Ever since Ken Hitchcock joined the St. Louis Blues organization in the early portion of the 2011-2012 season, he has enforced a defense-oriented code of conduct with much aplomb. In that season, Blues goaltenders Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak both allowed fewer than two goals per game on average (1.56 and 1.97 GAA, respectively) and less than two and a half in 2012-2013. They achieved this success due in large part to their own amazing talents between the pipes and the skill and tenacity of the guys in front of them. The Blues’ roster contains enough scrappy, tough, hard hitting forwards to start an underground boxing federation. Among other captain David Backes, Vladimir Sobotka, T.J. Oshie, and enforcer Ryan Reaves hit hard, play tough on the puck and regularly force other teams to keep the puck in their own end.
Yet, the Blues lack a forward built to score. Chris Stewart had a remarkable year, one that’s hopefully not a statistical anomaly. Patrik Berglund has shown a middling consistency in the past, but this year he broke out and would have scored 29 goals in a regular 82-game season, his best ever tally. Andy McDonald can score, but injuries have marred his career, and the Blues just got done paying him almost $19 million over the last four years.
Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and prospect Ty Rattie all show a lot of promise for the Blues in the future, but to reach the next level and make a considerable Stanley Cup run next year (which they’re more than capable of doing), they should find a veteran playmaker, preferably a center, with a proven ability to score goals or enable others to score goals in the most clutch of situations. While guys like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin don’t grow on trees, I’ve compiled a list of free agents that fit the bill for the Blues. And remember, the Blues have a fair bit of cap space for the upcoming season depending on who they elect to re-sign, so they can go catch a big fish if they really want one.
They key to getting one of these big time players is signing a free agent or trading for another player without compromising too much of what works for the Blues.
Jarome Iginla (RW) – Pittsburgh Penguins
A goal-scoring machine, Iginla would fit right in on the Blues’ right wing. Although his production has slowed a bit in recent years, he has consistently put up 30+ goals a season (Backes only has two seasons with such proficiency), and his current playoff run with the Penguins shows that he can easily contribute a large amount of talent to an already talent-laden team. He’s the most expensive UFA this season, but by shedding an expensive forward who’s production continues to decline over the years (coughMcDonaldcough), the Blues can sign him easily.
Mike Ribeiro (C) – Washington Capitals
While Ribeiro puts up average to low numbers in terms of scoring, he usually finishes with roughly forty assists. In the ’07-’08 and ’08-’09 seasons, he earned fifty-six assists in each campaign for the Dallas Stars, and in this shortened year he finished fifth among assist leaders and tied for tenth in points. He’s a skilled goal-minded center with a propensity to help his teammates score, a player the Blues could certainly use.
Patrik Eliás (C) – New Jersey Devils
Like Ribeiro, Eliás enables the players around him to score goals while putting up decent scoring numbers himself. In his time as a member of the Devils, he has put up 28 or more assists every single year, not including this year’s shortened season. Eliás may be aging, but he can probably remain productive the next few years as evidenced by last season when he set his second highest career assist total at 52. He’s stayed consistent despite his aging, and teams, including the Blues, should be chomping at the bit to sign him to a one or two-year deal.
Wait a year
The Blues could also hold off and go after even bigger free agents in the 2014 offseason. Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins, Joe Thornton of the Sharks and Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings all become unrestricted free agent centers, but their respective teams will probably work their butts off to keep them. It could be worth it to chase after them though, especially Malkin, one of the most dynamic players in the league who still has a lot of years left to play.
Regardless, the Blues’ front office has made good decisions ever since the fiasco of the 2004-2005 season, and they almost have all the pieces in place to make a run at a Stanley Cup. here’s to hoping they make some good decisions.