The popular perception of the St. Louis Blues ability to improve this off season has been rather negative.
Over the last six years the methodical and calculated top to bottom rebuild has been seen by some as a cheap, shallow pocketed owner caught in above his head. Unwilling to gamble on any acceleration of the process. Financially unable to address needs adequately.
An understandable conclusion to come to. One built from years of frustration with cellar dweller finishes when the franchise once owned the longest playoff appearance streak in US professional sports.
For blue bleeders who think that way, and there are many, Wednesday’s foray in to the free agent frenzy of 2011 is cause to challenge their point of view.
When it looked like General Manager Doug Armstrong was wrapping up a “standard issue” Blues summer, he pulled two rabbits out of his hat upon previous authorization of principal owner Dave Checketts. Adding veteran forwards Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner.
Surprised? Many were. It was coming though.
In Armstrong’s tenure the handling of personnel decisions has turned 180 degrees from his predecessor. With the rebuild complete, the next step was to convert all the Pleau era stockpiled potential in to results. Moving assets in and out is required once needs are identified. With the Halak and Stewart trades a willingness to gamble on transactions have been proven. Not just by the man brokering the deal, but the one who ultimately gives his blessing to make it happen.
Mix in the recent comments by both Armstrong and Checketts to the local media regarding the sale of the franchise philosophies and Armstrong’s actual off season outlook and the red flags leading to mid week fireworks pop like firecrackers. The writing was on the wall, ice, bench, boards. Times and situations change.
Just as proposed in my Hockey Independent post one week ago (as well as many times on Twitter and here on BNZ), an expansion of the payroll budget was in order for the right player(s).
According to CapGeek the Blues now have $52,729,166 million in cap payroll. Moving them from the bottom five to 17th in the league as of Thursday. A few teams like LA, Tampa and the Rangers will pass them in the coming weeks as big RFAs are signed, but the point to key on is the increase in cap dollars.
Typically, the Checketts era payroll has only increased as needed to hit the cap floor. Somewhere in the $1-$2 million range. The near $8 million raise from the $44 million cap hit the Blues ended 2010-11 with is about four times above the trend. The lower limit did rise $4 million above last season’s figures. Above average spending was a given. But the calculated risk was finally taken. The investment in the lineup was effectively doubled.
Money, meet mouth. Mouth, meet money.
I’m not one to complain about the black plastic being brought to improve the lineup, but it’s pretty sad that it took the franchise going up for sale for ownership to take the plunge.
The end game with TowerBrook Capital Partners was known from the outset of their involvement. After five years of floating Checketts NHL venture they were planning to move on. Why not invest the dollars up front to boost value from upfront? Create a cushion. Why increase the risk of falling behind the curve and allow the on ice product to suffer when all along it would be the primary creator of value for the post TCP replacement investor?
It doesn’t make sense and answers explaining as such aren’t likely to come.
At least Checketts has wizened enough to have the foresight to bring Armstrong in to the family. Using a knife by the name of impartial to cut through the “should be” nonsense, Armstrong has objectively evaluated the Blues for what they actually are.
A team that has lacked sufficient support to progress past treading water.
Without Army’s involvement the roster tweaks leading to a long term starting goaltending solution, an offensive workhorse and veteran depth may not have occurred. Instead the more time may have been spent making excuses for why Erik Johnson’s development was stagnating rather than discussing Alex Pietrangelo’s ascension.
Bottom line, the Blues are a better team today than they were before July 1st because Checketts finally allowed his GM to do his job and deliver. For all the wrongs, give credit when its due. Challenge your perspective. It’s not a bad thing.