The Blues’ transition year is over. With a 3-1 loss in Nashville on Sunday, the Blues were eliminated from the playoffs for the 50th year. This isn’t a Penguins-type transition, in which Mario Lemieux played his last season in Sidney Crosby’s first. The Pens had some down years and amazing luck, drafting Lemieux first overall in 1984 and winning a pair of Stanley Cups, and then getting Crosby first overall in 2005 and winning two more.
Nor is it going to be an Oilers transition, one in which they went from Chris Pronger leading them to the 2006 Finals, and then missing the playoffs every year until this one with first overall pick Connor McDavid becoming a superstar and taking them to the post-season in his second year.
The Blues transition more closely mirrors what the Cardinals typically do, they don’t get to draft high because they make the playoffs every year. They plug in new parts, replacing the likes of long time stalwarts T.J. Oshie, David Backes, Brian Elliott and Kevin Shattenkirk. How do the Blues complete the transition with a Stanley Cup? Here are a couple of instant reaction ideas of what they need, and what they have after the six-game loss to Nashville…
In six road playoff games, the Blues only scored nine regulation goals. Three of those came in their game five win at Minnesota, and they only scored one in each of the three games at Nashville. With all due respect to the guys they have, they need another scorer. Vladimir Tarasenko has not handled the defensive attention he’s received over the last couple of years in the playoffs. In his last twenty playoff games, Tarasenko has scored in four of them, and one of THOSE games was game six last year at San Jose, when he scored two meaningless goals in the closing minutes.
While he has played a more complete game, Tarasenko’s lack of goal scoring in the post-season demands that the Blues have someone to step up and complement Jaden Schwartz. From the time Mike Yeo was hired, Schwartz was arguably the Blues best skater. Patrik Berglund is a big, defensive center. David Perron isn’t a playoff scorer. Alexander Steen and Paul Stastny are nice pieces, but not playoff difference makers.
Can the Blues win a Cup with lines of Stastny, Tarasenko and Schwartz, Berglund, Perron and Steen, Jori Lehtera with Vladimir Sobotka and a young winger, and a fourth line of Kyle Brodziak, Ryan Reaves and perhaps Zach Sanford or Dmitrij Jaskin? Sure they can, but reinforcements are necessary.
The Blues missed Robbie Fabbri during these playoffs, but even his presence wouldn’t have put them over the top against Nashville. Successful playoff teams generally get points from their defensemen, and this club had three D-men that didn’t score a point in eleven playoff games. Joel Edmundson was great, with three goals and three assists, and Colton Parayko was the other Blues defenseman that scored, with two goals and three assists. Otherwise, Alex Pietrangelo had four assists…and Jay Bouwmeester, Carl Gunnarsson and Robert Bortuzzo didn’t put a point on the score sheet. Petro should be better, and if Gunnarsson departs in the expansion draft, Vince Dunn or Petteri Lindbohm needs to ascend
Jake Allen has arrived in goal. He didn’t have a bad playoff game. In fact, it’s hard to imagine that the Blues would have played eleven games this post-season were it not for Allen’s heroics. With Carter Hutton backing him up, the Blues are in good shape in goal for next season.
Playing into the second round in a year in which leadership changes occurred in the Captain’s sweater and in the coaches’ office is a good thing. The Blues are still young, but need to get more out of certain positions. Scottie Upshall is an unrestricted free agent, and now might be the time to get Zach Sanford, Dmitrij Jaskin or Magnus Pajaarvi regular playing time.
Lindbohm, Dunn, Jordan Schmaltz and rookie Jake Walman are knocking at the door of the NHL. Defensively, those kids will have the opportunity to enhance the offense, especially of the Las Vegas Golden Knights take Gunnarsson in the expansion draft.
The departure of guys like Backes, Brouwer, Shattenkirk and Elliott would cause a playoff-less transition for many franchises. For the Blues, they need to reload, and they need their best players during the regular season to strengthen their game come playoff time.
We’ve been saying “wait till next year” for 50 years now, but this team is still young and has a chance. A couple of reinforcements and ascending young players can get them even closer to the Finals next year.