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WHEELER: Blues Improve With Addition of Established Vets

Kevin Wheeler
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Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner are not the players they were 4-5 years-ago but they add the kind of veteran depth the Blues need moving into the 2011-2012 NHL season. These are guys you’re adding to your 3rd or 4th line and their experience will go a long way.

All of a sudden the Blues can roll four lines out there that can all contribute on a nightly basis.

On Wednesday, GM Doug Armstrong said he expects the team’s centers to be David Backes, Patrik Berglund, Arnott and Scott Nichol. That leaves Chris Stewart, Andy McDonald, T.J. Oshie, Alex Steen, Matt D’Agostini, Vladimir Sobotka, B.J. Crombeen and Langenbrunner for the wings.

Having a little fun with the possible combinations…

You could go with a checking line of Sobotka-Nichol-Crombeen…

A 3rd line of Steen-Arnott-Langenbrunner…

A 2nd line of Oshie-Berglund-D’Agostini…

And a top line of McDonald-Backes-Stewart…

Now, we all know how much line combinations can change throughout the course of the season but just playing around with the combos you see a lot more depth, a lot more versatility. And all of that’s without including David Perron, who continues to have issues with concussion symptoms. If he comes back at any point during the upcoming season that group really takes on some new life.

No matter how David Payne decides to align the group of forwards he has at his disposal the overall balance is much improved. Brad Winchester and Cam Janssen worked their rear ends off for this team the last couple of years but Winchester was up-and-down and Cam’s overall game was clearly limited.

There is nobody in the current group of forwards that needs to be protected or “managed” based on the situation of the game. Sure, if you’re down a couple of goals and looking for offense you’ll use the checking line less (that’s basic hockey) but in a tie game or with a 1-goal lead you don’t need to keep anyone on the bench for entire periods of play just because their game doesn’t suit the situation.

Langenbrunner and Arnott are known to be leaders and having guys like that around never hurts. Those kinds of guys are always positive influences. That said, let’s not buy into the “young players need to learn how to win” stuff.

I’ve never been a believer in that philosophy. Teams win by being good at what they do. That’s why throughout sports you have upstart teams, sometimes without anyone who “knows how to win,” who make big runs and even win titles. Winning is the product of overall quality. Langenbrunner and Arnott improve the overall quality, their talents allow them to contribute in a number of ways and they can certainly set a positive example for younger guys.

But they can’t “teach young guys how to be winners.” Sports don’t work that way.

Think about it…

If that philosophy really worked, what’s with all the teams out there who have “proven winners” that aren’t winning anything? Bottom line – it comes down to overall quality of the team. When you have good 12 good forwards, 6 good defensemen (which I think they have) and strong goaltending (lots of potential there too, though more consistency is needed) you will be a winning team. With a little depth beyond that you can manage to fight through some injuries.

If you get hot in the Spring, under those circumstances, you can win a Stanley Cup.

Every single player on the Blues’ roster knows how to win. Winning is simply about execution and discipline, assuming you have the talent.

When you combine those three things with a little luck anything is possible.

Leadership hasn’t been the Blues’ problem the last couple of seasons. Health, depth and a lack of offensive firepower (until the 2nd half of last season anyway) have been. You fix those areas and guys with leadership qualities put it on display.

The Blues have a better roster right now than they did at any point last season. They’re not a powerhouse, they’re not a lock for a playoff spot, but they are certainly a team to be taken seriously entering the 2011-2012 season.

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