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Team Preview: St. Louis Blues

Key additions: Eric Brewer, D (T - EDM); Patrick Lalime, G (T - OTT); Dean McAmmond, LW (FA - CGY); Jeff Woywitka, D (T - EDM); Scott Young, RW (FA - DAL); Trent Whitfield, C (FA - WSH); Doug Lynch, D (T - EDM); Aaron Downey, RW (FA - DAL); Jason Bacashihua, G (T - DAL); Andy Roach, D (FA - Europe)

Key losses: Chris Pronger, D (T - EDM); Al MacInnis, D (Retired); Pavol Demitra, C/RW (FA - LA); Chris Osgood, G (FA - DET); Scott Mellanby, RW (FA - ATL); Pascal Rheaume, C/LW (FA - NJ); Brian Savage, LW (Waivers - PHX); Alexander Khavanov, D (FA - TOR); Murray Baron, D (FA); Jeff Finley, D (FA - Europe); Steve Martins, C/LW (FA - OTT); Aris Brimanis, D (FA - Europe); Christian Laflamme, D (FA - Europe); John Pohl, C (T - TOR); Jame Pollock, D (FA - Europe); Shawn Belle, D (T - DAL); Mike Danton, C/RW (Jail)

Key players unsigned: None

Forwards: St. Louis saw its goal production plummet by 60 goals from 2002-03 to 2003-04 and its rank League rank in the category fall from fourth to 21st over that period. Did they really miss Cory Stillman that much? If so, it won't be pretty now that they've lost another 70+ goals off their roster and replaced them with Dean McAmmond (17 goals in 2003-04), Scott Young (8) and a couple of defensemen. The Blues attack will once again be led by Keith Tkachuk (pictured) and Doug Weight. Tkachuk hit the 30 -goal mark for the fourth straight year (and eighth of the last nine) in 2003-04 and topped 70 points for the third time in four years: just another solid year for one of the League's most dominant power forwards. Weight, perennially one of the League's top passers, surpassed 50 assists for the fourth time in five years, but hasn't topped 20 goals since the 2000-01 season, his last in Edmonton. He'll need to take matters into his own hands and score more in 2005-06 because there simply isn't as much talent around him as there has been in the past. The Blues will need increased production from wingers McAmmond, Young (a 40-goal scorer for the Blues in 2000-01 who has scored only 50 goals since), Eric Boguniecki (six goals in an injury-plagued 2003-04 after a 22-goal rookie campaign in 2002-03) and Peter Sejna (the former Hobey Baker winner who has 3 goals in 21 NHL games so far) and from centers Mike Sillinger (who had only 24 points in 2003-04 after four straight 40+ point campaigns) and Petr Cajanek (the 2001-02 Czech Extraleague Player of the Year who has yet to show that his game translates well in North America). If all of these forwards have career years the Blues may be have a respectable goal total by year's end. More likely, they will struggle to score all year long and will be towards the bottom of the NHL in goals when it's all said and done.

Defensemen: How do you replace Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis? You can't (this sounds vaguely familiar). But the Blues got only three games out of Mac in 2003-04 before his career-ending eye injury, so the efforts to replace him have been underway for a while now. As for Pronger, St. Louis could not afford to keep him, so they moved him and got decent value in return. Eric Brewer became the Blues' second best defenseman upon arrival and Jeff Woywitka (already with his third organization before his 22nd birthday) and Doug Lynch both project to be serviceable NHL defensemen, though neither is expected to see much ice-time in the NHL this year. The leader of the Blues blueline (and eventually the whole team) is unquestionably Barret Jackman (pictured), the 2002-03 Calder Trophy winner whose 2003-04 season was cut short by a shoulder injury. Jackman is a punishing hitter who plays smarter than his years and will fast become Patrick Lalime's best friend. He can't replace Pronger, but getting a full year out of Jackman will certainly help. Filling out the defense will be Christian Backman (a good skater with offensive upside), the seemingly ageless Eric Weinrich, bruiser Bryce Salvador and possibly journeyman Andy Roach, a 32-year-old NHL newbie who has made stops in Switzerland, Germany, Utah , Long Beach and San Antonio in his professional career. St. Louis has a few solid building blocks on defense in Jackman, Brewer and Backman and some decent prospects on the blueline, but the loss of Pronger cannot be overcome, in the short-term at least, and the Blues defensive corps will regress some in 2005-06.

Goaltenders: Patrick Lalime (French for "Patrick the Lime"... no?) wore out his welcome in Ottawa (maybe, just maybe, it was those two Joe Nieuwendyk softies he let in in Game 7 against the Leafs) , so he hopped on the goalie-go-'round and ended up in St. Loo, where he'll be the Blues' fourth #1 goalie in five seasons. Lalime is wildly inconsistent, but his numbers look good when the roller coaster comes to a stop at the end of each year (two amusement park metaphors in one paragraph - not good). Since goalie controversies are about as common in St. Louis as quarterback controversies in D.C., we'd be remiss not to mention former Stars first-round pick Jason Bacashihua, who Blues fans will be clamoring for as soon as Lalime loses two straight games. But Lalime is better than Chris Osgood, the man he replaced, and certainly better than Bacashihua, and should be a good fit in St. Louis. He'll be backed up by either Bacashihua or, more likely, Reinhard Divis. Or Curtis Sanford (hey, it's St. Louis' goalie - we've got to cover our bases).

Bottom line: In 2003-04 the Blues somehow managed to make the playoffs despite being one of only two playoff teams to have been outscored during the regular season (Nashville was the other). The team hasn't found any additional offense and the defense is worse off than in '03-'04. There isn't much in the pipeline and, remarkably, the team is already over $33 million in salary for 2005-06. Perhaps they'll be able to find a way to move Tkachuk and/or Weight before the trade deadline and start rebuilding in earnest because for the first time since 1980, it looks as though this year the Blues will be watching the playoffs from home.

Update (9/17): Keith Tkachuk failed his physical and was suspended by the team.