When the St. Louis Blues dumped Brian Sutter last spring after four seasons as head coach, they dumped his game plan as well. Sutter and Sutter's dump-and-chase hockey are history. No longer will the main focus of the Blues' attack be on giving up the puck by dumping it into the attacking zone in the hopes of getting it back on a turnover.
Instead, they'll take the novel approach - for St. Louis - of trying to maintain possession of the puck under new coach Bob Plager. "Puck control" are the buzzwords as the Blues start their second quarter century. "If you have puck control, you carry the play," Blues' general manager Ron Caron said. "That's the fun of the game - 'I've got it. Take it away from me.' You need some talent and speed to hold the puck and gain the zone. We want to change the perception of our hockey team."
Even with three-time 70-goal scorer Brett Hull, the Blues were perceived under Sutter as a team of grinders and checkers, with a lot of heart and soul but limited skill and speed. With Sutter gone, the emphasis has changed to improving speed and skill in the hopes of catching up to, and staying with, the Blues' opponents who have upgraded their talent by diving heavily into the European market.
The Blues took their first tentative steps in that direction late last season by re-signing Frenchman Philippe Bozon, who had a brief stay with the Blues' Peoria farm team in the late 1980s. He turned out to be one of the Blues' best forwards down the stretch.
Then, at the entry draft in June, the Blues selected five players from the former Soviet Union. Left wingers Vitali Karamnov and Vitali Prokhorov already have been added to the Blues' roster, and a third - right winger Igor Korolev - may not be far behind.
They'll join superstar Brett Hull, Craig Janney, speedy Nelson Emerson, Brendan Shanahan, versatile veteran Dave Christian and Bozon to give the Blues three potential scoring lines.
Another player who may fit into the mix is left winger Denny Felsner. He led U.S. college hockey with 94 points last season. Barring trades, that leaves veterans Ron and Rich Sutter, Bob Bassen, Dave Lowry, Ron Wilson and Kelly Chase to battle for the remaining openings. "We have more talent than we ever have with the two Russians and several others who have signed contracts," Caron said. "This is the most talented group in my nine years as general manager. We want to have the fans say, 'Wow. they have three scoring lines and defensemen who have offensive potential and are given the green light to jump into the play.'"
The Blues are extremely deep at defense with talented veterans Jeff Brown and Paul Cavallini, speedsters Murray Baron and rookie Bret Hedican, along with solid Stephane Quintal, Garth Butcher, Rick Zombo, Lee Norwood and Curt Giles. With the new emphasis on offense, the Blues are hoping to take some of the load off goaltender Curtis Joseph, who faced more shots than any of his compatriots in the NHL last season.
Joseph finished third in save percentage with a sparkling .911 mark. "You could be respectful of your defense without having to think defense all the time," Caron said. "We scored 279 goals last year. We could score 40 to 50 more, without damaging our focus on defense."
While Bob Berry in 1986 with the Pittsburgh Penguins improved the Pens 23 points, with Mario taking charge, was the Hockey Digest's Coach of the Year, Bob Plager was named the head coach. And then replaced after 11 games in the 1992-93 season. As an NHL defenseman for New York and St. Louis in the 1960's. Plager, who racked up more than 100 penalty minutes three times in his career, had one of the most memorable quotes about hockey players: "You don't have to be crazy to play hockey, but it helps."
In 1990-91, the Blues had a breakout 105-point season behind Hull but the club couldn't get past the second round of the playoffs. Though this front office never got to the final four with coaches Jacques Martin, Brian Sutter, Bob Plager and Bob Berry, it did turn the Blues into a mainstream sports success.
Bob Berry had been an assistant coach with the Blues from 1988-92 and replaced coach Bob Plager in 1992-93 as the head coach, and even though he beat Philadelphia 6-4 in his opener, he lost in round 2 of the playooffs. In 1993-94 he completed the season but lost in round 1 of the playooffs. He went back to assistant coach from 1994-96. When Mike Keenan was named head coach.
Curtis Joseph began his college play at the University of Wisconsin. While playing for the Badgers, Joseph won 21 games and was voted to the WCHA All Conference Team. Shortly after his freshman season, Joseph, despite not having been drafted, was signed by the St. Louis Blues to a free-agent entry-level contract.
Joseph broke into the NHL in 1989, playing for the St. Louis Blues. In the off-season following the 1990â€"91 NHL season, the Blues signed Brendan Shanahan from the New Jersey Devils. Shanahan was a restricted free agent, and thus the Devils were entitled to compensation.
The teams could not agree on what the compensation was; the Blues offered Curtis Joseph, Rod Brind'Amour, and two draft picks, while the Devils wanted Scott Stevens. Joseph seemed to be the answer the Devils were looking for in goal, however the case went to arbitration, and a judge ruled that Stevens was to be awarded to the Devils in September 1991.
Joseph would remain with the Blues until 1995. The 1992â€"93 NHL season was his most successful season as he played a key role in the upset of the Chicago Blackhawks, the reigning Clarence Campbell Conference regular season champions, sweeping them in four games in the first round of the playoffs. The Blues then faced the Toronto Maple Leafs in a second-round series that went seven games, thanks in large part to Joseph. The Leafs eventually prevailed. Because of his efforts, he was nominated as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy that season. He finished third in voting behind winner Ed Belfour and Tom Barrasso.
In 1986-87 - Division Semifinal series changed from best-of-five to best-of-seven. And in 1993-94 - The NHL's playoff draw was conference-based rather than division-based. At the conclusion of the regular season, the top eight teams in each of the Eastern and Western Conferences qualified for the playoffs. The teams that finish in first place in each of the League's divisions were seeded first and second in each conference's playoff draw and were assured of home ice advantage in the first two playoff rounds.
The remaining teams were seeded based on their regular-season point totals. In each conference, the team seeded #1 played #8; #2 vs. #7; #3 vs. #6; and #4 vs. #5. All series were best-of-seven with home ice rotating on a 2-2-1-1-1 basis, with the exception of matchups between Central and Pacific Division teams. These matchups were played on a 2-3-2 basis to reduce travel. In a 2-3-2 series, the team with the most points could choose to start the series at home or on the road. The Eastern Conference champion faced the Western Conference champion in the Cup Final.
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