Since the St. Louis Blues are busy watching this NHL postseason with the rest of us, I wanted to fire up the offseason banter a little early.
The downside of the Blues shitting the bed and missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years is fans got to have their hearts broken in early April instead of late April, but the upside is this failure will signify change in the organization. At least we hope.
In order to lay the groundwork for what needs to happen this summer, I assembled a posse of hardcore hockey minds to help me answer the burning questions. Laura “Hildy Mac” Astorian is your resident STLGT site honcho around here, dropping newsy bits and sprinkle commentary breadcrumbs on top.
Mr. Blues Hat, formerly Hitch’s Hat, dishes it straight on Twitter and contributing the STLGT paper on occasion. He doesn’t care for social influencing, but wants to see a Stanley Cup before he dies like the rest of us, so he cuts the shit in his tweets.
I’m a big fan of Danine Preston. I had the chance to watch the Blues demise in Colorado with her, and she’s a sharp one. While she doesn’t write for a website, she publishes her thoughts on Twitter about this rogue group of third line assholes, and I’ve paid attention.
I asked these peeps three questions. I’ll lay the question out, and the four of us will give our answer. Then onto the next question. Did I want to ask them what they would do to Doug Armstrong with a crowbar inside a room with no windows for five minutes? No, but I wanted to.
Let’s get started.
Question #1: If you were Armstrong, what’s your play?
Laura: For the love of God, get at least one or two more actual, genuine top-six players. I know that may be difficult with the way that the team is constructed. Who wants to spend $3,500,000 on Vladimir Sobotka? Who wants to spend $5,750,000 on a flagging Alexander Steen? Who in the hell would take Jay Bouwmeester’s $5,400,000 contract off of Armstrong’s hands?
Still clearing some of that salary needs to be done. Upshall and Brodziak are the team’s only pending UFAs, so salary needs to be shed by trade. I’m not expecting the Blues to sign John Tavares this off season, and that’s for two reasons. One, I’m realistic. Two? There’s no way that Armstrong can clear that space.
Mr. Blues Hat: This is a tough, tough question, because there are so many issues and so many variables.
Clearly, Dougy needs to find another top-line talent. Particularly a center. Just as clearly, he needs to rid this team of perennially underperforming 3rd and 4th liners both for the sake of talent and cap space. To make it even harder, so many injured players, particularly Fabbri and Bouwmeester, are clearly question marks as to whether the CAN return from their injuries, and if so, what level will they perform at.
As Armstrong said in his season-ending presser, that help could come from free agency (Tavares), or from any roster player currently on another team. So help could come from anywhere. But at what price? Not only is cap space in play, but player assets and draft pick assets. Whew.
Here’s my play. I try to sign Tavares. Assuming that will fail, you try to pry someone away from another team. I’d like Barkov from the Panthers, Seguin from the Stars or Kuznetsov from the Capitals (who may be willing to make moves after losing in the playoffs…again). That would probably cost a 1st, a roster player and a top prospect. If FA Stastny can be signed for 4M or less, I’ll take him on the 3rd line. Re-sign Brodziak, and fill in the roster with whatever is left after trades. I see something like this (obviously some of the young guys may be gone via trade).
Jaden Schwartz- Brayden Schenn- Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri-Mystery Center- Thompson
Alexander Steen- (Stastny or current roster center)- Kyrou /Barbashev
Nikita Shoshnikov - Kyle Brodziak- Chris Thorburn
Alex Pietrangelo- Joel Edmundson
Colton Parayko- Jay Bouwmeester
Vince Dunn- Carl Gunnarsson
Robert Bortuzzo, (Schmaltz, Reinke, or any number of young guys until Bouwmeester heals)
Allen/ FA NHL Backup or
Hutton/FA NHL Backup
Regarding Free agents, those of interest are noted below with what I’d do.
Hutton – If he’ll re-sign for under $5M/2y to back-up, I’d do it
Edmundson – 2 year bridge contract
Fabbri – 1 year bridge contract (prove he can still play)
Jaskin – walk or 2-way contract (depth)
Shoshnikov – resign 2-way (depth)
Sundqvist – 2 way or walk (depth)
Danine: First, extend Kyle Brodziak. We need him. Second, focus on filling the gaps without getting cornholed in the process. We are in desperate need of a talented left winger or center, a left hand D-man, and sadly, steady goaltending. Improve at least two of those three issues by training camp. I’d also keep an eye out for someone who can be an asshole on the ice. Not super dirty, but just sandpaper ain’t cutting it anymore. Does Reaves miss us yet?
Me: Get a fucking identity, asshat. You can’t hang your hat on the playoff entry participation trophy, so do your job. If you want the youth movement, bring the kids up and turn them loose. Stop walking in multiple directions and push hard on one option. Your defense looks great with Edmundson and Dunn on the left shot side and Pietrangelo and Parayko on the right with grunge in between. Ride Allen or trade him. He’s getting old. Make a play for Mike Hoffman after you clean your hands from the John Tavares lotion explosion. Execute a third liner or two and ask Alexander Steen to stop aging so fast. Again, rebuild with kids or go for the big guns. Your best players are in their prime.
Question #2: Who realistically can Armstrong send out to clear payroll and cap space?
Laura: I answered that in my prior question: Bouwmeester, Sobotka and Steen. Berglund, as much as everyone enjoys treating him as the team’s whipping boy du jour, still can be useful. Sobotka had an awful year, and Bouwmeester and Steen are declining. There’s no reason for the Blues to be saddled with contracts that large and that prohibitive.
Mr. Blues Hat: “Cracks knuckles” Two guys you have to get off this roster are Berglund and Sobotka. Two guys I’d love to have gone, but are much less “realistic” are Steen and Bouwmeester. I think Berglund has shown enough flashes that you can reasonably expect another team to take a flyer. His contract is not outlandish, and he does provide some defensive help. Maybe a change of scenery will shake the entitlement and feeling of comfort he’s had in St. Louis. I think Sobotka could be sold in much the same way, with less offensive upside, but more defensive upside. Either of these guys could be hinge pieces of a larger trade, with picks/prospects to sweeten the deal.
Steen has had a good run here, but his skills are clearly declining rapidly. He never should have been given a 5 year contract because of his playing style. Three maybe. I also think he’s grown comfortable here, and a change might do him good too. However, that contract burden makes it unlikely he gets traded. Fans have been clamoring for Bouwmeester to be traded for years. He’s not been the same player since the injury that ended his Iron Man streak, which makes his contract look bad now. The reality is, he won’t be traded because of the injury/salary issue, and he can’t be bought out while injured. So this is a contract we’ll be stuck with.
Danine: Realistically if you pair Berglund/Sobotka with one of the better kids (anyone but Thomas IMO) then you could possibly dump some payroll. It all depends on Bergy’s 20 team list. We can’t keep all the prospects and if someone with attractive potential like Kyrou or Thompson was on the table, Bergy’s current output may be enough to get it done. Although it pains me to think about it, a deal involving Parayko makes sense if the return was worth it.
Me: You must cut Berglund, Sobotka, or Bouwmeester loose. I don’t think anyone is taking that ridiculous Steen contract, so you are stuck with him unless you eat some of that money. Berglund carries the most value of the other three, but he has a limited no-trade clause that may carry juice. Bouwmeester is unlikely to go due to the Blues waiting until he was clearly injured to sideline him, and when healthy, he can give you valuable minutes. Sobotka should be gone, but Armstrong gave him an extension that wasn’t deserved, and he doesn’t do anything great enough to command a straight-up trade. You’ll have to pair one of these guys with a young gun, or accept a lot less in return. Armstrong has to keep clearing up his mistake contracts to completely set this team up for a deep playoff run.
Question #3: What should Armstrong do about the goaltending situation?
Laura: Carter Hutton will probably test the UFA market just based on his performance this season. Maybe not having another 1A/1B situation could help Allen shake that middle of the year crisis that he seems to have on an annual basis. He does not perform well under the pressure of competition.
However, it’s inexcusable to have a starting goaltender who can’t handle his job as starter unless his paranoia that he’s going to lose the starting position is constantly assuaged. Factor in the fact that he is not consistent and is not reliable, and you have a situation that I do not envy Armstrong for one bit. The pending UFA market for goaltenders is not good (the last thing we need in St. Louis is Kari Lehtonen, thank you), so again, this is a situation that will have to be dealt with via trade.
And to be quite frank, after last season, who would trade for Jake Allen?
Mr. Blues Hat: First, he has to try to unload Jake. That is a tall task given his January mental vacation 2 years running. Still, he unloaded Lehtera, so anything is possible. Although I’m not wild about giving up more top picks or prospects to do that. Assuming you can’t rid him reasonable, my preference would be for another Allen/Hutton tandem with a “best player plays” understanding. That possibility will depend on whether Hutton can parlay his stellar season into a starting gig somewhere else. If Hutton leaves, you have to fill that spot with an NHL tested backup around the $2.5M range or less. Bringing in Husso as the #1 (not to mention then needing a backup) is a scary proposition if Allen falters again.
Danine: FML. Doug needs to see if there is anyone who may be interested in Jake. I’m not saying this because I’m itching to throw Jake off the bus, buuuuuut STL may not be the right place for him anymore considering the past two seasons. A viscous cycle of inconsistent play feeding the over the top “goalie controversy” fan reactions helps exactly no one. I’m definitely not saying that Doug should make moving Jake THE priority, but there is zero risk in seeing if there are any interested parties out there. Depending on how much money Hutts wants this could make way for a 1a 1b situation with Husso. If Jake stays, find a goalie whisperer who can figure out why everything goes to hell mid season, or someone willing to prescribe me mood stabilizers.
Me: Marry, fuck, kill. Carter Hutton, Jake Allen, Larry Pleau.
HA! You have to try and trade Allen. Armstrong can’t ride this unpredictable mental lounge pony for a third straight season. The guy doesn’t like pressure from his backup, you say. Well, play solid for a whole season, Snake. It’s simple. Allen’s contract isn’t ridiculous and he is still young and carries value. $4.3 million isn’t an anchor for a yearly rate on a goaltender. Carey Price will make $10 million a year until my son graduates college (not true, but sounded good), so don’t call it impossible.
Carter Hutton should cash in elsewhere after a stellar season, because who wants to play Mr. Nice Guy during another Jake meltdown? Hutton should be gone. So, you either trade or retain Allen, and bring up Ville Husso to shadow him, aka force him out of the spot by mid-December. Husso has nothing left to prove down there, so bring him up regardless of the Allen situation. We aren’t in the feelings business. We are in the winning Cups soon business.
That’s the end of the questions, but I’ll leave you with this. If I had Armstrong in a room all alone, I’d ask him a simple question: what’s your five year plan? What are you doing hoarding the prospects? Do you really want to go hard after Tavares or Hoffman, or will it be for show? Do you know what you are doing? Armstrong needs to have a long-term plan that doesn’t revolve around coaching changes, bad extensions, and Berglund dry-humping.
Get a clue. Missing the playoffs should lead to change, but missing the playoff again next year may cause a fan revolt. Whatever you do, don’t fire Mike Yeo. Not yet. It’s not his fault that 2017-18 turd sandwich didn’t make it to the extra games. Let him get another shot at it. You like firing coaches during the season anyway.
Thank you to my lovely vicious Blues loyals for contributing to this piece. If I offended with my comments, just toughen up and get over it.