Going Out With a Bang; The Story of the Blues Rebuild

Kevin Lorenz, Wed, 13 Jun 2012 05:00:00 GMT

With the Stanley Cup having been awarded, and another team winning their first Cup before the St. Louis Blues, the conversation for the sickest of us hockey people turns towards the Entry Draft (sure we could talk about the impending lockout, but this is my last article). As has been the norm since 2003, it’s hard to talk about the Entry Draft without mentioning the 2003 draft. It has been called the greatest draft of all time. The Los Angeles Kings wouldn’t argue with that.

though they didn’t know it in 2003, the seeds of their stanley cup were planted in that summer of 2003. with the 13th overall pick, the kings selected their future captain, an american, dustin brown. two picks earlier, the philadelphia flyers had selected their future cornerstone goal scorer jeff carter, who after some controversy and an exile to columbus would find himself in la in that same season just in time for the kings’ resurgence. with the 24th pick in 2003, the flyers also picked their future captain mike richards. in cahoots with carter in the flyers’ œdry island� fiasco, broad street higher ups sent richards to the west coast to begin the 2011-2012 season himself. rounding out the kings’ roster, colin fraser (third round 69th overall), and brad richardson (5th round 163rd overall) also came from that gold mine that was the 2003 entry draft.

The Blues were in a much different situation in 2003 than the Kings. Having swapped the 22nd pick with the New Jersey Devils, the Blues missed with the 30th pick, by picking Shawn Belle, but the field was cleared and planted for their own resurgence that summer (though it was not evident at the time that such a rebuild would be needed). On draft day, the Blues traded pest Tyson Nash to Phoenix for the 148th pick; they would select Lee Stempniak. The more important deal occurred on the same day when the Note would deal winger Cory Stillman to the Tampa Bay Lightning for the 62nd overall pick. Stillman and the Lightning would go on to win the Stanley Cup the following year; the Blues would use that pick to select their future captain David Backes. Buried in the 9th round twenty picks apart (271 and 291) Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott got their NHL calls; they would eventually become one of the best goalie tandems in Blues’ history.

There is obviously more to the Kings’ story than just the 2003 Entry Draft. The same goes for the Blues. For a rebuild geek like me, that story is an interesting one. For those who don’t want to read the entire story of the Blues’ rebuild up to this point, scroll down to the bottom for the five highlights and five low points of the Blues’ rebuild, .

In 2004, the Blues selected Nikita Nikitin with the 136th pick in the fifth round. One round later, the Blues grabbed Roman Polak. The following year in 2005, T.J. Oshie joined an essentially empty prospect cupboard, though at the time no one would have predicted how important his selection (said to be way too early at 24th overall) would be. While the Oshie pick has stood the test of time as the highlight of 2005 (the entire year really), it should be noted that with the 37th pick in that same draft the Blues passed on Paul Stastny in favor of defenseman Scott Jackson. To date Jackson has played one NHL game; Stastny has scored 374 points in 427 NHL games. Meanwhile the Bill Laurie sell-off forced the hand of GM Larry Pleau who made the least popular trade of the decade when he traded Chris Pronger to the Oilers for Eric Brewer, Jeff Woywitka, and Doug Lynch.

2006 marked one of the lowest points in Blues’ fandom as the Note ended their 25 year playoff streak with a dead last finish. They began a plan to rebuild from within, trading Doug Weight to the eventual Cup-Winning Carolina Hurricanes for the 30th and 106th picks in the 2006 draft, and the 96th pick (Cade Fairchild) in the 2007 draft. To unofficially kick off the œcome grow with us� campaign, the Blues used the number one overall selection in a relatively weak draft to pick Erik Johnson who they believed would be their eventual replacement for Chris Pronger as their defensive anchor for years to come, though some in the organization preferred Jordan Staal over Johnson; the Penguins would select Staal with the next pick. The Blues grabbed a potential number one center by trading the 30th pick (Matt Corrente) to New Jersey for the 25th pick and selecting Patrik Berglund.

By 2007, Blues fans had begun to buy in to being potential up and comers down the road, and the Blues rewarded their fans by accumulating three first round picks. Having re-signed with the Blues, Doug Weight continued to contribute to the rebuild after waiving (forcefully?) his no trade clause to go to Anaheim along with Michael Birner and their 7th round pick in 2008 in return for the Ducks’ 2009 7th round pick, and Andy McDonald. The Blues sent Dennis Wideman to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Brad Boyes. Keith Tkachuk would get to play in the playoffs with the Atlanta Thrashers after being moved for Glen Metropolit, the 24th (moved to Calgary for the 18th pick Ian Cole, Calgary would select Mikael Backlund) and 85th (Brett Sonne) picks in 2007 and the 33rd pick (Phil McRae) in 2008. Bill Guerin got his own playoff stint that postseason with the San Jose Sharks; the Blues received Ville Nieminen, the 26th (David Perron) overall pick in 2007 and the rights to Minnesota Gophers player Jay Barriball. After failing to trade their three first round picks (at the time 9, 24, and 26) to Chicago for the chance at drafting Patrick Kane number one overall, the Blues traded their 9th overall pick (Logan Couture) to San Jose for the 13th (Lars Eller) and 44th (Aaron Palushaj) believing that defenseman Ryan McDonagh would be available; the Canadiens would take him with the 12th pick leaving the Blues with Eller.

Though 2008 was supposed to be different, it wasn’t. The Blues finished with the 4th overall selection and two early second round picks. Though there was interest in moving down from the fourth pick for the chance to draft either Luke Schenn, Erik Karlsson (or both depending on the deal), the Blues stuck with their pick and selected Alex Pietrangelo, a player whose draft stock had dipped a bit due to a case of mono and the belief that he carried more risk and required more maturation time than Drew Doughty and Zac Bogosian. Having already used the 33rf pick to take McRae, the Blues addressed the future of the goal crease taking Jake Allen with the 34th pick. With the 87th pick the Blues selected Ian Schultz, and eight picks later took David Warsofsky.

Following a miraculous playoff run, bolstered by the trade of Lee Stempniak for Carlo Colaiacovo and Alex Steen, the Blues picked 17th overall (David Rundblad) in 2009. After the following season produced more disappointing results and a relatively boring trade deadline (Aaron Palushaj went to Montreal in exchange for Matt D’Agostini), the Blues found themselves picking back in the top fourteen. With the 14th pick in 2010, the Blues took Jaden Schwartz. Two picks later, the Blues moved Rundblad to the Ottawa Senators for the chance to draft Vladimir Tarasenko with the 16th pick. David Warsofsky would return to his hometown and join the Bruins’ organization in a trade for Vladimir Sobotka. The summer would also produce a blockbuster trade that sent Lars Eller and Ian Schultz to Montreal for playoff hero Jaroslav Halak.

The most shocking trade since the rebuld occurred early in 2011 when the Blues moved Erik Johnson, Jay McClemment, and what would become the 11th overall pick (Duncan Siemens) to Colorado for Chris Stewart, Kevin Shattenkirk and the 32nd overall pick (Ty Rattie). Brad Boyes was sent to Buffalo for the 46th pick (Joel Edmundson). Eric Brewer finished the season in Tampa Bay in exchange for prospect Brock Beukeboom and the 88th pick (Jordan Binnington) in 2011. Brad Winchester went to Anaheim for a third round pick in 2012, and on draft day the Blues moved the 72nd pick over to the Rangers for Evgeny Grachev. Finally early in the next season, Nikita Nikitin went to Columbus for Kris Russell.

Top 5 Blues’ Rebuilding Moves:

Honorable Mention: The Blues trade David Rundblad and select Vladimir Tarasenko:
Time will tell how well this turns out for St. Louis, but for Rundblad (who is now with his third organization struggling for NHL minutes) the return of the 4th best player in the draft due to œthe Russian factor� was enough. That Tarasenko likely will begin this season in St. Louis only makes the trade better.

#5: The Blues trade Lee Stempniak to Toronto for Carlo Colaiacovo and Alex Steen:
The Blues were able to sell Stempniak’s potential despite obvious clues that he wouldn’t be a consistent 27 goal scorer in the NHL for a puck moving defenseman and arguably the most consistent player on the Blues now in Alex Steen. Steen was a disappointment in Toronto but has thrived in all situations wearing the Bluenote.

#4: The Blues hold on to the 4th overall pick and select Alex Pietrangelo:
Though some (including me) believed that the Blues had their cornerstone defenseman in Erik Johnson, the Pietrangelo selection at the time was thought to potentially give the Blues their version of the Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis duo in the late 90s and early 2000s. Instead Pietrangelo has asserted himself as one of the best defensemen in the game today and his quick emergence in 2010-2011 made Johnson expendable in one of the boldest trades of the rebuild.

#3: Lars Eller and Ian Schultz for Jaroslav Halak:
If you were to ask any Blues fan what the biggest void on the team has been over the past twenty years, the survey would say goaltending. After the organization soured a bit on Eller, new General Manager Doug Armstrong pulled the trigger on a deal that would give the Blues their potential answer in net. At times Halak has been exceptional, and as another postseason ends, you can’t help but continue to wonder how things would have been if he had not been injured in round one.

#2: The Blues trade Keith Tkachuk to the Thrashers for multiple pieces:
The trade has brought back Ian Cole, Phillip McRae, and low-risk (and now low-reward) forward Brett Sonne. That Tkachuk was able to come back and retire as a Blue only made it sweeter. The 2007 draft may go down as the most important draft in Blues’ history, and the trade of Tkachuk was a big part of that.

#1: The Trade:
Giving up on your number one overall pick is a bold decision, but it couldn’t have ended any better for the Blues. In early 2011 the Blues traded Erik Johnson, Jay McClemment and their first round selection to the Avalanche for Chris Stewart, a second round selection, and with very little arm-twisting Kevin Shattenkirk. Shattenkirk was, is, and will be an upgrade over Erik Johnson in the lineup who is proving in Colorado to be just a guy. Chris Stewart lit St. Louis’ offense on fire following the trade, but suffered a setback the following season. Time will tell if his contributions are on the ice in St. Louis or from the possible return a player of his potential nets the Blues in a trade. Ty Rattie, who was selected with the second round pick is a fascinating offensive talent who could overcome size issues to contribute offensively at the NHL level.

The Bottom Five:

#5: The Blues Force Doug Weight’s Trade to Anaheim:
Rumor has it that Weight did not want to waive his no trade clause in 2007, though management made it clear that he better. Ultimately it has ended up pretty well for the Blues, but it wasn’t the best way for Weight to leave an organization he had already done so much for.

#4: The Blues trade down from #9 in 2007 hoping to grab Ryan McDonagh:
Though this mistake was resolved three years later by new GM Doug Armstrong, at the time it was a big blunder. After passing on Logan Couture at #9, the Blues lost their guy in McDonagh when the Rangers Canadiens grabbed him at #12, one pick earlier. They ended up with Lars Eller. Both previous picks would have been better options than Eller.

#3: The Blues Select Erik Johnson #1 overall in 2006:
Yes, I consider his eventual trade to be the best move the Blues have made in their rebuild, but it’s another mistake that luckily was resolved by Armstrong. Imagine if Jordan Staal, Jon Toews, Nicklas Backstrom, or Phil Kessel had been selected instead, hell imagine if Claude Giroux had been taken #1 instead of #22. The possibilities are enough to make me second-guess the selection of Johnson.

#2: The Blues pass on Paul Stastny by selecting Scott Jackson in 2005:
Have you ever heard of Scott Jackson? Didn’t think so. Meanwhile Stastny is just below a point per game premier center in the NHL (a role the Blues still could use). What makes it even harder to swallow is the fact that Stastny was a local kid at a time when the Blues could have used the buzz. Inexcusable.

#1: The Blues trade Chris Pronger for Eric Brewer and crap:
Though you can’t fully pin this one on Larry Pleau because his hands were tied behind his back by ownership, imagine how the rebuild could have gone if the Blues had gotten fair value for Pronger. Would there have been the need for a rebuild at all? The world will never know what could have been. Instead they know that Doug Lynch, Jeff Woywitka and Eric Brewer could not fill the void left by one of the generation’s best defensemen.