The Blues are close. It’s been a while since that has been a true statement, but the team’s play the past two seasons indicates that the window is open for the franchise to win its first ever Stanley Cup. While fans may view this season as a step backwards, it was anything but. The Blues were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, but the season could have been so much more for the Blues. That being said, it wasn’t a complete failure for the Blues.
Anyone familiar with sports knows that the offseason is the most important time of the year in terms of building, and re-stocking a team. For the Blues, who have a strong, young core group of players, the offseason is no longer about rebuilding. Instead, it has become a time to tweak the roster, and maybe add a piece or two to the equation. This year, the Blues are not expecting to use free agency much, if at all, to help their team. If anything, the team will use trades to add to their squad.
The Blues feel that their current players are the ones that will help them win the elusive Stanley Cup. The team has 10 key players whose contracts are up at the end of this season. The two biggest free agents for the Blues are defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. Blues general manager Doug Armstrong has said that both will be re-signed. That being said, Armstrong said on Sunday that the Blues will be qualifying all of the team’s restricted free agents, and attempting to re-sign them. As for the unrestricted free agents, it is likely that several have played their last game as a Blue.
“I can safely say that we are going to qualify every player that is a restricted free agent,” said Armstrong. “We are going to negotiate and try to sign every player that is a restricted free agent. Ownership understands that the window is open now and we have to take care of our own. I don’t see this being a huge free agency offseason for us, I see it more as taking care of us and then see if we want to re-arrange some of the chairs via trade.”
Heading into the offseason, the Blues’ biggest concern is their goal scoring. The Blues’ lack of scoring in the postseason really highlighted the team’s need for a producer. For years, the Blues have been in need of a top goal scorer, but those types of players are hard to find. Typically, goal scorers are drafted by a team, and signed to long-term contract extensions by the same team that drafted them. That is why the Blues won’t be able to address their goal-scoring need via free agency.
“The reality is that with free agency the way it is now, teams tie up those elusive, top-end goal scorers,” said Armstrong. “They draft them. (Evgeni) Malkin, (Sidney) Crosby, (John) Tavares, (Steven) Stamkos were drafted by those teams. It is incumbent upon the players in this room to find out how to produce when the lights are the brightest, to score those goals.”
“If I can find a guy that can come in and help us score those goals, certainly we’re going to look at doing that, but to think that player is out there and teams will just give him away and say ‘gee St. Louis it’s time to win, we will give you (Alex) Ovechkin, you have to be on reality.”
But the Blues don’t feel as though they particularly need a big-name forward to come to St. Louis. Sure, it would help, but the team feels the current players are more than capable and Armstrong doesn’t want to shake things up too much.
“The easiest thing to do is to show somebody the door, the harder thing is to find somebody that is better,” said Armstrong. “We can all clamor for a new general manager, or a new coach, or new players, but that’s the easy part, the other part is bringing in a better person than the one leaving.”
“Are we frustrated? Yeah. We have players that have produced in the past that haven’t been able to get us over the hump in the playoffs, but they’re still in those prime years. So basically, we need the home-grown talent to start producing at the most important times.”
It’s important to remember that the Blues have players that have produced in the past. Head coach Ken Hitchcock has discussed his team’s lack of scoring in the postseason and says it is fixable.
“I think (the ability to finish) is here, but it’s convincing players,” said Hitchcock. “I think it’s here but we need to teach players that it isn’t just the words we ask but understanding the overall commitment to get that next level going. I think we’ve got a lot of guys who are more than receptive here to figure it out. I saw it come together in the last few months and I liked what I saw.”
After a disappointing postseason, it would be easy for Armstrong to not re-sign certain players or for him to trade away talent, but it would also be foolish. This offseason isn’t about change; it’s about getting the current players to give more. If Armstrong finds a suitable deal that helps his team, he will pull the trigger, but he is content with his current club. It’s expected to be a relatively quiet offseason this year in St. Louis but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an important one.