This isn’t exactly a newsflash, but the Blues are in a bind. With last night’s loss, they’re in fourth place (still) in the Central, with the Minnesota Wild just one point behind with two games in hand. What happened?
The Blues were front-loaded with games this season, which can give a team an opportunity to pad their position in the standings with wins. That worked for the Blues up to the November loss of Jaden Schwartz. Their play dropped off then, which was right about when the rest of the Central became much more difficult to deal with. As the Blues were losing in spades and winning in spurts, Nashville, Winnipeg, Dallas, and Minnesota began playing much more consistent hockey. Despite having banked points, every loss coupled with another Central division team winning was a withdrawl.
To make matters worse, teams that are close to the Blues in the Wild Card standings - especially Calgary. The Pacific Division as a whole is weaker than the Central, creating a situation that could shove the Blues downward in the conference standings overall and out of a wild card spot.
The Blues have just 21 games left, which is time to make up a little space. To be honest, playing either Nashville or Vegas in the first round of the playoffs isn’t exactly appealing, but at this point either a wild card or third place finish has reached the point of being fine. They won’t go any higher than that, and a big addition at the trade deadline will probably not propel them into second place in the division.
That being said, I’m not a soothsayer and I have no idea how this season will pan out (though I was pretty spot on with my post-Schwartz injury prediction, even though when I made those at the start of the year I was being sarcastic - I apologize). We’d all like to know who the players are that Jeremy Rutherford insinuated were just there for the lifestyle that being a hockey player affords them, but we won’t. As much fun as it is to assume that we know who’s not taking this gig seriously and who’s heading over to the East Side too much, we’ll never know. Besides, isn’t it just easier to say “some guys don’t care” than “maybe this team’s still too reliant on a few individual players” or “God, we have a lot of bottom six guys” or “maybe a couple solid deals at the draft doesn’t mean that Doug Armstrong deserves a pass”?
I’ve said for years that the loss of just one player shouldn’t torpedo an entire team’s season - if it does, that speaks badly of the team’s construction. The Penguins have lost Sidney Crosby for extensive periods of time due to concussion, and while they’ve had some issues, there doesn’t seem to be the constant crisis mode that the Blues find themselves in every time Jaden Schwartz gets hurt.
The Blues are in the position that they’re in not because guys don’t care (though that may be an issue - I don’t know and I really don’t care about drama), but because the construction of this roster depends too much on individual parts of this team consistently producing with absolutely no issues happening over the course of the season. It’s not built as a team, it’s built as a support staff.