5 Changes the St. Louis Blues Must Make This Offseason
5 Offseason Changes the St. Louis Blues Need to Make
The 2013 offseason will be a time of adjustment and reformulation for the St. Louis Blues, as they try to fix the issues that caused them to fall short of expectations in 2012-13. After many noted hockey pundits picked the Blues as a Stanley Cup contender, they only went 29-17-2 and finished in fourth place in the Western Conference before being knocked out by the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the playoffs.
The Blues were no doubt affected by the lockout this past season, and the consequences carried over to the ice. They failed to receive consistently good play from both goalies, Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak, who had been so instrumental in the Blues' 2011-12 success. Captain David Backes struggled to get on his feet, only scoring six goals after scoring 24 the previous year. Forward Chris Stewart bounced back for a stretch and wound up with 18 goals, but played poorly for several extended periods.
Perhaps most significantly, the additions which the Blues thought could put them over the hump in 2012-13 ended up fizzling out. Rookie Vladimir Tarasenko, who arrived from Russia to immense hype, got off to a torrid start before sustaining a concussion. After his return, however, he only scored two goals in his final 21 games, both of which came in the March 28 contest versus the Kings. Tarasenko's improvement will be crucial to the Blues' success next season.
In addition, the Blues did not adequately upgrade their defense during last offseason, and it showed early in the season. Former first-rounder Ian Cole and New York Rangers outcast Wade Redden were trusted with sharing the sixth defenseman role, and neither delivered. With regulars Roman Polak and Kris Russell also regressing, the Blues were forced to trade for proven veterans Jordan Leopold and Jay Bouwmeester for the stretch run. The Blues must make sure this kind of mistake does not happen again in 2013-14.
The Blues have already shown that they will make adjustments this offseason. Here are five more things they must do in order to be more successful next season.
5. Let Ian Cole Sink or Swim
For the past two seasons, the Blues have hyped up the 2007 first-rounder as a player who would be a regular contributor, only to have him sit for the majority of the season. Seeing as the 24-year-old Cole was the Blues' eighth defenseman for the majority of last season, it was mildly surprising when they gave him a new two-year, one-way deal following the season. By trading the more experienced Kris Russell, the Blues are indicating that Cole will get at least some playing time in 2013-14.
Now that Cole, who seemingly has such high upside, is locked in on a multiyear deal, he needs to be phased into the regular defensive rotation. Cole should be dressing in place of 11-year-veteran Barrett Jackman for at least a quarter of the games he would normally play, and should spell any other defenseman who struggles. After taking him in the first round and building him up as a legitimate player, the Blues need to give him a real shot to prove himself.
4. Give the “CPR” Line a Legitimate Shot
One of the brightest spots in the Blues' 2012-13 playoff run was the play down the stretch of their newly-formulated fourth line, containing three long-time minor-leaguers: Adam Cracknell, Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves. Though their greatest value came in agitating the opposing team, the group was certainly capable of providing an offensive spark as well. Though none of the three emerged as regular players until late in the season, they combined to provide a collective eight goals and 12 assists.
The Blues achieved their greatest success with the “CPR” line wearing down the opponent's offense. They should learn from this success and give them a prolonged shot next season, and they have taken a good first step towards this by giving Cracknell and Porter both one-way contracts to match the NHL deal that Reaves already had.
3. Find a True Goal Scorer
This may not require a trade; if the team sees enough progress from Vladimir Tarasenko and/or Jaden Schwartz in the offseason that they are comfortable relying on them as scoring threats, then that should be a fine fix. But if there is any doubt that the pair of 21-year-olds is capable of providing at least 20 goals apiece, they should do everything in their power to go out and get a proven scorer. Even if this requires parting with a promising player such as David Perron, the Blues must do it to ensure that they finish with a better point differential than the +14 they received in 2012-13, which simply did not stack up to the true contenders.
2. Move David Backes Back to Wing
Backes wasn't particularly bad as a center, winning 52.3 percent of his faceoffs in 2012-13, but he didn't make nearly as great an offensive impact as he had in past years. His passing game did not see a huge dropoff, as he had 22 assists, but he only scored six goals. This was a pretty big disappointment, considering that he had scored at least 10 goals in the first six seasons of his career, and had 31 and 24 the past two years. Backes has been the most productive when he has had the freedom to kick out to a wing position. He clearly did not get enough good scoring chances while playing at center last season, and by signing experienced centers Keith Aucoin, Maxim Lapierre and Derek Roy, the Blues have shown that moving Backes is in their plans.
1. Get Rid of Jaroslav Halak
Halak was absolutely fantastic in 2011-12, but he clearly did not stay in shape during the lockout and saw his performance drop off last season. The 28-year-old dealt with numerous injuries and was limited to only 16 games in 2012-13. He gave up three goals and lost in each of his final two starts, and he was benched in favor of Brian Elliott for the playoffs.
He reportedly became a cancer in the dressing room following his benching, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Halak had a heated disagreement with coach Ken Hitchock before Game 4 of the Blues' playoff series versus the Kings. His poor play, negative influence on the team and the fact that he is due to make $4.5 million this year provide great reasons to try to move Halak. With the success he had just a season ago with the Blues, it's very possible that someone will be willing to trade for Halak. But even if they can't trade him, the Blues should still take the $3.75 million dollar cap hit and dump him. Elliott and 22-year-old Jake Allen both played better than Halak last season, and it makes the most sense to use those two going forward.