Why the Blues have the ability to repeat

Bradley Piros, Sports Editor

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Is it October yet? It’s been the shortest offseason ever as a Blues fan, but it’s still gone by so slow. While it was fun watching the parade go down Market Street in downtown St. Louis and the players taking the Stanley Cup all over the city and surrounding area, nothing can relate to sitting back on my couch and listening to John Kelly and Darren Pang call a Blues hockey game on Fox Sports Midwest.

While I’ll have to wait three more weeks for that, the pre-season begins tonight. Pre-season games are cool and all, but most of the time it’s not going to be the main starting lines that we’ll see next month. Rather, this is a time to see the young talent, the prospects, the new draft selections and of course some of the big names that also take the ice.

The Blues finally made their return to the ice but in a brand new home. While I was growing up, they held practice at the Ice Zone in what used to be the St. Louis Mills Mall. The mall got renamed, stores began to leave and people stopped showing up. It was sad to go to the desolate mall to watch the team practice. Well, that is no more. The organization built a beautiful new practice facility in Maryland Heights, MO with four separate rinks that span over 277,000 square feet. The team held their first public practice at the Centene Community Ice Center over the weekend and the line waiting to get in looked to be a mile long.

This just goes to show why St. Louis is a great sports city. That’s why we were awarded the 2020 NHL All-Star Game on Sunday, Jan. 26 in the newly renovated Enterprise Center. That’s why we were finally given an MLS team. That’s why the legend Vince McMahon himself picked St. Louis for an XFL team. There’s so much excitement in the city that was once boring to walk around a year ago.

It’s no question that the city is excited for the champions to be back, but how many of them think we can go back-to-back? Well, I don’t have the exact number, but I sure do and that’s what I’m here to talk about.

Let’s start off with the obvious. The team pulled contract magic and brought back 22 of the 23 players who appeared in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with the exception being hometown hero Pat Maroon. Many people are sad with Maroon leaving because the team could have afforded him if they wanted to. After resigning the last key piece of the team in Ivan Barbashev, the team has around $1.2 million in usable salary cap space. That money could have resigned Maroon, but it would have broken the team financially. Instead, the front office decided it was best to let the free-agent sign elsewhere for the money that he deserves. Maroon signed a one-year, $900,000 deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning about a month ago and the team has some backup money in case things go bad.

So, 22 players returned, let’s talk about the real game changers. We’ll go in order of the team’s point leaders to keep it simple. Leading the team was the Selke Trophy and Conn Smythe winner, Ryan O ’Reilly. ROR was the only player to suit up and play in each and every one of the 82 games in the regular season. The points leader had 77 on the year with 28 goals and 49 assists. Then he turned into an absolute machine in the playoffs with 23 points in 26 games, scoring eight goals and tallying 15 assists. Those 23 points were the most by any player in Blues’ history. He also became the first player since the G.O.A.T. Wayne Gretzky to score in four straight Final games. He had an explosive first season wearing the Blue Note, and if he can reach those numbers again, the team shouldn’t find themselves in the last place on Jan. 3 again.

Moving on to fan favorite, Vladimir Tarasenko. The winger led the team in the regular season with 33 goals and picked up 35 assists on the way as well for a 68-point season. He also turned it up a notch in the playoffs, scoring 11 and assisting six proving that his eight-year, $60 million contract is more than worth it.

Coming in third place in the points standing is Brayden Schenn with 54. He scored 17 goals and had 37 assists, but couldn’t really find a rhythm in the playoffs where he scored five and assisted seven. It was his first year on the team, so hopefully he can match ROR and Tarasenko this year and improve overall.

That’s the top three, but now I’m going to jump around a little bit. Let’s take a look at Jaden Schwartz. He missed out on 13 regular season games due to injury, but still picked up 11 goals and 25 assists, and then the playoffs started. He was second on the team behind ROR with 20 points, but led the team with his 12 goals. He had two hat-trick performances and scored some of the biggest goals in the postseason. He’ll probably find himself on the top line this season as he looks to top his 36-point campaign this season.

I’m going to single out one more player and that’s captain Alex Pietrangleo. He didn’t have a spectacular regular season with his 13 goals and 28 assists, but he did pick up the slack in the playoffs. He had some of the biggest hits and was a great leader overall after everything they had been through. He was third on the team in the postseason with 19 points, but led the team in that time with his 16 assists. That’s the kind of playmaker he turned into in the playoffs and he deserved to lift that trophy when all was said and done.

Great teams are only as great as their goalkeeping, though, and how could I not talk about that? Jake Allen started the season as our starting goalie, but he had a rather lackluster first half of the season. After a depressing holiday run, the team found themselves in last place in the league on Jan. 3. Then Jordan Binnington got called up. He played in 32 regular season games, winning an astonishing 24 of them, carrying a 1.89 GAA and .927 save percentage along the way. He was so clutch down the stretch that the team had no other option than to make him their starting goalie in the playoffs. He started all 26 and was only taken out once, missing only 25 minutes of the action. His stats weren’t as good as they were in the regular season, but he still led the team to all 16 of those wins. He had a 16-10 record with a 2.46 GAA and a .914 save percentage. More importantly, he was the first rookie goaltender to lead his team all the way to a Stanley Cup Championship.

Those are the key returners and the big names, but everyone will have to step up from the start if the team has another long postseason run in them. With all that being said, the team begins play on Oct. 2 against the Washington Capitals. The city is extremely excited to rally around this team again and I sure know I’m ready. While I’m rooting for the Cardinals to make a World Series run, I’m really just waiting on those boys in blue to return in October.

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