The 2018 NHL Draft is this week…Friday in Dallas…and the Blues have some work to do after not making the playoffs for the first time in seven years. Here’s a checklist of what Blues President of Hockey Operations/General Manager Doug Armstrong needs to accomplish in the next four weeks or so…
1) Determine an identity: Armstrong has made reference to the NHL being a faster league pretty much every time he’s made a move over the last few years. Whether it was letting David Backes go, promoting Mike Yeo to replace Ken Hitchcock as head coach, or making deals for Brayden Schenn and Klim Kostin last off-season, Armstrong always talks about speed. The execution of those words is a different story. There are a lot of teams faster than the Blues. At the same time, Las Vegas secured big, heavy players in the expansion draft, and won that way. Winnipeg is bigger and faster than the Blues. Armstrong needs to settle on an identity, identify the players that fit the identity, and build the team that way. Chicago won with speed. Vegas won the conference with size. There are ways to go about it, but one of them is NOT being in between, with a bunch of average sized, average skating players.
2) Find a center: After the trade of Paul Stastny at the deadline, the Blues were left with Kyle Brodziak as their number two center. Brodziak is a well above average fourth line center, but he isn’t a second line guy, or a first line guy. The Blues need to replace Stastny with a high caliber performer, preferably a playmaker. John Tavares of the Islanders is the top free agent available, and the Blues will make a pitch for him. But if there’s any doubt in the Blues’ minds about Tavares joining them, they need to make another trade. The latest rumors suggest that Tavares has been in constant contact with the Islanders and may be leaning toward staying there. Names of possibly available centers out there include Buffalo’s Ryan O’Reilly, Pittsburgh’s Derek Brassard and Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl, among others. The Blues aren’t in a position to plug young Rob Thomas in as a number 1 or 1A center. They need a veteran guy to play up front against the other tough centers in the division.
3) Acquire a left-handed defenseman: With Jay Bouwmeester having hip surgery late last season, and Carl Gunnarsson suffering a late season torn ACL, the Blues can’t count on those two to start the 2018-2019 campaign. Well known names Dan Hamhuis and Johnny Oduya are out there as free agents. So is versatile right-handed shot Luke Schenn, Brayden’s brother. The Blues would be wise to sign a couple of guys for San Antonio after having to play a college free agent in a game down the stretch last season. Depth on the blueline is a necessity.
4) Settle the backup goalie situation: Like Brian Elliott before him, Carter Hutton wants to test the market and see what’s out there for him. The Blues would like him back at the right price, but they do have Ville Husso in the system and he’s close to ready to be an NHL goalie. Depending on the cost of getting their other checklist items, Husso…at the minimum salary…might be the only direction for the Blues to take behind Jake Allen.
5) Get Vladimir Tarasenko a buddy: During 2017, the Blues traded or let go of Tarasenko friends Kevin Shattenkirk, Jori Lehtera, Nail Yakupov and Ryan Reaves. They also fired a coach who got a lot out of him in Hitchcock. Tarasenko had a disappointing, inconsistent season. It would be wise for the Blues to get someone in the locker room that he connects with personally. He needs to be a better player for the Blues to succeed. Whether that’s reacquiring Reaves or going to Tarasenko and asking who he’d like to play with, the Blues need to maximize Tarasenko’s abilities…especially with the contract that he has.
As Washington showed us, a team can have lots of turnover, blend in some youngsters, and still win the Stanley Cup. Right now, the Blues don’t look like a Stanley Cup contender. If Armstrong is able to pull of the right moves, they might look like a contender four weeks from now.