Conventional wisdom – and most Blues fans, it seems – would be a bad team without David Perron and goalkeeper Ville Husso on the roster.
“That’s why you play the game,” said general manager Doug Armstrong, laughing. “we’ll find out.”
The Blues are on the verge of that nine-month “finding out” process. Hockey season has arrived. Blues training camp began on Thursday with two drills at the Sentinet Community Ice Center. (They take place at 10 a.m. and noon and are free and open to the public.)
The first of eight preseason games is against the Arizona Coyotes in Wichita, Kansas, on Saturday.
And the regular-season opener comes three weeks from Saturday at the Enterprise Center, against Johnny Goudreau and the Columbus Blue Jackets, on October 15.
“We’re excited,” Armstrong said. “Last year we had a good season – 109 points. We win round one in the playoffs, and I thought we were ready to go deeper. And we’ve got some injuries. Things keep happening.”
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Most notably, the Blues lost goalkeeper Jordan Binnington for the remainder of the series with a knee injury after Colorado’s Nazem Qadri crashed during Game 3 of the second round. Four of his defensemen also missed a combined 22 games in two playoff series against the Avalanche and the Minnesota Wild.
The Blues will open the 2022–23 regular season without one of those defenders – Marco Scandella (hip) – and without fourth-line forward Alexei Toropchenko (shoulder) due to surgery. The Blues opted not to re-sign free agent Tyler Bozak, 36, veteran of the 2018-19 Stanley Cup team.
But otherwise, it’s the same cast of characters, minus Perón and Huso.
“We’re bringing that same group back,” Armstrong told the Post-Dispatch last week at the NHL Prospect tournament in Traverse City, Michigan. “We saw real good growth last year from Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyaru. Now they have to keep building it.”
They both received a $65 million trust from ownership and management in the form of a record-setting eight-year contract extension.
“We have some other (developing) players,” Armstrong said. “Scott Perunovic was going to have a great chance last season and then (wrist) got hurt. So I think this team is like last year’s team, but obviously lacking Perón and Huso, it is now unknown in some areas. ,
and who knows? There are other young players who can step into bigger roles. Like Jake Neighbors. Or Logan Brown. Or maybe that’s the year it clicks for Klim Kostin.
“Yes, we have young players who need to play a bigger role,” Armstrong said. “It happens every year. Not just this year. I think all the teams are looking for young players to go ahead and do that. And teams that have young players go ahead and do that, they have There will be good seasons.”
Last year at Traverse City, Armstrong didn’t hit a punch when asked about the size of the Western Conference. He originally awarded the Stanley Cup to an avalanche while standing in the hallway between the rinks at the Center Ice Arena.
Nine months later, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly handed the cup over to the AVS. (Commissioner Gary Bateman was sidelined with COVID.)
“Obviously as a Stanley Cup champion, someone has to knock if he wants to be a champion,” Armstrong said. “But I think this year’s (Colorado) team is different than last year’s. They don’t have Qadri. Their goalkeeper is gone (Darcy Kumper). They’re starting to feel a little bit of that cap crunch that every There is someone.”
There were some depth players going along with 22-goal scorer Andre Burakovsky.
“They still have an incredibly talented team,” Armstrong said. “So I’d say they’re still one of the top teams. Last year, I thought they were light years ahead of everyone else. And I think this year, they’re still one hell of a team. Just pay The limit has made them a little weak like there are a lot of teams in it. But they are still definitely a top team.”
The Blues and Avalanche aren’t the only competitive teams that have lost players, at least because of cap issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic – leading to a flat cap.
For example, Tampa Bay lost defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forward Ondrej Palat.
Vegas, who missed the playoffs last season but must fight for a postseason berth again, lost to Max Pacioretti.
Meanwhile, recent bottom feeders, such as Ottawa, Detroit, New Jersey and Buffalo, may be on their way back up partly due to off-season acquisitions. Equality should rule the NHL as always.
“I would say you probably have a self-proclaimed three or four teams that are in rebuilding,” Armstrong said after signing Kyrou in St. Louis last week. “So it takes you – what – 28, 29 (teams) that all think they have a chance to win. And we are in that group.
“I think there’s definitely a belief that if you make the playoffs you can make a loss in the playoffs. You need health, you need good breaks for yourself and maybe bad breaks for your competition. Is.
“But equality has never been this strong in this league. Until the pay range makes a massive jump like before, it is getting tighter and tighter.”
Scoring was as high as it was in a quarter-century last season, and the Blues were at the forefront of that line, finishing third in goals per game—even ahead of Colorado—and with nine 20-goal scorers. Speed and skill have never felt so important.
But Armstrong sees another reason for the goalscoring spree of a year ago, which could continue this season.
“The scoring had gone up, but there’s also a whole new generation of goaltenders in the league who don’t have the Marty Brodeur pedigree,” he said. “There have been (a lot) of great top goalscorers who have been out of the league in the last five or six years.
“I think everybody’s hoping they can find that impressive guy. But I think if you go around the league, the level of eight or nine goalscorers isn’t that much that everybody knows. That’s the stars.”