Blues captain Chris Pronger was in midseason form during one of
the team's voluntary scrimmages in late August. After 90 minutes
of exhausting four-on-four hockey with only eight players per
team, Pronger was campaigning to prolong the game. "We had the
ice for a while longer," says Pronger. "We're paying for it, we
might as well use it."
The sentiment was nothing new for a man who logged more ice time
per game (30:37) than any other player in the league last season.
And when Pronger wasn't on the ice, it seemed that Norris Trophy
winner Al MacInnis was. At 35, MacInnis had the finest season of
his outstanding 16-year career. He led NHL defensemen in scoring
with 62 points, averaged more than 29 minutes per game (fourth in
the league) and was +33 on a team whose next-highest mark in that
category was center Craig Conroy's +14. The problem for the Blues
was finding four other defensemen they wanted to put on the ice.
In training camp the Blues were getting ready for the
regular-season wars. During intrasquad games MacInnis and
Pronger exchanged slashes--MacInnis called them "love taps"--and
Pronger fought rookie forward Brandon Sugden and had a nasty
mid-ice collision with defenseman Jamie Rivers, who was
subsequently lost in the waiver draft. That ill-tempered defense
will help goalie Roman Turek, who had sparkling numbers (16-3-3,
2.08 goals-against average) as Ed Belfour's backup in Dallas
last season. Turek, 29, will get his first crack at being a No.
1 goalie now that Grant Fuhr has been shipped to Calgary.
Netminding was a problem for the Blues in 1998-99: St. Louis
allowed the fewest shots of any team in the league, but its
goals-against average ranked only 14th.
The scoring load will fall to 24-year-old forward Pavol Demitra,
who broke out last season and led the team with 37 goals and 89
points. His 10 game-winning goals were one behind league-leader
Brett Hull of the Stars. Crafty center Pierre Turgeon had a
strong postseason (13 points in 13 games) and a solid training
camp. The rookie to watch is 22-year-old forward Jochen Hecht, a
German who had two goals in five playoff games after a
late-season call-up. He has outstanding size (6'3", 200 pounds)
and skill and is versatile enough to play any position up front.
The Blues are a team with a scrappy attitude, a handful of
stars--count 41-year-old coach Joel Quenneville among them--and
a future among the Western Conference's elite teams. --B.C.
Blues captain Chris Pronger (30 minutes, 37 seconds over 67
games) was the only NHL player to average more than 30 minutes
of ice time per game last season.
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
OFFENSE 12 Demitra, now a star, must adjust to big-time
DEFENSE 7 Pronger and MacInnis are powerhouses
GOALTENDING 18 Is Turek up to being a No. 1?
SPECIAL TEAMS 5 Conroy and Pellerin are superb penalty killers
COACHING 2 Quenneville simply makes his players better