2. St. Louis Blues
The Blues and the yet to be revealed number 1 team were the only true no-brainers for the playoffs, from the Central Division. Last season, the Blues were favorites to win the Central Division, but that didn’t work out, but they still had a strong season, that unfortunately for them ended in a 1st round playoff elimination by the Los Angeles Kings. Like Nashville, the Blues are a defensive-minded hockey team, but unlike Nashville, the Blues have more proven and reliable offensive fire-power. David Backes, Chris Stewart, Alexander Steen, T.J Oshie, and Patrick Berglund should provide more than enough offense for the stingy Blues, as long as they live up to what is expected of them.
There are fears of a holdout from star-defenseman, Alex Pietrangelo, due to the his and the Blues’ failure to negotiate a new contract. If there is a Pietrangelo holdout, and it is lengthy, that could seriously put a damper on the Blues hopes. The rest of the blueline core, aside form Pietrangelo, is an extremely solid group. Kevin Shattenkirk, Jay Bouwmeester, Jordan Leopold, Roman Polak, and Barret Jackman round out one of the leagues better shut-down defensman corps.
In net, the Blues have some questions, but more than a couple good answers for them. Brian Elliot‘s clutch play between the pipes, down the stretch, helped propel the Blues into the post-season. Jaroslav Halak has been working out in St. Louis all offseason, clearly determined to bounce back from an injury plagued 2013, and return to his dominance of the 2011-2012 season. Keep in mind, it was only 2 seasons ago that the Halak/Elliot goaltending duo was all but unstoppable. A 3rd name, Jake Allen, and his young, high up-sided skills in net, are also in the fold for the 2013-2014 campaign, after an excellent job filling in for the injured Halak, last season.
Much like the Predators, the Blues are a defensive-minded team, with a few questions going into the season. The Blues however, have more reliable answers to these questions than most other teams do.