As October creeps closer, another NHL season creeps with it.
In the 22nd of a series of team-by-team summer reviews and season previews, here's a glimpse at the ...
St. Louis Blues
The Blues made a sixth straight playoff appearance in 2016-17, but the run didn't come without monumental changes to the organization. A hot start for St. Louis, which won 10 of its first 13 games at home, faded as the club went 19-19-3 from November through January, including a 1-5 stretch on the road. Out the door went longtime coach Ken Hitchcock, who was set to step down after the season and is No. 2 in all-time Blues coaching wins (248, only trailing Joel Queneville at 307), and in came former Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo on Feb. 1. A month later, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was also gone, dealt at the trading deadline, but the Blues (46-29-7) still finished in triumphant fashion, using a near-top-10 offense to go 22-8-2 under Yeo -- 7-1-2 in the final 10 games -- and advance to the second round of the playoffs.
After losing to eventual Western Conference champion Nashville Predators in the second round, the Blues have their sights set on a more formidable push for Stanley Cup contention after an active summer for general manager Doug Armstrong.
Key additions: F Brayden Schenn (trade with Flyers), F Beau Bennett (Devils), F Oskar Sundqvist (trade with Penguins)
Key losses: F Jori Lehtera (trade with Flyers), F David Perron (Golden Knights), F Ryan Reaves (trade with Penguins), F Kenny Agostino (Bruins), F Nail Yakupov (Avalanche)
By including a first-round draft pick and a conditional 2018 draft pick in Lehtera-for-Schenn trade, the Blues paid a steep price for a non-superstar, but made an already-dangerous offense a heck of a lot better. Even if Bennett is little more than an extra skater and Subdqvist doesn't pan out as a throw-in in the deal for Reaves, Schenn can bolster the St. Louis bench for the short and long term. Recouping a first-rounder for Reaves was darn near trade thievery on Armstrong's part, too, so it's not like the Blues should be fretting about their draft capital anyway.
Yakupov may find himself in Colorado, and Agostino should be an intriguing name to watch in Boston, but the Blues rightfully are banking on Schenn as more proven offensive insurance. The biggest loss is Perron, who had 46 points in 2016-17. Re-signing young defenseman Colton Parayko to a reasonable five-year deal checked a box, too.
Tough call, not because the team is in a bad place or got any worse, but because of competition awaiting in the Central Division and the adjustment that must come on offense, where center Patrik Berglund will be sidelined until December and Perron's production off the bench must be replaced. Yeo had the team firing on all cylinders at the tail end of the 2016-17 regular season, so with new players with key roles in Berglund's absence to open the season, a drop-off is to be expected.
Still, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko headline the top line, and Schenn should beef up the offensive output. If goalie Jake Allen gets near his shutdown performance in the playoffs, the Blues defense also could take a step forward. Keep in mind that first-round pick Robert Thomas should aid the blue line -- even offensively -- once he gets going. This group is built to compete now, and after their busy offseason, the Blues should be just as -- if not more -- dangerous than they were at the end of last season. The daunting task of topping the Predators, Wild, Dallas Stars and Chicago Blackhawks -- along with their early playoff-exit woes -- makes them Stanley Cup sleepers, rather than contenders.