ST. LOUIS — After the NHL lockout finally ended, the message from the front office and head coach of the St. Louis Blues was clear.
Last season is over. The 109 points, the Central Division title, the team's first-round playoff win in 10 years, the 15 shutouts, Coach of the Year and General Manager of the Year awards was all nice. Now forget it and move on.
"Too much time has gone by and we've got to rebuild it," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, whose team opens a 48-game regular season at home Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings. "I think we can build that bond back quickly, but if we think we're just going to ride the momentum of last year that would be a big mistake. That's gone."
He's right. But working in the Blues' favor is a core nucleus of hungry young talent that is mostly unchanged from a year ago outside of rookies Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko.
"There's going to be that instant chemistry there that we don't have to find, that we don't have to build," Blues winger T.J. Oshie said. "It's already going to be there for us. That should be pretty good for us to get a good start."
Some theorize this team may be ready to take the next step following a painful second-round playoff sweep at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.
Hitchcock's work cannot be overlooked since the Blues went 43-15-11 after he took over for Davis Payne.
Neither can the combined 15 shutouts and NHL-best 165 goals allowed by veteran goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott and the team's first division title since 1999-2000.
On Thursday, ESPN.com picked the Blues to win the Stanley Cup -- something the franchise has failed to do since beginning play in the league back in 1967.
Many Blues players have talked about how the pain of that playoff exit last spring.
"It was tough," Oshie said. "Obviously you want to remember what it felt like for them to end your season when there was so much promise and so many people behind you , supporting you and trying to get you to that next step. We've just got to build on that, remember how they beat us and why they beat us, and fix up some things in our game."
While there is plenty of optimism, there is also uncertainty. The Blues will play 48 games in 99 days, a frenetic pace guaranteed to sap energy and create the potential for injuries.
"Experienced coaching will play a benefit for us," said Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong, who received a five-year contract extension earlier this week. "It's not only game-planning, but it's gauging the energy level of your players and making sure it's there for the games that are ahead."
The Blues have two of the league's best young defensemen in potential Norris Trophy candidate Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk.
Despite some of the team's top forwards missing extensive time with concussions last season, the Blues still had nine players with 10 or more goals.
David Backes and T.J. Oshie tied for the team scoring lead, but both also fought through lengthy goal droughts, as did Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart.
Stewart scored a combined 56 goals in the two seasons before last year, then slumped to 15 goals and 30 points.
David Perron (21 goals, 42 points in 57 games) and Andy McDonald (10 goals, 22 points in 25 games) have been proven scorers when healthy.
McDonald has flashed his old speed and skill in recent weeks while playing on what could be a productive line with Alex Steen and Tarasenko.
"We're not looking for a lot of breakout players, but one player that's caught my attention is Andy McDonald," Armstrong said. "His speed is really something that stuck out (Tuesday) in that game. The chemistry that he and Alex Steen have, and their true desire and enjoyment of working with Tarasenko, was evident not only on the ice but off the ice.
"That's something that's very intriguing as we move forward."
The Blues know where they want to go. It includes a parade at the end of the season hoisting a large silver cup all around the city.
The lessons they learned last season could help make that happen some day.
"When you reflect back on the L.A. series, we weren't able to find enough dirty goals," Armstrong said. "We weren't able to push the envelope far enough and we hope the experience has taught our organization well."
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at email@example.com or 239-2454.