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New Look Blues

With Backes, Brouwer, and Elliott gone, what's next for St.Louis?

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Let's get one thing straight - Elliott, Brouwer and Backes are huge subtractions. Those three were big pieces of the last playoff run, and there's no reason to pretend otherwise. It's difficult to disagree with Craig Custance - the Blues don't look as good now as they did at the end of last season. In fact, it's probably safe to say they've gotten worse and Armstrong's inactivity during free agency and the trade deadline could come back to haunt us.

Armstrong is addicted to making minor trades for bargain prices, and I don't see that habit changing soon. I want swinging-for the-fences-Army back, dammit! Say whatever you want about the Ryan Miller trade, but Armstrong got aggressive and tried to put the club in a better position to win, even if it ended up backfiring. What kinds of moves have we seen since then? Scott Gomez on a PTO? One single trade for backup goaltender? Just like these other small-time deals, the acquisitions of Hutton and Perron don't come close to replacing what the Blues have lost.

"But regarding the captain specifically — would you have paid Backes that much to play for you at age 37 (he’s 32 now)?

So let’s say you actually understand him signing with the Bruins.

Here’s what appears to be the most frustrating:

• That the Blues couldn’t lock down Brouwer, who’s cheaper and two years younger than Backes, and might have “lost” the T.J. Oshie trade.

• That as of now, anyway, there doesn’t seen to be a “Plan B” to replace the production of the two big Bs.

• That it happened so fast. It felt like a one-two combo to the face, that being the quick Friday news, informing us that Backes was now Boston’s and Brouwer belonged to Calgary.

• And you throw in Brian Elliott, also with Calgary, and three guys on your “2016 Blues Playoffs Mount Rushmore” are no longer on the Blues.

OK, so can a team improve when it loses key production to free agency? Sure. Most famously, Albert Pujols. Yes, that’s a different type of sport and a different type of sports business. But there is room for other players to ascend. Players have ceilings — are you going to tell me that all the guys on the roster have reached their ceiling? Certainly not, especially with Robby Fabbri and Jaden Schwartz and Colton Parayko.

The Blues got a lot smaller and lost a lot of veteran presence Friday. But why can’t Alexander Steen and Alex Pietrangelo ascend to these roles?" [STLToday]

Alright, let me play devil's advocate here. Let's say you were at Doug's desk yesterday. Lucic, Okposo, Eriksson, and Ladd aren't picking up the phone for anything less than $6 million and 5-7 years in term. Is making a splash worth bearing that expense for the life of the contract? Keep in mind that you're not just giving up term and cap space and massive signing bonuses, you're going to have to sweeten the pot even further with no-movement clauses and no-trade clauses that can seriously sting a few years down the road .What are the odds that at least one of those four deals gets bought out before they end? Unless you're willing to take that risk, you are not in contention for the top of this free agency class. 

Why are the Sabres, Canucks, and Flames digging deep into their pockets for free agents in the first place? They need to purchase talent on the market (at a premium price) because they don't have enough in their own pipeline. You could definitely argue that the Bruins and Islanders made big free-agency signings to fill in the gaps created by their own UFA's leaving, and maybe the Blues should have followed suit. Outside of Okposo, I don't see a single player that could cover for the loss of Backes and Brouwer.

Armstrong went out to the market to patch holes without taking on huge contracts that would hurt later. The Blues lost two forwards and one goaltender, and they've replaced two out of the three with NHL-ready talent. If the Blues are truly done in free agency (as Army says), this will be the roster they take into next season (barring a miracle trade for Shattenkirk who might not be getting actively shopped by Armstrong now.)

St.Louis is right to be risk averse, and it's prudent to avoid Wade-Redden-with-the-Rangers style contracts that will almost certainly be bought out in the future. The Blues aren't one or two players away from a championship. They're serious contenders who sunk two of the best teams in two seven-game bloodbaths. This isn't the time to write blank checks. The Blues should focus on preserving their core and gear up for another deep run.

Perron's acquisition is puzzling. In my opinion, there were better players available at similar prices. McGinn went to Arizona for $3m AAV, and Eric Staal signed in Minnesota for $10.5m over 3 years. These would have been similar price tags to Perron, and might have produced better results. If you're going to dip into free-agency for a winger, why not make a serious run at Mikkel Boedker? He's got speed, great hands, and potted 52 points last season. Size - as many others have mentioned - could become a serious problem with the departure of Backes and Brouwer.

Have the Blues just trimmed the fat and we're all losing our minds over nothing? Can the 'new' core of Schwartz, Fabbri, Steen, Tarasenko, Statsny, Petro, and Parayko retain powerhouse status in the Western Conference? Did Armstrong wisely steer us away from contract hell? Are Backes and Brouwer headed into the worst stretches of their careers, or will they continue to produce at the same clip? It's impossible to know for sure - at the moment - and if Perron puts up sixty points, we might forget about all of this itchy off-season panic. I really hope I'm wrong and that the Blues are the same top-five team in the league next season, but the seas look choppy up ahead, and I don't think it's crazy to feel just a little bit worried.