The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The Blues have always made me question my own sanity, but now, I’m beginning to question theirs.
As the Draft Day dominoes started to tumble a few days ago, the Blues quickly found themselves on the outside looking in. Tavares decided to take only five meetings, and St.Louis didn’t make the cut. Panarin, for whatever reason, doesn’t want to sign long-term in St.Louis. Kovalchuk signed in Los Angeles, confirming his rumored bias for a home on one of the coasts. Pacioretty got a new agent, and at least for the time being, appears to be standing pat with Montreal. Four swings, four misses.
Could the Blues use a player like Jeff Skinner or Ryan O’Rielly? Of-fucking-course they could. This roster could use anyone up the middle with a pulse who can win the occasional face-off. But would a marginal upgrade finally get this club into serious Cup contention? While predictions are tricky business, my Magic 8-Ball takes a rather dim view of that question. The Blues don’t need a gradual improvement to the top six. They need an elite center, and by the looks of it, they won’t be getting one any time soon.
But this has almost always been the St.Louis script. We might as well have it patented. It goes like this - the fourth, the fifth - a free agent goes to market and management whiffs.
I can’t help but cast an envious gaze southward towards our Nashvillian neighbors - having acquired P.K. Subban, Ryan Johansen, Kyle Turris, and Filip Forsberg with clever trades - and how is it that the Blues can’t seem to figure this out? What’s the disconnect?
It’s a big bus, and you could throw any number of people underneath it if you like. Did Armstrong make a mistake at the deadline last season by steadfastly refusing to deal his prized prospects? Did Allen’s predictable, mid-season-meltdown dissolve what little trade value he had left and handcuff the boss? Is the story different now if Army had moved Kyrou for Hoffman or Stone last season? Your guess, dear reader, is as good as mine.
The primary problem with this roster has subsisted for three years. I’ve grown weary of writing about it over and over again. Even with Jake Allen’s abysmal season, the St.Louis defense allowed the sixth-fewest goals against all year. The Blues can keep pucks out of their own net, but putting pucks into nets is a totally different story. If Armstrong brings this same group back into training camp, either he can’t see the problem, or he can’t do what is needed to fix it, and neither option is acceptable.
Maybe this is all premature. Maybe the front office pulls off a trade or two that addresses these recurring offensive woes adequately. If that’s the case, I’ll gladly eat my crow so long as I can drizzle some sriracha on top of it first. But a quiet trade deadline followed by an even quieter draft day really seems to indicate the club wants to sell the fan base on hope again this year, and comrades, that well has been dry for quite some time now.
In all seriousness, I don’t envy the Blues’ front office. These decisions are not easy, and every mistake they make is amplified and second-guessed by backseat drivers like me. It can’t be fun, especially when things don’t go according to plan. But that’s the job, and that’s what they all signed up for, and as management dithers through another important milestone, the organization is approaching a precipice. Whether they like it or not, they will eventually have to choose between contending or rebuilding.
Tanking isn’t a valid strategy. Buffalo has been miserably bad for years, and a bevy of a top-tiered prospects hasn’t meaningfully changed their circumstances for a decade. While Edmonton’s putrid performances over the last few years earned them McDavid, even this youthful hockey savant wasn’t enough to earn them passage out of the basement last season. What does Arizona have to show for all of their failure? A tank isn’t a complete answer, but the Penguins got Crosby because of their failure. The Captials got Ovechkin because of their failure. The Blues live in the middle of the road, and as such, they miss out on the fruits of pure victory and pure defeat. Something, eventually, has to give. The club has to break one way or the other in time.
For whatever it’s worth, knowing when to buy and when to sell isn’t easy either. For years, I dismissed San Jose as an elderly team clinging to players long past their prime. If I was the General Manager of the Sharks, I would have sold anything not bolted to the floor years ago. I was wrong then - there was a Cup final run lying dormant in that group - and success has a nasty habit of catching even the most skilled and experienced analysts completely off-guard. Las Vegas nearly stormed their way into a championship in their very first season. The betting markets initially had the Golden Knights at 500/1 odds to win it all, and before the season started, any NHL commentator worth their salt dismissed them as a bubble team at best. Genuinely, this shit isn’t easy, and I have sympathy for a Blues front office trying their best. In years past, they’ve gotten this team close to the promised land. Credit where credit is due.
But, as the saying goes, close only cuts it in horseshoes and hand grenades. We’re tired of being a bridesmaid for fifty years. We’re sick of being picked last for dodgeball. We’re particularly fed up with the same regurgitated excuses from the front office when a free agent doesn’t sign, or a significant trade fails to materialize. We know the prices are high, we know there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and while the Blues find ways not to get things done, Pittsburgh and Nashville shut up and make deals happen.