New-look Blues open final season for coach Ken Hitchcock
ST. LOUIS (AP) The St. Louis Blues have won at least 49 games in each of the past three seasons and advanced to the Western Conference finals last spring.
Doing it again this season will require effort from a bunch of new players.
David Backes, who spent 10 years in St. Louis, is now in Boston. Goalie Brian Elliott was traded to Calgary. Troy Brouwer, the Blues' second-leading goal scorer in the playoffs last spring, signed with Calgary. Steve Ott, after two-plus seasons with the Blues, is now in Detroit.
''There's no time to be sad about somebody,'' Blues right winger Vladimir Tarasenko said. ''They were great players and they're still good players, but they play for other teams, so we're going to play against them now. It seems like we have a really good team right now and I'm just looking forward for our season to start.''
Before the 2015-16 season, the Blues traded T.J. Oshie to Washington for Brouwer and opted not to re-sign defenseman Barrett Jackman. St. Louis went 49-24-9 with 107 points, just two points less than in 2014-15.
The Blues' core group has changed slightly over the years but Ken Hitchcock's squad remains one of the most talented groups in the NHL.
Tarasenko set career highs in goals (40) and points (74) last season, ranking fourth in the league in goals and 12th in points, after signing an eight-year contract extension. Alexander Steen (52 points), Paul Stastny (49) and Kevin Shattenkirk (44) ranked second, third and fifth among the Blues in scoring and are all back. Robby Fabbri accounted for 18 goals and 37 points as a rookie last season.
The defensive group, led by Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Shattenkirk and youngster Colton Parayko, is among the best in the NHL.
The biggest change for the Blues is in net, where St. Louis broke up its successful tandem of Elliott and Jake Allen, who went 26-15-3 with a 2.35 goals-against average and .920 save percentage last season. After sending Elliott to Calgary for a second-round draft pick, St. Louis signed Allen to a four-year contract extension that kicks in for the 2017-18 season.
''I think I have a great opportunity in front of me, I'm very fortunate for that, and it's been a long road,'' Allen said. ''It's been four years in the minors, some stints up and down here, a couple seasons here. It's been quite the grind to get to this point but I feel like the process is finally paying off.''
Some things to watch this year with the Blues:
Hitchcock announced this offseason that this would be his final season, which led to a shakeup among his assistant coaches and with former Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo coming in as an assistant and the designated coach in waiting.
MIND THE NET
Can Jake Allen carry the load? The Blues are counting on Allen to be their No. 1 netminder after trading Brian Elliott to Calgary. Allen has looked the part in a part-time roll, with a 2.34 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in 99 career regular-season games, but St. Louis needs him to carry the load this season.
The Blues lost veteran forwards in captain David Backes, Troy Brouwer and Steve Ott in free agency. Alex Pietrangelo, a 26-year-old defenseman, became the 21st captain in the organization's history.
One of the surprises this offseason was the signing of 28-year-old forward David Perron, who spent his first six seasons with St. Louis before the Blues traded him to Edmonton. He's scored 20 or more goals in three of his nine seasons and the Blues will need him to produce. The Blues also re-signed Schwartz, 24, to a five-year deal. He had 28 goals and 63 points in 2014-15 but was limited to just 33 games a year ago because of an ankle injury and is now out for at least a month after hurting his left elbow.