Welp, not what we all had hoped, or expected, on day 1 of the draft. The Blues went into this year’s draft with all the hype and rumors surrounding them. They were expected to make a big splash, pull off miracles, and get rid of the nightmare on “Bergy Street.” Unfortunately, the only splash that was made was a trade up 4 spots from the 29th pick to the 25th overall pick.
Doug Armstrong seemed to be running wild at the draft. Many reporters mentioned Armstrong meeting with Dave Taylor (VP of hockey ops for the Blues), Jason Botterill (GM of the Buffalo Sabres), and possibly Don Waddell (GM of Carolina). As each draft spot ticked off the board closer and closer to the Blues 29th pick, it became abundantly clear. The Blues weren’t going to be able to achieve the swap they had hoped to make. Instead of flipping the 29th pick in a package for a scoring winger or top 6 pivot-man, Armstrong flipped the 29th and 76th overall picks to Toronto for the 25th overall pick.
The Blues used that 25th pick to draft, from the Växjö Lakers of the Swedish Hockey League, sniping winger Dominik Bokk. Bokk was a “consensus top 15 pick,” according to Bob McKenzie of TSN. It was a bit of a surprise to see him slide to the 25th pick and we can only assume that once it had reached that point, it was hard for the Blues to resist a potential steal in the draft. The Maple Leafs would use the 29th pick to take defenseman Rasmus Sandin. Kyle Dubas later stated that Sandin was “one of the players we wanted” and that made the move with the Blues easier to make knowing there was a good chance Sandin would fall back to the 29th pick.
Dominik Bokk played 15 games for parent club Växjö HC and had 1 goal and 1 assist. That was after a late season call-up, and his first time playing amongst men. Before that, he was playing with the team’s junior level team, and was one of most impressive young players in the league. Bokk put up 41 points (14 goals, 27 assists) in 35 games in the SuperElit U20 Swedish league. He was also able to play in the U18 and U20 World Junior Championships for Germany while putting up 10 points in 5 games at the U18 and 5 points in 5 games at the U20 games.
Armstrong had the intention of packaging the 29th pick with either roster players and/or prospects to bring in an elite talent, but that wasn’t the case. So what happened? According to Pierre Dorian, GM of the Ottawa Senators, day 1 of the draft was one of “the quietest days of the week on the trade front.” It appears that many teams were waiting for the Kovalchuk and Tavares situations to play out. Saturday morning Kovalchuk would enter into a verbal agreement with the Los Angeles Kings for 3 years for $18.75M, a $6.25M AAV, that can be officially signed on July 1st. While Kovalchuk was agreeing to his deal with the Kings, John Tavares’ camp let it be known that they would be speaking to only 5 teams during the courting period that starts Sunday, June 24th. Those teams included NYI, San Jose, Dallas, Toronto, and Vegas. New York set the bar on contract negotiations with their official offer of 8 years and $88M, $11M AAV.
So what direction has the captain of the ship chosen? I’m not saying that trades can’t be made after the draft and during the free agent period, but nothing seems to be materializing into solid deals for Armstrong. Rumors were swirling, as Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic noted, that through both draft days the Blues were involved in conversations with Buffalo for Ryan O’Reilly, and with Carolina for Jeff Skinner. If these conversations don’t turn into concrete deals then will Armstrong choose to focus mainly on the pending free agent pool? The cap space is there. The quality of talent, however, is not. Your top center after Tavares? You guessed it, Paul Stastny. We know Armstrong and Stastny have mentioned getting the band back together, but it would obviously have to be at a different price point than his previous $7M cap hit for the Blues to be involved. If the Blues aren’t able to trade for a top center, paying Paul Stastny might be another cringe-worthy affair Armstrong will have to endure to have that top 6 center he’s been looking for. That joyous occasion only occurs if another team isn’t willing to pay an even higher number for the 32 year-old centerman.
If not Stastny, then who? Hard to believe, but it doesn’t go much further than Stastny down the middle. It appears that Tyler Bozak of the Toronto Maple Leafs will hit the market and he’s your next best bet. After those two, you’re looking to the wingers for scoring help. The two premium options are James van Riemsdyk and James Neal, but their goal-scoring prowess is expected to net them big term and big money. One could easily envision a situation where each would command around 5 years and at least want $30M in the bank. That’s the going rate for goals these days, whether you like it or not. Are Blues fans comfortable paying that price in a “down” free agency year? I suppose the clamoring we may, or may not, hear through the social media channels will tell the tale.
Hitting The Right Note
This has been hailed as one of the most important off-seasons for Doug Armstrong in his tenure in St. Louis. The first step of the process did not go as planned, though the Blues did manage to pick up top German prospect Bokk, they were not able to package the pick for scoring help. So now we wait! We hold out hope that Armstrong has some type of miracle up his sleeve or this could turn into a long year for the Blues and its fans. One that would still include Berglund and Sobotka, to every Blues fan’s delight!
However, it’s hard to put fault on Armstrong for the Blues’ shortcomings. It was stated that Panarin had no interest in what he calls a “small market.” This made a trade with the Blue Jackets out of the question. Kovalchuk brought forth his favored destinations and chose the sunny beaches of Hollywood for the next 3 years. Tavares put out his list of teams and the Blues weren’t one of his preferred destinations, though it seems that Armstrong has continued to make a strong push to have a sit-down with the world-class center. It’s hard to imagine that, unless the Blues overpay and outbid all other teams for the slim-pickings in this year’s free agent class, that they would come out of free agency with Stanley Cup aspirations.
The next week will prove most important for the Blues if they have any intention of competing for a spot in the playoffs next year. Their roster, as it sits today, will not get it done. It’s not completely out of the question to see the Blues go a different direction. What if they strikeout on ROR and Skinner, as well as not signing a significant UFA? They may want to think about holding assets and cap space for next year. Yes, you burn a prime year of Pietrangelo (UFA in 2020-21), Tarasenko, and Schwartz, but if you look at next year’s UFA class and bring the cap space you have now, the Blues could make a BIG splash. Obviously not all these players will hit the market, but here’s a taste of what you could see: Seguin, Wheeler, Skinner, Pavelski, Doughty, Bobrovsky (for the Allen haters), Couture, Pacioretty. Those are some big names and there’s more than a few to add to that list. If Blues fans can handle the wait, the Blues could build a powerhouse infused with young talent and big name UFAs. Armstrong is aggressive this year, but what if he goes into next year’s free agent class with an even greater plethora of assets and the same, if not more, cap space? Armstrong could etch his name in gold if he makes the right call. He could also be run out of town if the Blues continue to have weak showings in the free agent market.