Yesterday, the Blues gave their post-playoffs postmortem. The most interesting and reflective response came from Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, who flat-out admitted that other than David Perron, Ryan O’Reilly, and Justin Faulk were the three players who played to their potential. The rest of the team? Not so much.
What limited that potential is up for debate. In the playoffs, obviously, having three players out on the Covid-19 list was less than ideal, and the Avalanche knocking Robert Bortuzzo and Faulk out of the series in game two also was detrimental to the Blues’ chances. Going all of the way back to the playoff bubble, which is where most people point to as the start of the Blues’ slippage, the Blues had struggles with players catching Covid. It’s a virus with long-term health concerns, and lingering symptoms make it very difficult to accurately evaluate what a team that finished first in the Western Conference truly could’ve accomplished in those playoffs.
When asked about the Blues’ Stanley Cup window, Armstrong was adamant that the Blues were still in it, and pointed to last year’s playoffs as something that was a difficult to evaluate situation. He carried that over to this year’s post-season, where injuries and the virus again made it difficult for the Blues’ failures to be honestly and completely evaluated. As a whole, this season is a tough one to evaluate due to injuries and an inconsistent schedule.
Armstrong stressed that team play is important due to a lack of a generational superstar - and frankly, after watching the Oilers get swept in the first round, having that generational superstar doesn’t matter nearly as much as people think it does. He believes that if the Blues make the necessary adjustments to how they play as a group, then that Cup window is still wide open:
“When we brought in the players a couple years ago, we thought we had a 5-year window. This was year three of it. I still think it’s open.”
Armstrong did not sound like he believes that timetable is off despite two back to back first round losses. This off-season, he’ll have to evaluate who to protect in the expansion draft as well as what to do about Jaden Schwartz, Tyler Bozak, and Mike Hoffman. Two of those three players have been central to what the Blues have been trying to accomplish during this window for success. While Schwartz has been injured and therefore more inconsistent than Armstrong would probably like to see, re-signing the pending UFA is something he’ll be focused on. Bozak, as well, has been vital to ensuring that window stays open, which is something that’s not rarely said of a 35 year old player.
Hoffman, despite his power play success down the line being helpful in getting the Blues into the postseason, seems like the least important part of keeping the Blues’ window open.
The core of this team is still impressive, but issues have cropped up that need tweaking. Without Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester, the Blues can’t get away with having a defense without more than one large body on it. Armstrong in his interview stressed the need for improving the team’s net-front presence, which was something that was ineffective this year:
“You have to go into the paint to score. I think one of the areas where we need to improve is our desire to go in there and not be half committed. I thought Colorado made it a lot more difficult on Binnington to see pucks than we made it on the Avalanche goaltenders, and that’s an area that we’re going to have to improve.”
The Blues also need to address opposing teams’ netfront presence by finding players (or encouraging their current players) to clear the crease in front of Jordan Binnington.
These aren’t huge adjustments for the team to make. It’s not like the Blues need to go into a full rebuild mode to fix the problems that they have. Many can be fixed in-house, and what can’t be can be patched in the off-season.
Armstrong isn’t wrong: the window for another Stanley Cup is still open. But it’s inching shut more and more every day. What Armstrong does this off-season will determine if it can be propped up for a little while longer.