Let me start off by clarifying a few things.
1. I read stlouisgametime.com every day. I love their site.
2. I respect their authors as we are both Fan Sites.
3. I mean in no way to be rude, offensive, or demean their product.
In this case I just don’t agree with something they’ve said and I feel a need to provide a counter point to their opinion. You can read the full blog here.
In this posting by Brad Lee of St. Louis Game Time, he questions the commitment of the current Blues ownership to winning a Stanley Cup. Needless to say I am fairly skeptical of this point of view. For those who have been reading my blogs over the last year or so I tend to side with ownership. I am ultimately a realist who understands that the business end of sports dictates what a franchise can do with its personnel choices.
Let’s dig in.
Let’s face it, we can be kind of negative around here. We’re not afraid to tell everyone how we feel. Especially when we’re pissed off. And as we sit here today in early August, I’m not mad. I’m not upset. Call it demoralized. Because as the Blues sit today, unless they get really lucky or make some major changes in how they operate, this ownership group isn’t going to win a Stanley Cup in St. Louis. I probably should go ahead and explain that.
Yes, you should.
It’s been common in a lot of circles to talk about how the Blues are following the Blackhawks’ model of growing from within and that the Blues are just a few seasons behind their growth curve. There’s three problems with that notion that underscore what the issues are with Checketts and the limits on his ownership group.
You can also say that the Blues have followed a similar re-build model to that of the Penguins, LA Kings, Columbus Blue Jackets and many other middle market teams. Teh Blues have also been compared to the Red Wings prior to the teams led by Fedorov, Yzerman, and Lidstrom. For the sake of argument you are negating all of those teams and are focusing on the Hawks. A little worried about a small sample size painting a large brush stroke at this point.
The first is the idea that the Hawks really, really sucked for several years. They were at the top of the draft for several seasons. They not only stockpiled Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but they also had Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp, Chris Versteeg and all those other pricks coming along. Sure the Blues have built a core of younger, homegrown players. But the depth on the roster, the level of skill, the quality of picks and honestly the star qualities of the Hawks’ leaders overshadows what the Blues have in house. That’s a problem.
Pointing to the core of the Hawks as homegrown I understand. Let’s dig in to this more. The Blues have a #1 overall, Erik Johnson. He has played in only 190 games between his brief college career and in the NHL. If you buy in to the “Defensemen take longer to develop” dynamic then he has played in far fewer games than all of the Hawks core players. The Blues have a top 5 pick in Alex Pietrangelo. He has yet to play a NHL game. *He has only appeared in 17 NHL games over the course of two seasons. How many games do Toews and Kane have at an easier position to master? Don’t give me the “draft Nikita Filatov” BS.
I don’t doubt that the Hawks players are further progressed in terms of using their talents in a cohesive manner. I do doubt Brad’s assessment that the Blues group is not as skilled.
Then again…I’m not sure how this is relevant to questioning SCP’s winning commitment. Yes, I understand that the Hawks were bad longer and have been in a rebuild longer, but how does saying their young core is better than the Blues questioning commitment? The Blues young core is being put to their first test this season. The Hawks have had theirs together for longer.
Another issue is that the Hawks have been aggressive in acquiring players. Of course not every decision worked out (Cristobal Huet might be a good example). But by going after guys like Brian Campbell and Marian Hossa, the Hawks sent a message to their players that they were willing to pay the price, take risks and make the team better. They went for it, balls to the wall. The Blues, not so much. The trade for Jaroslav Halak took guts, but that was more of a “man, that’s a sensible trade” instead of a “they spent how much on who????” move. Sure you can debate if Ilya Kovalchuk would have been the right player for this team and if you can build a winner around him, but what’s it say about their commitment by not even sitting down at the negotiating table? What’s it say when they aren’t making a move on any of the forwards trying to get jobs this month that would help this team score goals? This group has gone for the safe move more often than not. That’s a problem.
The acquisition of players. Ok, this has relevance. The Hawks have been more aggressive pursing bigger fishes to be the finishing touches around their core. Then why aren’t Sharp and Versteeg mentioned here? They were not drafted by the Hawks. I’m sorry I just cannot equate the blind spending of dollars as showing a strong will to win.
How is trading the top forward prospect in the organization for a playoff hero goaltending not equate to showing the fans and the team that “they were willing to pay the price, take risks and make the team better.”
“hey went for it, balls to the wall.” – Um yes, because they have a much stronger financial backing. The nature of the business.
Don’t even start on Ilya Kovalchuk. Let’s be clear here from a business point of view. Ilya Kovalchuk cost the NJ Devils over $100 million in payroll. His contract is now costing them more money to fight for its legality against the NHL’s ruling. SCP has no where near the available money that New Jersey does. Would the Blues be willing to dramatically overpay Kovalchuk past the $100 million to get him to come to team that isn’t a clear competitor yet. If they did, what money is left to cover payroll. Taking him in is “balls to the wall”…and playing Russian roulette with the future of the franchise in St. Louis. It made bad business sense. I don’t equate their fiscal responsibility to a lack of desire to win. Period.
Money. It’s driving all of the concerns for the team right now. The ticket increase for this coming season, not being active in free agency, spending not much more than the salary floor – it all goes back to money. The Hawks spent to the salary cap and actually went over with postseason bonuses. They’re paying the price this season, but find anyone who jumped on their bandwagon this Spring to see if they thought it wasn’t worth it. Good luck with that.
In one word, duh. The Wirtz safety net is right there to feed more money the Blackhawks way. SCP has made no bones about their monetary concerns. The true issue is the loss of TowerBrook due to their planned exit. The Blues didn’t have another backer willing to come in and put money on the table to eat the losses the team would surely have if they spent to the cap. Take a second to look outside St. Louis. There is a large shift continuing to take place. Teams with money have spent it and are pushed to the cap limit. They have the ownership backing to spend big and take losses if they come. Everyone else is barely spending to the cap floor because they cannot afford it. How many around the NHL are questioning Nashville’s commitment to winning because they didn’t push to the cap ceiling to keep Hamhuis? That’s right, just about no one.
There was an interesting article online with the Hockey News earlier this summer. It discussed the number of teams in the Finals and their relationship to the cap.
“In order to have a true, legitimate contender in the NHL, you pretty well have to spend to the upper limit of the salary cap, the way the Chicago Blackhawks did this season.”
Wow, that’s pretty damning. Ken Campbell outlined how after the Hurricanes and Oilers made it to the Finals the first season by not spending to the top of the cap, but every team to make the championship round except one has. That says to me that if a franchise is serious about contending and wants to talk the talk of being a threat to win, they have to back it up with payroll, something the Blues have admitted publicly several times that they just can’t do.
The big question isn’t what’s wrong with the team right now, it’s what can the ownership do to compete in the future? Something tells me there isn’t much of an answer for that one.
Yes, this is true for several reasons. Teams that make it to the Finals now have a very, very talented core of 6 forwards, 4 defensemen and a goalie. All of those require a substantial amount of salary to retain. The only way a business can add payroll is by having enough money coming in to support the amount going out. That business also needs a way to recover and gain more money. Some NHL teams make it on their own, others rely on wealth owners. The Blues don’t have that option. Unless the Blues gain a very stable replacement fr TowerBrook with very deep pockets the Blues like many other teams will be in the have not category of spending.
What can ownership do to compete in the future? Just about everything they’ve done to date. Not bog themselves down with insane contracts that push the limits of the CBA. Draft and develop their own players. Not pay for potential, but pay for production.
I wonder if there is a Powerpoint presentation in the front office that discusses the team’s long term strategy. Does it have charts that include: “Get Lucky” or “Let’s Hope So” or “Blind Squirrel Finds A Nut” or “You Never Know.” Because unless they really have a plan to increase the payroll and be more aggressive in improving their roster, hope and luck is all they’re really banking on.
I understand being pessimistic and negative. In the current economy and the franchise’s position its easy to be that way. However, I don’t see where this blog is going. The title says the author plans to challenge the desire of ownership to win. Yet all it does is state facts and comment on concerns. I don’t see anywhere that Checketts and SCP desire to build a winning product was questioned.
The bottom line of the Blues situation is simple.
They are a mid market team with small pocket owners. They do not have the capability or the lunacy to try to run with the big dogs of the league. Unless a deep pocketed investor replaces TowerBrook the Blues will continue to operate the same way many other teams do. On a tight budget. I can wish in one hand for all the things I want and I can tell you what the other fills up with first.
What other option is there Mr. Lee? What other owner or investor should Checketts woo to join the party? Until that person or business is found the Blues will be the same way they’ve been since 2006. Keep this in mind. Before Chicago made the playoffs last season the last time they made it was 01-02. The last time the Blues made it *prior to their once in a lifetime run in 08-09? 03-04. The Hawks have been at this game longer and an ownership change gave them the deep pockets needed to roll with the big boys. The Blues aren’t there yet.
You make due with what you have.
*Edited for obvious omissions and clarifications.