ST. LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 8: The St. Louis Blues are introduced before a game against the Nashville Predators at Scottrade Center on October 8, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images) By Jeff Curry
ANAHEIM, CA - FEBRUARY 28: Magnus Paajarvi #56 of the St. Louis Blues skates against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on February 28, 2014 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images) By Jeff Gross
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 02: Jaden Schwartz #9 of the St. Louis Blues looks on against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on December 2, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images) By Jeff Gross
(AP) — Goalie Ryan Miller took the brunt of the blame for the St. Louis Blues' latest early playoff exit.
A franchise still looking for that breakthrough element is counting on more offense making the difference. Dynamic forward Paul Stastny is the key upgrade with the season coming up fast.
The Blues will still roll four lines but perhaps with less grinding and more pizazz.
"Obviously, his resume speaks for itself," general manager Doug Armstrong said of Stastny. "His playoff performance speaks for itself. Right in the prime of his career, we're getting him."
Coach Ken Hitchcock is excited about potential trickledown from the Stastny free agent signing from Colorado. Big bodies David Backes and Patrik Berglund can be used at center and on the wings, adding skill while clearing out space up the middle.
"We have so much size there right now," Hitchcock said. "We've got options. We've got real opportunities."
The 28-year-old Stastny was lured away from the Central Division rival Avalanche and back to his hometown with a four-year, $28 million deal. He has 18 points in 22 career playoff games. Stastny is from St. Louis and his father, Hall of Famer Peter Stastny, and brother, Yan Stastny, are both former Blues players.
The Blues have two other young playmakers. Vladimir Tarasenko was their top offensive threat as a rookie and they shelled out for speedy Jaden Schwartz, who ended a training camp holdout and agreed to a two-year contract.
"He was arguably one of our best players in the last half last year," Hitchcock said. "He's much stronger than he was last year and he was a strong enough player last year."
Hitchcock noted that Armstrong has done his job, also re-signing forward Alexander Steen and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. Now it's up to everybody else to bridge the gap and challenge the top teams in the loaded Western Conference. The last two seasons, the Blues have been one and done, eliminated in four straight by the defending Stanley Cup champion after taking a 2-0 series lead. Last spring it was Chicago and before that it was Los Angeles.
"We need to get better and we need to find ways to get better," the coach said. "We need to find a different edge. We want to get to the next level."
Things to watch for from the Blues, who open at home Oct. 9 against the Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers:
ALL FOR ONE: During negotiations, Schwartz said teammates were understanding and welcoming. There were no complaints when he showed up late. "I kind of stayed in the loop with how camp was going, guys were checking in on me," Schwartz said. "It was a tough process, I wanted to be here more than anything. No one wants to miss part of camp, but both sides have a job to do." Schwartz said the parties discussed shorter and longer contract options, and added, "Hopefully I can sign for more years down the road with St. Louis."
GOALIE JOB SHARE: Veteran Brian Elliott and top prospect Jake Allen, 24, will split duties, at least at the outset. The Blues acquired Miller from Buffalo at the trade deadline at a heavy price — goalie Jaroslav Halak, forward Chris Stewart and a first-round pick in 2015 — and now Miller is with Vancouver.
HE'LL BE MISSED: Vladimir Sobotka, one of the team's best two-way forwards for several seasons and one of the best faceoff men in the league, called the Blues' bluff. When the sides couldn't agree on a new contract, Sobotka took a deal in the KHL.
ON THE RISE: First-round pick Robby Fabbri has had a strong camp. He's just 18 and coming on fast after putting up some huge numbers in juniors. "He won't go away," Hitchcock said. "We've got to reach a point where we say age is irrelevant here."
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