Blues Roundtable: Has This Summer Been Productive?

Why don’t the Blues just get a really fat guy to play in net? Why doesn’t management just trade a draft pick and Ian Cole for Sidney Crosby?

These are types of questions that we, as die-hard St. Louis Blues fans, love to hear from the mouths of non-hockey watchers. These are usually asked around playoff time, when the usual-St. Louis Cardinals fans start showing up to Scottrade Center to catch the action.

We welcome these fans, though. They help fill the building, add more support to an already-loyal fanbase and they even make us feel like the source for vital information — a Darren Dreger or Bob McKenzie in a Blues jersey. It’s quite the uplifting feeling.

Even as the league insiders, we sometimes share the same sentiments of these semi-regular Blues fans. That’s why I recruited friends from the Facebook group St. Louis Blues Nation to help me come up with five important queries regarding their favorite hockey team. This may be something they are wondering themselves or have heard others gripe about in the recent past.

St. Louis Blues Nation is a Facebook fan page with over 8,600 members
St. Louis Blues Nation is a Facebook fan page with over 8,600 members

To help shed some light on these concerns, I rounded up a crew of Blues writers to voice their opinions.

First, we have Mike Poepping (MP), a long-time Blues fan who prides himself in knowledge of the goaltending position. Along with myself, Poepping co-hosts the KSDK Blues Face Off Show, a web-only program that discusses Blues news as it is released.

Next up is Dave Lipscomb (DL), a recent addition to the THW writing staff. The professional writer runs a small, freelance public relations operation and has spent over 20 years in goal.

Our last guest writer is Randall Ritchey (RR), who covers the Blues for Hockey Buzz. Randall has spent time as a Central Hockey League (CHL) media member, a correspondent for Blue Note Zone, as well as various other outlets. Needless to say, Randall is more than capable to handle concerns from the Blues-verse.

Then there’s me (JP) – a member of the THW Blues writing team since January 2012. I’ve covered two NHL drafts and even ran a Blues segment for the now-defunct On the Line with the Z-Man on 1380 am in St. Louis.

Let’s get to the questions, shall we?

1. The Blues took a major step back in losing Vladimir Sobotka this summer.

jonathan quick
Sobotka signed with a KHL team this summer (Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE)

Result: Unanimous – Oppose

MP: Disagree. The Blues did lose a very valuable piece to their hopeful championship roster when Sobotka signed in the KHL, but they very well may be better off for it. Steve Ott was a 53.9 percent in the faceoff circle last season, and he can certainly take more abuse than Sobotka. Add in new third-line winger (Joakim Lindstrom) and familiar Blue Patrik Berglund, and Sobotka’s worth is made up and then some. I hate to see him go, but fans shouldn’t worry about the loss.

DL: Disagree. Sobotka was, prior to coming to the Blues, a transitional third or fourth liner. When he got here, he was overvalued given the fact that our team was still young, just climbing out of a rebuild and had speed. Sobotka also possesses the work ethic and grit Blues fans love, which overshadows the fact that his offensive prowess is fairly non-existent. Yes, he was and is very good in the circle. Steve Ott is just a shade behind him in that regard, with a higher potential offensive ceiling and more experience. Teams hate playing against Ott and, providing he can play smart and keep his PIMs low, I feel Sobotka’s absence will be a small blip. The raw truth is, if a bottom-six player is proposed to have that much of an impact on a supposed Stanley Cup contender, they really aren’t contenders at all. The Blues will be fine.

RR: Disagree. Sobotka added exceptional face-off abilities and defensive play. Meanwhile the Blues picked up Stastny, who’s great at faceoffs as well, Jori Lehtera, who was superb at face-offs in the KHL, and retained Ott. With Sobe‘s poor offensive numbers, this will easily be added with the summer’s additions.

JP: Disagree. Although the Blues may have lost some momentum with their fans as Sobotka was beloved, they gained a lot of points when St. Louis-native Paul Stastny was added to the mix earlier this summer. Sobotka was a great penalty killer, excellent puck cycler and, of course, a top faceoff man (60.4 percent in the draws last season). However, the Blues already addressed these areas of the game throughout the season and earlier this month. Alexander Steen, an excellent PKer, was re-signed for four years in January, Stastny and Jori Lehtera, signed on July 1, should help keep the puck in the offensive zone and Ott is more than capable in the dot (53.9 success rate). To me, this statement from fans was more of a knee-jerk reaction to a fan-favorite departing to the KHL.

[See related: Quick on the Draw: Blues Remain Strong in the Circle]

2. Kevin Shattenkirk was dreadful in the postseason. Trade him while his value is still high.

Suggested by Kevin Reilly

Shattenkirk has been the Blues' No. 2-3 defenseman the past few years (bridgetds/Flickr)
Shattenkirk has been the Blues’ No. 2-3 defenseman the past few years (bridgetds/Flickr)

Result: 3-0 Oppose; 1 Undecided

MP: Disagree. Shattenkirk has always been a silent warrior for the team, and though he may get a little lax in his own zone at times, he always produces and can step up in big games. He’s still settling into the NHL and his future is even brighter than his stellar past. Keeping him around will only make our defensive core more solid.

DL: Disagree. Shattenkirk is still relatively young and learning the ropes of the ramped-up pressure in the postseason. It’s my belief that Deuces saw the inability of the offense to bury opportunities — a problem the team seems to absorb each playoffs — and sacrificed some of his defensive responsibilities to help make that up. He has decent offensive skills, good mobility and is generally very smart on the ice. With the recent offensive upgrades the team acquired in this offseason, Shattenkirk should be able to prioritize his defensive responsibilities and be more effective in keeping the puck out of his own net. It’s my personal opinion that lackadaisical goaltending contributed more in that regard than anything Shattenkirk did.

RR: Depends on the return. While Shattenkirk has tremendous offensive talents, his defensive game is very suspect. Add another top-four puck mover with a better defensive game (while likely giving up 10 or so points) and possibly adding a draft pick or prospect might not be a bad move.

JP: Disagree. There was a majority of fans screaming at their television sets after Patrick Kane’s first-round, Game 3 overtime goal. Shattenkirk was seen backing off of Kane, allowing the one-time 88-point scorer to rip a scorching shot past the helpless Ryan Miller. However, let’s not forget that Shattenkirk was the team’s leading point scorer (four assists and five points) and only posted a minus-1 in six playoff games. He still led the team’s rushes and was found suspect on one memorable play. Let’s not forget, the fourth-year defenseman is just 25 years old. With the help of veterans Jay Bouwmeester and Barret Jackman, along with the Blues’ coaching staff, he will learn to take away time and space from players such as Kane.

3. Brian Elliott doesn’t have the tools to be a starter in the NHL.

Suggested by Kyle Fulton

Elliott goes in to camp this year as the No. 1 goalie (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)
Elliott goes in to camp this year as the No. 1 goalie (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

Result: 3-1 Oppose

MP: Agree. Though Elliott may very well be the best back-up/1A goalie in the league, he has continuously proven throughout his career that when the spotlight is solely on him, he buckles under the pressure. Ells has been awesome for the Blues though, and with Jake Allen as his 1B this season, fans may even see another Jennings Trophy in the Gateway to the West this coming season.

DL: Disagree. Elliott has more than proven himself on this team. Call him a Marc Bulger-like “system goalie” that looks better than he really is, due to the team in front of him. That’s fine. He isn’t playing in Ottawa or Colorado anymore, so those performances with those (at the time) sub-par teams are irrelevant. If the team wasn’t paying Jaroslav Halak $4 million per year and immersed the fanbase in the Halak mythos, Elliott would have received not only more starts but probably would have been called the outright No. 1 coming into last year. The team’s playoff exits with him in goal weren’t entirely on him, since he only gave up three or more goals three times. During his time here, he leads the league with 16 shutouts — and that’s playing roughly half-time. Hitchcock recently called Elliott the No. 1 goalie, and I expect him to respond accordingly. If the team holds up their end of the bargain, Elliott will be more than effective. He will need to be since Allen is not fully accustomed to the NHL quite yet, although his upside is undoubtedly high.

RR: Disagree. This one always gets me. How much does a man have to prove to show he can be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL? He’s clearly improved while in St. Louis and has really only had one bump in the road. He’ll get a shot to be the guy this year and I believe he’ll show the rest of the league he is a capable No. 1 goalie. At the same time, I do believe that Jake Allen will eventually be the starting goaltender for this club and it all depends on him to see if he can steal starts from Elliott.

JP: Disagree. In 2011-12, Elliott was an inspirational NHL story. After playing for two bad teams in Ottawa and Colorado, Elliott posted a league-best 1.56 GAA and .940 save percentage in his first season as a Blue. With one rough patch during the 2012-13 season, Elliott has continued his unforeseen pace, mostly serving as the backup with St. Louis. Taking a cheap contract to stay in St. Louis (his current cap hit matches that of Michal Neuvirth, who was originally signed as Washington’s backup), Elliott deserves his chance at the starting job for a full season.

However, Elliott is the opening act for the Jake Allen Show. The Blues did not want to bring back Halak or Ryan Miller because they would expect the majority of the starts. Although Elliott will still be the top guy for at least most of the season, Allen is the ultimate answer in the grand scheme of the Blues’ goaltending. Considering this aspect, it is a moot point to get caught up in Elliott being the No. 1 netminder to open the 2014-15 season — that may not be the case come playoff time.

4. T.J. Oshie is the best player on the team.

Suggested by Benjamin Jude

Oshie is widely considered the Blues' best player (Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports)
Oshie is widely considered the Blues’ best player (Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports)

Result: Unanimous – Oppose

MP: Disagree. While Oshie may be one of the most electrifying players in the league, he still hasn’t proven that he’s a truly stand-alone player. His shootout skills are now well-known worldwide, but considering there still isn’t a shootout option in the postseason, he needs to continue his impressive developmental path. I see Oshie becoming a true stand-alone player over the next year and beyond, but as of now Alexander Steen, Alex Pietrangelo, or even Paul Stastny remain our best overall players.

DL: Disagree. If Oshie was the best player on the team, that’s a problem. With the acquisition of Paul Stastny and the emergence of Vladimir Tarasenko, that’s not a problem Blues fans need to continue to wrestle with. Tarasenko has a higher upside and was incredibly productive in his first significant postseason role. I would rank him and Stastny above Oshie at this point. I might even put Steen above him, provided his 2013-2014 contributions weren’t a fluke. However, I continue to think that the perception of his abilities is slightly overvalued after his performance in Sochi. I was a proponent of moving Oshie to maximize that perception, but that was prior to the inclusion of Stastny, Lindstrom and Lehtera. Without the burden of being a superstar and playing with higher-end, naturally-offensive guys, Oshie should provide an excellent contribution. Oshie, in my humble opinion, is another example of a B-talent getting an A-rating from Blues fans because there wasn’t an actual superstar on the roster to provide contrast. If Oshie plays his part, he should get 25 goals without a problem and will earn us plenty of loser points in the regular season. He did score some timely goals against the Blackhawks in the playoffs, but I believe he has a bit more to prove in the postseason prior to calling him the best on this roster.

RR: Disagree. He isn’t the best offensively nor is he the best defensively. He’s a top-six forward, but when it comes down to it, Alex Pietrangelo is the best player on the Blues roster (for now).

JP: Disagree. Oshie has elite-level skill when he has time and space and has set the bar for what a supreme shootout scorer is. His 60 points in 2013-14 was a much-needed asset to a Blues team that did not pump a lot of goals into the back of the net. However, the Blues are stacked with defensive depth that goes far beyond any offensive player. If we are basing the title best player off one season, the aforementioned Bouwmeester really fit in nicely in his first full campaign with St. Louis. He may have only potted four goals, but the smooth-skating defenseman was lights out in his own zone and was the father of many breakout goals for the Blues. He gets my nod from last season, with leading goal-scorer Alexander Steen (33) and Second Team All-Star Alex Pietrangelo rounding out the top three. Although he was clutch in the shootout, Oshie just falls short of this honor.

5. I don’t understand why Patrik Berglund was re-signed. He should be traded.

Suggested by Benjamin Jude

Berglund Blues
Berglund has been a Blue since the 2008-09 season (TSN Photography)

Result: 3-1 Oppose

MP: Disagree. While it makes a lot of sense to trade Berglund to up the depth and balance the scoring, the Blues may have managed to take the best possible option out of this situation. Though many think Bergie may be used as trade-bait close to the beginning of next season (or near the trade deadline), he is now in the perfect role for the team. As a third-line winger (who can fill in at center), he’ll be able to find the space and time he needs to generate high scoring chances, and he will probably play alongside the aforementioned Oshie at times, which should help him tremendously.

DL: Disagree. I used to agree with this prior to our new acquisitions. That was also prior to the team acquiring offensive talent through free agency and not having to trade him. You may notice the underlying theme of my responses and why I disagree with most of these premises is that each player with a trade target on his back was asked to overreach from their natural roles. Some, like Steen and Oshie, did this quite well. Berglund will probably never be a top-line center, but that seems to be the expectation placed on him. What’s frustrating with Berglund is we think we know what he could do, but he doesn’t. He’s had stretches in international competition where he’s absolutely taken games over, and fans here rightly clamor for that player. The problem is, anything the team gets will be valued on actual production, which means based on potential, we’ll probably get a downgrade coming back. I think management also knows this, instead applying pressure on him with a contractual vote of confidence to perform. I believe Army feels that Berglund, assigned to maybe third-line duty and with reduced expectations, will do what he naturally can do without being forced to play above his role. However, I don’t think that the persistent trade rumors were an accident or simply an invention of the fanbase. Armstrong has put Berglund on notice (possibly in person, who knows outside of the organization) that new contract aside, he’s probably on the block very quickly should results not manifest in rapid order.

RR: Agree to an extent. I do believe he doesn’t deserve the pay raise he received this summer. He hasn’t proven he deserves it. He looked his best during the lockout-shortened season, but to be fair, so did Chris Stewart. I believe that Berglund has the tools to be a top-six player, but it’s all about what’s between his ears, and his mental game is fair to fragile to put it all together.

JP: Disagree. I have been known as a Berglund apologist for the better part of six years and I believe it’s warranted; Berglund has under-produced at times, even after posting some impressive numbers in international play (20 goals in 30 games playing for Vasteras of the Allsvenskan hockey league in Sweden during the lockout). His NHL play does not regularly translate to what he has done overseas, although we have seen glimpses of that over time (eight goals in a 13-game span during the 2012-13 season).

However, Berglund has settled in as a solid third-line player for the Blues. With the acquisitions of Stastny and Lehtera, the Swedish forward can now be relied on as someone who can add scoring punch to the bottom-two lines. His $3.7 million cap hit is comparable to Washington’s Troy Brouwer ($3.65 million) and Pittsburgh’s Pascal Dupuis ($3.75 million), which is fitting for his position on the team.

Thanks to Mike, Dave and Randall for their responses. Are you finding flaws in our opinions? Tell us what you think in the comments below!