Monday, May 7, 2012

2011/12 St. Louis Blues R.I.P

The number two seed in the Western conference St Louis Blues were swept in the 2nd round by the Los Angeles Kings 4 games to nothing, proving that this roster was not nearly as effective as their record would have you believe. Either that or the Los Angeles Kings are far better than anyone originally gave them credit for, going 8-1 against the top two seeds in the conference. Andy MacDonald and Patrik Berglund led the Blues in playoff scoring with 10 PTS and 7 PTS respectively. Brian Elliot returned to earth at the worst possible time while the other half of the dynamic duo Jaroslav Halak was sidelined with injury. David Backes, TJ Oshie, Chris Stewart all proved to be playoff disappointments. Oshie has proven to be a solid banger, but his offensive upside is limited.

The Blues have their goaltending locked up for 2 more years at a reasonable price ($3.75M for Halak and $1.8M for Elliot), and either player would likely fetch a healthy bounty if peddled on the trade market. That being said, it's entirely possible that Elliot's miraculous season was more mirage than reality, a benefactor of the Hitchcock defensive system. After their untimely exit from the playoffs, Elliot would likely be deemed the more expendable of the two, though $5.5M is not an obscene amount to be spending on team goaltending. If it's true that St.Louis was completely overrated, what does that say about the San Jose Sharks?

Ken Hitchcock will probably win coach of the year for turning this team's season around, but if we know anything about Hitch it is that as a motivator he personifies the economic term "diminishing marginal returns". He made headlines for his "mr nice guy" routine this season, but his antics have historically worn thin with the players. He lasted 7 seasons with Dallas, but then only 4 years in Philly and 4 Columbus. He won a Cup the year Dallas had Modano, Hull, Nieuwendyk, and Belfour. Will the Blues be better next season? The smart money would say no, if not for the fact that they have a solid core of young talent.

On defense Barret Jackman, Carlo Colaiacovo, and Kent Huskins are unrestricted free agents. The Blues have plenty of cap money to play with, so they'll be able to retain whoever they determine that they want and will pay market price for.  This season saw the emergence of Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo as dangerous offensive defensemen, complimented by valuable role players that now need to be resigned. Pietrangelo is even being proclaimed by some to have already arrived in the elite tier of NHL blueliners. It's clear that he's the calibre of player that you can build a team around.

On forward, Arnott, Langenbrunner, Nichol, and Porter are UFA, while Stewart, Oshie, David Perron will all command a pretty penny as RFAs ($3.5M - $5M each per season). The most glaring need on this team is for an elite offensive player, as Oshie, Backes, Stewart all look to have a ceiling around 60 PTS. They have the money available to buy a guy like Parise, provided ownership allows them to spend to the cap. This is a team with an impressive collection of role players, but they need a game breaker if to truly be considered a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

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