When the final evaluation comes down, Alex Pietrangelo might be the only premier player that Jarmo Kekalainen drafted for the Blues.
[This was the Letter From The Editor for last night's Game Time magazine. Paper. Whatever it is.]
Believe it or not, as professional and coherent as this publication usually is, we do not have any sort of staff meeting before every issue is prepared. While I imagine having this whole crew sitting in a conference room and going around the table talking about the major theme for the issue and the different aspects we'd all tackle would be absolutely hilarious, I'm not sure we collectively have the three hours available to sit through bizarre tangents, vehement and incoherent arguments and at least one death threat and four virgin jokes 41 times a year. Although the mental image of everyone sitting there and simultaneously tending to their various sugar gliders, rapidly drying lizards and kitties dressed up like humans is exciting and terrifying at the same time, there's just no way it'll ever happen.
I mean, I can't really have these people in my home, right?
And yet, somehow, themes occur in this paper. With absolutely no coordination, we sometimes have a synergy to our articles and jokes and other assorted bits that it seems like we must have planned it. Since we didn't plan it, it usually means one thing: The Blues are doing something so fantastic or fantastically terrible that we all have to discuss it. Such is the current theme tonight. From our headline to our bingo, you'll see echoes of the same idea: This team isn't as good as we thought it was, our rebuild wasn't as deep as we thought and these games this weekend are going to be a pretty big indicator of what the Blues will be doing when the trade deadline arrives in just two weeks.
I tend to be a pretty optimistic Blues fan. One who has a mean streak when it comes to making fun of our players, yes, but overall I tend to be the guy out there calling for calm as the ship clearly sails full steam into the iceberg. I also tend to be pretty apologetic for our players too. I was one of those people who bought into the Genius of Jarmo Kekalainen story. The players we drafted were clearly steals at the spots where we acquired them and clearly someday we were going to have an embarrassment of riches at nearly every position. The Blues were going to have so many good young guys that they wouldn't all fit onto the same NHL roster together. The Blues were going to have to trade some of them away eventually, either for more high draft picks or packaged together to bring in a superstar type talent to fit in with all of our other superstars.
Now I've grown fond of telling people, "Why do we need a first line when we can just roll out three second lines?" It always gets a good laugh, but it's one of those "Oh Fuck" kind of laughs. Unfortunately for us, we have a series of good second-line guys and zero superstar talents.
I know that some of you will immediately argue for the standard Blues model of building a hockey team in St. Louis. We love our blue-collar hockey teams. We like our Brian Sutters and our David Backes types. We don't want a fancypants scorer who won't backcheck and doesn't want to fight every now and then. I agree to an extent. Every team needs to have battlers and grinders and guys who score 20 goals but aren't afraid to fight.
But look at a game like the one in Tampa last weekend and you see why the Blues rebuild has failed and why we now have a problem on our hands. The Blues flat out outplayed the Lightning for the entire game. Blue-collar effort was winning puck battles and creating chances and getting all the little things done.
And then Steven Stamkos got loose for about 10 seconds and scored two goals. Vincent Lecavalier got one good chance and buried it. Two superstar players overcame a lackluster effort by the rest of their team and got them a win against a Blues team rolling out three second lines and just grinding away for 60-plus minutes. The injury excuse doesn't hold water anymore. David Perron has always been streaky and Carlo Colaiacovo has always been a middle-of-the-road defender. Add those two to Sunday's game and we probably have the same result.
The Blues hold the record for most consecutive playoff appearances in the NHL with 25. During that time they had colossal failures, like the President's Trophy team that went out in the first round, and overreaching teams that made it to the Conference Finals just twice (winning a total of three games in those two series). They were the worst kind of NHL mediocre - just bad enough to never threaten for a championship and just good enough to never draft very high. This rebuilt team has apparently put us back on track for more of the same - just good enough to get beat in the first round of the playoffs and not bad enough to get into the important part of the draft where you get to select a superstar.
Jarmo Kekalainen had the opportunity to use a lot of high draft picks to get impact players into the Blues pipeline. I'd argue that Erik Johnson is still finding his way and that Alex Pietrangelo looks to be the real deal-and possibly the only bona fide future perennial All-Star that he grabbed. The rest of his selections are on track to be excellent NHL second liners. Which is nice, but not quite what this franchise needed. Now we have a situation where management has to somehow get another team to fall for the ol' quantity-for-quality trick (I'd gladly give you three second-tier players for a superstar scorer. What say you, good sir?) or they have to try to grab one on the free agent market which hasn't exactly been this team's forte lately (Jay McKee and Paul Kariya still give me night sweats).
What's going to change? How do the Blues alter this path towards institutional mediocrity? Unfortunately, there are only three ways to do it and not one of them looks feasible right now. They can start drafting better (from the middle of the pack). They can trade for an impact player (hard to do as discussed). They can sign some impact free agents (hard to do when your owners are on a strict budget and you have to convince said free agent that your team isn't a middle of the pack group of second-tier talents).
So, excuse us for acting like we had a staff meeting before this issue. We didn't. We just all have ridden this ride before and we are all pretty sure how it ends.
Sean "not with a parade down Market" Gallagher