No, not here - James of Cycle Like the Sedins foundership fame has asked me to participate in his blogger roundtable regarding how we feel about our teams' upcoming seasons. It's not on CLTS, though - oh no! He's too big and fancy for that - this divisional preview is on NBC's Pro Hockey Talk. It's always nice to see what other bloggers are thinking regarding not just their team, but as a division as a whole. Check out what Caroline from Canes Country, Donny of The Litter Box Cats, John of Raw Charge, and Rob of Storming the Crease all have to say about their teams' chances in the most improved division in hockey... or so they* say it is.
*I'm guessing this "they" is related to "them," whoever "them" is. Are. "Them" be? Aw, screw it.
It's that wonderful time of the year - it's finally getting cool(ish) outside, fall is in the air, and NHL training camps begin. Next week marks the start of pre-season hockey, and before you know it, the season's starting. The off-season's been long and not exciting, but it's amazing how quickly it's passed for Blues and Thrashers fans. Now we get to see what the trade acquisitions and free agent signings bring to the make-up of the teams, and we get to see what rookies have to return to the AHL or juniors for one more year of seasoning.
The Blues' camp began this morning at St. Louis Mills shopping center. Full rosters are up on the Blues' website, of course, and it looks like it'll be a bit of a packed house for sure. The roster guys from last year are basically going to be back on the team this season, so very few roster spots (fourth liner and probably two defensive slots including the 7th guy) are up for grabs for the youth to pick and choose from.
The minor league goalies know that they're not cracking the team this year with Jaroslav Halak and Ty Conklin as the tandem. However, look for Jake Allen and Ben Bishop to play well, but they'll be the goalie pairing in Peoria for another season. The healthy scratch position is Matt D'Agostini's to lose, which stands to reason since this is the position that he'll probably play in the NHL for the bulk of his career. The real intrigue lies in the sixth and seventh defensemen positions that lay open.
As it stands, the Blues defense looks like this:
Cola-?? 7th Man - ??
Two slots open, with five guys fighting for it. Yep, I know that there are eleven prospects fighting for them, but out of all eleven, there are only five that will really challenge for those two spots. Alex Pieterangelo is 20, and steamrolled the other prospects at Traverse City. It's more than evident that he has hit his level of development at the junior level and probably at the AHL level, and deserves the opportunity to continue to improve at the NHL level. The 6th pairing will be complete with him, giving the Blues a solid defensive corps with room to mature and grow - or improve their +/- rating, as it applies to them. The seventh guy - the healthy scratch - comes down to Ian Cole, Nikita Nikitin, Nathan Oystrick, and Tyson Strachan. Strachan needs the work in Peoria to smooth out rough edges, as does Cole - and being the 7th man will do their development no good. Nikitin continues to impress, but Oystrick has the most NHL experience and is as developed as much as he can be. He's a perfectly servicible last pairing/7th d-man who had been pushed down the depth charts of Atlanta and Anaheim. In order to not stunt the development of the youth, he's probably the safest option for the Blues to use as the scratch.
Not sure if I agree with his line-up (I'd go Oates or Federko over Janney - and Janney and Shanny on the same line's probably not safe anyway), but you gotta love Jon Hamm's legit devotion to the St. Louis Blues:
Even if this is a damned HAT OF LIES:
Poking around the interwebz the past few days, I've caught some of the season previews sneaking out. I've already looked at the Blues' offense on here, but the previews I've seen the most of on-line have been for the Thrashers since so many previews have been alphabetically released. The thing that's catching my eye is that they've been mostly positive-ish. Of course, positive-ish for the Thrashers in the national media is "they won't finish last!" so I kind of take what I can get.
SB Nation's look at the pre-season power rankings is a compilation of the individual blog owners' opinions of where the standings'll wind up. Take it with a grain of salt since it's a group effort (and don't jump Travis - he just had the duty of getting it together). I consider pre-season power rankings a wash - they take into consideration all of the bloggers' pre-conceived ideas about the team as well as their compiling of information from media outlets, and let's face it - no one's cuddly with Atlanta. I picked apart the rankings on SB Nation Atlanta. Usually I don't pay a bit of attention to power rankings because they're just opinion, but I wanted to look at SB Nation's since I write there on a few blogs.
But ranking Southeast Division teams lowly, or at least just blowing them off, is a mistake. Adam Proteau of The Hockey News has a good point - out of the Eastern Conference divisions, the SE made the most moves and the most effort during the off-season to noticably improve. Laugh at your own expense, but every team's gotten better, and with the exception of maybe the Panthers, they each have a legit shot of making the playoffs. You can't look at the SE this year and write everyone off but the Caps, and that should make folks think through their power rankings for once.
Unless you're Jamie Bell of TSN. TSN completely wrote the Thrashers off in their pre-season preview in a write-up that couldn't be more wrong. It's a mash-up of assumptions that fails to take about half of the team into consideration. Apparently dropping dough on an "impact player" is necessary for the team to move up in the standings. This statement comes after Bell lists the players that the Thrashers added. He might not be a big name, but if you don't think Chris Mason is an impact player, you haven't been watching Western Conference hockey for the past two seasons.
This selection from the article made me actually laugh out loud:
The departures of Max Afinogenov, MacArthur, Colby Armstrong, Slava Kozlov and White means there will be plenty of forward spots up for grabs in training camp. While there are some promising prospects on the horizon it will be difficult to fill the skates of the departing veterans, no matter how many bit pieces from the reigning Stanley Cup champs are brought in. This team is going to have a great deal of difficulty scoring.
Ok, I've already addressed this on SB Nation Atlanta - the Thrashers have replaced that scoring and have replaced it with defensively responsible players. How they're worse off is confusing - if losing Ilya Kovalchuk wasn't that big of a deal to the team, how is losing Todd White? TSN is usually home of solid reporting, but this is supposition and laziness combined. The same moves that had the rest of the hockey media sitting up and taking notice, even if for a second, seems to have flown over Bell's head.
Mike Chen of From the Rink is obviously on the ball. He has the Thrash ranked as next year's breakout team. I'm a homer and biased, and not sure if this is really the case (it might be a bit of hyperbole), but I do like how it sounds. That, and Mike put forth more effort in his paragraph blurb than TSN did in their preview, so I'm giving the edge to him.
Yes, I chose this photo for the picture of the dude in the front row in the Cards cap. That takes guts to wear that in Philly. Well done, good sir. Well done.
The Thrashers finally re-signed their top line forward Niclas Bergfors today, giving much needed stability to the top six of the team. Bergfors, you might remember, was the offensive part of the Kovalchuk trade who came over and kept pace with the former Thrasher in the games after the trade up through the end of the season. The rookie was named to last season's All-Rookie team, and netted 21 goals and 23 assists last season. Bergfors thrived playing in the Thrashers' wide open style, and it can be fair to say that he should be able to score more than 21 goals this season freed from the shackles of New Jersey's snooze-inducing offensive system.
Bergfors was re-upped for just one year, though, at $900,000. This can be either good or bad - while most Thrashers fans'd like to see him locked up for more than one season (the term seems short), he will still be a RFA at the end of that term. If he has a bang-up year this season, he can count himself almost a shoe-in for a payraise and a lengthy contract at the end of the season.
The Blues are off to a bangin' start at the Traverse City tourney, taking out the Tampa Bay Lightning prospects 4-2. Brett Sonne scored twice, and Jake Allen was solid in goal, blocking 24 of 26 Bolts shots. The box score can be found on the Blues' site, and no word as to when we'll be able to listen to/watch one of these games - I'm guessing it'll be when the Blues play a Canadian squad, since RogersTV is actually broadcasting the games. First I hear of anything being available, I'll post.
Also, Thrashers rookie camp starts tomorrow. Unfortunately I can’t make any of it this year thanks to work, but Birdwatchers Anonymous has it covered with the rookie previews. Three days worth of previewing the forwards (here, here, and here) are done, and Timmyf has moved on to the defensemen.
Things like this are why Barret Jackman is an alternate captain.
The Blues have announced their alternate (or assistant) captains for this season - Barret Jackman (who has been given the A yet again for his awesome "*dumbass*" look he shoots people), Erik Johnson, Alexander Steen, and David Backes. This is an excellent group of vets and young up and comers who will be getting a chance to grow into their roles presumably over a few seasons. Eric Brewer is still the Captain (more on that later), but in a few seasons I can see this shaping up to be David Backes' team.
It's ok. We'll still be seeing this on the PP.
In what comes as no shock, Chris Vivlamore has reported that Dustin Byfuglien will be starting camp at defense. With the recent signings of Modin and Dawes, it left absolutely no room for him up front - especially with the abundance of big forwards who will play a 3rd line role that the team now has. Expect to see Byfuglien continue his power play role as the Thrashers' version of Tomas Holmstrom, making life a nightmare for goalies.
The defense that we now have stockpiled looks like this: Bogosian, Enstrom, Hainsey, Sopel, Oduya, Valabik, Meyers, Kulda, and now Byfuglien. There're eight guys for basically seven spots. Either Kulda's staying with Chicago for another year, or someone's gone.
To keep Kulda in Chicago one more season for development isn't horrible, but after watching him play up here for a few games last season, it seemed that he was more than ready to step in last year. Unfortunately, his playing time was taken away by the call-up of Chris Chelios that we really couldn't see how he would end the season with the big team.
Valabik's been re-habbing all summer, and after a rough start last season was looking really good and comfortable before his season-ending injury. It seems a bit unfair to prepare for a trade at D without seeing how he is.
As the team stands right now, we'll have a glut at defense and a surplus of grinders at forward, with our first line and Peverley thrown in. We'll be tough to play against and we certainly won't be a doormat, but we need someone who can get the puck in the net as an insurance policy if Little doesn't bounce back (and if Bergfors doesn't get re-signed). I liked Dudley's moves at the beginning of the season, but his recent ones are confusing me. The depth is nice and not something that I'll ever argue with, but what of scoring? That's not a good thing to lack.
As his agent Alan Walsh put it on Twitter, "Halakamania comes to St. Louis." God, that's an understatement.
Recent goaltending acquisition Jaroslav Halak was introduced to the St. Louis media and fans today, with a flurry of high expectations and low common sense - which is fine. The Blues haven't had a starting goalie since CuJo (who isn't featured on Halak's mask - odd), so the fans need someone to be pumped up about. Yes, there's some laughing to be had at the Blues' press-release - and Halak's Glamor-Shot worthy photograph. No, there won't be a jersey retirement/statue dedication for the new goalie here anytime soon, but give Blues fans a minute to bask in the glow of getting the league's "most talked about in a good way" goaltender. Sure, the reality of the season'll set in here soon enough when we're not first in the league on the back of the golden Halak, but the preseason'll be fun - the positive buzz's great, especially coming off of last year's disappointing (for the Western Conference) finish.
A round up of first hand accounts of the Savior's triumphant arrival in St. Louis can, of course, be found at the Post Dispatch. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to be there since I was about 900 miles away, though I did snag this artist's recreation of the event: