Kevin Lorenz, Mon, 07 May 2012 05:00:00 GMT
It was quick but not quite painless, though anything more than four games of this series would have just been agonizing. The Blues did not play Blues hockey for four games against the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings were faster, smarter, better. They created more opportunities for themselves, and took advantage of the Blues’ mistakes, nearly every time. Their goaltender played the like best in the game; he may in fact be the best in the game. The Kings did everything that the Blues needed to do to be successful this season, and they did it better.
No one expected this season in September. A playoff spot alone would have been considered a success when the season opened on October 8th with Davis Payne behind the bench, David Perron on the shelf, and two big question marks in goal with the struggling Jaroslav Halak and the discarded $600,000 backup Brian Elliott. Instead the team won the Central Division, contended for a President’s Trophy, and collectively won a Jennings Trophy on the shoulders of their two goaltenders and the team defensive system installed by new coach Ken Hitchcock. Alex Pietrangelo asserted himself as a star defenseman in this league. David Backes got his first Selke Trophy nomination, gaining recognition among the top two-way players in the league. T.J. Oshie gambled with a one-year deal last summer and won while setting career highs in games played (80) and in all offensive categories (19-35-54).
The sweep at the hands of the Kings was a disappointment mostly because of the odd way that the Blues went out. The craziest of Blues fans thought this team would win the Stanley Cup this season. But while most people feared the Kings, no one thought the Blues would roll over and die in the series. They did. A surprising season has come to an end in an equally surprising manner. All that being considered, where do the Blues go from here?
Changes will be made. You can pretty much expect new ownership. With new ownership you can expect moves to be made with the roster; the math otherwise doesn’t add up. Jaden Schwartz could be a big part of the NHL squad next year. Next year could be the year that Vladimir Tarasenko comes over, although it’s as likely that he won’t. Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner, Scott Nichol, and Chris Porter are unrestricted free agents. Chris Stewart, David Perron and T.J. Oshie are restricted free agents themselves.
Depending on how the summer goes, the Blues could need to address the center position. A high-scoring winger is on every team’s wish list, but the Blues could really use a dependable sniper to get them to the next level. The top free agent forwards in 2012 include Zach Parise, P.A. Parenteau, and Alex Semin. It’s hard to imagine one of them joining the team.
Ian Cole should remain in the NHL next year. Barret Jackman, Kent Huskins, and Carlo Colaiacovo are unrestricted free agents. Cade Fairchild played limited minutes in five games this season, while registering just an assist. He had 34 points in 68 games in Peoria.
The Blues’ biggest priority on the blue line should be finding a left-handed partner for Alex Pietrangelo who can log twenty-five or so minutes a game. The Blues would have a chance to sign Ryan Suter, Matt Carle, and Dennis Wideman in free agency depending on the budget.
The Blues have depth in net for the first time in awhile. Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott remain signed for two more seasons. Jake Allen has played about a minute in the NHL, and 85 AHL games.
The Blues have around twenty-eight million dollars of cap space to play with over the summer, but the actual budget will be far lower even with potential new ownership. Predicting how the team will look next season is an exercise in futility on the day the Blues’ season has ended, but for fun I’ll give it a shot.
Ex Crombeen, Porter
Looking at this projected lineup, and looking at the actual roster presents one conclusion to this columnist; the conditions seem right for some summer trading.
Stay tuned this week for third round playoff predictions, and the two-part Blues Final Report Cards.