Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing the Blues with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford
Rather than the standard previews of Central Division foes from an outsider’s point of view, I decided to take a different approach. Behind Enemy Lines will take a look at our divisional rivals through the eyes of those invested in the team in one way or another. Today, the series concludes with the St. Louis Blues and beat writer Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Bartl: One of the main questions surrounding the Blues was the health of David Perron, and it’s now known he won’t be ready to start the regular season following his November concussion. Will that have much of an impact on the team heading into the season, or were the Blues planning as if he wouldn’t be ready to go?
Rutherford: Not having David Perron in the lineup leaves the Blues without one of their top skill players and therefore hurts them, but because he missed the final 72 games of last season and most folks weren’t really expecting him to be ready, I don’t think his absence at the start of the season will have a dramatic effect. If the Blues struggle out of the gates and Perron is still out in January, it could weigh on them moreso, but they’ve been prepared to move on without him.
Bartl: St. Louis has seemed to play a very physical style, especially when facing Chicago. Does the loss of Cam Janssen affect that style, or do you believe there’s an adequate replacement to fill his role?
Rutherford: The departure of Cam Janssen does leave the Blues without a true enforcer. Yes, Janssen was not a heavyweight, but he took on all comers, and outside of B.J. Crombeen, the Blues don’t have a player to fill that spot. Ryan Reaves is a second-year player who has the make-up to be the player who drops the gloves for the Blues, but he’s unproven. At this point, there are serious questions about who will handle the rough stuff for the Blues.
Bartl: The Blues made a couple of big moves through free agency, bringing in veterans Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner. How much do you believe the two can contribute, and what can we expect to see from them as the season goes on?
Rutherford: I was actually in favor of these two signings. The Blues are not looking for the Arnott (36) and Langenbrunner (35) to be the players they were 10 years ago. What the team was looking for was someone who could bring offensive depth to their third and fourth lines and also bring experience to a young team. The Blues’ best players are their young players, but we saw last season that they still need somebody to lead the way.
Bartl: What are the chances former 50-goal scorer Jonathan Cheechoo makes the team out of camp?
Rutherford: The chances of Cheechoo wearing the Blue Note on opening night are slim. The former 50-goal scorer has seen a dramatic decrease in production the last few years in his career, eventually leading him back to the American Hockey League. Cheechoo says he’s healthy and very committed, but to unseat one of the Blues forwards, he’s will have to be awfully good in training camp. The Blues had many significant injuries last season and, while they hope Cheechoo can regain his magic, they brought him in for depth purposes.
Bartl: What impact do you believe the potential sale of the franchise will have on the team, if any?
Rutherford: The sale process has had an undeniable effect on the Blues, but I think the club has now moved past that. They weren’t able to sign any mega free agents because of their tight budget, but they were able to add some pieces that will give them a legitimate chance of competing. Even with a new owner today, there’s nothing they could do to improve their chances. The sale is expected to happen prior to, or shortly after the start of the season, and if that happens, the Blues should be in good shape. If not, then we can revisit this topic.
Bartl: Finally, given the moves made in free agency, having a solid young player in T.J. Oshie and a top-tier goaltender in Jaroslav Halak, where do you believe the Blues stack up in the discussion for a playoff spot?
Rutherford: The Blues had their best start in franchise history last year through 12 games (9-1-2). But, of course, it’s not a 12-game season, it’s an 82-game season. Injuries derailed a promising season, but in hindsight, I don’t believe Jaroslav Halak was ready to lead the Blues through an entire season as the No. 1 goalie. His improvement from last season will be closely monitored and will decide if the Blues are contenders this year. Also, I don’t believe the Blues had enough firepower up front to score on a consistent basis, and with the trade acquisition last year of Chris Stewart, they’re better equipped. If healthy, the Blues could contend for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.
Follow Blues beat writer Jeremy Rutherford on Twitter @jprutherford
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