Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Mike Yeo is "as excited as I've been to start a season in a long time"

Blues coach more than leased with off-season moves made by 
GM Doug Armstrong adding O'Reilly, Bozak, Perron, Maroon, Johnson

ST. LOUIS -- If it were up to Mike Yeo, the season would start now. 

As in today, right now, right this second.

That's how excited the Blues coach is at this past off-season's acquisitions by general manager Doug Armstrong.

"I can tell you that this is as excited as I've been to start a season in a long time," Yeo said at the Blues' Ice Breaker 2018 event Sunday night in which they unveiled their third jersey, or Heritage Jersey. "The moves that 'Army' made, the areas that he addressed, the depth we have, I'm extremely excited."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues coach Mike Yeo (right) said this is as excited as he's been to start a
season in a long time after a string of acquisitions this summer.

Adding center Ryan O'Reilly via trade, and forwards David Perron, Tyler Bozak and Pat Maroon along with goalie Chad Johnson through free agency has given the Blues (44-32-6, 94 points in 2017-18) an entirely new makeup to a group that missed the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons last year.

This was a Blues team that went into the final regular season game and lost to the Colorado Avalanche and missed out on the Stanley Cup Playoffs by one point, but that team, which had Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Kyle Brodziak, Scottie Upshall, Carter Hutton and Tage Thompson at the time is no more.

Not even close.

Berglund, Sobotka and Thompson as well as a 2019 first-round pick and 2021 second-round pick were shipped to the Buffalo Sabres in the trade that brought O'Reilly to St. Louis, Hutton (Buffalo) and Brodziak (Edmonton) departed as free agents and Upshall is going to Edmonton on a professional tryout, just like he did when he came to St. Louis three seasons ago and earned a contract.

But what it means as they head into training camp is the Blues fortified their center ice position adding O'Reilly and Bozak with Brayden Schenn and young guys like Ivan Barbashev and 2017 first-round pick Robert Thomas, who looks to be a primed to make his NHL debut this season, and adding veterans like Perron, who returns to St. Louis for a third stint, and Oakville native Maroon, who comes home on a one-year deal.

But when Armstrong began July 1 by addressing needs with free agent signings of Bozak (three years, $15 million), Perron (four years, $16 million) and Johnson (one year, $1.75 million), there was a sense the Blues were done for the day and that this was a solid way of kicking off the off-season re-tool.

But then the boom of all booms was heard from Niagara Falls all the way to the Gateway Arch when Armstrong pulled off the long-rumored trade in acquiring the 27-year-old O'Reilly from the Sabres to add another solid two-way center, and to say Yeo was stoked to say the least, was an understatement.

"It kind of kept getting better and better," Yeo said. "If we would have stopped (with the Bozak and Perron signings), we would have been very happy. We identified those two guys as guys who would have helped our team and obviously when you're adding guys like that in the free agent market, you're not losing anything from your roster. 

"Obviously the trade for 'O'Ry' there, there's a lot of pieces going the other way. Where we're at with the prospects that we have and where we're at with the guys that we added in free agency, when [Armstrong] was talking potential trade, I got extremely excited about it and he was able to pull the trigger on that and then we add Pat Maroon as well."

Bringing the guy known as 'The Big Rig' home, adding skill and physicality up front on July 10 seemed to be the icing on a cake that was already laced with the sweetest icing a coach could have asked for. Perhaps Yeo was caught a little off-guard by the addition of Maroon and was content after the activities on July 1, but Armstrong said all along at his exit meeting with the media following last season that this would be an important summer for him.

"I would have been OK if we were (done), but one thing I liked about (signing Maroon), one of the things we talked about if we want to make sure we're a very hard team to play against," said Yeo, who will begin his third season behind the bench after taking over for Ken Hitchcock after 50 games in the 2016-17 season. "The physical element is still relevant in the game today and obviously there's less fighting in today's game than there was back in the day, but what I'll say is physical hockey, finishing checks, wearing on opponents and even some form of intimidation, sticking up for your teammates, that's still a factor. And even if you have players that can bring that element, make your team harder through your lineup bu they play quality minutes and they give you quality ice time and can chip in offensively, then obviously that's a real value to your group."

But according to Yeo, the Blues weren't necessarily done "acquiring" players, but this one is a bit more unique than the others.

"And on top of that, we haven't really talked about it, but it's kind of like we signed a free agent in Robby Fabbri as well, a guy we haven't had for a year and a half now," Yeo said. "If he can come in and try to get back to the level that we know he's capable of playing at and he can do that quickly, that's another huge add for our group."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Perron returns to the Blues for a third time after spending last season
with the Vegas Golden Knights.

Yeo is going to need a plethora of No. 2 pencils and a season supply of erasers trying to mix and match line combinations, power-play groups and penalty kill units, because there's a host of players ready, willing and able.

"I'm going to be a typical coach and say, 'We've got a lot of work to do,'" Yeo said "Obviously there's new challenges. We've got to bring our team together. A lot of turnover there and we've got to put everybody in the right role.

"These are guys that have played big minutes with their groups. Pat Maroon's going to factor in on special teams as well. We're adding players that aren't just going to come into our lineup just to get sprinkled in. We're adding guys that have a really strong impact on the game both on the 5-on-5 and the special teams."

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