Hey Ranters, welcome to Off Beat! As part of this series, I’ll be talking with and interviewing other bloggers around the NHL. It’s always exciting to hear what others are thinking about our Blues. After all, who, more than us, keeps better tabs on the Blues’ moves than our divisional rivals?
I got the chance to talk to Isaac Greenwood, a writer/contributor to MileHighHockey.com, about the offseason, and how he thinks the upcoming season will play out. MileHighHockey.com is a blog site for the Colorado Avalanche, and Isaac gave me a great rundown of the Avs’ prospects for the upcoming season, as well as an outsiders’ perspective of the St. Louis Blues‘ offseason.
James B: Well, let’s get introductions out of the way. Tell the readers a little about yourself, Isaac.
Isaac G: I’ve lived most of my life in Colorado on the eastern plains. I really started to get into hockey as a young teenager playing the EA Sports NHL games, and it got me to start watching some Avalanche games. My love for hockey eventually blossomed into a full-blown fanatic at the age of 17, consuming every bit of Avs news and game footage that I could.
As to how I became a blog writer, I got my start writing a bit unconventionally, I guess. I was actually in the middle of an argument between the managing editor of the site and one or two commenters, and somewhere in the fray, I mentioned I enjoyed writing about the Avalanche for my high school newspaper. Next thing I knew, I got an email from the editor asking if I’d be interested in contributing for Mile High Hockey.
Of course, [I] said yes, but I warned that I would need to get acclimated a bit and had a lot to learn. He was fine with that, and he (as well as other writers there) did a great job teaching me the ropes and helping me grow. I started out small, doing game recaps and that sort of thing, but recently I’ve taken on much harder pieces (such as making the case for Nathan MacKinnon to win MVP).
That’s not too strange. I wrote my first article for Bluesrants.com because I got into a Facebook fight over Jake Allen. Isaac, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Be gentle: how exciting was game 82 for you last year?
I’m sure it was extremely difficult for Blues fans, but frankly, it was a purely euphoric moment for myself. Just the turnaround from being a historically bad team to suddenly being in the playoffs is an amazing experience that few have seen. In fact, this drastic improvement was historic not only in the NHL but in all sports. I think that is something all fans can appreciate, even though it came at a pretty high cost to a certain team. In that sense, I feel bad for the Blues, but as an Avs fan, it just had to happen.
Ugh, it was rough. What moves have the Avs done this offseason that have got you guys over at MHH talking? Gauge your optimism level for the upcoming year.
Without a doubt, the Philipp Grubauer trade is what has most of us excited [this offseason]. The Avalanche, as it stands, has a very good goaltending tandem in Varlamov and Grubauer (.920 and .923 Save%, respectively, last season). What’s likely to happen is that Varly will start about 50 games, and be spelled frequently by Grubauer.
Other than that, Colorado didn’t do too much. A couple of depth guys were extended. Ian Cole and Matt Calvert were good depth signings, which is something the Avalanche needed, but both were definitely overpaid. However, the Avs have a lot of cap space and it actually doesn’t affect them at all financially, even with impending extensions for some RFAs.
I’m cautiously optimistic because the Avs’ success is largely dependent on their young players taking steps. However, it’s pretty clear to me that they have a higher floor and they won’t have to fight so desperately for a playoff spot. Goaltending is a marked improvement. Defense and offense look like they’ve improved somewhat as well, all of which make it look like Colorado has gotten over the hump a bit more.
Blues have had a pretty active offseason so far. I read the MHH team reset story on the Blues, and I loved all of the hate in the comments. What’s your impression on the Blues’ moves, and how do you see them fairing this year?
Sure, there was certainly some critique (some fair, some not) going towards St. Louis, especially centering Ryan O’Reilly. However, that is to be expected due to the fact that the article’s focus was on a divisional foe. A lot of Avalanche fans still harbor some understandable vitriol towards O’Reilly, given his circumstances of leaving the Avalanche, so there is that to keep in mind as well.
As to what I think of how the Blues did in the offseason, I actually think they did really well, and had perhaps the best offseason besides the Maple Leafs. Ryan O’Reilly, despite what some Avalanche fans think, is a very excellent player, especially defensively (I don’t buy the plus-minus argument one iota). Patrick Maroon and David Perron are two solid middle-six wingers, but the one player I’m not too high on is Tyler Bozak.
He is already declining, and he’s signed for 3 years at a $5 million AAV. Five million per year for a declining third line center? That seems like they overpaid significantly, although that is often what happens in free agency. I’m also heavily concerned about goaltending, as I have little confidence in Jake Allen (and less in Chad Johnson). Maybe Ville Husso will be ready for a backup role, but the situation still doesn’t seem ideal. Overall though, the Blues look like a much improved team.
Lastly, I’m asking every writer to give me their season predictions for the Central Division this year. In order from first to last, what is yours, Isaac?
Winnipeg’s offense is very deep, housing probably the best top 9 in the league. They also are quite young as a team, leaving room for improvement for players like Ehlers, Connor, and even Laine. Their defense is also solid, headlined by one of the most feared guys in the league in Dustin Byflugien. Goaltending remains strong with Connor Hellebuyck, a Vezina finalist last season. All told, this is a team that has pretty much no holes.
The defense is an embarrassment of riches, yet they are not a one-dimensional team. Their tandem of Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros is quite good, despite the former’s age. Their offense also has some good balance throughout, yet there seems to be a lack of a superstar that will show up every night (outside of Filip Forsberg).
St. Louis Blues
The Blues have an exceptional top 9 and a good defense, yet the question lies, I think, entirely on goaltending. The net-minder is the most important player on the ice, and I’m not very optimistic about the Allen-Johnson tandem. However, their competence in other areas could perhaps help mask their issues there or even give Allen a bit more confidence to play better.
In order to finish here (or higher) and knock a few more of the established teams in the divisions, Colorado needs a boost from their youth. Given the number of guys they have poised to do so means the Central will likely see the Avalanche worm their way into a more comfortable spot. The two most likely breakout candidates are Tyson Jost and Samuel Girard.
Jost had a rough and injury-riddled rookie year but still flashed his potential at times. Most agree that he has at least 60 point potential, with a very strong defensive game to go with it, all at the center position. A true second-line center was something the Avalanche desperately needed last season, and if he can get close to his ceiling, the Avalanche would be in significantly better shape. More exciting, in my opinion, is left-defender Samuel Girard. He already has elite skating ability, as well as a good shot and already mature puck moving. His defense is also very solid, despite his small stature, even while coming in the league at 19 years old.
This looks like a team that is pretty locked in. They have less than $2 million in cap room. Their core is aging. Their biggest splash in free agency was Greg Pateryn, whose success was likely a product of Ken Hitchcock’s defensive system. It looks like things can only get worse, but right now they’re just good enough to keep relatively competitive.
This is a tough team to gauge. Goaltending is decent, the defense is okay, and the offense is very top-heavy. That being said, there are two reasons I have them here. One, they have a new coach, who could take some time to figure things out. Second, the Central division is just so competitive that someone just has to lose out.
The empire has fallen finally. The Blackhawks have some fun contracts to deal with in Toews, Seabrook, and Keith. GM Stan Bowman seems to be making some questionable decisions. Does signing Cam Ward really make sense right now? They might as well tear everything down, it’s not like their going anywhere soon.
Awesome, thank you Isaac! I look forward to collaborating with you in the future. I wish you guys over at MileHighHockey.com continued success!