Now that I’ve grown up (ha!) and given up the printed program, at least for the year, there’s only one goofball doing it and that’s Brad Lee in St. Louis. You can find his work at StLouisGametime.com and follow him on Twitter @GTBradLee.
Interesting summer for the Blues, let’s try and parse it out one at a time. Is Jay Gallon really ready to be the #1 on this team and take them farther than Elliot could? Because it seems like they’ve tried to give him the job forever and he’s never seized it with both hands.
If he’s not ready to be the No. 1, the Blues will miss the playoffs by a wide margin. The front office can say whatever they want, but the pedigree of each goaltender was on display at every turn. Brian Elliott arrived in St. Louis signing a league-minimum, two-way contract. He was designated as the backup — if he wasn’t playing in the AHL. And then he pushed Jaroslav Halak for playing time, he won a playoff series, he got picked for the All Star Game twice. Now mixed in were some up and down seasons including one where he sat for a long time and had to go to the minors for a week to get his act together. But he did. When they had to choose between goalies, they always chose not Elliott: Halak over him, Ryan Miller over him and two playoffs ago Allen over him. And then they traded him for a second round pick. But Elliott leaves as the franchise leader in save percentage, goals-against average and shutouts. He’s fourth in wins. And all that was never enough to have the Blues forget that they drafted Allen in the second round of the 2008 draft. They remember how he was the starting goalie for Team Canada at the World Juniors. They know he was an AHL All Star. His resume is awesome. He’s been an elite goaltender at every level. So it’s easy to forget the goals he’s allowed on the faceoff because he wasn’t ready or how one goal in Game 5 against the Wild in the first round made him crumble when the Blues had the momentum. And that’s ignoring the fact that he gets injured. Frequently. Like Saturday night. But I’m sure it will all work out fine.
While we certainly had no affection for David Backes, but his and Troy Brouwer’s exit is 40 goals per season combined or so walking out the door with only David Perron and his dumbass, selfish penalties coming back in. Is this something of a concern for the Blues?
The Blues have very little size at forward. They don’t have anyone who has a reputation for screening goaltenders or fighting for position at the top of the crease. Those guys left. While I think it’s an interesting situation for Perron to come back as hopefully a mature player with a chip on his shoulder wanting to prove Hitchcock wrong, the answer to your question is with the young players. Robby Fabbri as a teenager made an impact playing about 13 minutes a game. Increase his ice time, hopefully his scoring will as well. Maybe, just maybe, Patrick Berglund’s awakening last spring has carried over. Vladimir Tarasenko was a ghost in the Conference Final, waiting to score until they were on the brink of elimination in Game 6. He has another gear. They want to improve from within. The secret to their success in recent seasons is balanced scoring on three lines. Scoring depth. Perron provides depth. Nail Yakupov could provide scoring depth if they don’t bury him on the fourth line with Ryan Reaves. But this is the topic that concerns most fans I’ve spoken with. And it’s going to come up in a future answer down the page (spoiler alert!).
Is this finally the year they figure out they can’t toss Jabe O’Meester out against top lines? And if so, with Kirk ShattenKevin, Alex OrangeJello, and Colton Burpo all being right-handed who can flip to the left side with Pietrangelo to be on the top pairing?
Wait, you’re implying that a guy who debuted in the NHL at 19 and played hundreds of games in a row and who already has 990 games on the odometer at age 33 that he might not be worth $5.5 million a year for this year and two more and he might be a defensive liability? There is no way in hell Bouwmeester should play more than 20 minutes a game, much less the 25+ he’s seen in the last couple years. When he arrived here, it was fun watching him skate. He had these powerful strides and he’s all legs. You could see those long ass strides as he covered the neutral zone in a blur. You could see why coaches and GMs have salivated over him for years even though he was seen as a perennial underachiever. I don’t remember the last time I was impressed with his skating. His mobility and reach were his best attributes. Well, he still has his reach. If he can get there on time. He doesn’t have a shot, he’s not physical. As a Blues fan talking to Hawks fans I should probably try to defend him. Probably. What is amazing about the second part of the question is the lack of lefties on the Blues. Are they allergic to good Canadian boys playing defense? It’s crazy. There have been times they’ve split Petro and JayBo, but they haven’t been comfortable. They want Petro to play north of 25 minutes every night. There is no other player they trust to log that time. Even if he literally shouldn’t be doing it.
If the Blues have something of a bad start or even first half, might they accelerate Hitchcock’s retirement?
Mike Yeo will be the head coach of the Blues this time next year. He’s standing right there on the bench next to the fat man. If they struggle early, it will be tempting to push the reset button early. And honestly, it’s really simple to predict the Blues will have a bad start. First, Jayden Schwartz is hurt for a couple weeks. He’s such a tempo setter on this team. The record with him in and out of the lineup is pretty striking and I wish I knew it. You have a new starting goalie. No size up front because Backes and Brouwer are gone. This is clearly not a team built in the mode of a Ken Hitchcock team. And you have him in his last trip down the buffet. They’re making the oldest coach in the NHL put a team out there that cannot play how he has wanted his teams to play his entire career. He’s said it’s been a challenge talking to other coaches trying to figure out how to play with a faster, smaller lineup. He’s old! He’s nearly retired! But I will say this. The big man is a cagey bastard. He’s not going to whimper and sulk and pout. He’s going to bark and push and prod this team. And he’s going to do everything he can in his bag of tricks to get them to the playoffs and see if they can go three or more rounds again. Of course history says it will be 14 more years before the Blues have another third-round game. But let’s see how this thing starts. At least the Blues could add offensive players this offseason instead of dumping guys to fit under the cap. Also, if you come to St. Louis for a game, buy our fan-run paper. It’s now one of a kind.