Players / Things to Watch in 2011-12
September is here. We've exhausted all the talking points from the summer and there's really not much left to say until training camp and preseason get underway. With that being said, I introduce you to my list of things and players to watch in the 2011-12 campaign.
Players to Watch
From a writer's perspective, each and every player on the St. Louis roster should be viewed and analyzed. However, here are some players that I feel have the most interesting storylines for the season ahead.
Pretty obvious selection here, Halak struggled in his first season and will be expected to improve in his second year with the Blues. The second year of his four-year contract, Halak will need a solid performance to avoid having the first half of his deal be viewed as a failure.
Oshie has been tabbed as a potential breakout player by various sources and will be looking for a big year in order to secure a longer, larger contract either from the Blues or from a new team. Issues away from the ice were a major talking point in 2010-11 which will cause Oshie to be placed under a magnifying glass for the duration of the year. One can imagine that another slip up could have major implications on a future contract.
We all know why Perron is on this list. News broke yesterday that Marc Savard of Boston has likely played his last game in the NHL due to post-concussion syndrome which instantly makes fans here worry a bit more about Perron's future. It's already been stated Perron will miss the start of the season but I wouldn't be surprised if he misses a substantial portion of the year, if not the entire thing. While Perron should eventually be cleared to practice and resume regular workouts, there's no telling how his body will respond. At this stage, it's best to assume Perron won't appear in 2011-12 while taking whatever he is able to give the Blues as an added bonus.
The Blues brought in leadership
and experience through Jamie Langenbrunner, Jason Arnott and Scott Nichol. It'll be interesting to see what these three 36-year-old veterans have left in the tank offensively and how they influence the younger skaters on the team.
Stories to Follow
These are storylines we can follow all season long. Sure, several could fit under the "Players to Watch" category, but they aren't quite as multidimensional as, for example, the T.J. Oshie storyline is.
Can Chris Stewart approach 35-40 goals?
If he's healthy, Stewart has a legitimate shot to not only crack the 30-goal plateau but possibly flirt with the 40-goal mark. Last season saw Stewart tally 28 goals in 62 games split between the Colorado Avalanche and the St. Louis Blues. If he's able to maintain that same sort of clip and able to stay out on the ice and off of the IR, Stewart should not only be the Blues leading scorer but could be one of the highest scoring forwards in the league.
How annoying will the "Don't Stop Believing" slogan be?
I wish I had an answer for this one so that we could all start preparing well before we enter the Scottrade on October 8th for the regular season. I've been pretty critical of the organization's marketing
the past couple years (rightfully so) but this one takes the cake. The new slogan is embarrassing and insulting. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a chorus of booing if the team tries to regularly play the Journey song during regular season games.
Ideally, it'd be nice to have the new owner situation sorted long before October 8th. Realistically, that may not be the case. One can only hope that the changing of the guard and the sale of the team doesn't take away from the action on the ice. The last thing this team needs is a roster of players distracted by an issue off of the ice. Hopefully, the eventual sale is a smooth one and the club is a buyer at the trade deadline rather than a seller.
Last season with this Central Division?
Realignment is inevitable. Once the NHL allowed the Atlanta Thrashers to move to Winnipeg, it became a matter of "when" and not "if" realignment will happen. No one knows with any certainty what the new alignment in the NHL will look like but we can safely assume that the Central Division will be overhauled, with at least one of the Western Conference teams moving to the Eastern Conference. This may be the last season we have a division rivalry with some of these teams so be sure to enjoy it while you can.
It all comes down to playoffs. Will this team make it back into the postseason? If I was forced to bet, I'd say yes. I think they added enough pieces this summer to be a competitive team each and every night. Only two things may hold this team back: 1) if Jaroslav Halak is still shaky in net and 2) if the injury-demons still aren't satisfied.