Are the Blues the “Sleeper of the West”?

Are the Blues the
“Sleeper of the West”?

Jaroslav Halak

A recent article in USA Today featured an argument from Kevin Allen on how the St. Louis Blues are potentially the sleeper team of the Western Conference. Allen gives us 10 reasons why the Blues might be a true competitor come playoff time. Are his arguments valid, or a bit too hopeful?

Allen points out that the Blues have six returning forwards that scored 20 or more goals in 2010-11 (Backes, Stewart, Berglund, Steen, McDonald and D’Agostini), which by comparison is impressive when you consider the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins have four players that fall into that category. Chalk this stat up as one that really is eye-opening and one that makes a great point to counter the view that the Blues troubles are entirely offensively based.

The article also highlights Chris Stewart, which many (myself included), believe is the major weapon the team has been lacking. If he stays healthy, there’s no reason to doubt Stewart can score 30+ or even 40 if things go well.

The rest of the piece mentions the Blues young talent such as T.J. Oshie, Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo and suggests that each player could and should grow in 2011-12. A very logical thought and one I stand beside as well.

However, while I would love to believe the Blues could be the surprise in the West, it’s only fair to give the opposing argument as well.

Allen’s fourth point in his article is about Jaroslav Halak and how he should have learned and taken away plenty from the 2010-11 season – his first as the full-time number one. Is this really enough grounds to suggest Halak will be better or improved in 2011-12? The number one role might not be completely familiar to Halak but the fact remains that when he has had extended action during the early stages of his young career, his performances have been pretty average and mediocre as a whole.

Through 158 appearances in the NHL Halak has a 2.57 GAA and a save percentage of .916. These numbers aren’t great nor are they horrific, but they aren’t what Blues fans were expecting following the news that Halak was acquired. Through small stretches, such as a run through the playoffs with Montreal, Halak can be on top of his game and nearly impossible to beat. However, over long stretches like a full season, Halak has yet to prove he can handle the responsibility and be a difference maker on a regular basis. The jury is still out on Halak and I’m not ready to label him as a reason why the Blues will be a threat in the West.

Finally, the other issue that catches my eye with Allen’s angle is the stance on David Perron. As I have learned through the great group of fans on Twitter, everyone is pulling for a safe and healthy recovery for the young forward. While we are all eager for him to make a return, we all want him to do it safely and not put his future off the ice in jeopardy.

Allen’s article makes the situation seem much more casual than it really is by stating, “David Perron, 23, is back on course to play this season after missing almost all of last season with a serious concussion. He probably won’t start the season, but when he does return, he gives the team another dangerous, high-yield scorer”.

A bit of a reach. First, Perron isn’t back on course yet. He hasn’t even been cleared to start working out and skating again. Currently there isn’t even an estimate on when he might return as he hasn’t skated since November of 2010. Secondly, I don’t think it is wise or smart to assume Perron will be the same type of player he was prior to the injury. He has an enormous amount of rust to churn through and we aren’t sure how his system will respond upon receiving a huge hit in live-action. My belief is that all Blues fans should plan for the worst and hope for the best, which in this case, means assuming Perron won’t play a major role in 2011-12 and whatever he does provide is a bonus.

All in all, the USA Today article is one I would label as interesting. It’s interesting that the Blues are garnering some attention on the national level due to their wealth of young, talented players. However, it’s tough to label this team as a legitimate threat in the Western Conference when the Western Conference did nothing but improve right along with the Blues this summer. One needs only point to Philadelphia and how their talent (Carter and Richards) moved from the Eastern Conference to the Western Conference.

Are the new additions to the St. Louis roster enough to have this squad finish better than their 11th place finish in 2010-11? Can this team truly compete in the madness that is the Western Conference? I’m honestly not sure but I can’t wait to watch the 2011-12 season and find out.