The St. Louis Blues closed out their preseason schedule with a win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night, then headed out of town for their annual team-building trip.
In past seasons the Blues have taken these trips during breaks in the regular season schedule and to places that were more like vacation spots, like last year’s trek to Palm Springs, Calif. This time it is less exotic Ann Arbor, Mich. — home of the University of Michigan.
“Right now it’s 55 (degrees) and windy and rainy, so we’re not going to be laying out, unfortunately,” Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk told reporters following Thursday’s pre-game skate. “But it’s about being together, it’s about enjoying each others’ company and having little team activities that we can just have fun with and get some good, stress-less practices in up there. I think we’ll really enjoy it.”
The Blues, who finished the preseason with four wins in six exhibition games, still have some roster decisions to make.
They had 29 players on their training camp roster as of Thursday night and need to get down to 23. Defenseman Chris Butler and forward Magnus Paajarvi cleared waivers on Thursday and could head to the Blues’ AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, soon. Pheonix Copley, the young goalie acquired in the T.J. Oshie trade with the Capitals, is likely headed to the Wolves soon also.
The team-building trip will include practices, which could be used to determine the final roster decisions, but there will be a focus on the team coming together, like has been the case for these trips in the past.
“I think it’s going to be, more than anything, it’s just going to be nice to get away with the team and whoever is going to be in this locker room,” Shattenkirk said. “I think the uncertainty in this locker room for the last week or so has been something that weighs on a lot of guys’ minds and when everything is set in stone guys can kind of settle in and start to focus on next Thursday, which is really the most important thing.”
Shattenkirk added that this year’s trip will be different because of the timing, being before the start of the season rather than during the season after the team has already played some games.
“This year I think having the chance to go away before the season starts, focus on the practices will be focused on getting our team structure ready and all that kind of stuff,” he said, “and really just being able to get away as a team right away now and have the guys that are going to be on this team on Oct. 8 be together and just hang out together and get to know each other again.”
The Blues return most of the core group from last year’s team that went 51-24-7 and won the Western Conference’s Central Division with 109 points.
Oshie is gone following the offseason trade with the Capitals that brought Troy Brouwer and Copley to the Blues. Long-time defenseman Barret Jackman moved on to the Nashville Predators after the Blues opted not to re-sign him.
The Blues signed center Kyle Brodziak, formerly of the rival Minnesota Wild, to anchor their fourth line. Then they’ve got veterans like Scott Gomez and Scottie Upshall trying to earn spots as part of professional tryouts and youngsters like forward Robby Fabbri and defenseman Colton Parayko knocking on the door as future impact players.
The Blues will once again be one of the favorites to win the Western Conference, but there’s plenty of work to be done over the next few months and that will continue over the next few days in Michigan.