If you’re reading this, the Blues blew it. Again. I’m writing this six hours before Game 6 against the Chicago Blackhawks. If I wait to write this after the game, I’ll get a lot of complaints about foul language.
Yes, I expect the Blackhawks to end the Blues’ delusions of Market Street parades this afternoon. The Blues’ tenacity, hitting, and heart can’t overcome their lack of goal scoring and playoff goaltending. The 111-point regular season accurately reflects their design for regular season hockey. And their second consecutive one-and-done playoff exit reflects their playoff design.
A friend of mine is a fabulous data analyst. When clients wonder why their business isn’t flourishing as they expect, he likes to say, “you’re perfectly designed for the results you’re getting.”
That’s how it is for the St. Louis Blues. They’re designed to get the results they get.
I’ll spare you reminders of the remarkable similarities between the Blues’ 2013 first round loss to the Los Angeles Kings and their 2014 disappointment in the Blackhawks series. I will let you know, though, that I started worrying about the pattern after Game 2. I’ll also spare you a long list of excuses. This team has no excuses. Tom Stillman’s ownership group was more than generous with time, talent, and treasure. The officiating was underwhelming, but the bad calls and missed calls cut both ways. The Blues’ early exit from the playoffs is on them—the players and their coaches.
So let’s get a head start on next season.
1.A Playoff Goalie. The hockey press pulled a fast one on St. Louis hockey fans. They convinced us Ryan Miller was a game-stealer. They convinced us he’s built for the playoffs and thirsting to drink from the Cup. They were wrong. I like Ryan Miller, and I think he’s an excellent goalie. He’s not Roman Turek. He’s . . . Jaro Halak. He’s Brian Elliott. He’s a good goalie. He can stand on his head, but he usually does that after giving up an iffy goal or two every game. If you buy the thinking that Stanley Cup winners require a lights-out playoff goalie, then the Blues need to keep looking.
2.A Goal Scorer. Back in November, a lot of people harassed me. The Blues were the scoringest team the NHL. Steen led the league. “Do you still think the Blues need a goal scorer?” people asked. “Yes,” I answered. Look, I love the Blues scorers. But hockey doesn’t award the Stanley Cup for your record at the end of November. The Blues rely on every player scoring to his career average and two or three players to have once-in-a-lifetime seasons. That’s called relying on luck. Without a bona fide natural goal scorer, it’s unrealistic to expect a Stanley Cup in St. Louis.
3.A Shooting Coach. I probably don’t have to remind you that the Blues led the league in wayward shots this year. The Blues fire more shots high, wide, and into opposing shin pads than any team in hockey. That’s 100% psychology. The Blues need to hire a shooting coach who’s grounded in brain science.
4.A Special Teams Coach. Specifically, a power play coach. The Blues’ power play is dull, predictable, and impotent. It simply doesn’t work. Opposing teams with the lead have little reason to avoid penalties. They know the Blues are unlikely to put a single puck on net during a two-minute advantage. If opponents don’t fear a Blues power play, the goal scorers we might acquire or develop will never blossom.
That’s it. Four reforms to bring the Cup to St. Louis. Only two related to the players on the ice. So how do we get a scorer and a goalie?
First, I’d look in our system. Vladimir Tarasenko might be the scorer we need if paired with a top-notch play maker. I know Adam Oates is busy with the Washington Capitals, but we need a guy who thinks set-up first the way Oates did. The Blues have too many players conditioned to play every role: checker, shooter, passer, defenseman. A couple of specialists would help.
In goal, I think we need to look in the system, too. Brian Elliott is as serviceable as Ryan Miller, and he won’t cost the Blues two number one draft choices – the price to retain Miller beyond this year. Jake Allen also looks like a potential brick wall for playoffs as Jaro Halak was for the Canadiens. (But that’s water under the bridge.)
If we have to make a deal, think about what we could get for Shattenkirk. I realize Shatty oozes talent. He’s our most offensive-minded defenseman and a great playmaker. He’s also lazy. And he still makes too many rookie mistakes handling the puck. But the hockey world loves Shattenkirk. The press has built him up in the minds of NHL GMs the way Ryan Miller danced in Doug Armstrong’s dreams. With Ian Cole looking for a spot to play full time, Shattenkirk could attract a world class goal scorer to take some pressure off Tarasenko and off the Blues’ goalie.
Also expendable are Berglund and, sadly, Hitchcock. On the coach, let's face it. The Blues did not progress from 2013 to 2014. They regressed. At least Game 6 last year was a contest.
Finally, Doug Armstrong has done a remarkable job as the Blues GM. He's built a solid core. But he made a panic trade at the deadline for a goalie is clearly past his prime. And he sold that goalie to the fans as their playoff savior. Blues management needs to take a hard look at the GM position.
I’m done writing about hockey, now, until next fall. Thank you, St. Louis Blues, for another exciting year. It didn’t end well, but you warmed our hearts through the coldest winter in decades. For that, we all thank you. And we'll bleed Blue forever.