The St. Louis Blues are saying all the right things, but their prospects might be in trouble. The St. Louis Blues are essentially out in the cold with regards to the AHL.
The St. Louis Blues and the Chicago Wolves are no longer affiliates. Make no mistake, the two teams will be affiliated, or have a working relationship as it were, but they will not be the definition of minor and major league affiliates.
Depending on what publication you read, either the Blues or Wolves did not renew the partnership for the 2017-18 season. In the end, it does not matter which team took the lead in ending the affiliation, but rather the fact that it creates a very unenviable situation.
The Blues will still have the bulk of their minor league players playing for the Wolves. They will have no control over any of their development though.
The Wolves are now, officially, the AHL affiliate of the Las Vegas Golden Knights. It was a move that was rumored for months, especially when Las Vegas’ first ever signing was sent to Chicago.
For now, it is hard to tell how much this situation is going to be weird. For all we know the Chicago Wolves might stay remotely the same.
There might be 80% Blues prospects mixed with some Vegas prospects and free agents. There is no way of telling until the Golden Knights go through the draft and sign their free agents.
We do know that Las Vegas won’t have a full compliment of minor leaguers. It is assumed most of their draft picks will either be used right away or sent back to juniors.
The scary thing is, even if the team remains mainly the same, they won’t be taught the Blues way. Craig Berube, who groomed so many of the guys the Blues brought up during the season and got them on the right track, might not even be the team’s coach next season – though it is possible he’ll be pulled up to the Blues
With Las Vegas calling the shots, even though Chicago remains an independently owned team, the Golden Knights may want to put their own person in charge of the bench. If Tage Thompson does not make the Blues, he might be relegated to a fourth-line player instead of a top-six forward.
The goaltender situation becomes even more cloudy. St. Louis was banking on Ville Husso being their minor league starter for at least the next season or two.
If Vegas drafts or signs a hot, young goaltender, there is no chance Husso gets the nod unless he provides the team a better chance to win. When it comes down to it, that’s what Chicago wants.
They want to win, not to groom. That created some problems between the St. Louis franchise and the Chicago one.
Wolves owner Don Levin called his dealings with the Blues “a painful relationship for periods of time.” That is not exactly a glowing endorsement.
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According to Danny Ecker, where all Levin’s quotes and attributed discussions came from, that last statement meant the Blues just wanted their prospects to get playing time. Winning, in Levin’s mind, was secondary on the Blues concerns.
In an odd sort of way, Levin’s position is understandable. He wants to win, not have to play players assigned to them at the last moment such as Thompson or Jordan Kyrou.
However, his way of going about it is quite backward. Levin blames the Blues for his team’s poor success while they were affiliated, but when the Blues finally gained the amount of control they wanted – in the 2016-17 season – the team won a division title.
Now the Wolves are giving all the control the Blues ever wanted to Las Vegas on a whim. Levin is borderline obsessed with Vegas GM George McPhee.
“George is one of the very few GMs that really believes that winning is an important part of development,” said Levin, who said he would have “chased” McPhee to whatever team he worked for. “Frankly from my perspective, it’s not Vegas I’m dealing with, it’s George McPhee.”
Maybe Levin and Doug Armstrong had differing philosophies in regards to what kind of player was best. That’s fine, but now the Blues are in no man’s land.
With no possible AHL expansion until 2018-19, at the earliest, the Blues have to share an affiliation where they have no control and no say. Armstrong said it is a positive for one year, but cannot go beyond that.
“I would think if it extended past this season it would be (a competitive disadvantage),” Armstrong said. “Part of my comfort level is my relationship with George McPhee (the Vegas GM). We’ve talked extensively on the benefits of this relationship. They’ll have players this year that will go to major juniors. I think quite honestly it’s a competitive advantage for Vegas and us to join forces. We could put better products into the program.
“If it went past this year, it would be a disadvantage. We saw this coming. We looked at different opportunities, but for 17-18 it wasn’t there.”
I want to believe Armstrong, but it is hard to do so in this situation. Husso might go from being a starter to a backup. Top-six forwards might be pushed down the lineup or even healthy scratches.
Players will have to learn a system that might not mesh with the Blues own system. Even worse, players might be spread out among other AHL teams, not even gaining the ability to mesh with each other.
If it is truly only a season, then maybe it’s just a blip on the radar. These guys can use the extra experience and learn from it that nothing is handed to you. In that kind of thinking, it could be a net gain.
Even though I’m not a big baseball fan, it’s hard not to be worried about the lack of institutional consistency. We will wait and see, but for now it seems as though the Kansas City card falling apart may have left the Blues in a bind.