Alright, let’s get this out of the way quickly. Chances are, this article will piss you off and you’ll likely disagree with me. This is a concern I’ve had this entire season, but it’s looking like my wish might come true. You ready? Here goes.
The Blues need to miss the playoffs this season. Now wait, I know what you’re thinking. “It’s the 50th season and we’ve waited long enough!” Yeah I know. However, this team is not ready to win a playoff series, much less contend for the Stanley Cup. They have way to many holes in their line up that need fixing, and they cannot be fixed until next season.
So now I’ll break down the moves that need to be made for this team to actually look like a Stanley Cup contender. Fair warning, it’s not going to be a one year transition.
Starting with the center position, Doug Armstrong has to regain the trust of Blues fans and find a way to get rid of Jori Lehtera this off-season. I don’t care if you have to bribe Las Vegas with a draft pick or a prospect, just get rid of him. He makes the team worse when he’s on the ice and you’re not going to win with him. Period.
Paul Stastny is a good second line center, but you either need three second line centers, or you need to find a legitimate first line center. The top free agent center this season is Martin Hanzal. Well Joe Thornton is set to be a UFA, but if he doesn’t re-sign with San Jose, I will be flat out stunned. Hanzal will command to much money and I’d honestly rather just run with Patrik Berglund, Ivan Barbashev, or God forbid the
prodigal son actually returns, Vladimir Sobotka, as the third line center.
The best chance the Blues have at acquiring a legitimate top line center, is through the draft. This is expected to be a rather weak draft, but there are a lot of potential top six centers early in the draft. Which is why dropping out of the playoffs would actually benefit the Blues future Stanley Cup hopes.
The Blues have 67 points, and there are 10 teams with less points than them in the standings . So realistically, depending on their record in the final, the Blues could easily drop farther down the standings. Say they finish around the bottom five. Obviously, the Las Vegas Golden Knights will be gifted a top five pick, but if the Blues could get one of the top six draft picks, they can get themselves a pretty good center. That’s not even bringing the draft lottery into account. The further they fall down the standings, the better their chances in the lottery get.
There are five good centers that could in the top six this year. I expect Swedish defensemen, Timothy Liljegren to slot somewhere in the top six. That leaves Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier, Gabriel Valardi, Michael Rasmussen, and Martin Necas availabe, all of which have the potential to be top six centers, and a few of them could become the number one center a team needs. Chances are, if you can get any of those centers, they will be a better fit with Vladimir Tarasenko than Jori Lehtera is.
So say you somehow land one of these top five centers, and you can find a buyer for Lehtera. You then have two potential top six centers in your prospect pool (whichever center is drafted, plus Jordan Kyrou). Not great, but better than the current pool. Then add whoever you draft with Washington’s pick (Would prefer a Nick Suzuki, Matthew Strome, or Morgan Frost). The future get’s brighter. In the meantime, you have your Lehtera replacement in the system already.
If you re-tool for the next year or two, can let your current prospects grow, and phase in the NHL ready guys. Jordan Schmaltz, Vince Dunn, Tage Thompson, and potentially a Samuel Blais (who’s really turned some heads this season). Then of course, the draft picks in the next two years have the potential to become impact players as well. Especially if you can pick up a top five pick.
Within that time frame, you open up cap space by filling holes with younger players on entry level contracts, which gives you room to sign Colton Parayko and Robby Fabbri. Once you come out of that one/two year accelerated re-build, you’re still within the time frame for the current core to compete for a Stanley Cup, but you have a roster with better depth, higher skill, and a better chance to make a run to the Cup. If you have to potentially make a deal, don’t mortgage the future to do so. Or if for some reason John Tavares actually hits free agency, back up that damn money truck.
Like I said, this is probably a very unpopular opinion, but it’s one I think should probably happen, if we want to see this team become a legitimate contender. Looks at every cup winner the last umpteen amount of years. They built through the draft, and the Blues desperately need to find a top line center, somehow, in the draft. This is probably the best time to do so.