The St. Louis Blues fired their head coach last week, and over the course of three games proved that the rotting corpse is still located in the clubhouse. Sometimes, change can do the body good, but it doesn’t fix all the problems. With the Blues, the laundry list of issues stretches far past the guy in the suit who folds his arm for 54 minutes per game.
With no offense to Craig Berube, nothing in his past suggested he was a miracle worker. Bringing back Joel Quenneville or Ken Hitchcock wouldn’t have sparked this group immediately either. As good as it sounds, the editing on the statement of a coaching change spelling relief just doesn’t work.
When it comes to the reasons why this team is among the worst in the NHL with the second highest payroll, there’s more to it than a simple blanket statement, so let’s talk about the problems surrounding this team. Meanwhile, Doug Armstrong continues to recycle more comments from the last head coach firing he orchestrated.
The Blues have several players on their team not playing up to the level expected in the preseason. 26-year-old Vladimir Tarasenko is on pace for 66 points for the season, which would match his total from the 2017-18 season. As lethal of a scorer and underrated of a passer he is, Tarasenko used to be a 75-point guy, and he’s trending in the wrong direction. Opposing teams know about his wrist shot, and are ready for it. Tarasenko needs to hit the net harder and more often, or learn to snap one-timers. Something more is needed.
It’s no secret to say Alex Pietrangelo is enduring the worst start to a season in his career. The ten points are nice, but the lapses in judgment and turnovers allowed at the blue line aren’t typical Petro action. He’s making more mistakes at a more frequent rate, and as the leader in minutes and someone who takes on the other team’s best players, that’s a problem. When Patrik Laine is left unguarded on the ice, that fault in play falls on Pietrangelo’s shoulders whether he’s on the ice or not.
What happened to Colton Parayko this year? He still can’t hit the net and has gotten more baby shit soft around his own net. The guy doesn’t use his size at all to be a menace to other players, and is a non-factor in spots at both ends of the ice. The overall production on points is down as well. Parayko has finished with at least 30 points in his first three seasons, but this year he’d be lucky to crack 25. He’s still young, but not as invaluable as I would have suggested two years ago.
Jaden Schwartz may be out another two weeks, which spells another season marked by injury for the talented yet breakable winger. Schwartz has nine points in 15 games, but hasn’t been as big of a factor as he has in previous seasons. Here’s a guy who could change the look of the team, not Robby Fabbri, and he can’t stay healthy. When he played in five games from Nov. 6-16, he had five points-but even that’s not noteworthy for a guy like Schwartz. Far from stellar on the ice this year, Blues fans would like a healthy Schwartz at the very least.
Pat Maroon may be the hometown kid who produced for the Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils, but he’s been a disappointment so far this season. While he finally notched a goal on Saturday night, Maroon struggled enough to be a healthy scratch for two games earlier this month, and hasn’t looked as mobile or useful on the ice. He’s a force on the power play and has gotten close on several chances, but Maroon needs to show the kind of finish he did against Winnipeg this past weekend. In a contract year, you’d expect more.
Bad Contracts Starting To Rot
Everyone and their mother knows about Jay Bouwmeester’s Fury Road wasteland contract, but that one at least runs out soon. The former NHL Iron Man will take his talents to Mr. Rodgers’ neighborhood or the local YMCA after this season, which is gratifying to think of during such a painful time for the team. Bouwmeester leads the league in goals scored for the other team and even Mike Yeo ran out of excuses for playing him.
Alex Steen may have ten points, but he’s already hurt and starting to show signs of wear. Points and production be damned, Steen has been durable for the majority of his Blues career, which stretches ten years now. In seven of nine full seasons in St. Louis (he split 81 games between Toronto and St. Louis in the 2008-09 season), Steen has played at least 68 games. In the 2011-12 season, he missed 39 games, and the 2012-13 season was shortened by a lockout.
Steen finds his best usage on the third line now, which would be cool if he didn’t cost the team $5.75 million against the cap the next three seasons, including the current one. Steen was largely absent in games against Chicago and Minnesota earlier this month. He’s becoming more of a non-factor with each week, and it won’t be easy to find a suitor for Steen, who turns 35 in March.
Please don’t tell me Pietrangelo’s contract is bad. First, find me another defenseman who can play his minutes. I’ll wait.
I used to think the Carl Gunnarsson contract was bad, but it doesn’t look that bad these days.
Jake Allen will make even more money next year (he makes $5.2 million on base salary), and no one can admit he has lived up to the expectations of his contract extension given way too soon. Go ahead and argue he would look better in front of a better defense, but so would many goaltenders. The great ones who make the big bucks make up for a poor defense, and Allen isn’t that guy. He never will be. For a guy who costs the team $4.3 million against the cap until the end of the 2020-21 season, that’s a problem.
Which Way We Going, Armstrong?
Damien Chazelle’s latest film, First Man, charted the years of hard work that led to Neil Armstrong taking his first steps on the moon back in the 1960’s. Blues fans have fun these days charting Doug Armstrong’s first steps towards driving this Blues roster down a steep hill and off a cliff.
While not a full impalement, Armstrong has crippled the Blues ability to rise above the muck this year and last. He can make a great trade, but he also pulls the trigger too soon on extensions. He didn’t have to lock down Bouwmeester or Allen like he did, and if he said no to David Backes on a long-term deal, why hand one out to Steen, who is two months older than the former Blues Captain?
He held onto Kevin Shattenkirk too long, and gave away T.J. Oshie for a lesser return in a deal that Washington won handily. Armstrong holds onto certain prospects, but is quite easy in letting high draft picks be sent to other teams. He’s never went all in on a Stanley Cup run. The closest he came to that was acquiring Ryan Miller for a goaltender in Jaroslav Halak who is currently having a better season than Allen. Armstrong is a guy who knows how to keep the boat above water, but has no clue how to get it to the shore where Lord Stanley lives.
Blues fans have no idea where Armstrong is headed, because he never truly shows his hand. And every time he fires a head coach, it’s the same speech. He recycles it from the time before. “When are we going to hold the players accountable?” That’s the outline of every Armstrong post-coach firing speech, and it’s getting old. When will the Blues ownership hold Armstrong accountable for building a team that is no longer good enough to contend in the NHL and heading in the wrong direction?
Correcting your screw-ups doesn’t erase several errors in judgement. A good trade doesn’t eradicate multiple bad ideas. When Armstrong called and tried to move Bouwmeester, Steen, or Allen this past year, other General Manager’s probably laughed in his face. I would have. You made the bed, dude. Now sleep in it.
How many more coaches will Armstrong get to fire before Tom Stillman decides the lack of sellouts at Enterprise Center start to become more than a faint whisper around 14th and Clark? The Philadelphia Flyers knew it was time and fired Ron Hextall. How about Stillman?
The Blues play the Detroit Red Wings tomorrow night, a team I would have guessed the team could handle when I saw the schedule back in August. It turns out the Red Wings have more points than than Blues (along with two more games played). Most nights the other team has more points than the Blues.
Armstrong made moves, but they aren’t working out. When does the maker get held over the fire for his plans not panning out?
Underachieving. Bad contracts. Lack of direction. Armstrong having more lives than a cat.
All signs of the Blues’ demise. And guess what? There is no easy fix. I’d buy more bourbon and keep the tequila close this December.