In the next 13 days, the Blues could make a decision that would almost fully complete the transformation of this team.
Tuesday marked the two-week window for NHL teams to buyout contracts for the coming year. Last summer, the Blues bought out defenseman Jay McKee before the final year of his four-year free agent deal that paid him $4 million a year. He joined much maligned center Petr Cajanek as the only two players to get money for leaving the team. I'm here to argue captain Eric Brewer should be the third.
The last 12 months has seen the changes begin to mount for the franchise. First they fired head coach Andy Murray in mid-season. The Jack Adams finalist saw the front office add a backup goaltender and some spare parts in Peoria after leading the Blues to the best finish of the league and seventh in the conference. His team started the season flat after a whirlwind start in Sweden and the gravely-voiced Murray paid with his job, just three months after the front office picked up his option for this year (remember that).
Off the ice, Larry Pleau retired this offseason as general manager allowing Doug Armstrong to officially take the reigns of the organization. Keith Tkachuk called it quits. It's strongly believed Paul Kariya has played his last game in the Note. Other unrestricted free agents are Carlo Colaiacovo, Mike Weaver, Brad Winchester, Darryl Sydor and Chris Mason. If none of them return (and I know they're negotiating with Mason, but that's not a done deal yet), that's seven players off the NHL roster who saw a lot of ice time this past season.
Add a major investor in the ownership group putting its shares up for purchase and there are a lot of things in flux down at 14th and Brett Hull Way. I say change is good, embrace the change and dump the captain of the team.
Right before signing his four-year extenstion with the Blues three seasons ago, Eric Brewer was in the middle of playing all 82 games in the season - the only time he's done so in his 11-season career - while posting 23 points (tying a career high). It seemed like a decent decision. He had shaken some of the funk from his early days with the Blues when he seemed more robot than man, an unemotional player in fiery game. Since he signed, he's played in 164 of a possible 246 games (two-thirds) and zero of four possible playoff games (zero-thirds). Struggling with injuries, he's posted 21 points the last two seasons...combined.
I said all that to say this: The Blues played poorly this past season with an improved lineup from the year before (the return of Kariya, Brewer and Erik Johnson coupled with a decent backup goaltender in Ty Conklin). They talked often about being able to flip the switch and make a magical playoff push because they'd done it before. But inconsistent effort on a nightly basis and sleepwalking through third periods with the lead too many times doomed this past season. Sure you can point to immaturity and not knowing what it takes to win over 82 games. But you know what helps a team deal with those issues? Leadership.
Sure, the term is probably overused in the NHL where leaders are called out with little letters on their chests (chin if you're a goalie). But it's hard to deny that a steadying hand in the dressing room and on the bench was missing this season. Leadership was lacking when two-goal leads were getting coughed up on a weekly basis. The younger guys need to step up, assume the leadership mantle and lead the charge. How better to do that than by giving David Backes the captaincy?
And before you say it in the comments, I know this probably won't happen because of the economics. The Blues are losing an investor, they're paying Andy Murray to not coach. They're paying McKee to not play for them. Add whatever Murray's salary was, plus $1.3 million for McKee and $1.4 million for Brewer this year (and next) and that's a lot of change walking out the door with no return. But I say it's worth it.
Losing Brewer would free up another spot for a younger defenseman (Jonas Junland, come back), it would free up some money under the salary cap (I'm sorry, even more money under the salary cap) and gives the team a better primary leader.
Do it, Doug. Keep the change coming.