The St. Louis Blues management and coaching staff has been under plenty of scrutiny lately, as the team hit a season long 4-game losing streak on Wednesday. With GM Doug Armstrong and head coach Ken Hitchcock at the top of the fans’ most wanted list here’s some moves they can make to end this losing streak and get back to consistently winning ways.
From the GM Perspective
The Blues are currently in talks with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and were before young up-and-comer Jonathan Drouin requested a trade. This leads experts to believe that not only Drouin is in play, but possibly a depth scorer like Valterri Filppula or even as big of a name as Steven Stamkos as well. Though the Blues can’t really afford Stamkos unless they want to trigger another semi-rebuild, Filppula and Drouin remain as viable options for this season and beyond ($5MM & $3.25MM AAV respectively).
If Armstrong is looking to shake things up in the room to motivate players to move their feet more, and find some heart to win close games (especially when the team has the lead) he could put together a trade pretty quickly for one, or both, of those Bolt players. Tampa is reportedly in search of a right-handed defenseman or a top D prospect, both of which the Blues have. Though the Note don’t necessarily want to get rid of Alex Pietrangelo or Kevin Shattenkirk, they may have to part ways with one of them to make any deal before this season’s trade deadline (2/29/16).
It would be nice to see Shatty stay around given his offensive upside and power-play prowess, but Pietro is more consistent in the D-zone, and eats up a ton of minutes against top competition. If Armstrong were to make a deal with the Lightning it could even involve a scenario where the Blues send Robert Bortuzzo or Chris Butler, and either Petteri Lindbohm or Joel Edmundson to the Bolts in exchange for either Drouin or Filppula. If the Note added in a scoring forward such as captain David Backes, up-and-comer Dmitrij Jaskin, or newly activated Patrik Berglund it could garner both Tampa forwards in return.
The Down Side
The obvious down side to this trade is losing great back-end prospects, possibly a standout defenseman from the D-core, or some solid forwards who help lead the team as well. However looking at the prospective return also exposes some faults. Filppula is almost 32 years-old now, and has seen his back-checking fall off over the last couple of seasons (he’s a minus-17 since the beginning of 2013-14). Drouin has had some attitude adjustment problems that could just be a product of Jon Cooper’s environment (Cooper hasn’t ever given Drouin much of a chance, and even publically stated the youngster’s faults in an interview early last season), but it could also be a deeper issue with entitlement that the Blues are trying to keep out of their locker room.
This leaves Army with some tough choices and may cause him to do nothing, but that would also have repercussions, and could end up leaving him jobless. He needs to shake things up in the locker room and will likely not do so by firing his good friend Ken Hitchcock, so one of the above scenarios seems to be his best bet to bring the Blues back to winning ways.
What Can Hitch do for Blue?
Shifting the focus to the Blues bench boss makes the water a little murkier. How much blame is to be put on a coach who’s proven he can win in the NHL for decades, and how much can be put on players who have to try and adjust to the said coach’s old school thinking and ridiculous line shuffles? The biggest problem facing the Blues hasn’t changed in the past 6 seasons, and possibly even longer than that. The organization has really had this disconnect between their coaches and players over that time, and it’s been driving a wedge that splits the team in 2 ever since.
If Hitch wants to keep his job he’ll need to truly turn the reigns over to the players and trust their judgments a lot more. They are a talented bunch and with a multitude of players with such high hockey IQs they should be able to make creative plays that drive to the net to create high quality chances without sacrificing Hitch’s defensive minded systems. In return the players need to step up and show they are clutch, or be traded/waived. Most of the older core has seen 3-5 coaches come and go, yet still seem to create similar problems each season, which should be unacceptable moving forward. If they can bear down and prove themselves moving forward the lines should naturally work themselves out as trust (re)builds between the team and coaches. That will lead to more consistent play at higher levels and should give the boys in Blue their confidence back.
The best lineup for the Note right now should be a mix of grinders and playmakers so each line can separate their scorers from their workhorses to work in harmony. The blues have plenty of work horses like Jaskin, Paajarvi, Brouwer, Brodziak, and Backes (among others) who can keep pucks in deep and allow play-makers to set up in high danger areas to get supreme chances at the opposing net. The team even has a few play-makers that can double as work horses like Steen, Schwartz, and Lehtera who play that hybrid role to open up ice for the true-scorers like Fabbri, and of course Tarasenko.
That’s the best thing the Blues can do for now, as they await a shakeup in the form of trades or new management/coaching (which is unlikely until at least summer time) to make sure they leave this poor and seemingly heartless play behind them through the 2nd half of the year. Hopefully their individual and team meetings that were held on Thursday do the trick, and we see a great rest of the month from the Note squad, but only time will tell.
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