The St. Louis Blues and their fans are undoubtedly pondering every situation over the past 3 seasons, wondering what went wrong. 3 straight 1st round postseason exits is not how things were drawn up, and it means change is coming in the Gateway to the West. What will the Blues look like next season, and which personnel needs to truly be replaced to finally bring the club into true Cup contention? The short answer is a few tweaks to a major overhaul, but here we focus on what a realistic Blues roster could look like come October.
Players On the Way Out
Unfortunately despite fans’ love of certain players on the Blues current roster (and even their regular season successes) it’s time for some shake ups. There are simply too many players in the Blues’ current core that can’t seem to find that extra gear, and heart in the playoffs to make a deep run. The first of those shake-ups is the most obvious choice given the team’s current circumstances: TJ Oshie. The fan favorite has made quite the name for himself in the area, and across the nation after last year’s Winter Olympic shootout heroics, however he was fairly inconsistent this past season and was once again, almost nonexistent in the 6-game playoff battle against the Wild (NOTE: his regular season woes were partially due to family reasons which is understandable, and all fans wish him and his family continued healing).
Oshie averages just .3 points per game (PPG) in the playoffs, yet receives top line minutes. To put this in perspective, here’s a look at some other players who also finished around the 55 point plateau this season as Oshie did, and what their playoffs have looked like historically. Jason Pominville will be the most glaring name to focus on as his Minnesota Wild ended the Blues season just over a week ago. Though he is a minus-2 on his postseason career, he averages .62 PPG and stays out of the box more than Oshie as well (Pominville: 12 PIM in 68GP; Oshie: 12 PIM in 30 GP). While looking at other players with similar regular season point totals to Oshie, the story doesn’t get any brighter for the beloved Blue. Derek Stepan (.48 playoff PPG), Corey Perry (.86 playoff PPG) , and even defenseman John Carlson (.38 playoff PPG) have all managed to find that extra gear in the postseason to assist their team unlike Oshie has been able to in 5 separate playoff opportunities.
TJ Oshie has five goals in his playoff career. Colin Wilson had that many in the series versus the Hawks.
— Greg Boysen (@GregBoysen) April 27, 2015
If these stats weren’t enough to see that business decisions must be made for the club moving forward, the final nail in the coffin for the long-time fan favorite Oshie is that he is the only person on the ‘SOB’ line that doesn’t have a no-trade clause. This means when push comes to shove he will be the easiest to move, especially for what the club could get in return for his high profile status.
Next on the list of players whose time is up in St. Louis is Partik Berglund. He’s been long rumored as a player the team has shopped around the league, but no suitors have come around just yet. The reason he isn’t at the top of the list is because he does provide more playoff punch in less time on the ice (TOI) than does Oshie. Bergy has managed to at least get his playoff PPG ratio to .45 (6G, 7A, 13P, 29GP) which makes him more valuable to the Blues (in the playoffs) than the previously mentioned creative winger.
Though Berglund has better playoff stats than Oshie, they are a combined minus-16 in the playoffs which is still a huge problem for teams trying to claw their way to the Cup (Bergy only accounts for minus-4 of that minus-16), and could present a problem for the team to move them together, but that may be the best bet. A package deal could mean an up-and-coming team gets some stability to get them into the playoffs, while their young stars are developing into playoff performers and in return should net the Blues some firepower as well.
Two Guys and a (Moving) Truck
Besides Hitchcock standing down and the organization trying to find a more relate-able coach for the players, like a Mike Babcock or Dan Bylsma, the true focus shifts back to the team’s core. This means addressing the back-end that needs minor changes to make room for two guys moving in, Robert Bortuzzo and Petteri Lindbohm, who seem to be great future compliments of current defensive stalwarts Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. This means between Jay Bouwmeester, Zbynek Michalek, Carl Gunnarsson, and Barret Jackman someone has to be moved, maybe even two of them. Let the debate begin.
Jackman seems to be a fan favorite to move on from the Blues, and is an unrestricted free agent this year, but he has had a no-trade clause in the past and is a staple to St. Louis sports so his time may be extended another year or two. However his minus-19 rating over 39 playoff games is no laughing matter and needs to be addressed so he also may be urged onward. Gunnarsson had an up and down year coming back from injury and may be too inconsistent to be reliable, but is still young and learning the Blues style of play so is it too soon to let him go? Maybe or maybe not depending on the return.
That brings Jay Bouwmeester to the plate, a historically solid defenseman with little playoff experience who had a rough go at it this season due to nagging injuries (regular season: 72 GP, 13 P, plus-7; playoffs: 6 GP, 0 P, minus-1). He’s been a perennial shut down force to any blue-line and covers large areas of the ice with grace so he’ll likely be given another chance, but it will be do-or-die for the D-man next year as his 18 career playoff games have only seen him contribute to the score sheet twice. Lastly is Big-Z (Michalek) who was brought in at the trade deadline to block shots and play shut down ‘D’ similar to what Roman Polak brought to the table. Michalek’s time with the Blues has been brief, but he brings a lot of good to the table so hopefully he gets another shot as well.
Only time will reveal what the Blues defense looks like come October, but shifts will be made to solidify the core with the younger talent coming up. Obviously there will be some other moves made to make room for up-and-comers like Ivan Barbashev and Robby Fabbri who are expected to push the lineup as early as next season. However who is moved all depends on the market, but it could be the likes of Steve Ott, Marcel Goc, Olli Jokinen, or even someone as big as David Backes could be moved. It just all depends on what’s in it for the Blues.
Now that the prominent moves have been addressed that leaves some openings in the roster heading into next season. First to be addressed will be the Blues highly touted draft picks Robby Fabbri and Ivan Barbashev. Both were taken in the top 40 at last year’s draft in Philadelphia (Fabbri: 21; Barbashev: 33) and both have been pushing for an NHL roster spot already. Fabbri has a natural scoring touch that could turn into a Kane/Toews situation with Tarasenko in the near future, and Barbashev is a Keith Tkachuk type of power forward with hands to find those pucks in tight. He could be a Wayne Simmonds, or best-case scenario a Ryan Getzlaf type of player in the next few years at the rate he’s developing.
The best part of these prospects: they are proven playoff performers at the Major Junior levels. Both have over a point per game ratio in the postseason (Fabbri: 1.10 PPG; Barbashev: 1.37 PPG), and both have had increased success as of late (although Fabbri’s point production dipped this season/postseason due to injuries). If they are to crack the roster next year it will be in limited roles, but they could be the future support system Tarasenko, Lehtera, Schwartz, and Stastny need to make that Cup run fans keep hearing about.
The rest of the roster is still in limbo and again, simply depends on the market this summer and heading in to next season. If or when the Blues do move Oshie and Berglund among their other options though, it will bring in great (and hopefully playoff proven) 1st-3rd line talent that should boost their postseason game and help the team continue moving forward on their quest for their first Stanley Cup. The good news is that if the prospects in the club’s pipeline continue to develop at their current rate, the team should be making waves in both the regular and post seasons soon.
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Mike has covered the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning in depth for The Hockey Writers since 2013. He is also a contributing writer for KSDK News Channel 5, the St. Louis area NBC affiliate, and has been a credentialed media member of the Blues since 2014. Follow him on Twitter @pep30.