Hockey Guy: Blues influence spreads East

2013-10-01T05:00:00Z 2013-10-16T22:19:14Z Hockey Guy: Blues influence spreads EastBy Jeff Gordon jgordon@post-dispatch.com stltoday.com

The Blues won’t spend a whole lot of time in Eastern Conference cities this season, but this franchise has connections all over that side of the National Hockey League.

While Brett Hull is busy selling tickets and suites in the front office here, his old running mate, Adam Oates, will try to coach the Washington Capitals toward a deep playoff run.

Oates finally got the Capitals to embrace his offensive and defensive systems last season during his rookie season as head coach. By season's end, everybody was on the same page.

“He always comes up with something. He always sees those little details that maybe you as a player don’t always think about,” center Nicklas Backstrom told the Washington Post. “How you can get a shot off quicker, how to catch the puck — it’s always something that, when he tells you, you try it and it really works.”

If they can pick up where they left off last season – and maintain their highly productive power play – they could make a deep run next spring. Of course, the Capitals won’t have the old Southeast Division to kick around any more.

That grouping was sad last season, like the worst days of the old (Chuck) Norris Division on this side of the league. Alex Ovechkin and Co. face a much heavier lift this season.

Another Oates teammate in St. Louis, Paul MacLean, did a nice job coaching the Senators through an injury-marred campaign. With newcomer Bobby Ryan replacing the departed Daniel Alfredsson up front and cornerstone defenseman Erik Karlsson back to full strength, MacLean could have some fun this season.

Former Blue Marc Bergevin demonstrated a light touch as a team leader in St. Louis. His practical jokes kept teammates loose.

But as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens he embraces the very serious challenge of a storied franchise in an intense media environment. If goaltender Carey Price regains his old form, the Habs will be very dangerous.

St. Louis owes John Davidson tremendous gratitude for guiding this decimated franchise back on the upward track. Now he is trying to do the same in Columbus after taking over the floundering Blue Jackets operation.

Last season former Blues president of hockey operations hired his old St. Louis scouting director, Jarmo Kekalainen, as general manager. Together they plotted a daring course, acquiring mercurial scorer Marian Gaborik from the New York Rangers in a blockbuster trade.

They also signed Boston Bruins power forward Nathan Horton to a big free agent deal. Horton’s subsequent shoulder surgery delayed the impact of that move, Young players like Boone Jenner will have to pick up some of that offensive slack in the meantime.

Still, the Blue Jackets could be a handful for their new Eastern Conference rivals during the season’s second half.

St. Louisan Ben Bishop, a former Blues prospect, is finally getting his chance to earn a starting goaltender role in the NHL. The Tampa Bay Lightning acquired him from Ottawa last season to address a long-standing team need.

Steven Stamkos may be the league’s best player, but the Lightning can’t climb the conference ladder without better netminding.

AROUND THE RINKS: A lot teams made minor moves the past few days to address their salary cap concerns. The one team that got better was Florida, which added former Blues forward Brad Boyes and recent Blues camper Ryan Whitney, among others . . . After reading all those glowing reports about Jonathan Drouin, Hockey Guy was surprised to see Tampa Bay return the lad to junior hockey . . . The Stars really lit it up during the preseason. Nobody would be surprised to see Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin rip it up this season . . . It is never to early to start wondering which pending free agents will take a whirl in the rumor mill later this season . . . The Penguins are not sure when No. 2 goaltender Tomas Vokoun will make it back from his blood-clotting issue. But the team doesn't appear interested in unsigned free agent Ilya Bryzgalov, despite reports to the contrary . . .  Rather than give the hyperactive Toronto another storyline to beat to death this season, the Maple Leafs appear to ready to extend pending UFA Phil Kessel to a big money deal . . . It seems like 50 years ago that big center Michal Handzus played for the Blues. He is still going. In fact, he will open as the No. 2 Blackhawks center . . . Yesteryear Blues draft pick Konstantin Barulin earned KHL goaltender of the week honors for Ak Bars), winning all three starts – two by shutouts . . . How bad will the Calgary Flames be this season? The top line features Matt Stajan centering Curtis Glencross and yesteryear Blues winger Lee Stempniak, Sorry, Lee, but that is not a real top line. The long and painful rebuild in Calgary is just beginning.

Follow Jeff Gordon on Twitter @gordoszone and on Facebook at Gordo'sZone.

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Jeff Gordon

This is the new home for STLtoday.com sports columnist Jeff Gordon. Here you'll find his columns on the Cards, Rams, Blues and more, plus his daily "Tipsheet" blog about who's in and who's out in the world of sports.

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