The most interesting, or at the very least, most pleasing news that Blues fans can wrap their minds around is the fact that General Manager Doug Armstrong has come out to say that resigning all of his restricted free agents is a priority of his this offseason and that any and all offer sheets will be matched.
— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) May 28, 2013
But many questions still remain unanswered. Last time, I left Blues fans with my opinion on what area(s) of need the Blues front office should address in order for them to take the proverbial next step in their quest for their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance since 1970.
Many of you agreed in the assertion that the biggest missing piece to the Blues never-ending puzzle is the need for a number one play-making center.
I could go on and on about how the Blues are in desperate need of that number one play-making center. But why beat a dead horse? I think it’s time to examine some other key questions facing the Blues this upcoming offseason.
With that in mind, I sought out the most interesting or potentially controversial questions that Blues fans want answers for.
Q: What is the future of Reaver (Ryan Reaves)?
@bbsuns What is the future of Reaver? I personally love the guy, is it better to keep the CPR line together? I’d love to read an eval on him
— Kevin Reilly (@kprbaseball) May 24, 2013
A: The 4th line, referred to as the CPR line as it’s made up of Adam Cracknell, Chris Porter, and Ryan Reaves, is an integral part to the Blues system. The Bruins fourth line and their ability to pin the opposition deep in their own zone for extended periods of time is a prime example of how vital a 4th line with chemistry is for an organization. Not only that, but last years Stanley Cup losers, the New Jersey Devils, greatly benefited from their 4th line’s ability to do the same thing we have seen the Bruins 4th line do this year: pin opponents deep in their own end with good boards work and physical, non-stop tenacity. There’s no question that the CPR line was the most consistently dominant line night in and night out for the Blues when they faced off against the Kings in the first round this past season. They were able to wear down the opponents defensemen, which is a facet of the game that’s especially important for the 4th line considering the oppositions top defensive-pair is usually the duo that plays against the oppositions top line and 4th line. Cracknell’s recent deal, a 1 year deal worth 600k, is proof that Armstrong is willing to give the CPR line at least another year to prove their importance, and I believe they won’t disappoint. Oh, and Reaves advanced stats aren’t too bad either (if you’re into that sort of thing).
Q: Any thoughts on Ty Rattie? Could he get ice time next year?
A: I think the Blues should definitely consider giving Rattie a look this up coming season. With that being said, how he portrays himself in training camp could be the deciding factor in whether or not he gets a chance with the big club to start the season. The fact that Andy McDonald retired this offseason (even though he was more than likely not going to be given a new contract) leaves an opening in the Blues top 6. Considering the Blues will be spending most of their available cap money on signing their RFA’s, they should really look within the organization’s prospect pool to fill that void left by McDonald. The Hockey News considers Rattie a natural at putting points on the board, and his ability to play on either side of center is a nice luxury for a team to have. Those scoring skills, coupled with his strong special teams ability, an aspect of the game that the Blues failed to excel at in the playoffs verse the Kings, makes Rattie a good candidate to be a player to watch come October.
Q: What will it take for the current team to make the next step? Additions? Subtractions? Trades? Philosophy changes? Coaching/Front Office changes?
A: Additions for sure. The Blues are in win now mode as exemplified by Armstrong’s aggressive moves at the trade deadline this past season. While the Blues lack a perennial sniper from the wing, I think the sheer depth they have on both sides of center make the Blues well rounded enough that they don’t necessarily need that one go to sniper like the New Jersey Devils do in Ilya Kovalchuk or the Washington Capitals do in Alex Ovechkin. Could they benefit from a sniper? Obviously; but they shouldn’t be focusing on trying to find one via free agency or trade. Coaching isn’t the issue either as Ken Hitchcock is currently one of the brighter, more successful coaches in the NHL and I think his style really suits the current Blues roster. The one thing the Blues are missing though that they really need to try and obtain is a #1 playmaking center, which I outlined extensively in a previous article. However, #1 playmaking centers certainly don’t grow on trees and the Blues prospect pool is really lacking in this area. If the Blues want to take a leap of faith this offseason, and I highly suggest they do so with this player, Stephen Weiss is a guy I’d seriously consider calling if he reaches free agent status on July 5.
Q: Who do you see starting for the Blues come next season?
A: While Blues fans are clamoring for the team to trade one of their two goaltenders, with most contending Halak should be shipped out in order to use his cap-hit towards other areas of need, I don’t think it’s the right decision to let either one of them go via trade. Most NHL teams strongly desire a one-two punch in net like the Blues have in Halak and Elliott. This past season has proven that Elliott is capable of filling in for Halak when need be. Elliott’s poor start to the season can be contributed to the lockout, where many players weren’t properly prepared for the delayed-start to the season. He’s still not the true #1 goalie on this team in my opinion: that privilege belongs to Halak and Jaroslav knows it. That’s why he got into a verbal altercation with coach Ken Hitchcock towards the end of the season. Halak’s a gamer and has proven in the past his ability to carry the team in front of him (a la Montreal Canadiens in 2009-2010). Each of these goaltenders only have a year remaining on their current contract and most players in the NHL bring their A+ game when competing in a contract year. Not to mention both goalies are 28 years old and entering what can be debated as the prime of their careers. I say the Blues keep both of them this year and make this up coming season a “show me what you’re made of” year.