Not that there’s really anything they can do about it now, but the time has clearly come for the Blues to pull the plug on the 2018-2019 season and prepare for 2019-2020 and beyond. If this is called tanking, it’s a difficult pill to swallow but perhaps the best thing to do.
Even with the point picked up against Edmonton last night, the Blues’ 22 points leave them ten points out of the final wildcard spot, and fourteen out of third place in the NHL Central division. It used to be that we could look at the schedule and say “there are some wins to make up ground,” but if you look at the rest of this month…which will be spent without number one defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and top-six forward Robbie Fabbri…it’s daunting.
Minnesota is in the second wildcard spot right now and are on pace for 97 points. With 56 games left, the Blues would need 75 points to tie the Wild at their current pace. That would mean the Blues would have to go 37-18-1, a .669 winning percentage, in their final 56 games to be in the hunt for a playoff spot. Right now they’re 9-13-4. Winning that much doesn’t seem likely with their game and their schedule.
After traveling to Winnipeg for a date with their nemesis the Jets on Friday, the Blues return home for a four game homestand. The Blues are 6-7-2 at home this season, with fourteen of a possible thirty points earned. The four game homestand includes games against young and resurgent Vancouver, and then the Panthers, Avalanche and Flames. With their play and their injuries, there really is no reason to think the Blues can win more of those games than they lose. After that, it’s a western Canada road trip to Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary before Pietrangelo and Fabbri are re-evaluated.
It’s safe to say the Blues are going to be much farther behind the contenders by Christmas than closer to them, so here’s what they need to do.
Find a coach: President of Hockey Operations/General Manager Doug Armstrong has said the timeline is set up to whittle down a number of candidates after the new year, and then start the interview process. If I’m Army, I’m looking for someone that can succeed with an extremely young roster, because my team next year is going to include Fabbri, Jaden Schwartz, Ryan O’Reilly, Zach Sanford, Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, Vince Dunn and maybe even Klim Kostin and Jake Walman. We’re going young. We’re probably looking at Valentines Day for the hiring of a new coach.
Cultivate trade possibilities: Unfortunately for the Blues, they don’t really have anyone to trade to a contender right now. Either the players of value aren’t performing, or because of injuries they don’t have enough depth to field a representative team. Certainly, it makes sense to look at trading (for the right price) Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn, Colton Parayko, Pat Maroon and Carl Gunnarsson. But if you’re a good team that needs a scorer, are you going to give up a potential star for Tarasenko right now? I’m thinking about when Calgary traded Joe Nieuwendyk to Dallas for Jarome Iginla, or when the Blues traded Rob Ramage and Rick Wamsley to the Flames for Brett Hull, putting Calgary over the top and giving the Blues great value for years to come. There aren’t many of those deals out there.
With injuries to Fabbri, Schwartz, Alexander Steen, Pietrangelo and Gunnarsson, the Blues don’t have enough depth at San Antonio RIGHT NOW to move a Schenn or a Maroon or a Parayko. There just aren’t enough bodies. But laying the groundwork for deadline deals that will reduce the cap number would be smart.
Find a goalie: It would seem, with his consistent inconsistency, that Jake Allen is not the guy to lead this franchise to a Stanley Cup. Whether it be Ville Husso or Jordan Binnington, currently playing at San Antonio, or a goalie that’s currently in the league, the Blues need to change up that position if they hope to be a Stanley Cup contender. Perhaps it’ll happen for Allen, who has tremendous physical ability, somewhere else. But it seems he’s used up his chances here.
Ultimately, although it will prove costly to ownership and will frustrate fans, the Blues need to clean up the mess they have. The core Armstrong talked about when he fired Mike Yeo…the group of Pietrangelo, Steen and Tarasenko that’s been around for so long…needs to be replaced by a new and different core. The Kings, Blackhawks and Flyers are in the same boat. For the Blues, they can take their time, and hopefully be in position to land the first pick in the draft next June. And with a new coach that’s prepared to blend hungry kids in with the holdovers, maybe the Blues can hit the reset button, get a couple of new young stars, and start heading in the right direction again.