The feeling isn’t desirable at all. Missing the playoffs doesn’t come with a prescription for fans. You sit there and take it, like a shot to the gut with your hands tied. Nothing a few more rounds of drinks, therapy, and an entire chocolate cake can’t take care of.
For the first time since the 2010-11 season, the St. Louis Blues will not chase down Lord Stanley’s Cup in the blooming moments of spring. Instead, they pack their bags amid disarray, impending change, and a challenge of identity.
Alex Pietrangelo can bark all day about an offsides call not going the Blues way in Saturday night’s 5-2 season-ending loss, but the truth is the Colorado Avalanche dominated the majority of that game. They didn’t want it more. I find the “want it more” narrative to be as worthy as the power play dance and song, so let’s cut that shit out. The Blues lost five of their last six games and couldn’t beat the Arizona Coyotes or Chicago Blackhawks in the last week of play. They lost the playoff berth before the puck dropped in Denver.
The 2017-18 Blues had no reason to be in the playoffs, even if fans held out illogical hope. They were a rocket with faulty mechanics, blasting out of the gate in October before breaking down late. There was a six game winning streak stuffed into the final month, but it wasn’t enough. The 94 points fell one point short of an invite.
Let me tell you why it may be a blessing in disguise. Soak on this while you sip the Jameson.
Now, General Manager Doug Armstrong will be forced to make some tough decisions this summer. He won’t be able to hang his hat on a playoff berth and trick fans into thinking progress is being made. Look, the acquisition of Brayden Schenn last summer aside (which was Armstrong correcting his Jori Lehtera extension mistake), the guy hasn’t made a splash in quite some time.
For years, Armstrong has handed out bad contracts and built a legion of promising talents that mature into third liners right before our eyes. You can scrap together a defense for Patrik Berglund’s first contract, but not the last two. The bigger problem is the team is full of Berglunds and not enough game changing and standings separating talent.
Jake Allen got a four-year deal based on stellar play in part-time duty. Jay Bouwmeester got a long extension because he was durable, with no disregard for the man’s accelerated age. Lehtera got a contract after three months of solid play. Berglund’s two extensions only make a certain amount of sense. Armstrong’s extension trigger finger has been overly active, so that has to be fixed.
Missing the playoffs will lead to some change. Tom Stillman will feel the hit as the playoffs pass the Blues by, so he will give Armstrong the wiggle room to juggle the roster as required.
Quite frankly, the Blues need to cut the fat. Find a way to send Berglund or Vladimir Sobotka packing. Don’t worry about how you are going to replace a guy who only tallies 30-35 points on the season. If Robert Thomas and/or Jordan Kyrou were indeed touched by lightning as a child, according to Armstrong’s need to protect them, they should be ready to step into a third line role at the very least. Finding a trade partner for the enigmatic Allen should also be on the docket, but it won’t be easy.
Being one-line deep on offense crippled the Blues midway through the season, and they never recovered once Jaden Schwartz got hurt and Vladimir Tarasenko decided to step down slightly from superhuman status. How much longer do you keep the kids down in the AHL before you see what they got?
The current situation gives Armstrong three options:
1) Go all-out for a sexy free agent like John Tavares, giving your team a legit superstar to pair with the goal-scoring talent of Tarasenko and playmaking ability of Schwartz and Schenn. Instead of merely try to qualify for the postseason in 2018-19, take a huge leap and get a guy who can get you a direct flight to Pleasuretown. Doing this means you wouldn’t waste the prime years of Tarasenko, Schwartz, and Pietrangelo.
2) Par down and trade for a guy like Mike Hoffman. He has two years left on his deal, is experiencing an uptick in points, and could blend in well in St. Louis. His salary is similar to the departed Paul Stastny’s number, so the money should work out. Who do you trade? A kid perhaps, if Armstrong can handle trading away one of the chosen posse. This action would also preserve the lean and mean years of Tarasenko and Petro.
3) Rebuild and play the kids. You’d trade away some high-priced talent and find room for Thomas, Kyrou, and Klim Kostin. You’d turn Tage Thompson loose and get after it with a mix of younger players. Allen would be sent out and Husso would be placed as the #1. This would rupture a chance at a Stanley Cup in a modern day sense, but see who is legit good and who is all promise. The Blues can’t afford to nurture along another band of potential players.
No, you don’t trade Tarasenko, a 27-year-old legit 30 goal scoring talent now entering his prime. If you believe that, I’ll fight you.
Missing the playoffs isn’t delightful at all, but Blues fans have to hope Armstrong, Stillman, and the team can learn from it and figure out what needs to be done in order to better position this team for not only a return to the playoffs, but a first-time trip to ownership of the Stanley Cup.
41 playoff appearances in 51 seasons is pretty nice, but it’s also mutually exclusive with blueballs. It’s time for this team to take that next step, and the manner with which they do it falls into Armstrong’s lap. He got his own extension in the same year that the Blues managed to miss the playoffs. It’s his job to fix the bed that he made. Change the sheets or buy a shiny new comforter. Make your choice, Doug. I’ll give you a 5 minute headstart.
The return of Robby Fabbri will help, if he can make it through the summer and training camp. It’s no secret that his knee is going to be a chronic issue for both the team and player. I would imagine he is trade bait this summer due to the bittersweet package of promise and buyer-beware colors.
You know what’s sad? We are discussing this on April 9 and not May 9. For the first time in seven years, the Blues are done after 82 games.
I will pull the recycled phrase and admit there is an identity problem on this team. What if Armstrong going for and does he have the tools to see it through?
The Blues demise can be a blessing in disguise if the General Manager takes the opportunity to fix the team and not just bide time until you are granted another participation trophy.
One more thing. I don’t think Mike Yeo should be fired-at least not yet. He did leave an injured Allen in a do-or-die game, but that’s not a fireable offense. Let’s see what Armstrong does to help his head coach before we throw him over the ledge. Just wait a second on that.
For now, I’ll leave you with this. Do you wish the Blues made it and got crushed by Nashville? Or do you quietly like the idea of action being forced onto Doug’s plate?
Let’s pour a glass of bourbon while we mull that over.
Thanks for reading.