New Blue Scott Nichol shows he knows how to assume the position against Detroit. Welcome to the party, pal! (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
This story isn't going to make many people happy even if you agree with me. I understand that. But there are some things that need to be said about the St. Louis Blues right now. And you should have guessed that headline was coming.
The Blues have made minor deals this offseason -- minor in terms of the amount of talent coming into the organization and minor in the amount of money the team has spent. Even the re-signing of T.J. Oshie for $2.35 million can be considered minor considering the average NHL salary was $2.4 million last season, according to Forbes magazine. Scott Nichol is just the latest example.
There is one inescapable fact if you are happy or content with this team right now: You have lowered your standards for this organization.
I'm not saying you're wrong. I'm not saying the franchise being for sale doesn't affect how the team is being run. I'm not saying we need to form an angry mob (pitchforks are really hard to find and it's way to hot and muggy for torches) and march on the Blues' front office. But you have to admit that this is a brutal time for this franchise and the fans who have been loyal to it through the good times and now the continuing bad. There are players to like and be excited about. There is potential, but also a glass ceiling. I don't understand how you can be happy right now.
To me, this team has lost the capacity to be a contender. Last summer I wrote that I was questioning the team's commitment to and capability of winning. I was accused of not liking the team anymore. Now it's a defense for low-impact player transactions. By the way, I think I was on to something last summer. Just saying.
If you're happy with the team right now, I agree with you that the framework exists for a competitive team -- even in the Central Division where the other franchises have taken steps to get better. There are players we think that could be the core of a winning team. And they displayed that to open the 2010-11 season. Then the injuries hit and they folded. They acted the exact opposite of the Penguins who after losing Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby still managed to make the playoffs. You know what the Penguins have the Blues don't: real depth across the roster and the leadership to weather adversity. When front-line players go down, the fall off in talent and expertise is dramatic on the Blues. Without fixing that problem, the Blues will never be a threat in the Western Conference.
Let me predict what the comments will be:
- What did you expect them to do this summer?
- They don't have any money and the free agent contracts quickly got out of hand.
- I'm glad they didn't overpay in free agency. Did you want them to hand out contracts that would have handcuffed this team for years and give big money to questionable talent?
- Seriously, what did you expect them to do?
I get it. We predicted it. You could see it coming. But still, there were opportunities. For instance, they could have made a deal for a player like Chris Versteeg who was had for a second and a third-round pick. Andrew Brunette was a worthwhile guy to go after. Steve Sullivan probably wanted to go to a big-time contender, but if the Blues upped his salary past $1.5 million for one year, maybe he would have signed here. I think Marcel Goc would be a good depth player, same for Sean O'Donnell. None of that happened. You could argue the Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk acquisitions were the offseason moves to bank on and they just happened early. But for Doug Armstrong to say the Blues were going to be active was misleading. Any implication that this wasn't the path the Blues were on was just smoke and mirrors.
Granted, because none of those players above ended up here it doesn't mean the Blues didn't go after them. But don't you think the front office would have at least let it leak that they were in on any of those guys? Instead, they signed Scott Nichol to a $600,000 contract. We hear stories about how he's good in the dressing room and he plays a physical game. Notice you can't say he's bringing a big-time winning culture with him or much chance at any offensive production. In need of a capable backup goaltender, they signed Brian Elliott...to a two-way contract. Perfect. Kent Huskins I'm sure is a great guy. So was Daryl Sydor.
A few general summations before you flame away in the comments:
- The Blues are still in limbo, not from ownership but being caught between rebuilding again or going for it. The team we see opening night in October will be almost a carbon copy of last year's lineup. Sure, David Perron could come back 100 percent. And he might not. The "kids" (who have been pampered as such by not playing much in Peoria) aren't getting carded anymore for the most part. Have we seen much proof this team is turning the corner without a little fresh blood or capable depth? I'd say no.
- The ownership is an easy excuse. So are injuries, being a smaller market, the last sale of the team, the Pronger trade, the Curse of Scotty Bowman and the Indian burial ground under the stadium (just kidding on the last one...I hope). We can print excuses for this team faster than they do tickets. When do the excuses end?
- I'm still bullish on several guys on the roster. I hope David Backes skates out first in October with a C on his chest. I'll be at games, I'll be buying stuff, I'll still be here on this website living and dying with every game. But that doesn't mean I have to accept this situation. I can complain, I can poke and prod the team when need be and it doesn't make me a Chicken Little, it doesn't make me a lesser fan. It doesn't mean I hate the team. It means I want them to get better.
Right now, I just don't see it.