By Brad Lee
UPDATE!: As long as you have reading comprehension from two of the posts above, the Blues have a few less worms to put on their hook before Tuesday afternoon with the extensions signed by Manny Legace and Eric Brewer.
The Blues are fishing for high draft picks and prospects to build for the future. The bait? Nine unrestricted free agents in the organization, any one of which could be the final piece to a Stanley Cup run (as long as the player's name is Tkachuk or Guerin). Of course the Blues were within nine points of the playoffs as of Thursday morning and could use any or all of these guys for a playoff run. But that's a pipe dream for a different thread. Let's talk about some pending ex-Blues (a fraternity getting easier and easier to get initiated into).
Kudos to Bill Guerin. If the last two weeks will be his last two weeks wearing the Blue Note, heâ€™s made them memorable and proven to himself and the rest of the league that he is still a force to be reckoned with. He can score, he can skate, he can play the role of team leader on and off the ice. We have all the respect in the world for No. 13. Weâ€™d be lying if we didnâ€™t think he would be a good fit on this team next season â€" at the right price. He will be 37 next year and has had less than a full season to grow an attachment to the franchise and city. That makes you wonder what his asking price will be and what the Blues will be willing to offer to a player his age.
Thank you to Keith Tkachuk. He played his first game with the Blues March 14, 2001. Almost six years later, he has made St. Louis his permanent home. The Massachusetts native never realized his full potential with the Blues. He topped 70 points twice but never seemed to be the force team management envisioned. He was a part of the 2000-01 conference finals team and had 10 points in 10 games in a second round loss to Detroit in 2001-02. The next two seasons, the Blues were booted from the playoffs in the first round. In those two seasons, Tkachuk scored six points in 12 games and was a combined -2. He also had 24 penalty minutes earning a reputation as an undisciplined player in the postseason. Regardless, Tkachuk has been used in a much different role under Andy Murray.
Since Andy Murray was hired, Tkachuk has been penalized 40 minutes in 33 games. Half of those penalty minutes came in the first 10 games of Murrayâ€™s tenure and Tkachuk was penalized 56 minutes in the first 28 games of the season under Mike Kitchen. Heâ€™s been a different player under the new coach. In recent games Tkachuk has played on a line with Jamal Mayers and Radek Dvorak and been matched up with the oppositionâ€™s top line. Tkachuk has said in several interviews that he wants to pull a Doug Weight and waive his no-trade clause with every intention of re-signing with the Blues come July. What remains to be seen is his projected role on the team and what heâ€™s willing to sign for to stay with his family here in St. Louis.
Eric Brewer is finally looking like the key player in the Chris Pronger trade in 2005. Heâ€™s decisive with the puck, often leads the rush on the power play through the neutral zone, has the right instincts when to pinch in and go to the net and when to stay back on the point. Heâ€™s got good size at 6 feet, 4 inches and is a better defensive player than he was at the beginning of this season.
What is disconcerting to many is his propensity to sleep walk through games under Kitchen and show a complete disregard for players cutting to the front of the net in his own end. Several times during his dismal first season with the Blues that was cut short from injury and early this year, Brewer was doing his best Alexander Khavanov impersonation by shying away from contact and not wanting to the play the body on the doorstep to the crease. He must have been one of Kitchenâ€™s biggest non-believers on the squad because Andy Murray has awakened the former Olympian and brought the old Brewer out of hibernation. He doesnâ€™t turn 27 until April and will be the kind of player the Blues and most of the league will be looking for come July. The rub is whether or not he wants to stay in St. Louis and will sign a contract before the trade deadline. Reports have negotiations underway, but it's unclear how close he is to signing. If he is unsigned come Tuesday, Brewer could be the Blue bringing the biggest return in trade. Of course that illustrates why the Blues are so interested in keeping him in the fold.
Manny Legace wants to stay a St. Louis Blue -- he said just that straight to a TV camera after a win last weekend. He signed a one-year deal late in the summer after every other team in the league backed away from him. This season Legace has shown that his 37 wins a year ago in Detroit were no fluke. The starting goaltender has even spoken out saying he wishes the team wouldnâ€™t trade Tkachuk or Guerin and should still be playing for the postseason this year and bring them back for the next few campaigns. His wish may not be granted, but Legace has solidified the goaltending position for the franchise for the first time since Hall of Famer Grant Fuhr. The 34-year-old is in the prime of his career. He could be the starter for the Blues the next 3-5 years while the youngsters in the system mature and fight for playing time behind him.
Radek Dvorak was an unwanted player in the offseason. He arrived in St. Louis as training camp was beginning in September. Some compared him to a European Version of Jamal Mayers: all speed without a lot of direction or offensive production. He has seven goals and 21 assists and has shown he can create some chaos with his speed, but he's a complimentary player at best.
Speaking of Mayers, he's set to be a free agent after this year. The 32-year-old has been with the Blues franchise the longest and he's garnered his share of fan support as a home-grown player, but Mayers has never seemed to live up to his potential. He has a tendency to miss everything but the glass when he's in front of the net, but will find the top corner above the goaltender's shoulder if he's skating near the end red line. It defies logic, as would many teams offering much for his services. Muckers and grinders, even with speed, are easy to find in the NHL.
Vladimir Orszagh has signed a lot of free autographs during games since he's missed the entire year to injury. Unless a playoff team needs a guy good with a Sharpie and an oddly-spelled name, he's going to be signing for St. Louis for the rest of the year. Woohoo!
Trent Whitfield may have been named after characters in the movie "Secret of My Success." Or not. He's in Peoria. He'll probably be in Peoria until other trades create a roster spot for him.
Old Man Rivers is in Peoria. He probably doesn't like it there. He could probably be acquired for a case of athletic tape or nacho cheese.
Of course the Blues could trade anybody on the roster, except of course Lee Stempniak. Management knows trading him would start an insurgency from his LEEgion of fans that would make the Blue Revolution seem like Boy Scout jamboree.