Since Dave Checketts and his group of owners assumed control of the St. Louis Blues right around the 2006 draft when the team picked Erik Johnson with the first overall selection, we have been probably more supportive than most of our regular readers would have expected.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.