All is quiet for the St. Louis Blues right now.
The offseason shopping list seems to be complete. Acquire a No. 1 goalie? Check. Re-sign restricted free agents? Check. Decide on a fighter between Cam Janssen and D.J. King? Check. Ignore the scoring woes? Check.
Last season the Blues were a team that had problems scoring goals. This isn’t a new problem; the Blues have struggled to bury the biscuit since the lockout. This offseason, the Blues said good-bye to Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuk. Both players were way, way past their respective primes, but the duo did score 31 goals. The Blues are filling that void with a lot of hope.
They are hoping David Perron takes the next step and continues his trend of setting a new career-high every season. T.J. Oshie will be expected to do more than just hit Rick Nash, but score a few more goals. Brad Boyes is being counted on to be the guy who scored at least 30 goals for straight years, and not the guy who didn’t even get 15 last year. Every single player on the Blues really is going to have to step up in 2010-11.
All of this hope business inspired Brad Lee over at St. Louis Game Time to question the commitment of the Blues ownership.
Dave Checketts and his group took over the franchise in September of 2005. Since then, the fan group has preached patience. The team is going for a win-from-within strategy. Using the draft, and trying a novel approach of not trading the farm for one player, the Blues were going with the youth movement.
In the last two seasons, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup. Both teams were bad for a bit, drafted high, and went on to glory with the youth movement. The Blues, some thought, should be next in line. Except for the fact that the Blues have two things going against them.
First, the Blues weren’t bad that long. Chicago and Pittsburgh had several bad years. The Blues made the playoffs for a ton of years and didn’t begin to fall off until the first season after the lockout. The Penguins were able to draft Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Jordan Staal all with top-five picks. The Blues have only had two top-five picks — key pieces that are usually sure-fire NHL players. Which leads us to issue No. 2.
Erik Johnson and Alex Pietrangelo were the Blues two top-five picks. Both are defenseman. Common perception is that d-men take longer to develop. Chicago and Pittsburgh went with forwards, while St. Louis went with defense. The rebuild was going to take longer.
This doesn’t mean ownership isn’t committed to winning, as Brad Lee suggested, but rather that the team doesn’t yet think it has a chance to win. There’s a difference.
The free agent market this summer had Ilya Kovlachuk and a long parade of average players. The Blues, seeing that they couldn't really upgrade the slumping offense, decided to punt. EJ and Pietrangelo aren’t stars yet, so the team isn’t ready to take off. Ownership decided to ignore the goal scoring and basically suit up last year’s disappointing team and hope for better results. Has ownership given up its goal of winning the Cup? Not forever—but they have for this season.
The 2010-11 season is going to be yet another season that’s about hope and the future. The Blues are going to try and develop the young players and get them NHL-ready and hope (there’s that word again) that some will rise to the top and become top-flight NHL players. Chicago and Pittsburgh have stars; the Blues don’t. Until that happens, the Blues aren’t going to be able to copy the success of the Penguins and Blackhawks.
It's hard to argue with the Blues' choice this summer—the market just wasn't there—but as a fan, it's frustrating. Knowing that team has no shot at winning, and is maybe only marginally better than a team that missed the playoffs, is frustrating. Fans want to win, and we want ownership to show the same passion and dedication. This offseason, the Blues brass looks like it is content to just be a middle-of-the-pack team. That might not be how they feel, but the look itself is damning enough.
The Blues franchise was born in 1967 and has never won a Cup. It looks like that trend will continue for at least another season.