After the player evaluations and the locker clean-out, after the interviews with Coach Payne, the Blues have to look at what happened this year. No one likes the term "step back," as David Backes emphatically stressed to George Csolak of the Globe Democrat. Two points fewer this year than last might not seem like a large leap in the wrong direction, and it might not be unless you look at the drop-off in goal production from players like Backes and Boyes, and the general regression of a player like Patrik Berglund. All three of them began picking up pace in the second half, which might just be because of the coaching change. The whole team picked up pace in the second half, which showed that maybe Payne was the piece of the puzzle they needed.
I keep counting and counting... are you sure I'm the last piece? There's not another one in the box?
New GM Doug Armstrong and team president John Davidson need to figure out how to build on the second half fix. The two largest things fans are clamoring for are a legit #1 goaltender and a pure goalscorer. Chris Mason is a solid and dependable goaltender, set at the middle of the pack in all stats. He can steal games, but then the following matchup he can let in a soft goal or two that deflates the squad. That, coupled with the fact that the goalie is a UFA come July 1st, has people questioning if JD will let him walk and grab a UFA goaltender who will hit the market, or trade for a starter.
More after the jump.
Boyes is not 110% certain to rebound for next year. He shot high and wide just about every time he tried to score this season, tensing up and over-thinking the shot. The more inaccurate he got, the more tense he got, and the more inaccurate he got. Hopefully Payne and the coaching staff can work with him during camp and the preseason to adjust his shot. He's still got the ability lethal, and his improved +/- rating has been lost in the discontent of his lack of aim.
If Backes, Boyes, Berglund, Perron, and Oshie gear it up for next season, and if Andy McDonald's healthy again, the Blues should (theoretically) have six 20 goal scorers to rely on. Alexander Steen might be good for another 20 next season - who knows. These guys still won't change the fact that the rest of the team's a bit anemic, and if one or two get into a slump, the offense is shot. Do the Blues need to bring in a guy with a laser like Hull had - do teams even need to have that one superstar?
John Davidson disagrees with the fans on this one, saying that the Blues won't persue a high profile scorer like Marleau or Kovalchuk... because it's too expensive. This logic is confusing when you realize that the Blues actively pursued Kovalchuk during the trade deadline, and if they would have landed him they would have attempted to extend his contract after this season. They balked because the Thrashers wanted Oshie or Perron, two players that the Blues will have to look to sign extensions to - along with Backes and Johnson.
Those extensions are what seems to be holding back Davidson. As the Post-Dispatch pointed out, even if we re-sign all of our UFAs for next season, we'll be at $42 million, which is around $14 million under the cap. What kind of bonuses are we thinking of shilling out? I'm not in favor of pursuing Kovalchuk, because he's not worth the $10 million a year asking price, and his 45 goals a year still doesn't impact the team that he plays on - watch the Devils right now in round one if you want proof of that, or look at the fact that the Thrashers were one game over .500 with him and one game over .500 without him.
But there are impact players coming up on the UFA market who could be insurance for the Blues on the scoring front. Alexander Frolov's current contract is an affordable $2,900,000 upon expiration. Alexei Ponikarovsky also is up for the market, and with a raise might not cost much more than $3,000,000 a season. If (God forbid) the Thrashers can't lock up Afinogenov, he'd be a poor man's Kovalchuk for the Blues. There are quite a few affordable potential 25-30 goal scorers on the market. No, there isn't another Hull floating around there, but the Blues should have the cash on hand to be able to sign a guy or two. Heck, Tomas Holmstrom and his fantastic ass are even on the market.
Ok, I agree with Malik on that one. Worst. Rumor. Ever.