I imagine St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong sounds a lot like LeBron James right about now. In my head, I picture Dougie sitting at his desk today and just asking to no one in particular a simple question: "What should I do?"
The heady days of October are long gone. The team that started the season 9-1-2 and was giving up about a goal a game is long gone. November has been a mess. The Blues have lost five in a row and only one has been close.
Losses are understandable. No one in their right mind expected to the Blues to win every game. How the Blues have lost has been the problem. Phoenix scored five goals, Colorado six, Detroit potted seven and Columbus buried eight. In the Blues' last four road games they've been scored on 26 times. Twenty-six times in four games. In the Blues' 13 other games this year, only 21 goals have been scored.
After shutting out the Rangers on Nov. 7, things have just gone off-track. Jaroslav Halak stopped playing like a Vezina candidate and instead played like every other Blues' goalie of the last 20 years. I'll be blunt: Jaro has been terrible. Early in the season Jaro earned praise for his calm, cool attitude and I still think that's a strength of his, but lately he's looked slow and just bad. Since the fluke goal in Columbus that was scored off his skate on a shot from behind the red line, Jaro has looked shaky.
Is it all his fault? Of course not. Roman Polak and Barret Jackman have been out with injuries and their loss has been huge. Say what you want about Erik Johnson, Eric Brewer and Alex Pietrangelo, but Polak and Jackman are the two most important defenseman wearing the Blue Note. They play tough minutes and shut guys down. Without the two of them, Brewer and EJ are getting more minutes and guys like Tyson Strachan and Nathan Oystrick are getting minutes in their stead. It's a domino effect and the result is an increase in lamp lighting for the oppostion.
And that doesn't even address the offensive issues. Brad Boyes seems like he's ready to go on a Brad Boyes streak—when he's on, he can be unstoppable. This stat may be wrong, but I remember his 43-goal season a few years back happening over the course of two weeks. He would just catch fire and score like seven goals in five games. He has three in his last three and that's a good start.
Boyes, however, is the exception. David Perron is still headachey. T.J. Oshie still has a broken ankle. Andy McDonald, David Backes and others still aren't doing enough. Getting up to three goals in the last two games is nice, but you can't expect to win every game 3-2.
But hey, what do you expect? Two-thirds of the top line is out. Matt D'Agostini has been a nice little player, but his getting second-line minutes just illustrates the Blues' problems. Right now, the Blues have top-4 forwards and bottom-8 forwards. It's hard to score like that.
So what does Doug Armstrong do? Should the Blues just ride the wave of injuries and wait it out? Should he make a move? Should Dougie just start dancing?
Frankly I don't have the answers. I do, however, have a suggestion: Be realistic. Many people, myself included, thought this team wouldn't make the playoffs before the season started. The hot start was great, but it was 12 games out on an 82-game season. Let's be real here, if Armstrong and the Blues think that the first 12-games team is the real Blues, make a move. Get some help. The Blues are among the top teams in the league and it's painfully obvious they need some help to stay there.
The Blues have a ton of prospects. Ian Cole is a great young talent who might be the victim of a numbers game. I'm sure he could fetch something to help the scoring.
On the flip side, however, is that the Blues should really do nothing. The problem lately has been goaltending and defense. Halak is here to stay, so that won't be addressed, and the Blues have about 10 defensemen who can play. Yes, they need a veteran presence like a Jackman, but where does that player fit in beyond this season? Polak and Jackman will be back this year. Another NHL-level defender wouldn't fit with the Blues when everyone is healthy.
As hard as it is to say, Armstrong's best play is probably just to wait it out. If he can get a top-six forward, that would be great for now and the future, but in the short term, there's really nothing to do. The defense will just have to get better. Jaro and Ty Conklin will have to play better. Davis Payne will have to coach better.
The Blues are still a ways away from being a Cup contender. They are on the path to getting there, but they aren't there yet. Selling off the farm for a band-aid isn't a solution. The 12-game start was impressive, but the season is a marathon. Right now, the Blues just need to buck up and survive these injuries. They have to take some pride and not allow 6.5 goals per game.
What should you do, Doug? Look for offense, but don't mortgage the future. The team is just going to have to survive the rough stretch.