The St. Louis Blues started the 2011-2012 regular season with no stable ownership, no marquee players, and unanimous concurrence that the playoffs were once again going to be an arm’s length or two out of reach.
Somehow, the word “successful” doesn’t quite seem to do the present justice.
How about “miraculous”?
The Blues' miraculous on-ice product was the result of wise business dealings. They developed the right players, signed the right free-agents, and eventually, hired the perfect man to lead this perceived mediocre pile of youngsters to falling just three points short of being crowned the best team during the regular season.
And to top it off, they now have new ownership that will guarantee them at least a few more seasons’ worth of chances to hoist the Stanley Cup in the city of St. Louis.
But along with the shock and awe that came with this miraculous pilgrimage to a postseason berth is the unwelcome notion that things still haven’t quite panned out for this Blues team.
The team did clinch their first Central Division title in over ten years and win their first playoff series since 2002. But Blues fans were expecting a deep postseason run that never flourished.
The Blues encountered the surging Los Angeles Kings at the wrong time, and found themselves out of contention far too early this summer. The Blues will have to wait still another year before they can even come close to parading the Stanley Cup through their city of endless faith.
Still, the Blues faithful have to look forward, and they have a promising future to look forward to.
The 2012-2013 season projects to be a great one for this budding franchise, and they have the talent, the discipline, and the smarts to pocket another division title and finally hunt down that elusive Stanley Cup championship.
The Blues currently have over $34.4 million to spend come July 1.
Here are a few suggestions for general manager Doug Armstrong as he approaches free agency.
T.J. Oshie and David Perron are core players for this young Blues team.
They have adapted well to coach Ken Hitchcock’s defensive-minded style of play, and can still produce points under it.
With another season of NHL experience under their belts they are due for breakout years, and should be productive members of this Blues hockey club for years to come.
Barret Jackman’s first season with the Blues was the last time they made the postseason until this year’s triumph—and the same year he won the Calder Memorial Trophy for rookie of the year (an impressive feat for a defensive-minded defenseman).
This year, at 30 years old, he averaged over 20 minutes of ice time per game and led the team in blocked shots with 153. He loves the city of St. Louis, and is still a reliable player.
For the right price, GM Doug Armstrong should re-sign the experienced veteran, who has become the heart and soul of this Blues organization.
With Andy McDonald, Patrik Berglund, Alex Steen and T.J. Oshie, the Blues are loaded with center ice men who play fantastic two-way games.
Things are a bit more precarious on the wings.
Captain David Backes and David Perron are solid players, and Vladimir Sobotka showed potential this season, but the Blues would thrive so much better in this league if they could find a winger with a knack for scoring goals.
There are a few on the market this summer, and some have been said to be on the trading block. GM Armstrong would be wise to invest in a player who has a history of productive campaigns and is capable of helping the Blues powerplay and overall offensive output.
Chris Stewart had an okay season for St. Louis, but given the expectations placed on the winger, his performance was incredibly substandard.
The 25 year-old-winger’s offensive production has been moving in the wrong direction for the past two seasons, and he hasn’t quite found a niche in Ken Hitchcock’s system. As a restricted free-agent whose cap hit is at $2.875 mil, the Blues will have to decide if Stewart is in their future plans, or if he is expendable.
He is still young and has the potential and talent to be an offensive producer for the club, but Armstrong has to decide if Stewart is currently worth the risk.
Last offseason, the Blues whimsically signed Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott to help foster the young Blues core, and it worked swimmingly.
Arnott supplied a fair share of the Blues' offensive support, and Langenbrunner wore his “A” all the way to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
While it’s unlikely that the Blues will re-sign either player, the Blues could still use the experience and know-how of a veteran player or two.
Ray Whitney comes to mind, as the 40-year-old winger just finished his 20th NHL season leading the Phoenix Coyotes in scoring with 77 points. He’s spent his latter years in the NHL consistently putting up 50 points or more every season, and could certainly improve the Blues in more ways than one.
One of the main reasons for the St. Louis Blues' exceptional run this season was the hiring of Ken Hitchcock.
Hitchcock corralled the players into a unified, strict, well-disciplined, smothering unit, who could rival not only the strength of the teams in their own division, but could test the depth of the league as well.
Consequently, it is important for Doug Armstrong to maintain that chemistry.
The Blues lineup will not be overhauled this offseason; most Blues’ sweaters will not change. But Armstrong has to be mindful of who he brings in and who is being replaced, and how that will sway team chemistry.
Chemistry is the most essential piece of the puzzle when it comes to the success of this franchise. Armstrong has done a great job so far, and Blues fans should have much to look forward to as the summer progresses and a new season of hockey begins.