Queue up “Gloria,” because coach Craig Berube, Ryan O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jordan Binnington, and the rest of the defending Stanley Cup champions are ready to kickoff the 2019-20 title-defending season having returned all of its Stanley Cup-winning roster (minus hometown boy, Pat Maroon).
Notable Players In: Justin Faulk
Notable Players Out: Patrick Maroon, Joel Edmundson
First Key Game: October 5th, 2019 vs. Dallas Stars
Odds to win the division
15:4 (2nd overall) (via Betway)
Is this a bet worth taking?
Absolutely worth betting on the defending Stanley Cup champions to win the division. However, bet with caution. The Central Division is expected to be a tight race once again, but if the Blues can start the 2019-20 season with the same form as the last half of their 2018-19 campaign, taking the Central will be the goal, but nothing is guaranteed.
Working in their favor: The Cup-winning team return with it’s core group intact, and Tuesday’s acquisition of Justin Faulk from Carolina, in exchange for Joel Edmundson and highly-rated forward prospect Dominik Bokk, is seen as an improvement on the team’s already strong defensive group. In addition, Winnipeg are starting the season without a few of their superstars, Nashville looked like a tired bunch at the end of last season, and Dallas were an offensively inconsistent group that relied heavily on Ben Bishop.
Not in their favor: Nashville, Dallas and Colorado all improved on paper this off-season via trades and free agency. Chicago could benefit from a full season under the league’s youngest head coach, and added Vezina trophy nominee Robin Lehner to share the net, or take it, from Corey Crawford.
Keys To The Season
Story to watch
The Jordan Binnington situation. It goes without saying, the goaltender who lifted the Blues from the bottom of the league to the city’s first ever Stanley Cup title, will be under immense pressure to prove he can perform with similar results over the course of an entire regular season. Unlike with the case of Matt Murray in Pittsburgh, who similarly took over the starter’s net as a rookie to lead the Penguins to the 2016 Stanley Cup, Binnington is entering his first full season as a starter with more professional experience at both the NHL and AHL levels.
Experts, however, are predicting Binnington to be the real deal. Those same experts also thought the same of Jake Allen. This is a classic “time will tell” cliche.
If not, the ever-present, yet never-consistent Jake Allen sits behind Binnington… What’s that? Is that… the sound of Blues fans collectively groaning?
Binnington better not look nervous.
Player to watch
Vince Dunn. There are too many options to choose from in the forward group who could fit this category, and the goaltending situation is already the story to watch. Dunn, a solid two-way defenseman entering his third NHL season, has the potential to be the anchor of the St. Louis defense for many years to come. The soon-to-be 23-year old was a key figure in the team’s Stanley Cup championship run, providing timely offensive production in addition to solid play in his own end.
Of course, Dunn’s importance on the Blues’ backline could increase after this season, depending on the future of captain and longtime Blue, Alex Pietrangelo, who is slated to become a UFA next summer at the age of 30. Dunn’s progression this season is all the more important should the captain elect to test the market this summer.
Dunn himself is also entering a contract year as an impending RFA, and could stand to raise his value on with a strong season. With Faulk’s acquisition and contract extension, Blues’ GM Doug Armstrong will have options to weigh in terms of salary cap space for the team’s defensive group.
Continued youth development. This team just won the Stanley Cup, so there isn’t much of a need at the moment so long as the team doesn’t regress and take a massive step backwards.
Looking at the team that raised the Cup this past summer, the idea of building through the draft is more important now than it ever has been. Robert Thomas, St. Louis’ first-round (20th overall) selection in the 2017 draft, is the most recent to make an impact, and will have higher expectations in his second NHL season. Meanwhile, players in their early 20’s like Dunn, Sammy Blais, Ivan Barbashev, and the oft-injured, but highly talented Robby Fabbri, all will look to take steps forward in their careers this season. Preseason performances have already given Berube a reason to try Blais in a top six role.
Recent draft picks such as Klim Kostin (2017 1st rd., 31st overall) and Jordan Kyrou (2016 2nd rd., 35th overall) will be expected to compete for roster spots in the coming seasons, and the .
If the Blues were an animal, what would they be?
Lion. This one didn’t take too much thought, but also isn’t our most interesting animal comparison. The Blues are the current kings of the NHL’s jungle. The pack has its share of elders, with a group of young lion cubs they will do anything to protect. The lion defends with its size and strength, but is also quick in attack.