It has been well documented over the last week that there is a lack of interest from current free agents to come and continue their careers in the Gateway City. There may be many factors to why this is the case but the solution to this situation may be very simple for the St. Louis Blues organization.
The current crop of free agents have been extremely demanding about where they go which is their choice but unfortunately it is squeezing out mid to small market teams such as the Blues out of the reckoning . This could be seen with the John Tavares situation as he quite clearly indicated that he had a list of five teams he would talk too and nobody else and it is no consequence that those teams were big market teams namely the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning and of course his current club the New York Islanders.
So in that and all the drama that has surrounded the fans and management recently the answer may be simple. The solution may lay within the organization itself in the shape of the finely assembled group of young prospects put together by Bill Armstrong and his scouting team.
This off season thus far has been disappointing for fans not from the lack of trying on Doug Armstrong’s part who seemingly has been doing all he can to acquire the necessary reinforcements to push the Blues back into the playoff picture for the 2018/19 season. The fans are expecting a couple of upgrades and a strong push next season for the playoffs and beyond.
There is still time to acquire the coveted top six player but trading for such players like Jeff Skinner (Carolina Hurricanes), Ryan O’Reilly (Buffalo Sabres) or Max Pacioretty (Montreal Canadiens) don’t make the Blues team a contender for the Stanley Cup. Acquiring this help for the now while giving up the future of the organization to a degree makes little sense. Mortgaging the prospects for mediocre additions will drive the franchise into the ditch which we have seen many times over the years
This begs the question if blooding the kids into the lineup straight away allowing the horses to run for the next two years showing management and the fan base what they have to offer. The issue for the fan-base however is the team going into the “tank mode”, which would be hard for the fans to take for the whole season and beyond. However playing the kids and selling off the dead weight in get picks for the following year would put the franchise in a much healthier position moving forward.
In fact the 2019 draft is predicted to be loaded with centers so if the Blues were looking to stock up with picks this would be the time to do it. With Jack Hughes, Alex Newhook, Kirby Dach and Ryan Suzuki all projected to go in the top 5 next June this further stakes the claim to go down this route for the Blues if they see this as a viable option.
Robert Thomas is the only center among the high end prospects so the Blues could use another with big offensive upside. Also with Jay Bouwmeester in the twilight of his career the Blues may also be searching for another minute munching defenseman in next years draft. The Blues do have a few solid D prospects in the pipeline but none would qualify like defensive stud Alex Pietrangelo who the Blues picked 4th overall in the 2008 draft.
The top defenseman in the 2019 draft may include Cam York, Bowen Byram and Matthew Robertson who are all projected to go in the top 10 come next June. With that talent available it may time to start searching for the next Pietrangelo. The drafting and developing route is how they got one of the elite NHL snipers in Vladimir Tarasenko, one of the leagues top 10 defenseman in Alex Pietrangelo and one of the most underrated two way forwards in the NHL Jaden Schwartz.
Allowing the kids to develop with the great set of prospects at the Blues disposal the situation is in good hands with the core of the team there to mentor them as they develop into the line up. The Blues are going to give the kids every chance in training camp to prove their worth and prove they deserve the ice time. Having a team full of motivated youngsters is something we rarely seen with the Blues in years past and it would refreshing to see bringing back the pride of wearing the “Blue Note” on his sweater. How much longer can they keep the kids down in the AHL before we see what they are capable of?
The Blues may look to the model used with the Toronto Maple Leafs in recent years where they have acquired many 1st round picks through the draft selling of dead weight to build for the future. They were “tanking” for a season or two and are now reaping the rewards with their patience. They now have one of the most feared top 2 lines in the NHL with Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner leading the charge who were all drafted in the 1st round
The argument with the “tank mode” is the Blues only missed the playoffs by a single point this past season and that was with Jake Allen playing sub par and Jaden Schwartz missing a chunk of the season. Also can the Blues really afford to nurture another band of prospects which leads to possibly wasting the prime years of franchise players Pietrangelo and Tarasenko.
Robert Thomas and Jordan Kryou will be added into the team and will grow as the year progresses. Tage Thompson will get another year of experience under his belt and so will cornerstone defenseman Vince Dunn, Joel Edmundson and Colton Parayko. Also at some point in the season we may see Klim Kostin pushing for a spot depending on how the season is going and the injury situation. With all that there is certainly a lot of raw material to work with.
If the Blues had been healthy last season they would not encountered such a mediocre season. They feeling is that they have a lot of depth in the organization and just require a minor tweak or two. Fans will have to hope that the management can learn from their mistakes and figure out exactly what has to be done to not only return to the playoffs but to be owners of the Stanley Cup. They must take the next step and the answers to that lie firmly in Doug Armstrong’s lap. He was given an extension last December the same year the Blues missed the playoffs and is clearly his job to fix.
If the Blues don’t get the top 6 help they can always draft for it and they can do this by trading away Patrick Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka in this off season or at the trade deadline next February. Another option would be trade soon to be UFA’s Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson at the trade deadline for picks. The interesting case is for Alex Steen who still has 3 years remaining on his contract and its arguable if he has trade value with his current cap hit of $5.75 million. In Steen’s case he still has value on the team with his veteran presence and could be seen as a mentor to kids such as Thomas, Kryou and Thompson in the next season or two.
If the “tank” isn’t an option for the Blues, Doug Armstrong could buy some mid level skill in free agency such as potential salary cap casualties Tyler Johnson (Tampa Bay Lightning), Derick Brassard (Pittsburgh Penguins) and even a long shot such as Andre Buraskovsky (Washington Capitals) but the reality for fans the Blues are likely going to have to do it the hard way. Not all doom and gloom for fans, the Blues have still made the playoffs 41 times in their 51 seasons but have big decisions to make to realistically getting ever closer to drinking from Lord Stanley’s mug.