
"It's like a big trade that you make and getting a great player," Berube said. "We haven't had him all year and our team's been very successful. Now we got [Vladimir] coming back. He's a great player for us, he's done a great job working back, being in really good shape and being ready to go."
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Berube said he's as excited as the players to get back to work. Phase 2 of the Return to Play Plan will begin June 8, allowing players to skate and work out together in small groups at team facilities. Phase 3 would be a full-team training camp, which will not begin before July 10.
Phase 4 would be a return to play. The Blues' points percentage was the best in the Western Conference, and they will join the Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Seeding Round Robin.
"Everything's a work in progress now," Berube said. "There's still got to be some stuff that has to be solidified, stapled down, before we get going. Once that happens, I believe we'll get all the rules and what's going to happen."
Whatever those rules eventually look like, Berube said he's looking forward to trying to help the Blues win a second straight Stanley Cup championship.
"It's all an even playing field when we come back," he said. "The team that wants to get out there and plays the hardest and plays at their pace is going to have the best chance.
"The ultimate goal is to win. And if you win it doesn't matter. You won, that's all that matters. We can look at all the things that could have happened, but it's a level playing field and the best team will win. That's how it goes. The best team that plays the best at that time is going to win. That's it. You win the Cup, I'm going to be just as happy as I was last year."