With the St. Louis Blues 2017-2018 season firmly in the rearview mirror. It’s time to take a look at what needs to be done from here in the St. Louis Blues offseason.
The St. Louis Blues disappointing end to the season was just a microcosm of the season-long problem. Contributing writer Jesse Hill has already detailed what went wrong with the St. Louis Blues season, but we can only lament on this season so much. It’s time to dig into the Blues offseason direction.
Fix the special teams
This is quite possibly the most important issue for the team moving forward. Finishing with a below average Penalty Kill (79.65%) and one of the league’s worst Power Play units (15.45%) is unacceptable for a team that expects to be a playoff team and a Stanley Cup contender. This is especially considering both units were above average a season ago and have been since after the 2011-12 season.
One way I think the Blues could fix things is a slight coaching staff change. While I will not advocate for the overthrow of head coach Mike Yeo. It is simply too soon for that. However, his coaching staff needs adjustment. At the end of last season, the St. Louis Blues got rid of all of Ken Hitchcock’s coaching staff to finalize the transition to Mike Yeo.
With the disappointing season the team had, especially on the power play (a unit that is usually operated by the assistant coaches) it would make sense to make a change to the coaching staff. One name that is out there is Adam Oates. While he may not have had the best end to his St. Louis Blues career, he is still a former Blue and has been around the organization the last few years.
However, unless the Blues are willing to overpay for him (something they probably aren’t in the position to do) or promise a shot at the head position if things go south, it may not be something he would consider. The reason I say this is that it appears as though Oates has built himself a nice career as an individual skills coach.
Oates has worked as an assistant coach in the NHL before. He started his coaching career with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2009-2010, where he helped the team’s powerplay go from below average to above average in a year’s time. He is also credited with helping Steven Stamkos go from 46 points in 2008-2009 to 95 points the next season.
After leaving Tampa for a similar role in New Jersey after the 2009 season, he did not see immediate success. It took until 2012 for him to make the Devils power play successful which was also the year the Devils lost in the Stanley Cup Final to Los Angeles.
While Oates may not have been too successful during his tenure as the Capitals head coach (has any Capitals head coach?), the team’s power play finish over eight percentage points above average in 2012-2013 and over five percentage points above average in 2013-2014. He also finished with over 500 power play points in his personal career.
After his dismissal as the Caps head coach, he became a co-head coach of the Devils with fellow former Blue Scott Stevens. While the Devils already had a successful power play, Oates helped keep them above average that season while working specifically with the forwards.
Top Six Forward via Free Agency
It’s almost like this is a regurgitated phrase every single year. The St. Louis Blues offseason direction should absolutely involve them adding another top six forward. While I look forward to a comeback from Robby Fabbri and the emergence of guys like Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, and Tage Thompson; you cannot rely on these guys to be able to fill the gap. If the Blues want to sniff a chance at a cup they have to add scoring and adding a top-six forward will absolutely do that.
The one player that comes to everyone’s mind is free agent center John Tavares. Tavares is absolutely going to be the most sought-after free agent this season and for good reason. Over the course of his nine-year career, he’s amassed 621 points (272 Goals and 349 assists) and is a top-tier center.
With the departure of Paul Stastny via trade at the trade deadline, the Blues absolutely need a veteran presence up the middle. While Brayden Schenn was a fantastic addition to the club, the Blues have been desiring two top-tier centers for some time. Having Schenn and Tavares a part of the top-six will help immensely. Not only will it help the offense now, but it will be another veteran presence to help with the growth of the prospects.
Top Six Forward via Trade
While there are a couple of other good top six options in free agency, there really isn’t a good fit outside of John Tavares. If Tavares signs elsewhere the Blues will need to pursue another option on the trade front.
The best option on that market would be Jeff Skinner. Skinner will be entering the final year of his contract with the Carolina Hurricanes. One would assume Skinner would absolutely want to finally be able to play for a contender and not re-sign in Carolina. This would make Skinner a tradeable asset from now until the trade deadline next season.
Skinner will be entering his ninth year in the league that has seen him put up 379 points (204 Goals and 175 assists). He will add another 30 goal scorer to this team which will be much needed especially given that Skinner is a center. With the assets the Blues have, Skinner shouldn’t be that hard to acquire.
Let the Kids Play
I have shared this opinion multiple times. This team finally has a solid group of forwards coming through the pipeline and some of them will be ready for an opportunity at the NHL level. That means that by the time training camp comes along; players like Vladimir Sobotka and Dimitrij Jaskin should either be in a limited bench role or playing elsewhere. While both players can provide solid value on a checking line; guys like Thompson, Kyrou, Thomas, Sammy Blais, Klim Kostin, Zach Sanford, and Erik Foley all can provide depth scoring for this team.
The time for grinders, checkers, and fringe players is over. It’s time for this team to have three deep lines. While I would also like to see Patrik Berglund on his way out, I know that getting out of that contract is going to be near impossible for Doug Armstrong.
Prepare for Life Without Allen
The Blues have had their fair share of goalie issues over the years. Jake Allen was supposed to be the end of those issues. He was supposed to take the reigns from Brian Elliott and the team was never going to look back. However, here we are discussing Jake Allen’s struggles yet again.
According to today’s press conference, Jake Allen will be back with the team this coming season. Whether or not you agree with that is irrelevant. Honestly, in my opinion, Jake had a down year. However, that doesn’t mean the Blues should move on from an experienced goaltender.
While Carter Hutton provided some much-needed relief during the season, he is not a true number one goaltender. So, moving on from Allen in favor of a Hutton/Husso combination or a Husso/Free Agent combo is not really a smart idea for a club that will be looking to get back into the playoffs next season.
However, it is time for the team to start preparing for life without Jake Allen which means that they need to get Husso as close to NHL ready as possible. If that means him starting to eat into Jake’s starts if he falters next year, then so be it. The Blues cannot afford another down year from Allen and a quick hook will need to be in place if he starts heading that way.
Doug Armstrong has his hands full this offseason and most of it is fixing his own messes within the team. The team is going to have to move some salary if they expect to acquire any additional talent this offseason and it’s his fault if they wind up in any kind of salary bind.
An offseason of inactivity is not going to fly for the fanbase and shouldn’t be expected this offseason. While Doug does have the security of a new contract extension that was signed during the season, I would hope his seat is a little warmer if he’s not active this offseason.
Let’s hope that Doug and the Blues get their act together this offseason and upgrade this team. Missing the playoffs is embarrassing and a step backward for a team that is supposed to be taking steps forward.