With the big names this off-season expressing a disinterest to sign in St. Louis, where does the team go from here? Armstrong clearly made a big push to sign Tavares and Kovalchuk, and trade for Panarin, to no avail. Now what?
To quote the Philadelphia 76ers: “Trust the process.”
That might not be what Blues fans want to hear, but it is exactly what will lead the team to become a Stanley Cup contender once again.
What should the Blues’ process be?
Draft and develop the core, then trade for and sign point-producing role players.
First let’s examine how the Blues have gotten where they are so far. The core of the team is Tarasenko, Schwartz, Pietrangelo, and Schenn. The core players on the rise as of last season are Parayko, Edmundson, and Dunn. The core of the future likely also involves many of their forward prospects like Thomas, Kyrou, Thompson, and Kostin. All of those players mentioned, with the exception of ONE (Schenn), began their NHL career by putting on a Blues sweater with the number of their draft year on the back. If there is one thing that Doug Armstrong and his staff are objectively talented at, it’s finding great value in the draft.
What they aren’t so good at is finding value via trade and free agency. Armstrong is batting around .500 for trades. For every good trade there has been a terrible one:
- Trading for Brayden Schenn: Great!
- Trading for Ryan Miller: Bad.
- Trading for Kevin Shattenkirk: Great!
- Trading David Perron: Bad.
- Trading for Jaroslav Halak: A wash because we forfeited Lars Eller.
- Trading for Alex Steen: Great!
- Trading Ben Bishop: Bad.
- Trading Brian Elliott: If Kyrou is good then Great!, if not then probably Bad.
- Trading for Jay Bouwmeester: Great!
- Trading for Troy Brouwer: eh.
Those are just a few, and the signings are the same way:
- Signing Hutton: Great!
- Signing Jori Lehtera: Ooof.
- Signing Stastny: Decent.
- Signing Steen to an extension: Bad contract.
- Signing Bouwmeester to an extension: Bad contract.
- Signing Sobotka (again): eh.
- Signing Berglund to an extension: Decent.
- Signing Tarasenko to an extension: Great!
Sure, no GM is going to win every single move they make; that is to be expected. But after examining the trades and signings, it’s clear that they aren’t the reason why the Blues were a perennial playoff team for 7 seasons. The reason: The Blues know how to draft.
The Blues shouldn’t try and be something they’re not. Let the big market teams go after the big names. The Blues need to rely on what they do best to succeed.
So what is Plan B for the Blues?
They can still go out and make a trade for a centerman or winger. One option for them is Ryan O’Reilly (Sabres). He’s a great player but based on talks during the draft he might be too expensive to acquire. Two other players to consider are Jeff Skinner (Hurricanes) or Wayne Simmonds (Flyers).
Why should the Blues be interested in those two? Jeff Skinner plays the coveted position of center, and his skill and speed would fit in well with the likes of Tarasenko, Schwartz, and Schenn. He could also help boost the power play with his scoring and play-making ability. Wayne Simmonds is the Blues long awaited replacement to David Backes with a little more skill. He plays the wing, but he brings it every night, he’s physical, he has a nose for the net, and he is a beast on the power play. Simmonds is also an amazing leader on and off the ice, proven by the fact that he was a finalist for the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award. Both of those players would be great additions to the team.
Ultimately, though, the Blues need to trust that the prospects they drafted will develop. Hiring Drew Bannister, the OHL Coach of the Year, to be the head coach for the Blues’ AHL affiliate San Antonio Rampage should definitely help. And with Tage Thompson, Joel Edmundson, and Vince Dunn starting to come into their own last season, Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou shredding the OHL to pieces, and Klim Kostin adjusting to the North American game in the AHL (and showcasing a lethal shot and silky hands), the Blues have a future core that looks poised to lead this team to deep playoff runs.