Are the 2011-12 Blues Tough Enough?
Last season there was little debate over whether the St. Louis Blues were a tough team in the physical aspect of the game. The Blues led the league in major penalties with 79 and accumulated the fourth most penalty minutes in the league with 1,225. While there were plenty of questions about the team's depth, scoring talent and goaltending, physicality was not something that seemed to be lacking. Given the recent departures and new additions the question must be asked: Are the Blues tough enough?
From the physicality department, the departure of Cam Janssen is an enormous one. Though Janssen lacked offensive skills he never backed down from even the largest of opponents and always stood up for his teammates. With Janssen leaving, the Blues are suddenly without a "true" enforcer in the sense of the word - new territory given the team's run with both Janssen and D.J. King not long ago.
Janssen's absence may not seem significant at first but fans must realize that the Blues no longer have an enforcer by definition. That's not to say the team doesn't have anyone that will throw down the gloves, but that is saying that the role has been left vacant.
Before we go too much further, let's clear up the fact on players willing to fight. The Blues have a plethora of players that are willing to fight, but there are several of those guys that shouldn't fight due to their importance to the team. Take Chris Stewart for example. He's been known to drop the gloves and can be tenacious when he wants to be. However, it was fighting that sidelined him for a large chunk of the 2010-11 season with a broken hand. The Blues brought him into score, not throw punches.
The same can be said for David Backes. Some of his recent fights have been quite memorable (Team Canada would agree), but the Blues really can't afford to have him go down with an injury from a scrap either.
Stewart and Backes can throw their weight around and cause trouble for the opposition, which is why the management will likely split the pair between two lines.
Speaking of lines, let's take a look back at the potential line combinations that were discussed near the start of July.
Note that David Perron has been left off as he really have no idea when he might be available in 2011-12, if at all.
The Blues do have some guys capable of crushing checks, but overall is the above lineup tough enough to take on a team like Chicago? Ryan Reaves has been anointed the new "enforcer" of the Blues, but as the lineup currently stands he may find it hard to crack the NHL roster. Reaves can be a great physical presence but it's tough to label just how many games he will play in for the Blues.
I mention the Blackhawks because they have done well to add some strength to their lineup, and frankly, I'm not sure how well the Blues stack up. For instance, Dan Carcillo. Carcillo is a professional at causing headaches for opponents and isn't timid about starting a scrap. Normally we could say that Janssen could go out there and do his thing, but without Janssen, who becomes the new regular fighter? B.J. Crombeen?
This isn't a slight on B.J. Crombeen, but while he can scrap and hold his own, he isn't an enforcer and shouldn't try to be.
The Blues did a great job adding depth and boosting their overall offense, but I'm not convinced this team can lower its head and matchup against some of the larger, more physical teams in the league.
Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing Ryan Reaves have a permanent spot in the lineup - just in case. He isn't the best fighter in the league, but I'd much rather see him drop the gloves than David Backes or Chris Stewart.