Everything Else

Game #2 – Hawks vs. Blues Q&A: Some Ex-Roadie On The Side Of The Highway

Chris Gift usually dances for nickels on the side of I-55, after a successful career as cod piece cleaner for various hair-metal bands in the 80’s. He also contributes to St. Louis Gametime. Or he used to We’re not sure and we’re definitely sure we don’t care. He’s at Twitter @ChrisGift.

Signing Tyler Bozak and trading for Ryan O’Reilly. What got up Doug Armstrong’s ass?

We’ve learned to have disdain for ownership groups, regardless of sport. Look at your group of owners in Chicago without the last name of Ricketts. Reinsdorf, Wirtz (ok, Rocky is much better than Bill was), McCaskey, and whoever owns the Fire probably aren’t the most popular folks in town, and with the ton of cash that each team makes, the amount of frugality that owners have is shocking at times.

Blues Chairman Tom Stillman isn’t like that. Since he took over for Dave Checketts in 2012, Stillman has been in on, or attempted to be as active as possible in making the team Cup contenders. His first acquisition was rolling the dice on pending UFA Jay Bouwmeester from Calgary and getting him to sign a deal before he hit the open market. Tthen there was acquiring Ryan Miller from Buffalo, and also getting Paul Stastny from Enos Kroenke’s Denver  Avlanches  – speaking of disdain for ownership groups.  The key sticking point of the O’Reilly deal was the $7.5 million roster bonus ROR was due on July 1st. To paraphrase Armstrong, he called Stillman, said he needed $7.5 million and before Armstrong could even get to the first word of the next sentence explaining it was for ROR, Stillman told him “no problem.” Stillman has deep pockets, and his minority  owners have deeper pockets.

Last year’s pfffft of a season, and the undefeated Father Time approaching on some of the core may have been the kick in the ass that did it for Armstrong and ownership. What really got us was the decision to finally cut bait with Patrik Berglund. More accurately, I think the surprise is that Army found a way for a team to take two God awful contracts (Vlad Sobotka’s contract blew as well as Berglund’s) and get more in return than the bag of pucks that we all anticipated.

Slowly but surely the team’s core has both aged and turned over. Berglund, TJ Oshie, David  Backes, Jerry Halak and Brian Elliott are all gone. Bouwmeester is 35. Alexander Steen is 34. Even some of the “younger” player are starting to get a tad longer in the tooth. Alex Pietrangelo is 28 already. Jaden Schwartz and Vlad Tarasenko are 26. There’s a window for winning with this team, not gaping because of the strength of Winnipeg and Nashville, but there’s definitely a window.

The O’Reilly rumors flew around all season last year, but not just in St. Louis. When the draft came and went, and there was no movement on the ROR front, we thought it was on life support at best. When Bozak and David Perron signed on July 1, and the sun set that night, we thought that was it. Then the “holy shit,” moment happened to see ROR coming to St. Louis. It went from a  plain “holy shit” comment to being capitalized, underscored, boldfaced and whatever the fuck else you do to show exhilaration and joy and when the news of Buffalo’s return on the trade included taking Berglund and Sobotka. It had to be a total Andy Dufresne celebrating freedom in raw sewage and a thunderstorm by escaping Shawshank for Armstrong. Tage Thompson is an above average prospect that needs to mature mentally and physically and eat a TON of wings from the Anchor Bar. The Blues were touting Thompson, Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas, and Klim Kostin as the organization’s four best prospects. To acquire talent, two shitty contracts and two draft picks wasn’t going to do it. One of the four had to go. Thompson was the only one with NHL experience. With first round pick Dominik Bokk, and Erick Foley (acquired for Stastny) being added to the prospect reservoir, it was adios Tage.


Why is Jake Allen still here and still starting?

Wait, you don’t call him Jay Gallon anymore?

If this was the olden days, and twitter was limited to 140 characters, the answer would be something like “Carter Hutton was too expensive. Ville Husso isn’t ready yet. Jordan Binnington isn’t good enough to play in the NHL, and warts and all, Jake isn’t awful.”

Allen has his flashes of total consciousness, but there are also times when he looks absolutely lost. Ken Hitchcock damn near ruined him with his mental games a few years ago and Marty Brodeur worked with him to get his shit straight.  Both of those guys are gone now, so Hitch can’t fuck him up any more and Brodeur can’t pull the insta-fix anymore (something tells me that in the goaltending brotherhood, that an off the record text message or tip from MB30 is never going to happen).

Counting OTLs as losses, he was 27-28 with a 2.75 GAA last year. Mike Yeo  had to go to the bullpen far too often. Granted the relief was damn good in Hutton,  and Chad Johnson is nowhere the backup that Hutton was. There will be nights this year when it is 10 minutes in and the team is down 3-0, and it’ll be Jake’s game, like it or not.

The Blues look a little short on the wings as far as scoring. Tell us why we’re wrong. Only about this and not life, please.

Writing this prior to the season opener against Winnipeg, all is wonderful. Tarasenko is going to score 40 by Christmas. Pat Maroon will put up video game numbers and be the toughest power forward  player this town has seen since Brendan Shanahan.

To use coach speak, the sum is probably greater than the whole of the parts. Bozak, Perron and ROR will make the power play better (it finished 29th a year ago).Having ROR, Brayden Schenn and Bozak in the middle on the top three lines is a scoring luxury. Plus, the fourth line isn’t going to be the typical  knuckle dragging Neanderthal,  an AHL player playing over his head,  and a Kyle Brodziak type grinder. Think youth and speed on the fourth line this year. The fourth line is scheduled to be  Ivan Barbashev, Thomas, and  Sammy Blais, to start the year. Two players coming off pretty serious injuries  hope to crack the top 12 at some point this season if healthy. Acquired from Washington for Kevin Shattenkirk,  shoulder surgery kept Zach Sanford  out of everything but the first shift of the first day of training camp in the fall of 2017. And don’t forget  Robby Fabbri who managed have two ACL surgeries since just after the Winter Classic in 2017. Fabbri’s knees seem to be fine this camp, but he’s having a hard time with nagging injuries like hips and backs from getting back into hockey shape. Arrmstrong has mentioned November for Fabbri.  Both Sanford and Fabbri can play, and play really well if healthy. If healthy. If healthy .

There’s scuttlebutt that at some point this season, Steen may move to the fourth line if one of the aforementioned youngins’ makes strides to capture top-nine minutes. Steen on the PP, PK and fourth line may be just about right for this point of his career.

This is clearly a go-for-it year for the Blues. Can they really overcome the Preds or Jets?

Funny way of asking for a prediction. The offseason has been very optimistic around these parts, but the reality is that there was a ton of work to do before being able to be on par with the Preds or Jets. Have they done it? I’m not sure, but I’d like to think so. Seeing ROR for a season instead of twice a year will be nice, but he was a good player on a shitty team. Can he be a great player on a good team? Can Allen give a solid season without drama or injury or having will Yeo have to try  to make the best out of a few weeks of Chad Johnson?

The defense is awfully thin. Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko, Joel Edmundson and Robert Bortuzzo are all solid. How much does Bouwmeester have left? Can Vince Dunn have as good of a sophomore season as his freshman year? Is Carl Gunnarson going to be healthy enough to not be a liability out there, or can Jordan Schmaltz mature into a top-six D this year. Chris Butler looked overmatched out there last season, and the team is damn near capped out, so making a big acquisition to help the defense will take some salary cap magic to work.

Worst case scenario, I can’t  see the Blues finishing in anything lower than third in the division. Even if they play great and finish second, they’ll still have to go through both the Jets and  Nashville to make it to the Conference Final. That’ll require a hell of a lot of good play and good fortune to beat both  of those teams in the playoffs.

My guess is they have a hell of a first round series that they might win. That series will probably tax them to the point that there’s nothing left against the other divisional heavyweight and they bow out in the second round.

Now with all that piss and vinegar of a prediction,  this edition of the Blues  has the most talent since the ’16 team that beat Chicago and Dallas before losing to San Jose in five games.. As unpredictable as hockey in general, and this league in particular can be, I don’t think  a Conference Final run or a Western Conference title is out of the question.


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