As the Blues prepare for this weekend’s draft without a first-round pick (traded in the Jay Bouwmeester deal), they continue to nail down contracts with their young core, having worked deals with Patrik Berglund and Kevin Shattenkirk in the last few days. They have so many young players on the NHL roster and in the system that a first-rounder is somewhat inconsequential.
I’m a fan of the Blues approach so far, although I’d like to see them sign a veteran free-agent forward for the dressing room. As Shattenkirk told us in “The Fast Lane,” there’s some pressure.
“We’re a team now that for the last two years has made the playoffs,” the defenseman said yesterday. “We have a lot of young guys that need to draw from this (playoff) experience, me included, and next year is a year that we, as younger players, need to grow and answer the bell.”
Certainly, from a skill standpoint, the Blues have the goods – Shattenkirk, Alex Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester on the blueline, youngsters like T.J. Oshie, David Perron and Berglund up front. They’re joined by 2013’s leading scorer, Chris Stewart, as well as Alex Steen, David Backes, Vladamir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. It’s as skilled a group as one will find.
There have to be questions about the goaltending, but right now there doesn’t seem to be a surefire, Stanley Cup-contending goalie available in free agency or trade.
The Blues didn’t have a strong veteran presence in the locker room last season. With Jason Arnott gone and Jamie Langenbrunner hurt, leadership and accountability fell to the young veterans, and at times fell through the cracks. There will be some intriguing veteran forwards in free agency – rugged wingers like Brenden Morrow, Ryan Clowe or Dustin Penner, or a center like Danny Briere.
When Dallas traded Morrow, who started his career under Ken Hitchcock with the Stars, defenseman Stephane Robidas said to the Dallas Morning News of Morrow’s leadership: “It’s hard to see. He’s a very good teammate, a good friend. He was our captain. He led by example. It’s tough to see a guy like that go, a character guy like that.” He’s rugged, has great character and holds others accountable – traits the Blues need.
Briere has been a terrific playoff performer, scoring 50 goals and adding 59 assists for 109 points in 108 career postseason games. He’s 5-10 and 179 pounds, but he is a scoring center, which is something the Blues lack. But the roster has enough size to compensate for a smallish, top-six forward.
“The way we play the game is an honest game,” Shattenkirk said. “We’re a physical team first, we buy into our system and the goal scoring and the other stuff takes care of itself. Everyone wants to harp on the fact that we couldn’t score goals against the Kings, but personally I think we outplayed them but ended up on the wrong side of that result. As a team I think we thought we could have given Chicago a good run. I think the one thing you do draw from this is how important experience is.”
Before signing an outside free agent, the Blues have to take care of their own – Stewart and Pietrangelo. Is Shattenkirk lobbying them to come back?
“I really can honestly say I don’t have to do much lobbying,” Shattenkirk said. “I think everyone enjoys playing in St. Louis and I think everyone knows what we have here. I think the most important thing that we look at as players is, ‘Are you going to be playing on a team that’s in contention for the Stanley Cup?’ And really that’s what we have here in St. Louis and that’s what we value more than anything.
I don’t really foresee the rest of the guys that need to be signed – I don’t see it being that big of a problem. It should be done soon, hopefully, and I look forward to seeing those guys in the locker room in September.”
This is going to be a huge season for this group of Blues. With a few tweaks, they can be where Chicago resides right now, at the top of the hockey world.