With the NHL draft a week away, it’s time for Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong to begin reshaping his roster for the 2015-2016 season.
Armstrong has already said there need to be changes to a roster that has played well during the regular season in the last four years, but failed in the playoffs, and that change needs to take place in the core.
The departure of defenseman Barrett Jackman signals the start of the Petteri Lindbohm era with the Blues. Lindbohm is a big, mobile, tough defenseman that will fit in today’s style of play. While Jackman is a gamer and stands up for his teammates, competition between Lindbohm and Rob Bortuzzo will give the Blues youth, energy, and hopefully durability.
Changing the aforementioned core will be Armstrong’s biggest challenge during the next two weeks.
David Backes and Alexander Steen have no-trade provisions, and Patrik Berglund has one that kicks in on July 1. Perhaps the most vulnerable member of the core group is T.J. Oshie, who doesn’t have a no-trade clause and is due a little over $4 million in each of the next two seasons. While he’s ordinarily a 20 goal, 50 point guy, Oshie has played thirty career playoff games, and has five goals and four assists in those games.
Backes hasn’t been much better, with five goals and eight assists in 29 playoff games. In fairness, he’s also played hurt in several playoff series.
As Captain, Backes certainly must bear some responsibility for the lack of effort on the part of his teammates. That said, he’s a big, valuable performer that can go against the opposition’s top line. I’d estimate the Blues would like to keep him around for now.
The two difficult player situations are Steen and Berglund.
Steen signed a new deal two years ago that kicked in just last season. He has two years left on that contract at $5.8 million per season. While Steen has been an effective performer with 62 points two seasons ago and 64 last season, there’s a belief among some close to the team that he could use an attitude adjustment. With so many young players, it’s important that players wearing the letters be respectful to coaches and teammates.
If a player wearing a C or and A disrespects the coach, young players like Vladimir Tarasenko are likely to emulate them. If indeed Steen is perceived as a problem in that regard, he should be on the list of possibilities to go.
As for Berglund, fans and the organization have almost polar opposite beliefs of his value. Fans think a first round pick who makes $3.7 million should be a top six forward who’s among the team’s leading scorers. The club looks at a guy who plays a role, doesn’t complain, is willing to exhibit defensive effort, and is big, and they think he’s worth it.
However, the Blues do have to pay Tarasenko and Jake Allen. Because Berglund doesn’t have the no-trade provision until July 1, he might be a guy they have to move to open up salary cap space.
Armstrong doesn’t want to trade these guys just for draft picks. Even though logical replacements are on the way in forwards Robbie Fabbri and Ivan Barbashev, he doesn’t think rookies should deal with the pressure of stepping up come playoff time.
So, perhaps the Blues trade one of their core players for picks and a less expensive player, and then make a salary-for-salary deal.
The Blues need a forward with Stanley Cup experience.
The last team to win a championship that didn’t have a previous winner was the 1989 Calgary Flames. St. Louis obviously lacked leadership and accountability in terms of effort in their playoff series against Minnesota. There’s an interesting winner available in free agency in Los Angeles winger Justin (Mr. Game 7) Williams. The guy has 30 goals and 48 assists in 115 career playoff games, and has been a Stanley Cup champ three times. Alas, with the Blues’ salary cap problems, they likely won’t be able to afford him.
So Armstrong has to work on parallel tracks this week. He needs to move one big contract for inexpensive youth or picks, and another core player to hopefully reshape the chemistry in the dressing room so that the Blues can enjoy playoff success.
It should be an interesting couple of weeks for Blues fans. It seems certain that some favorites will leave town, but after the last four shortened playoffs, it’s a necessary move.
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