NEW PLAYERS 9
NEW RULES NO FACTOR
BETTER THAN '03-04? NO
The only sure thing about the Blues this season can be summed up by a phrase not usually heard at the rink: for sale. What will the buyer get? A team of question marks. "What's our game going to look like? What's the philosophy going to be? What's it going to be like game to game?" says G.M. Larry Pleau. "We don't know."
Since owners Bill and Nancy Laurie put the team and the arena on the market in June, St. Louis has traded defenseman Chris Pronger, a former Hart and Norris trophies winner; elected not to re-sign high-scoring second-line center Pavol Demitra; and seen captain Al MacInnis retire. The Pronger and Demitra moves significantly lowered the payroll, which could make the team more attractive to prospective buyers. The Blues are also selling flexibility: The team offered only one-year contracts to almost everyone--from new coach Mike Kitchen to the most recent acquisition, free-agent right wing Scott Young.
Despite the departures of Pronger and MacInnis, St. Louis should have a reliable defense. Barret Jackman, the 2002-03 Calder Trophy winner, has recovered from a dislocated left shoulder, which he suffered in October 2003. Eager to "hit some people," the 24-year-old Jackman understands that he is now the leader of the blue line. "I know how much I learned from Chris and Al," he says. "I'm looking forward to filling a bigger role."
The budget crunch, however, will be felt on offense. If the Blues are to extend their streak of 26 playoff appearances, they must develop or acquire prolific marksmen at bargain prices. Left wing Keith Tkachuk, who scored 33 times, is the only player on the roster who surpassed the 20-goal mark for St. Louis in '03-04. The Blues hope that the 37-year-old Young, who scored a career-high 40 goals for the team in '00-01 and returns after a two-year stint in Dallas, will rediscover his touch. "Scoring is something we can work on," says Pleau, who admits, "I'm managing day to day." --Y.Y.
The Blues used to outwork you. Now they'll be hard-pressed to keep up in the run-and-gun West.