The St. Louis Blues have been in one of the tougher divisions in the NHL for as long as many can remember. Things won’t get any easier, so the team has to change to keep up.
Despite plenty of playoff letdowns, the St. Louis Blues have enjoyed plenty of regular season success lately. They spent the last six seasons, prior to 2017-18 at the top, or near the top, of the Central Division.
Since 2011-12, the Blues won the division twice, finished second three times and made the playoffs every season until this past one. They were a model of consistency and tenacity.
However, to show how quickly things can change, only five wins separate the team that won the Central in 2011-12 and the team that missed the playoffs in 2017-18. To paraphrase an old saying, the only thing that is for sure is that everything changes.
That is basically the motto of the Central Division right now. After years of being dominated by either Chicago or St. Louis, the division was turned on it’s head this past season.
With the exception of Nashville, the division standings were almost turned around from 2016-17. Chicago finished in last place after being the top seed in the west the year prior. The Blues finished out of the playoff race after finishing just behind Minnesota the previous season.
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Dallas and Minnesota scuffled in the middle. Winnipeg took a giant leap from playoff onlooker to conference finalist. Colorado went from one of the worst teams to a playoff challenger. When the talent is there, things can change in a heartbeat.
That is why the Blues must make changes this summer to keep up and attempt jumping back to the front of the pack. Things do seem dire right now, being on the outside. This team does not need a complete overhaul to make the necessary changes. The changes do need to be significant.
The Blues have to add more pieces. Whether that ends up being a trade, a significant free agent signing or one of their prospects jumping from the shadows, they have to get more talent at the top of the roster.
Right now, as much as we love certain guys, the Blues are loaded with players that would be third liners on many squads. It’s great to have depth. When you don’t have enough top-end talent, you rely too much on players that cannot put up the numbers.
Outside of roster talent, the Blues have to make gigantic changes to the scheme and coaching philosophy. St. Louis went from a top-10 power play unit to worst in the league because of the scheme they used.
Also, fans are rightly perplexed at how slow the Blues look compared to the current playoff teams. It is true the Blues don’t have the blazers some other teams do. However, I agree with something Ken Hitchcock said. St. Louis looks a lot faster when they are playing the way they should.
If the Blues are going north/south, they get behind teams and create good chances. It is when they get lazy, making east/west plays, and put pressure on their teammates to do something instead of creating themselves that they look like skates are buried in cement.
That boils down to coaching scheme and a willingness to go the extra mile by the players. I like Mike Yeo and have long preached that coaching only goes so far in the pros. Yet, when a coach says you can’t force players to do what they don’t want, it bugs me. That is exactly what a coach is for.
No matter how self-motivated we are, humans are wired to take the path of least resistance. If not pushed, we tend to fall into patterns even without realizing it.
Yeo has to step up his game and become the motivating force we saw behind the team’s surge after Hitchcock’s firing. Doug Armstrong has to couple that step by his coach by supplying him with enough talent. I don’t buy into this online thinking that Armstrong is deliberately trying to give the Blues less talent. That’s a quick way to lose your job and nobody is actively trying to lose their job at that high a level.
Armstrong is a little too hesitant to put his eggs into today’s basket though. He’s been hit or miss on trades with the Shattenkirk and Schenn trades coming out gold and the Ryan Miller deal, as well as a couple others, smelling like a certain brown substance. That needs to change this offseason.
Whether it’s trade or free agency, Armstrong needs to give this team a shot in the arm. I fully understand giving them a kick in the butt by being a seller at the 2018 trade deadline. You cannot go into next season with the same group as you ended the year with, however.
The Blues are not close to being a championship team right now, but they are not as far off as so many believe, either. We’ve seen in the past couple years how one or two big additions can make the difference.
Nashville was a playoff afterthought. They made some key additions, such as PK Subban, and now they are a powerhouse. Chicago lost a key player like Marian Hossa and felt the effects harder than any of us could have imagined.
I still contend that you cannot win a title by bringing in free agents. Almost none of the Cup winners in the last 20 years had their best player be someone that was not homegrown. St. Louis has to add pieces though. You have to supplement what is already there with quality, not just quantity, or the slide to the back of the line will continue.
Make the right offseason tweaks, by scheme and personnel, and you get right back into the mix. Make no changes, or somehow the wrong ones, and it could be a long road back.