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Stastny's impact, goalies among Blues' five questions

by Louie Korac /

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:

1. What impact will newcomer Paul Stastny have? -- The Blues needed an upgrade in the middle, and landing the biggest unrestricted free-agent center on the market was worth the $28 million they will pay Stastny over the next four seasons.

Stastny, 28, scored 25 goals and had 60 points in 71 games last season with the Colorado Avalanche. He gives the Blues a bona fide No. 1 playmaking center.

"We're getting Paul right in the prime of his career and I have little doubt that he'll be a very, very confident player over these four years," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said.

Coming to a Stanley Cup contender and returning to the place where he grew up, Stastny saw the opportunity as a no-brainer.

"I look at St. Louis and their window to win a Cup is now," Stastny said.

2. Can the Blues compete for the Cup with their revamped goaltending? -- The Blues allowed Ryan Miller to leave via free agency and will confidently turn to veteran Brian Elliott and rookie Jake Allen, who has 15 games of NHL experience under his belt.

The Blues feel like Elliott, who signed a three-year, $7.5 million contract, earned the right to go into the season as the No. 1.

"[Ellliott's] watched two other guys [Miller and Jaroslav Halak] get the ball," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Now he feels like it's his turn. There's still going to be competition, but I think Brian's going to start as the incumbent based on experience and all the work he's put in."

3. Will the additional depth at center pay off? -- Adding Stastny, Jori Lehtera, Peter Mueller and Joakim Lindstrom to a group that includes David Backes, Patrik Berglund, Steve Ott and Maxim Lapierre gives the Blues strong reinforcement despite losing Vladimir Sobotka to the Kontinental Hockey League.

"We wanted to add depth, we wanted to add competitive depth, we wanted to strengthen the middle of the ice and that's what we've done," Hitchcock said. "We've added scoring depth and we added real definitive depth at the center ice position."

4. Are the Blues physically vulnerable on the blue line? -- St. Louis is going with the formula of 'You can't hit what you can't catch.' The Blues traded physical defenseman Roman Polak to the Toronto Maple Leafs for puck-mover Carl Gunnarsson and added free agents Chris Butler and Nate Prosser to a mix of Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Kevin Shattenkirk and Ian Cole to go with more rugged guys like Barret Jackman and Jordan Leopold, meaning that they're going with a more conventional puck-moving style on the back line.

"We're less physical but better transitionally," Hitchcock said.

5. Are Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko ready for larger roles? -- The 2010 first-round picks made their presence felt throughout the season and certainly against the Blackhawks in the playoffs. Each is 22 and coming off impressive point-producing second seasons in the League.

Schwartz had 25 goals and 56 points in 81 games. Tarasenko had 21 goals and 43 points in 64 games. They'll be given significant roles moving forward.

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