How the St. Louis Blues Can Get Over the Playoff Hump

The St. Louis Blues have enviable depth. When a team has players like Magnus Paavarvi, Chris Porter, Ty Rattie and Dimitri Jaskin to press into service as needs dictate, it’s hard to find sizeable chinks in the armor. The top six forwards in the Blues’ lineup — Steen, Backes, Oshie, Tarasenko, Lehtera and Schwartz — is a formidable grouping. A case could be made for Selke candidacy with any of these. On defense, a healthy Kevin Shattenkirk is in the Norris conversation, as is a consistent Alex Pietrangelo. In other words, the impact players in the Blues’ lineup on any given night can play with anyone, shutting down top players while putting the puck in the net. But over the past three years, something’s been missing. Teams like the Kings — not necessarily as talented as the Blues — have found ways to get past the team, as has perennial thorn Chicago Blackhawks. Although the team is fortunate to not have to seek out that stud forward or defenseman to fill a massive hole, getting that influential role player might be harder, given the inherent intangibles that so often make the difference in the postseason.

(Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)
The Blues have impressive talent, but that hasn’t proven to be enough. (Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)

Justin Williams

Often thought of as a role player on the Los Angeles Kings, Williams is in fact a three-time Stanley Cup Champion — one with Carolina and two with the Kings. In 2014, he earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. However, the Kings, a team struggling to even make the playoffs, might consider moving the 33-year old first-round pick to a Western rival like the Blues if they don’t foresee a conflict of interest come postseason. He’s a player that comes through in the clutch, especially in tight series that go the distance. Williams would be cheap, not interfere with top-six chemistry, and perhaps only cost the team a mid-level pick. Even as a rental this year, Williams is one of those classic assets that doesn’t receive the attention that superstars get, but has proven invaluable when things matter most.

(Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
This image precisely captures why the Blues should be interested in Williams. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Antoine Vermette

As previously stated, the Blues don’t necessarily need scoring help, with five players threatening or surpassing the 20 goal-plus mark. However, the playoffs often feature tight-scoring affairs, and key players that have their way with opposing defenses during the regular season don’t have that space in the playoffs. It’s players like Vermette, a dangerous winger that could draw attention away from guys like Alex Steen and Jaden Schwartz, that could grab that elusive extra point per game that would have drastically altered the Blues’ destiny in series’ past. Vermette would be a probable upgrade over the likes of Patrik Berglund. Vermette would probably be a rental, since the team does just fine getting scoring during the regular season and needs to allocate funds for Vladimir Tarasenko and Jake Allen next year.

Antoine Vermette Coyotes
Vermette adds another layer to a capable Blues offense. (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

 

Zybnek Michalek

Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and Kevin Shattenkirk is a prime example. Often mentioned as the #2 D-man behind Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk’s puck-moving ability and powerplay prowess is sorely missed. Useful defenseman Ian Cole and Chris Butler — the latter perhaps playing a little over his head on this team — are not answers long-term and are regularly exposed. As Jeff Gordon and others are reporting, Michalek is being looked at by a few teams, the Blues allegedly among them. Should the unthinkable occur and Shattenkirk’s injury hamper him even should he return for the playoffs, a guy like Michalek — although certainly not a direct replacement for #22 — is a more viable answer than Butler and provides more offensive punch than Cole. The Blues would be wise to scoop Michalek up during the Arizona Coyote’s pending fire sale, much as the Nashville Predators did with Cody Franson during Toronto dumps its problem children. Regardless of the moves the Blues make between now and the March 1 trade deadline, there’s no doubt GM Doug Armstrong and company recognize that this team as it stands needs assistance for a deep run.

(Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)
Michalek’s right-hand shot and offensive capabilities are useful to this Blues lineup. (Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)