Even though the NHL’s second season continues to rage onward towards finding the next Stanley Cup Champion, the St. Louis Blues have wasted no time in starting a very important season of their own: the offseason.
With over 27 free-agents (10 unrestricted and 17 restricted) to deal with in the organization, St. Louis Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong is not in an envious position entering the offseason.
However, if any GM is equipped to handle the daunting task ahead, it is the level-headed Armstrong.
The deal is of the one-way variety and is worth $600,000.
While this signing was not the most flashy move the Blues will make this offseason, it certainly was a necessary one for several reasons.
The appropriately named line certainly breathed life into the Blues down the stretch and into the playoffs. In fact, there is a strong argument to be made that they were the best line for the Blues in the playoffs.
The CPR line consistently hemmed the Kings in their zone throughout the series. In addition, the line was only on the ice for one-goal against the entire series, and, while they did not score a goal as a unit (Porter did score a goal), their time spent in the Kings zone helped wear down the Kings defense.
Unfortunately, the Blues scoring lines could not take advantage of the excellent job provided by the CPR line, consistently missing open nets and botching glorious scoring opportunities.
Second, Cracknell is a solid player in his own right. His multiple stints in the NHL have proven that he is more than capable of handling a fourth-line role on an NHL roster.
In 20 games this past season, Cracknell posted 6 points (2 goals, 4 assists). Stretched out over a full 82-game season, Cracknell was on pace for approximately 24 points (8 goals, 16 assists). Those are stats that you will take from a fourth-liner any day of the week.
Finally, making an obvious move like re-signing Cracknell can allow Armstrong to focus on his tougher decisions, namely:
What to do with the top 9 forwards?
There is no denying it. After a torrid start to the season, the Blues had trouble finding the net in 2013. That problem was only exacerbated in the playoffs, where the Blues outshot the Kings 177-149, but only mustered 10 goals.
The Blues have scoring talent on their roster. David Backes has scored 30 goals twice in his career. Chris Stewart, Patrik Berglund and David Perron all have shown flashes of world-class scoring potential. Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko also have scoring talent, and have shown flashes of being able to score goals at the NHL level.
The question remains: does Armstrong feel comfortable going into next season with the same core group of forwards?
Stewart and Berglund are both RFAs and will be due raises. Does Armstrong want to make a long-term commitment to these two?
Many Blues fans believe a shakeup in the top 9 needs to be made. Time will tell what the answer is.
What to do with the goal-tending situation?
The Blues goal-tending situation in 2013 could only be described as a revolving door.
Jaroslav Halak was hurt early and often, only adding to the notion that he is injury-prone and incapable of being the franchise goalie that he was originally brought in to be.
Brian Elliott followed up a career season in 2011-2012 with a horrid start. After being replaced by promising rookie Jake Allen and Halak midway through the season, many thought that Elliott could be on his way out of town.
However, after Halak’s groin injury caused him to leave a game on April 1st against the Minnesota Wild, Elliott seized the moment and never looked back. Elliott set a franchise record with 11 wins in April, all while posting an unconscious 1.28 GAA with a .948 save percentage.
Yet, while Elliott was strong in goal in the playoffs, he did let in a few questionable goals, including Slava Voynov‘s game winner in overtime of Game 5 and Dustin Penner‘s Steve Yzerman like goal from the blue line in Game 6. While the series loss cannot be placed on his shoulders, the question must be raised if Brian Elliott is capable of leading the Blues to a Stanley Cup.
Will Armstrong keep three NHL capable goaltenders on the roster? Chances are no.
Halak’s confrontation with coach Ken Hitchcock before Game 4 against the Kings may have been enough to punch his ticket out of St. Louis for good.
However, will Armstrong feel comfortable going into next season with a tandem of Elliott and Allen?
What to do with the defense?
After the addition of Jordan Leopold and Jay Bouwmeester at the trade deadline, the Blues had one of the best defenses in the NHL down the stretch. An often porous defense early in the season suddenly tightened up, helping the Blues finish seventh in the league in goals against per game (2.38).
However, Armstrong will have to work his magic if he wants to keep the defensive unit intact.
One would find it hard to believe that the Blues can afford to keep all of their defensemen. Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk are due hefty raises, while Leopold will command something similar to the $3 million he earned this past season.
Does Armstrong want to tie that much money into the defense knowing that the offense needs some work?
While I am a firm believer that building a team from your goalie out is imperative to winning a Stanley Cup, the Blues showed that you have to have the ability to score as well if you want to succeed in the playoffs.
All of these questions will be answered over the coming weeks and months. A few familiar faces may be wearing a different sweater come October, while some fresh new faces may be donning the Blue Note.
Armstrong has a career defining offseason ahead of him as the GM of the St. Louis Blues.
One thing is for certain, though: he is off to a good start.