Columbia, MO (December 17, 2014) – Thirty-seven percent of the way through the season, the St. Louis Blues find themselves 21-8-2.
Their 44 points are good for second in the Central Division behind the Blackhawks and the Blues still have a game in hand.
The Year So Far
The season has been up and down thus far. Periods of defensive breakdowns have been sandwiched between long winning streaks. Paul Statsny has played in 22 of the 31 games and has only produced 12 points (7G, 5A). Vladimir Tarasenko has been fantastic as his ‘STL line’ with Jaden Schwartz and Jori Lehtera have been nearly unstoppable. Tarasenko, Lehtera, and Schwartz have all had hat tricks so far this season. Tarasenko has had two. Even Oshie has had a hat trick already this year.
The offense is coming alive and has begun to spread out to lines other than the STL line. The line of Steen-Backes-Oshie doesn’t even face the opposing team’s best defensive pair anymore. Tarasenko’s line is taking on that challenge. Paul Statsny has been relegated to the third line with whatever players are left (and healthy) at that time. Imagine what this team could do if Statsny’s line could become dangerous as well. You would have the high scoring European-style STL line, Backes’ line working like it has been for years, and Paul Statsny’s offensive playmaking centering a third dangerous line. Throw the ferocious Ott-Lapierre-Reaves in the fourth line and you have a very well rounded team.
Defensively, the Blues are deep. Petteri Lindbohm has surprised many, emerging as a well-rounded NHL defenseman. The kid has played with a chip on his shoulder as he has come in to back up the blue line with injuries to top four members Carl Gunnarrson and Jay Bouwmeester. St. Louis native Chris Butler played so well in AHL Chicago that Armstrong had no choice to bring him up as well. This has created plenty of competition for Ian Cole as the team waits for him to become the player he has been expected to be for so long. Veteran Jordan Leopold was dealt to Columbus for a draft pick due to the depth of promising defensemen.
With Gunner and Bouw healthy, the Blues have an elite group of top four defensemen, Barret Jackman to anchor the third line, and three well-rounded, talented guys trying to take the sixth spot. Defensively, this team is set.
Overall Jake Allen has had a solid season. His workload has been heavier of late due to Brian Elliot’s injury. The Blues made headlines as they brought in soon Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur to back up Allen as Elliot recovers. There are still questions as to what the Blues will do with the veteran once Ells returns; I think the Blues would be smart to keep him if at all possible. His veteran leadership can’t hurt a locker room and there’s no guarantee Allen and Elliot will be healthy the remainder of the season.
I like the way the team looks at this point in the season. Even as the team searches for the perfect combination to provide Statsny with the best opportunity to succeed, they are consistently earning points. The team also seems to be searching for their style. With the STL line’s finesse, this team isn’t the defensive, grinding team we saw two years ago. With Paul Statsny’s opportunistic game, this team isn’t the bruising, heavy forecheck team we’ve seen in the past either. However, we aren’t built, or coached, for an East Coast run and gun system either. Each line’s unique play style creates an interesting dilemma as the Blues need to find how they need to play as a team. I don’t know the right answer; nobody does at this point. However, I think the answer will be found when the team gains production from Statsny’s line as it has from the other top two.
The NHL will see a roster freeze soon as players are given a short break for the holidays. This gives general managers some extra incentive to make a deal now. Recently there have been reports of Oilers and Bruins pro-scouts at Blues games. Perhaps the Blues’ front office thinks the perfect match for Statsny isn’t currently on the team.
Anyone who knows me is well aware of my criticisms of Patrik Berglund. Drafted late in the first round of the 2006 NHL draft, (yeah.. the year the Blues took Erik Johnson number one overall instead of Jonathon Toews) Berglund was seen as a high potential player with his massive size and athleticism. Many imagined him as a Kopitar style of big-man, 200 foot player. He simply hasn’t been.
This is his 7th season in the NHL, all with the Blues. In 465 games, the big Swede has scored 109 goals. Roughly 17 goals a season. As my roommate Jason put it, it’s somewhere between pedestrian and mediocre. The Blues weren’t expecting pedestrian with their first round pick.
Many hockey minds have defended the center for his performance, saying he’s a defensive minded player. It’s true, he is a solid player in the defensive zone; however, he is currently a minus player this season and has been a minus player at the end of three seasons. This type of player is useful on teams with superstars carrying the weight of goal scoring responsibilities, but the Blues can’t afford that. Trade rumors started as soon as Berglund signed a new three year extension for $3.7 million this summer.
Sorry, enough bashing on Berglund.
The NHL rumor mill says the Bruins are shopping Milan Lucic. Lucic, 6’4″ and one of the game’s most unpopular players, owns a thirty goal season, two near thirty goal seasons, more +/- plus seasons than Berglund, as well as a Cup with Boston in 2011. Rumors are also circulating that Edmonton, the team with bundles of talent and an endless rebuilding cycle, is shopping talented youngster Taylor Hall. Hall has produced 100 goals in his 271 career games. That’s right, folks: Hall has played almost half of the games Berglund has and only trails the Swede by 9 goals.
Hall provides more pure talent than Lucic; he has consistently produced throughout the unstable situations in Edmonton. Lucic hasn’t been this consistent; however, Lucic has won a cup while Hall hasn’t played in a playoff game. Both players are making $6 million this season, but Hall is three years younger and is under control at the $6 million price tag until 2020. Lucic will make $6.5 million next season before his contract comes to an end.
It’s hard to say which player’s style would fit best with the Blues. Ken Hitchcock is well known for his 200-foot, defensive game. David Perron was sent to Edmonton from St. Louis not long after Hitch’s arrival due to the winger’s inability to cohere to his new coach’s style. Perhaps Hall, having played Edmonton’s speedy offensive style his entire career, wouldn’t be a fit in the Blues system either. But I mentioned earlier how the team still seems to be looking for their exact style this season. Lucic would seem to fit better into the Blues’ game, but you also have to think about the type of guy you’re bringing into the locker room.
But what if Patrik Berglund isn’t enough? What if these teams want more? There are rumors that Doug Armstrong is prepared to do more.
With names like Robby Fabbri, Ty Rattie, Dmitrij Jaskin, and Sebastian Wannstrom in Chicago waiting for their time and youngsters like Schwartz and Tarasenko already contributing so much, many say the Blues may be ready to part with a veteran. Names like Alexander Steen and TJ Oshie have come up. Just hearing this may shock many fans as both players are alternate captains and have been integral parts of the franchise for the last near decade. I struggle to imagine the team without these players too, but it may be time to move on in order to bring this franchise over the playoff hump on the road to their first Stanley Cup.
Am I personally suggesting any of these moves? No. Do I agree some sort of move may still be needed? Yes. I am merely trying to look at the moves that could happen and analyze them to avoid surprise if a move were to be made. The writing on the wall is that there is a great possibility something could be coming.
All in all, I’m happy with where the team is this year. Although it may not seem like it, this team is actually in a bit of transition as it finds itself in its fourth consecutive year of being in the hunt for the cup.
The core is there to be a great team, but will modifications be needed to make the team elite in a Cup winning way?