There are still far more questions than answers, even after the NHL readied itself to begin an abbreviated schedule following a lengthy lockout that tested the patience and resolve of everyone involved.
Among them are the length of training camp (a week?), length of the season (48 games? 50?) and when the season will start (the most likely date being mentioned is Jan. 19).
"I'm ready to start yelling," quipped Hitchcock, the reigning NHL Coach of the Year after guiding the Blues to a 43-15-11 record in 69 games after replacing Davis Payne.
For now, coaches and management still can't have contact with players until the NHL Players Association ratifies the new collective bargaining agreement. By all accounts, that figures to be done by the weekend at the latest.
But perhaps the most significant factor for coaches and management is trying to mold a group of players into a cohesive unit when some have been playing full-time in Europe, others in the minor leagues and still others skating on their own on a regular basis at the Hardees IcePlex in Chesterfield, Mo.
"You get the guys out there and you have five or seven days or whatever they give us, to prepare for the first game," Armstrong said Monday after emerging from four hours of meetings with Hitchcock and the Blues' hockey staff. "It's not really a training camp where it's a tryout. You're getting people accustomed to playing with each other and you're also getting them accustomed to the system."
That shouldn't be tough for a Blues team that returns the majority of a strong nucleus that finished tied for second overall in the NHL standings, won the Central Division and reached the second round of the playoffs.
"The great equalizer is we're no different than all the other 29 teams we're in competition with," Armstrong said. "It's not like one team was playing all this time."
Blues players who weren't already in town are arriving this week ready to reclaim their locker stalls at The Mills and Scottrade Center.
Hitchcock's eyes are well-rested and ready to be impressed.
"The first impression's going to be really important, because we're not going to have much time for a second and third impression," Hitchcock said.
Among the top youngsters pushing for roster spots are defenseman Ian Cole and forward Jaden Schwartz, both of whom have seen regular duty at minor-league Peoria.
All eyes will be on top prospect Vladimir Tarasenko, an impressive winger lighting up the Russian pro KHL league with 14 goals and 31 points in 31 games for St. Petersburg SKA.
Armstrong confirmed Monday that he expected Tarasenko in St. Louis within the week.
"We've had correspondence with his representatives three or four times today, so I've every confidence that everything's all set there," Armstrong said when asked if there was any reason Tarasenko would not be joining the Blues.
At one time or another, the Blues had at least 10 players who were playing hockey in Europe led by Patrik Berglund, Alex Steen, Chris Stewart and Roman Polak.
There was another solid group of participants during regularly scheduled skates at the Hardees IcePlex that included captain David Backes, forward Andy McDonald, defenseman Barret Jackman and more.
"We don't know where these guys are all at conditioning-wise, because we've got players who have played a lot and players who have played little," Hitchcock said. "We're going to have to adjust every day."
The Blues' most notable losses from last season are defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo (signed with Detroit) and center Jason Arnott (free agent).
The bulk of the defense and forward units return with another year of experience. Goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott allowed the fewest goals in the NHL (165) and the compressed schedule should give both plenty of work.
While a few youngsters will push for jobs, Hitchcock put his finger squarely on the most competitive aspect of the Blues for 2013:
"There's a lot of ice time open," he said. "I don't know if you can say there's a lot of jobs open, but there's a lot of ice time that's going to be there for the taking. Whoever gets it, gets it.
"It's unrealistic to think that everyone's on the same footing when some have played 40 (games) and some have played zero."
Several Blues players experienced injuries while playing in Europe, including Steen and Kris Russell. But Armstrong believes everyone will be ready to go when the NHL bell rings.
"We're 100 percent healthy and ready to go," Armstrong said. "All the players are ready to go and we have no information that would make us think differently."
Hitchcock's coaching experience during previous lockouts also could be huge for the Blues.
"The sprint is there, but it's how you react the next morning that's really important because you are going to really go through some real highs and lows," he said. "You've got to get back on the bike and start pedaling again."
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at email@example.com or 239-2454.