If you’re a Blues fan looking for a way to describe the way the last few days have made you feel, you may be in the debt of one Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Dr. Kubler-Ross, in her 1969 book On Death and Dying, introduced the five stage model of grief that would come to bear her name - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
Most Blues fans are likely sitting somewhere around step four. Denial was last June, when visions of Jonathan Drouin and Taylor Hall danced in our heads. Anger was the end of the draft, when Kevin Shattenkirk stayed in St. Louis and many fans watched two days of coverage to hear about a deal that never came. Bargaining? That was the “it’s going to be a sign and trade” part of the ride. And now, step four.
Depression. For fans of a team that reached the Western Conference Finals in 2016, today is a depressing day. Perhaps the best news received in the last 24 hours was that Jordan Schmaltz will finally be making his NHL debut, and in doing so, will become the last player from the first round of the 2012 NHL Draft to reach the NHL. And yes, that’s the good news.
Schmaltz’s ascension comes with Shattenkirk’s departure. So too does a permanent roster spot for Magnus Paajarvi, and a Blues debut for Zach Sanford. Doug Armstrong made a statement on deadline day which listed the players the team would be leaning on, and he included Kyle Brodziak in that list, so get ready for increased prominence for him as well. Giving more ice to Paajarvi and Brodziak is just like making a trade, right?
No. No it’s not. And yet it’s the best the Blues have to offer, because making an actual trade of the players currently on their roster appears to be a Herculean task. The roughly $44.5 million in salary cap space currently used on forwards is the largest number in the NHL, and yet they have 8% fewer goals scored than the Nashville Predators. Only the moribund Colorado Avalanche have fewer goals among division opponents, and they have $12 million less reserved for their futility.
That salary cap discrepancy is a large part of the reason that Blues fans should not expect to see the turnover that one would typically associate with a “rebuild.” Scottie Upshall is an unrestricted free agent who may be unlikely to return. Nail Yakupov is a restricted free agent who would be unnoticed in his return. And King Magnus is also an RFA and an enigma the team will seek to solve over the next 20 games.
Outside of those three players, the Blues have a signed contract with every other forward on the roster. That excludes the possible return of fringe players like Ty Rattie, Kenny Agostino, and Landon Ferraro, and also doesn’t take into consideration the possible arrival of Tage Thompson.
The Vegas Golden Knights are likely to select a forward from the Blues in the expansion draft. The best of the exposed defensemen will probably be Carl Gunnarsson, and Vegas would be more likely to have interest in a player such as Ryan Reaves or Brodziak (or even a gamble on Yakupov). Even still, those are depth players whose presence has little to do with the team’s scoring woes.
Doug Armstrong has done little to suggest that Blues fans should be confident in his ability to receive trade value for players such as Jori Lehtera, Jaden Schwartz, or Paul Stastny, and the comparison of their salaries to production makes them unattractive to other teams. If the forwards are to be rebuilt, then, that thrust will have to come internally.
For too long, the Blues have counted on growth that hasn’t shown itself. Dmitrij Jaskin appears unlikely to be a solid NHL regular. Patrik Berglund is what he is (tall, Swedish, streaky). Vladimir Tarasenko is an all world talent but does not appear able to carry the load by himself. If they fall into that same trap and are unable to make substantial roster changes, then Blues fans should hunker down for another long, cold winter.
And thus, the final step: acceptance.