The good citizens of Canada may have taken one look at the
Blues' training camp and wondered if coach Joel Quenneville, a
Quebec native, was being unpatriotic. After all, what sort of
Canadian would put together a monster line of all U.S. players
in an Olympic year? By making St. Louis's first unit center Doug
Weight and wingers Keith Tkachuk and Scott Young, all members of
Team USA, Quenneville is giving them a chance to click before
the Salt Lake City Games in February. Quenneville, of course,
has other priorities, such as keeping the Blues on the same
level as conference powerhouses Colorado, Dallas and Detroit,
who have combined to win five of the last six Cups.
Quenneville's team will be among the league's elite. On July 1
the Blues acquired the 30-year-old Weight, the former Oilers
captain whom some aficionados call the best passer in the game.
Weight, who led Edmonton in scoring in seven of the last eight
years, had 90 points in 2000-01 playing with lesser linemates
than Tkachuk and Young. In February he chewed out teammates in a
players-only meeting, after which the Oilers won nine straight
games. By obtaining the scrappy Weight and allowing brittle
playmaker and first-line center Pierre Turgeon to sign with
Dallas, the Blues essentially told Tkachuk that he is free to
crash the crease and no longer should feel obligated to get every
loose puck in the corner. Tkachuk responded by coming to camp in
terrific shape, and he should top last season's 35 goals. Young,
a 13-year vet, had a career-high 40 goals last season.
The Blues, however, don't have the front line depth that some of
their rivals do and are still in need of a second-line center to
play alongside right wing Pavol Demitra. That shortcoming could
force Quenneville to move the versatile Demitra into the middle.
The Blues' back line is top heavy, with former Norris Trophy
winners Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis leading the way. The
biggest question mark is in goal. By trading Roman Turek, who
imploded in the last two postseasons, St. Louis starts this
season with promising second-year man Brent Johnson or Fred
Brathwaite, neither of whom has won a playoff game. Unless the
Blues get an established netminder, don't expect this franchise
to lift its first Stanley Cup, no matter who's on the top line.
Last season the Blues played a league-high 34 regular-season
games that were decided by three or more goals. In those matches
St. Louis's record was 24-10, best in the Western Conference.
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
FORWARDS 9 Adding Weight a big plus; Demitra must rebound
DEFENSE 2 Pronger, MacInnis league's top one-two
GOALTENDING 17 No established No. 1; team's only question mark
SPECIAL TEAMS 5 Eastwood and Drake are a top penalty-killing duo
MANAGEMENT 7 Pleau, Quenneville will be judged by playoff