2. Is there enough veteran leadership?
After letting alternate captains Barret Jackman (their longest-tenured vet) and T.J. Oshie go during the 2015 offseason, the Blues made a conscious effort to remodel their leadership structure. The Blues purposely shortened their officially-designated leadership group, allowing Alex Pietrangelo and Alexander Steen to become full-time alternate captains under David Backes. There had been repeated complaints about the Blues’ lack of a former Stanley Cup winner, so Doug Armstrong went out and added two, trading Oshie for Troy Brouwer and signing Scott Gomez after a successful professional tryout during training camp.
Gomez was released in late December, but Brouwer was an extremely influential figure throughout the season. He was the only Blues player to play in all 82 regular season games, and he contributed 13 points during the postseason, including the game-winner in the Blues’ Game 7 first-round victory over the Blackhawks.
The Blues lost a ton of that veteran leadership during the offseason. Brouwer signed with the Flames, Backes–who had been the captain since 2011–signed with the Bruins, and Steve Ott–a veteran of 795 NHL games and 55 playoff contests–signed with the Red Wings. While two important veteran role players, Scottie Upshall and Kyle Brodziak, were re-signed, the Blues primarily plan to replace Brouwer and Backes’s production with that of two largely untested players–Ty Rattie and Dmitrij Jaskin–and that of maybe one or maybe two veterans, depending on if Vladimir Sobotka decides to return to St. Louis, who will be serving their respective second stints with the Blues organization.
Either way, Sobotka and David Perron don’t exactly have reputations for being low-maintenance, so they’re not going to replace Backes and Brouwer from a leadership standpoint. Instead, the Blues will be counting on a few younger players to take on more prominent leadership roles.
Pietrangelo will take over (per Backes’s wishes) as captain, while Paul Stastny, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Kevin Shattenkirk will join Steen as alternate captains. Only Stastny has previously been an official alternate captain at the NHL level, wearing an ‘A’ for the Avalanche during his time in Colorado, but all three players served as fill-in alternate captains last year while Steen and Pietrangelo were injured. One would think that they’re not going to completely change as leaders just because they have a letter sewn on their jerseys, but obviously there will need to be a voice, or voices, to take over and keep the team together as guys like Backes, Brouwer, and Ott previously did.
The Blues will also have to hope that their young, talented cast learned enough about succeeding in the playoffs from guys like Brouwer and Gomez last year that they’ll be OK without a former Cup winner this season. That type of experience can’t be taught, but at least the Blues got over the hump last season by reaching the Conference Finals for the first time in 15 years and winning a playoff series for the first time in four.