On the back of a strong showing in 2021/22, the St. Louis Blues head into the new NHL season high on optimism that their Stanley Cup window remains wide open.
The Blues, who last won the Cup in 2019, finished third in the Central Division with a 49-22-11 record and beat a strong Minnesota Wild team in six games at the first-round stage of the playoffs.
|What||NHL Season 2022/23|
|Where||USA and Canada|
|When||7th October 2022 - June 2023|
|How to watch||ESPN+, Star+, NHL.TV & bet365's Sports Live Streaming|
COL Avalanche +425, TOR Maple Leafs +800, FLA Panthers +900, TB Lightning +1000, CAR Hurricanes +1100
The victory was their first play-off series win since they beat the Boston Bruins in the 2019 Final, but of all, their second-round defeat to the eventual champions Colorado Avalanche may be what St. Louis can take the most comfort from.
After being swept by Colorado in the 2020 playoffs, the Blues performed much better this time around pushing the outstanding Avalanche to six games without star netminder Jordan Binnington.
Injured in the first period of Game 3, back-up Ville Husso wasn't able to match Binnington's lofty .949 post-season save-percentage, allowing 16 goals on 132 shots (.879 save-percentage) in the final four games of the series.
St. Louis' blue-line was also well beat up after a physical series with the Wild and the depth scoring which served them so well in the regular season fell away.
Despite all their troubles, aside from the back-to-back Champion Tampa Bay Lightning who Colorado beat in the Final, they were easily the Avalanche's biggest test on route to lifting the Cup.
Following a somewhat underwhelming regular season (18-14-4, .901 save percentage, 3.13 goals-against-average in 37 games), 29-year-old Binnington got back to his exceptional best in the playoffs before he was frustratingly injured.
He enters 2022/23 as the undisputed starter in the Blues goal after Husso who played 40 games last season (with a .919 save-percentage and 2.56 GAA) was traded to the Detroit Red Wings.
Thirty-six-year-old Thomas Greiss will be his new partner, moving from the Red Wings to the Blues.
In 31 games last season, Greiss had a .891 save-percentage and 3.66 GAA and while a cap friendly move, he is a clear downgrade on Husso.
Binnington won the number-one job back off Husso in the playoffs, and his ability to return to his previous form and play the majority of games will be crucial for a franchise with genuine championship aspirations.
The Blues were third in the NHL in goals (309), 11th in goals-against (239) and the only team to rank in the top five on the power play (second, 27.0 percent) and penalty kill (fifth, 84.1 percent).
Key to their regular season success was that they had nine 20-goal scorers, one of which they have lost in David Perron, who signed with the Red Wings as a free agent.
Perron had 57 points (27 goals, 30 assists) in 67 games but had to be moved on for the Blues to stay within the NHL's tight salary cap.
With no major additions on the forward lines, the Blues hope the loss of his production will be covered by the continued acceleration in development of Jordan Kyrou or Robert Thomas, or that a prospect such as Jake Neighbours or Zachary Bolduc makes a breakthrough.
The Blues will also need to find a way to transition their scoring depth into the playoffs with only four of the eight 20-goal scorers registering more than two in the post-season (Perron, nine, Ryan O'Reilly, seven, Kyrou, seven and Vladimir Tarasenko, six).
Pavel Buchnevich (30 goals in regular season) scored just once, and Brayden Schenn (24) and Ivan Barbashev (26) did not score. Robert Thomas (20) scored his two playoff goals in Game 5 of the second-round defeat to Colorado.
Additionally, the Blues need to find a way to take their good home form into the post-season.
In the regular season they went 26-10-5, but they lost each of the three games played at Enterprise Center to the Avalanche.
Despite taking a lead in each of the home games, overall, they were outscored 14-7 and their post-season form on home ice will be a key focus for improvement.
Coach Craig Berube will have a new assistant coach in 2022/23 with Craig MacTavish replacing Jim Montgomery, who has been hired as head coach of the Boston Bruins.
MacTavish last coached in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers who he led to a 301-252-47-56 regular-season record and three playoff appearances, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006.
The pair know exactly what the Blues need to do in order to repeat their 2019 success, and if they can find answers in the playoffs, there's little reason to think they won't be serious contenders for the Cup again.