Friday, September 17, 2010

High goals, expectations await Blues as camp opens

New voices asked to carry torch for
team searching for return to playoffs

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Ready or not, the Blues have hit the ice and are ready to embark on another journey that they hope will lead to a playoff berth and beyond.

And for those familiar with the Blues of last season, there wasn't a whole lot of turnover. What it says is Blues management is banking on a large number of those very same players to make 2010-11 a better season and playing experience.

The biggest change is the voices in the room, particularly those of veterans Keith Tkachuk (retired), Paul Kariya (not resigned) and Darryl Sydor (retired). They are no longer around. The complexion has taken a grand makeover in that regard.

The oldest players in the room this season are going to be Ty Conklin (34), Andy McDonald (33) and Eric Brewer (31). In fact, they'll be the only thirty-something’s on the roster pending any changes.

The only significant acquisitions came in the form of trades for goaltender Jaroslav Halak and center Vladimir Sobotka, along with the addition of former Blue Scott Mellanby as an assistant coach on Davis Payne's staff. Doug Armstrong also comes on board as the team's general manager. Armstrong took the place of longtime GM Larry Pleau, who will remain with the Blues in some capacity.

The youth movement continues to push forward, but instead of grooming the youth, it's now their team. There will be some grooming still going on, it's time for the youth to rise up and lead the franchise in the present and into the future. It will be the voices of David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Erik Johnson, Alex Steen and others that need to compliment those of Barret Jackman, Brewer and McDonald.

"The players have now been given the opportunity. Now they have to perform," Armstrong said. "... The glass ceiling ... when you mentioned Paul or Walt, they didn't created that glass ceiling. They were certainly never an issue here. The respect that they got from our team was well-earned. They deserved everything they got here. I don't want anyone here to think they were ever an issue because they weren't. They were great players, great mentors, great leaders. Paul and Walt are a big part of what we're going to do going forward for the work they put in to get us to this point."

But now, it's up to the players the franchise has brought along to take those strides and get this team back to postseason play and eventually battle for a Stanley Cup.

The future is upon them.

"It's definitely different not having those guys around," said Steen, who has been awarded to be an assistant captain this season. "They're all going to be missed.

"Our goal is to make the playoffs, but I think the important thing for us is to realize what happened and why we missed out last year."

Count forward B.J. Crombeen among those that realize the importance of a collective voice being a recipe for success.

"Most of us have been through the league once and it's time we step up and quit looking at other people for that and taking care of it ourselves," Crombeen said. "Whether you have a guy over 1,000 games or a guy with 200 games as an assistant or captain, it really comes down to you taking control of your situation. We know we're professionals. We have to come every day ready to do it.

"Last year we didn't do that enough and that's why we finished out of the playoffs."

The Blues were on the ice Friday at the St. Louis Mills Ice Zone for on-ice endurance testing and will get on the ice with pucks for the first time Saturday morning. It's a time for players on the bubble to show what they've got and a time for those that continue to grow within the franchise to continue that climb up the ladder.

"If we meet our standard for the length of time required, we're going to have the success we're talking about," said Payne, who begins his first full season behind the Blues' bench. "To me, if we set expectations, you can set limits on yourself as well. Our expectations are daily, our standards are daily. If we meet those, we'll make progress daily and by the time we get to Game 82, we'll be where we want to be and we'll continue to progress from there. It's about meeting a standard to each other, it's about meeting a standard for the staff, it's about making sure we understand what level is required.

"(The players) have got to come in and stake a claim on exactly where they see themselves fitting into the lineup. ... These guys have to make those statements here and now in camp."

* NOTES -- Sobotka, acquired from Boston over the summer, went to see a doctor today regarding his injured shoulder and is expected to be sidelined another 10-14 days. ... Some of the endurance skills winners include Andy McDonald, T.J. Oshie, Chris Porter and Philip McRae.

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