As the Dallas Stars transition from the Pacific to the Central we continue getting to know their new primary competition with a look at the St. Louis Blues, 29-17-2 last year, good for second place behind the Cup champion Blackhawks.
The Blues qualified for postseason play in 24 consecutive years before the 2004-2005 lockout, after which they fell into disrepair, missing in five of six seasons. Since Ken Hitchcock arrived on the scene, however, the ship has been righted and 1st and 2nd place finishes in the Central has St. Louis looking like a lock to finish above the Stars in the coming campaign.
Or will they?
We begin to "know [our] enemy" now in hopes of defeating them...
LW Magnus Paajarvi, C Derek Roy, C Keith Aucoin, C Alexandre Bolduc, C Maxim Lapierre
LW David Perron, D Kris Russell
UFAs: RW Jamie Langenbrunner, C Andy McDonald, C Scott Nichol, D Jeff Woywitka, C T.J. Hensick, C Andrew Murray
Andy McDonald has retired. The question is whether or not Langenbrunner will do the same after a lost year following hip labrum surgery.
David Backes, Chris Stewart and T.J. Oshie you know. Young studs in the making include Jaden Shwartz and Vladamir Tarasenko. Sobotka, Lapierre, Steen - The forward group is stacked up and down the lineup.
For a bit of intrigue, however, the Blues add ex-Star Derek Roy on a one-year $4 million contact. Stars fans will remember, of course, Roy's disinclination to sign in Dallas, owing to a desire to drink deeply from the waters of free agency. The good news for him is that he gets to do it again next July.
The big story of the off-season for them, however, was the trade that sent David Perron to Edmonton in exchange for Magnus Paajarvi. At a glance this trade is a big win for the Oilers, but was a necessary financial move for Armstrong, while giving him a talented, controllable asset to work with that may benefit from a change of scenery.
On defense St. Louis returns the same group for the 2013-2014 season, and it's one they feel good about if the payroll is any indication. Jay Bouwmeester re-signed there, and joins Kevin Shattenkirk, Berret Jackman, Roman Polak and Jordan Leopold to the tune of about $20 million.
Where it gets interesting is RFA Alex Pietrangelo, stuck in contract negotiations with camp fast approaching and the 'H' word getting thrown around more and more each day. He'd like something north of $6 million, possibly into the $7 million range, which would be about every available dollar Doug Armstrong has to spend.
That would put St. Louis into the $25 million range on just defensemen alone in 2014-2015, with only seven forwards signed that next season and neither Halak or Elliott. Interesting times. It's a good problem to have, though, if you're a Blues fan with many years of playoff hockey in front of you.
While Dallas' jack-wagonry (TM) quotient is still down owing to the departures of Steve Ott, Krys Barch and Adam Burish with only Antoine Roussel to replace them, the Blues upped theirs this off-season by adding Maxim Lapierre in free agency, freshly departed from Vancouver.
If you thought you already disliked (mega-loathed) him, wait until this season series is under way.
In goal the Blues hope that Jaroslav Halak will return to form as his health is restored. He saw just 16 games last season owing to various maladies, but appears ready to return and reclaim the starting job from Brian Elliott. Having two starter quality netminders will aid them greatly as they figure to return to the playoffs for a third straight year.
From a rivalry stand point it's hard to say that any true animosity exists on the part of either fanbase. The Ken Hitchcock, Doug Armstrong, Brett Hull, Jamie Langenbrunner string of connections has made the dynamic an odd one in recent years, and apart from the odd incident with Steve Ott here or there it's been a fairly uneventful series.
More frequent match-ups will breed familiarity, and then likely malice. The Blues are firmly ahead of the Dallas Stars and have the core group to be so for years to come. With Hitchcock's bunch representing a direct hurdle on the path to Mr. Gaglardi's desired destination, it's not just the fanbase, but also the players that must embrace the Blues as a major foe as the new central division comes into being.