After seeing the club they constructed in such a calculated fashion squander a 2-0 first round series lead to the LA Kings fans hoped the brain trust of the St. Louis Blues would take accountability. You know, apologize for yet another promising regular season fizzling out in late April/early May and offer ideas for how clear deficiencies will be resolved. For building the type of team on paper that could push through on the ice in to June… and couldn’t.
Alas, it was not meant to be as complacency is as pervasive in the organization as worshipers of insanity.
General Manager Doug Armstrong has gone on record that his offseason task list is full of re-signing Restricted Free Agents. All of them to be exact. Why? The team is not that far off. The right pieces are in place they just didn’t get it done, but they will being another year wiser.
Obviously I’m paraphrasing and extrapolating. However, that doesn’t change the perception among some fans (and finally some in the MSM community) that the Blues are fine with always looking towards next season… and that’s not kosher. Season after season the heavily insulated (aka protected from scrutiny) core of David Backes, Alex(ander)Steen, TJ Oshie, David Perron, Patrik Berglund and now Chris Stewart have failed to deliver when and where it counts. On the scoreboard in the playoffs.
Maintaing the status quo and expecting different results is… yeah we all know…
If there has ever been a summer to make difficult decisions and tinker with the roster, this is it. In all honesty the Blues aren’t that far off. They had LA down 2-0 and nearly won every game they lost. Their style of play was where it should be. Similar to the Kings and the Boston Bruins. Both of which have won a Cup in the last four years and made it to the Conference Finals this season. All that was missing was the execution needed to net more than a goal per game.
Who didn’t execute? The roll of names is pretty long and most were already mentioned above. With Andy McDonald retiring the list is smaller, but only by one. Backes and Oshie can be taken off because their the principal reasons why the Blues get to where they are in the regular season. Steen actually made a difference in both ends so he deserves reprieve.
That leaves us with Berglund, Stewart, and Perron.
Jumping on the whipping boys? There is a reason why.
Those three combined for just one goal and five points with a Minus-6 rating in the 6 game series versus LA. In the regular season they were the only three to score 10 or more goals. Stewart led with 18, Berglund second with 17, and Perron bagged 10. When the going got tough against one of the toughest teams in the league these guys got going in the wrong direction. Considering the Blues will need to beat teams of the Kings’ caliber to make it to the promise land, those who go AWOL should be given their marching orders.
See the problem?
With Jay Bouwmeester’s salary on the books, the need to ink Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk long term on the back end, and a decreasing salary cap there isn’t much wiggle room to import salary upfront without exporting some of their own.
Perron makes the likeliest candidate as his playstyle matches Ken Hitchcock’s philosophy the least. Think like Phil Kessel in Boston. Clearing out his $3.8 mil AAV contract plus McDonald’s departure should cover the extensions for Nos. 27 and 22. What about Berglund and Stewart? With young depth on the wings (Schwartz, Tarasenko, Jaskin) and not much down the middle (McRae?) Berglund is a more likely candidate to stay than Stewart if changes are made.
That said, the Blues are a different team when Stewart is playing to his size and ability. So much more difficult to contain two big men who can score than one. Even harder to handle three than two. As much of a threat as Tarasenko is to score he remains largely unproven at the NHL level and isn’t a power force like Stewart.
Stewart must be replaced if he doesn’t return, but by whom?
The Blues need Jarome Iginla.
At age 35 and with a declining performance in the Pittsburgh Penguins post season run questioning of Iginla’s ability to be the high impact difference he has virtually always been is understandable. Predictable even. Reason to steer away from making a change. But is it a good reason? Is that alone enough?
Going back to 1998-99 Iginla has scored goals at a clip no lower than .32/game. That’s a 26 goal season over 82 games. The Blues have had two players score than many goals in the last 7 years. Backes with 31 in 2010-11 and Brad Boyes in 2007-08 and 08-09. The Blues don’t score much. Iginla does.
In terms of playoff success Iginla has been a solid contributor with 32 goals and 61 points in 69 career post season appearances.
Further, “Iggy” is known as one of the most respected captains in the game today. While Backes has come a long way with the letters on his sweater, there is much he could learn. Both in leading a successful team in good times and a struggling team through the bad. Those quick to point out his lack of transparent leadership in the Pens demise this season should look closer. They suffered an identity crisis at the worst time when their star players weren’t acting like ones. In St. Louis Iginla could be one of THE guys and not just a guy who got added. Enough of a difference to be a difference.
What could this team look like?
Schwartz, Backes, and Oshie were solid in the playoffs, so why mess with what was working.
In the movement of Perron and possibly Stewart a second line center could be fetched. Steen with the new center like a Paul Stastny type and Iginla sounds nice doesnt.
Vladimir Sobotka, Berglund and Tarasenko would make for an interesting “2b” line.
No questioning the CPR line.
Will this happen? Likely not as the Armstrong seems intent on running heads in to walls (or driving them in to the sand), but the possibility is lovely to imagine. Doing something different to hopefully get different results.
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