In the last seven days, the Blues have made two moves that have fired up the fan base — for very different reasons.
Last week, the Blues agreed to terms with left winger Brad Winchester on a one-year $700,000 deal. The Blues, and the fans, were very familiar with Winchester. He came out of nowhere in 2008-09 to score 13 goals in 64 games. The former second-round draft pick appeared to be finally reaching his potential at age 29. The Blues brought him back for 2009-10 and basically guaranteed the big forward a spot in the lineup.
Winchester responded with three goals in 64 games and numerous games spent in lovely press boxes around the NHL.
The Blues rewarded this drop-off in production with a new contract.
The reason given for the signing, really the reason for his career, was Winchester's size. At 6-foot-5, Winchester is a big body that coaches dream about. Every team that has given him a chance — so far Edmonton, Dallas and St. Louis — has seen the size and pictured a Keith Tkachuk-type player to plop in front of the net and watch dominate. If Winchester were born a few inches shorter, he'd be in the AHL or KHL or some other hockey league. Instead, he keeps getting chances because some new GM thinks he can become a big, nasty power forward. At nearly 30 years old, it seems like that day will never come.
Looking at Winchester's NHL career, the outlier here is the 13-goal season. In 247 NHL games, Winchester has 21 goals and 42 points. Carlo Colaiacovo, a defenseman who is not expected to score much, has 22 goals and 94 points in 241 NHL games.
This move, while relatively minor, considering Winchester will be a fourth-liner, shouldn't have been made by new general manager Doug Armstrong.
On the flip side, Armstrong recently put a nice little bow on his best move as a GM to date. Tuesday the club announced that 25 year-old goalie Jaroslav Halak has inked a four-year deal to be the No. 1 guy in St. Louis. As Brad Lee of St. Louis Game Time said, Halak has the potential to be the Blues' best goalie in 15 years.
Acquiring Halak was the biggest move the Blues have made in some time. Getting a bona-fide No. 1 goalie after years of the backup brigade is a sign that the Blues are finally past the rebuilding stage and trying to win, not just saying they're trying to win.
Halak is young and full of potential. He hasn't yet reached his prime, but he's already made a name for himself in the NHL. His playoff run last season helped the Canadiens make the Eastern Conference Finals. Halak posted good numbers last season and, with the Blues defense being actually pretty good itself, he should do well in St. Louis.
Winchester is a stuck-in-neutral move. He doesn't make the team better. He doesn't add much to the table besides his size, which he hasn't proven he knows how to use. The Winchester signing is something the team would have done a few years ago, when the Blues were just trying to fill out a roster and get by.
If the Blues are trying to get to the playoffs and actually win a game (and a series or four), every move should be made to improve the team. No more retaining guys just because they are familiar with them. RIght now, the biggest hole on the roster is a top-line forward. Winchester is not that. He's a bottom-3 player, and the Blues have plenty of those. He's simply a redundant piece.
Doug Armstrong needs more moves like the Halak move — improving a weak spot on the team and making the team better — and fewer moves like bringing back Brad WInchester.
Getting Halak is something a playoff team does. Signing Winchester is something a lottery team does.