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12 St. Louis Blues It doesn't appear that this will be the season that the team steps up in class

For more than two decades the Blues have been good enough to make
the playoffs (23 straight seasons) but not good enough to win the
grand prize (0 Stanley Cups). Last year's quick second-round exit
at the hands of the eventual Cup-champion Red Wings was further
confirmation that St. Louis is not among the West's elite. Adding
injury to insult, the Blues lost their best player, defenseman
Chris Pronger, who tore his right ACL in the series' penultimate

In addition to needing a replacement for Pronger, who isn't
expected back until January, coach Joel Quenneville wants to trim
the ice time of Pronger's back line mate, 39-year-old Al
MacInnis, who logged 26:56 per game in 2001-02. That means top
prospect Barret Jackman, 21, gets a shot at a full-time NHL job
and youngsters Bryce Salvador, 26, and Mike Van Ryn, 23, have a
chance to play more.

The most intriguing member of that trio is the 6-foot, 197-pound
Jackman. A talented and hard-nosed player, he racked up 266
penalty minutes last season for the Blues' minor league affiliate
in Worcester, Mass. In his brief time with St. Louis--one
regular-season game and the final playoff match--he impressed the
coaches with his all-around play. After the latter game, in which
Jackman took Pronger's place, Quenneville said, "Jackman was our
best player."

Up front the big news was the signing of left wing Keith Tkachuk
to a four-year, $40 million contract extension (though it left
the club with little money to spend elsewhere) and the addition
of playmaking center Petr Cajanek, a 2001 draftee who was second
in scoring in the Czech Extraleague.

The key to the offense, however, is getting center Doug Weight
back on track. He was plagued by abdominal and pelvic injuries
during his first season in St. Louis and missed 21 of the last 22
games. Following surgery in May, Weight spent the summer working
with a personal trainer. "You can't have a protein shake and put
in four hours a day anymore," says Weight, who added 15 pounds
and lowered his body fat. "I'm an impact player, and I'm going to
return to that level."

The Blues are counting on that. --Mark Bechtel


The Blues have played in the postseason for 23 consecutive
seasons (six fewer than the Bruins' NHL mark), the longest such
streak currently in major North American sports.



OFFENSE 17 Lack of size down the middle will hurt
DEFENSE 11 Jackman, Salvador, Van Ryn to get regular time
GOALTENDING 19 Heat's on Johnson to prove he's a bona fide No. 1
SPECIAL TEAMS 12 PP will be solid with Weight, MacInnis as QBs
MANAGEMENT 11 Adding superscout Kekalainen will pay dividends