The St. Louis Blues have effectively conceded the 2010-11 season by selling off several veterans and a former 1st overall draft pick in exchange for youth and picks. The Blues stormed out of the gate this season with a 9-1-2 record through their first 12 games, picking up where they left off last season where they went 23-15-4 after Davis Payne took over coaching duties.
When a promising start to the season became a distant memory, general manager Doug Armstrong worked quickly to turn Eric Brewer, Erik Johnson, Jay McClement, Brad Boyes, Brad Winchester and a conditional first round pick into Chris Stewart, Kevin Shattenkirk, Brock Beukeboom, a 2011 third round pick, a conditional second round pick, and a 2012 3rd round selection. It wasn’t so much the beginning of a full-scale rebuild as it was a retooling.
Between the Blues rapid descent into Western Conference mediocrity and Armstrong’s rapid fire approach to the trade deadline, many observers were quick to question Payne’s ability to coach the team.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz attempted to quell rumblings of Davis Payne’s coaching job being in jeopardy by deflecting blame to “several touted, overpaid players” who, presumably, were part of the recent exodus:
Payne is in solid shape. He isn’t in trouble. I don’t think he should be blamed for the team’s demise in the 2010-2011 season. Not when the Blues had so many injuries that ruined a terrific 9-1-2 start. Not with several touted, overpaid players underperforming under his watch, a problem that also confounded Andy Murray. The problem was obviously with the players, not the coaches — which is why GM Doug Armstrong pulled some weeds and moved five veterans off the roster in trades over the last two weeks.
Miklasz didn’t excuse Payne entirely as part of the Blues disappointing season, but cited a similar set of problems that his predecessor Andy Murray faced:
Sure, we can find fault with all coaches and managers, including Payne, but let’s be fair here. Since taking over in the early days of 2010, Payne has had to deal with many of the same issues that brought Murray down including the absence of a big-time scorer, the stop-and-start progress of some of the key youngstrers and the small margin of error created by one of the league’s lowest payrolls.
The issue of payroll has been a concerning one for fans of the Blues, although, with the recent rash of trades it’s looking more and more like Armstrong is setting the club up to be in a good position to spend this summer. Perhaps most important, they’ll have the resources to lockup a pair of good young players headed for restricted free agency in T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund.
Assuming owner Dave Checketts can secure a sturdy ownership/investor group to allow Armstrong to have his way with the roster, then the Blues figure to be players come free agency season. With the right pieces added to the fold in St. Louis this summer, the Blues could in effect vault themselves back into the realm of contenders sooner than later.
In recent post on his blog, Frozen Notes, David Rogers stressed that the Blues are simply “adjusting” as opposed to rebuilding. Rogers believes the pieces are in place for a quick turnaround:
The Blues are not a team that is starting over nor are they a team that has sold all of their best assets that will build exclusively through the draft.
Take a moment and look at the core group of skaters on the roster that the Blues are most likely planning on building around for not just next year, but the next several years to come.
You’ve got Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, David Perron, TJ Oshie, Chris Stewart, David Backes and Patrik Berglund. All of these guys have one thing in common – they all have age on their side and are immensely talented.
These are the types of guys you can build a contender around. With all these guys in the mix, assuming the Blues don’t pull any surprises this summer and bring back who we think they’ll bring back, this isn’t the roster of a team you’d label as “rebuilding”.
The fact remains that the 2010-11 season has been a disppointing one for the St. Louis Blues. They were a team that rode a strong stretch run to a 9th place finish in the West a season ago, and a year later they appear destined to finish lower down the ladder. Jaroslav Halak’s struggles with full-time no. 1 goaltender duties and injuries to David Perron, T.J. Oshie, and Andy McDonald are all contributing factors to the Blues’ 2010-11 misfortunes, thus it’s unfair to just blame a coach or select group of players.
With retooled roster built around a youthful core in place, the future for the Blues could be bright. We’re willing to give the Blues a do-over on this season, but it’s doubtful Armstrong and Payne will be afforded that luxury if they don’t get 2011-12 right.