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2017-18 Central Division preview: St. Louis Blues

In what looks to become a tight division battle, will the Blues' early injury woes be too much to overcome?

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB / DallasStars.com

In the days leading up to opening night on Oct. 6 against the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, DallasStars.com's Scott Burnside will break down the Stars and their six opponents in the Central Division. Continuing our previews today: the St. Louis Blues.

Past previews:

Sept. 27 -- Colorado Avalanche

 

St. Louis Blues: 46-29-7; lost in the second round

Early injury issues could spell trouble: When we started to break down the Central Division, we wrestled with the Blues mightily. Second? Third? Fourth? Weren't they definitely a playoff team? But it's a function of just how tight this division figures to be that, all of a sudden, the Blues' stock has taken a mighty hit with Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Steen and Zach Sanford joining Patrik Berglund on the injury shelf to start the season, and key forward Robby Fabbri ominously shut down for 2017-18 as he tries to recover from knee surgery that also cost him half of last season. Maybe we're overreacting, but we saw what happened with the Dallas Stars a year ago -- beginning the season with a rash of injuries from which they never recovered, and it's going to be a huge test of the Blues' depth to overcome these early lineup setbacks.

Trust the Armstrong touch: Injuries notwithstanding, kudos to GM Doug Armstrong for accomplishing the difficult feat over the past couple of seasons of getting younger without sacrificing competitiveness. Armstrong said recently the franchise owes a debt of gratitude to leaders like David Backes -- now entering his second season in Boston after leaving as a free agent -- for instilling a culture or responsibility in the Blues locker room, and allowing players like Jaden Schwarz and Alex Pietrangelo, the Blues captain who succeeded Backes wearing the 'C', to step into the leadership void created by the departure over the past few years of veterans like Backes, T.J. Oshie, Steve Ott (now part of the coaching staff), Troy Brouwer, Brian Elliott and Kevin Shattenkirk. "They were great tutors to the next generation."

New Schenn-sation: Not to heap too much praise on Armstrong, but adding a young talent like Brayden Schenn, 26, who was acquired from Philadelphia for Jori Lehtera, who is three years older and has another year left on a deal with a $4.7 million cap hit. Schenn has scored 51 goals over the past two seasons with 28 of those goals coming on the power play. Not a bad add for a team that was 8th last year in power-play efficiency. He'll need to step right into the fray given the injury situation.


Can Yeo prolong second-half success? A year ago there was plenty of weirdness afoot as head coach Ken Hitchcock had announced that the 2016-17 season would be the final one as head coach with the Blues. Mike Yeo was brought in as an associate and named heir to the coaching throne. Did we mention it was a bit weird? By February, the Blues were sideways and Armstrong parted ways with his longtime pal, Hitchcock, and Yeo came in and helped the Blues to the top winning percentage in the NHL over the past 32 games with a 22-8-2 record. The Blues then knocked off Yeo's former team, the Minnesota Wild before dropping a six-game set to Nashville in the second round. Riding that success should bode well as Yeo comes out of his first camp with the Blues and they'll be a handful regardless of who's in the roster.

Jake the Great: Talking about weirdness, how about netminder Jake Allen's season? At one point in the season, it looked like he might be at a crossroads having been pulled multiple times prior to Hitchcock's dismissal. A new father at the time, Allen was left home on a road trip in January in order to refocus himself, and it appeared the coaching staff had lost confidence in the 27-year-old selected 34th overall in 2008. But following the coaching change, Allen thrived -- as did the Blues. Against Minnesota, he was phenomenal, turning in a .935 save percentage in 11 postseason games, including an incredible stretch when he allowed three goals on 117 shots as the Blues jumped out to a 3-0 series lead against Minnesota. If the Jake Allen from February on is the Jake Allen of 2017-18, we will have sold the Blues well short.

 

Prediction

Someone has to finish sixth in the Central Division. And it's a mark of how little room there is for error that being ploughed under early by injury might just sink your entire season which we feel might be the case with the Blues.

Blues finish sixth in the Central Division

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott on Twitter @OvertimeScottB, and listen to his Burnside Chats podcast here.

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