Contrary to everyone in Blues nation, I was not terribly disappointed by this years ninth place finish. Although it would have been nice to see the Blues play in the post season, the Blackhawks or Sharks would have beaten the Blues in three games. As far as I’m concerned, the Blues organization is exactly where they need to be. The pipeline of talent heading towards the NHL is deeper than almost every other organization in the league (http://www.hockeysfuture.com/nhl_organisation_rankings/). Unfortunately though, highly touted offensive defenseman prospect Jonas Junland elected to return to Europe yesterday after spending two seasons with Blues AHL affiliate Peoria. Even though the skilled defenseman was offered a one-way contract with the St. Louis Blues, for whatever reason, he signed a deal with Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League and will return to Europe.
Mason and Conklin are good enough for what the Blues need for next season. With Jake Allen and Ben Bishop in the pipeline, it is not necessary to pursue a Schneider or Price, especially considering that the price tag for both will be higher than what St. Louis should be giving up.
The lack of offense from the back end was a bit alarming. When you look at the fact that Eric Brewer and Barret Jackman were averaging over 20 minutes a night through the season as the top two defensemen in the lineup, there’s no need to look further. One of these two will not be playing with the Blues next season. Although Ian Cole and Alex Pietrangelo will likely be with the Blues next season, it’s highly likely that the Blues will look to add a veteran defenseman to the lineup. Paul Martin of New Jersey and Sergei Gonchar of Pittsburgh are the top two UFA’s this summer. I would love to see one of these two (especially Martin) signed by the Blues, but in the tradition of Blues management, look for the Blues to either passively pursue or lowball these two UFAs. I have no problem starting the season with a young talented defensive corps of Jackman, Johnson, Pietrangelo, Cole, Polak, Weaver, and Strachan as the 7th defenseman. If history tells us anything, it is that you can never have too many defensemen on your roster and/or in your system. The other two most desirable UFA defenseman this summer are Dan Hamhuis of Nashville and Joe Corvo of Washington (formerly Carolina). Hamhuis’ salary demands will likely take him out of the Blues’ range along with the Predators.
When looking at the Blues’ failure to qualify for the post season, look no further than the goal scoring of David Backes, Paul Kariya, and Brad Boyes (or lack thereof). Yes, there were soft goals allowed by Conklin and Mason. Yes, there were defensive lapses by Jackman and Brewer. But the primary culprit of the disappointing 09-10 St. Louis Blues season was the inability to find the back of the net. Although Paul Kariya was able to find his legs the last two months of the season, his salary served as more of a liability to the franchise as it kept the Blues from pursuing a player who could have been the guy Kariya was supposed to be but never was. The expiration of his contract will pave the way to resign Perron and Johnson as well as give room to pursue a UFA scorer and/or defenseman. Although Backes’ point production dropped off significantly from 08-09 to 09-10, he was still a leader and provided a lot of physical energy to the club. His bone crushing hits and leadership somewhat compensated for his lack of production in the goal scoring dept. Brad Boyes must be traded, waived, or bought out if he does not start finding the back of the net. He is a defensive liability and is a one trick pony on the offensive side of the puck. The cross-ice one timer from the left slot has been consistently snuffed out by opposing penalty killers since March 2008. If he is not scoring goals he is useless to the organization. Who can score goals?
Ilya Kovalchuk. If the Blues fail to aggressively pursue Kovalchuk with a Zetterberg/Hossa/Luongo like contract, it will serve as proof to most fans that they are not serious about the business of winning. There is only so many excuses that fans in a baseball town can take. ‘So many excuses’ have been thrown around the past two years that the clock has run out. On radio shows, message boards, and forums, fans everywhere are ready to throw in the towel on an organization that has asked them to stick with them and given them coal in their stockings. Throw in the fact that the Blues have not had a legitimate offensive player since Brett Hull left for FA12 years ago, the money that Kovalchuk will ask for will easily be made back in gate revenue and ratings. Like any business, you cannot make money without spending money.
With one of Jackman or Brewer coming off the books ($4mil), Kariya walking ($6mil), Sydor moving on ($1mil), and Tkachuk retiring ($2.5), there’s $13.5 million to resign Perron and EJ and pursue a UFA. That’s not including a potential raise in the Blues’ payroll. If Kovalchuk cannot be landed, the next premium goal scorer is Patrick Marleau. Although Marleau is a very skilled player, I highly doubt that he could produce the way that he has in San Jose without Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley playing beside him. Therefore, the money that he would demand would eclipse his actual value.
Personally, I am okay with not pursuing anyone. The Blues remind me of the Carolina 06 Stanley Cup team or the Buffalo team that won the President’s Trophy the same year; a speedy team with depth that can roll three scoring lines. With another year of experience for Oshie, Berglund, Perron, and Backes, along with the emergence of Steen and a full training camp of Davis Payne’s high-octane system, I see the future of the Blues looking very bright.
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Written by Patrick McLellan