Let me preface this by saying that i don't think the Blues need that many changes, however, changes do need to be made to the roster.
Now, the Blues roster obviously has flaws, but the front office has struggled to pinpoint what those flaws are over the past few years. Last season they thought the flaw was veteran leadership, bringing in Derek Roy and Brenden Morrow in the offseason as well as Steve Ott. Swing and a miss with all three of those acquisitions. They thought the Blues needed more 4th line toughness and scrappiness, so they brought in Max Lapierre. Again, swing and a foul tip there, there is still another year for Lapierre to prove that he is worth the money that Armstrong spent on him. Armstrong perceived a weakness in net this season, as did just about all of us, so he went out and almost mortgaged the franchise for Ryan Miller. Swing and a miss again Armie. So you may be asking yourself, what are the weaknesses on this Blues roster? Here's my two cents
Look around the Western Conference at the other seven playoff teams. I know, they all make me sick too, but just hold in your vomit for just a little longer while i.........(*sigh*) compliment them. Every one of the other Western Conference playoff teams has at least one guy that is a bona fide game-breaker. Someone who, with one magnificent play, can flip a game on its head by himself. Dallas has Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. Anaheim has Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Chicago has Patrick Kane and Jonathan Taves, (i don't care about him enough to spell his name correctly). Colorado has Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene. Minnesota has Zach Parise. San Jose has Joe Pavelski and a bunch of other guys that i hate too much to give credit to. Even the Los Angeles Kings have Jeff Carter and Marion Gaborik. And who do the Blues have? That's right, no one of that caliber. You could make an argument for Timothy Leif or Steener, but they haven't done it consistently. Schwartz and Tarasenko could be those guys, but they aren't yet.
Another flaw with the Blues roster, that averagejoe pointed out so well in his article on the Blues being broken, is that we have 3 all-world defensemen who are carbon copies of each other. Shattenkirk, Bouwmeester and Pietrangelo are all incredibly talented defensemen who are smooth skaters, extremely intelligent and gifted offensively. But the one thing that none of them do well is intimidate or hit. The Blues top 3 defensemen are not uncomfortable to play against. Opposing forwards aren't scared to go into the dirty areas of the ice and make plays because they know that they don't have to worry about having their brains get scrambled by a monster hit at any given second. Let's take a look at Shea Weber's game. Weber can shoot the puck, he's a great passer, a very intelligent player and a good skater. But what sets him apart is that he is hell to play against. Opposing forwards have nightmares about his hipcheck, and he almost always wins puck battles in the corners because he can be so physical. The Blues need a guy like that, that opposing forwards hate playing against, and right now they don't have him.
So now, let's get to my offseason plan, shall we? Let's start with the Blues free agents.
Jaden Schwartz: Schwartz should be at the top of the Blues offseason priorities list. He broke out this season in a big way, and he is a huge part of the future, with top line potential. Schwartz is due for a sizeable contract, but the Blues should not break the bank for him. However, do what you must to sign him, if the Blues let Schwartz walk, especially since Schwartz is a restricted free agent and should not be hard to keep around, Armstrong will have the entire population of St. Louis calling for his head. Contract Projection: 5 years / $22 million
Vladimir Sobotka: Sobotka might be the most underrated player in the NHL. He's an other-worldly penalty killer and he should run away with the Selke trophy this year, but no one seems to care about him because all the NHL awards voters have a crush on Jonathan Taves, which pisses me off. However, as has been mentioned several times by averagejoe, he isn't the most offensively minded/gifted player in the world. Sobotka should definitely be brought back, but only if he is paid like the 3rd line center that he is. Contract Projection: 4 years / $13 million
Patrik Berglund: This offseason will be tricky for the Blues as far as Berglund's contract goes. Bergie has all the talent and potential in the world, but he rarely ever harnesses it into offensive production. So the question begs, should the Blues stick with him and pay him like the second line winger he could potentially demand, or do they let him walk and hope that he doesn't break out somewhere else. I say they bank on him continuing to develop and Bergie is smart enough to know that St. Louis is where he belongs and takes a pay cut. Contract Projection: 3 years / $9 million
Brendan Morrow: I wasn't opposed to the idea of bringing in Morrow for this past season, i thought "hey, a guy who's got a bunch of playoff experience and can get work done in front of the net could be good for the Blues to have". And while Morrow did some really good things this past season, he didn't do enough to warrant the Blues giving him another look next season. Morrow should be released. Contract Projection: None
Steve Ott: I honestly have no idea what the Blues were thinking when they brought Ott along with Miller. Ott probably cost them a draft pick and Chris Stewart, who probably would've been 3 times as good as Ott was in St. Louis. The Blues didn't need more grit and playoff experience, they needed more speed and scoring ability. I will be really mad if the Blues bring Ott back on any contract that pays him more than $1 million. Contract Projection: None
Derek Roy: The Blues had the right idea with Roy, and i thought he might be a good addition to the club. A 2nd/3rd line swing center that was a deft passer, had some potential scoring touch and could make plays would certainly bolster the Blues offense, right? Absolutely not. Roy was not good at all, with a penchant for taking penalties in the offensive zone and being a non-factor on the power play. I would be stunned if the Blues even offered Roy a contract. Contract Projection: None
Ryan Miller: Let's be honest, which one of us wasn't shining up our championship rings when Armie traded for Ryan Miller? We all criticize the hell out of this move now, but when it originally happened, Doug Armstrong was the greatest guy on planet Earth. Honestly, who really felt comfortable with Jaro Halak in net during the playoffs? I know I sure didn't. Criticize the move all you want to, but at the time, it was the right move. But when you bet big, sometimes you win big, and sometimes you lose all your rent money and your landlord knocks your door down calling for your head. Armstrong falls into that second category with the Miller move. Miller wasn't awful when he was here, but he certainly wasn't what the Blues needed. If he truly believe he can command $6-7 million then the Blues should not even try to re-sign him. I think Miller should be gone unless he would accept a bride, 2-3 year deal for around $3 million. Other than that, no way he should be back. Contract Projection: None
Brian Elliott: I love Brian Elliott, and i truly respect what he has done for the Blues. The guy came in on league minimum salary 3 years ago, and became one of the most reliable, team-first goalies in the league. Elliott never complained when Halak was named the starter night after night after night, and when he was called on, he was brilliant time and again. Elliott is the perfect guy for the Blues goaltending situation right now, as he is extremely team oriented, unselfish, and has the ability to still produce at a high level though sporadically called upon. I would love to see the Blues re-sign him, but Ells has earned the right to go elsewhere and get paid like the starting goaltender he can be. But i think Armstrong and Elliott both know that St. Louis is the right place for the Moose, and they get a reasonable deal done. Contract Projection: 2 years / $5 million
Now that the Blues free agents have all been dealt with, we move on to some of my more glamorous ideas.
As of right now, the Blues sit $25 million under the cap, according to CapGeek.com. That gives them plenty of room to maneuver around without busting Tom Stillman's pocket book. With the contracts i've projected out already, the Blues have committed $13 mil to re-signing their own FA's, which leaves them with about $12 mil to work with. Plenty of money to make some moves and make a splash.
WHOAH!!!! The Blues make a huge move with this deal. I would be thrilled with this trade though. Like i said earlier, the Blues need more physicality on the blue line, and defensemen don't come any more physical than Byfuglien. Byfuglien would be a tremendous addition, roaming around in the defensive zone hitting people into different time zones and blasting lasers from the point on the power play. Shattenkirk has been great here, but this is a classic case of selling high, and with Bouwmeester and Pietrangelo both having NTC's on their contracts, Shatty is the guy that the Blues must move to get this deal done. As for Evander Kane, i truly believe the Blues could re-create Tyler Seguin here. Last offseason Seguin didn't fit in Boston, so they shipped him to Dallas for some role players and he turned into one of the most dangerous offensive weapons this season with over 80 points. Kane is big, strong and fast, (like really fast), and he has a wicked wrister. He's a threat to score every time he touches the puck. But, like Byfuglien, he hasn't really fit in that well in Winnipeg. I've heard rumors about both these guys potentially being on the way out, so as armchair GM of the day, i'm jumping all over these guys and laughing while i run to the bank. I believe that Byfuglien makes the Blues uncomfortable to play against due to his physicality on the back line, and Kane finally gives the Blues the speedy, 40 goal scoring game-breaker that they have lacked forever. Kane and Byfuglien both make $5.5 mil a year, so the Jets would cover the difference between the amount of money being shipped between the two teams, which comes out to around $1.6 million. This is a fair and mutually beneficial deal that could finally get the Blues over the hump.
Splash #2: Sign Paul Stastny to a 5 year / $25 million contract
The Blues aren't done after trading for Kane and Byfuglien, once that bit of business is done, they nab an excellent 2nd line centerman. Stastny can put the puck in the back of the net at any given time and his game has really blossomed this season with MacKinnon and Landeskog as his linemates. Schwartz and Tarasenko are not an easy line to potentially center, but if anyone could do it, it would be Paul Stastny. The Blues truly get the offensively gifted 2nd line center that have lacked with this deal. As far as the cap goes, the Kane and Byfuglien trade keeps them even at $12 under, and this deal puts them around $7 million under the cap. Still enough room to get another deal done.
Even though they still have room, the Blues will be done spending money on other team's FA's, and they'll stay pat with the top prospects in their system. Which leaves them with this starting line-up for next season's opener:
Jaden Schwartz - Paul Stastny - Vladimir Tarasenko
Dustin Byfuglien - Barret Jackman
Jake Allen/Brian Elliott
Not a bad starting lineup if you ask me. I think Kane's speed and goal scoring ability is vital on the top line, and Steen effortlessly slides down to the 3rd line. The 2nd line suddenly looks a lot scarier with Paul Stastny centering. and I love the pairing of Dustin Byfuglien and Barret Jackman, those two will get some work done down low and will not be fun to play against. Jake Allen will be elite very soon, but for now he and Ells will be a 1a. and 1b. in net, and that worked really well in 2011-2012. Allen will continue developing, and hopefully he will be ready to go on a postseason run by April.
I'm feeling pretty confident with this line-up, it's different, it's fresh, and the changes that were made should be really good. I feel good about these moves, and i don't feel like the Blues gave up too much in this offseason, and they still have $7 million in cap space, so should a need arise around the trade deadline, and a move needs to be made, the Blues have the cap space and the resources to get it done. 2014-2015 is a make or break year in my opinion, and Ken Hitchcock and Doug Armstrong are coaching and general managing for their jobs this upcoming season. So that's my plan, what do you guys think?