Chicago, IL — The last opponent in the Central Division that this blog looks at that the Blackhawks will face is the most puzzling one. On paper, and that includes you analytics freaks, this team should be in the Western Conference Final and should have had a couple of Stanley Cups by now. There are two significant problems with this and they are the Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks.
Since 2011 the Blues inexplicably can’t seem to push through to the next level. In 2011 they were ousted in the playoff conference semi-finals by the Kings. Then they were booted in both 2012 & 21013 quarterfinal conference rounds by the Kings and the Hawks respectively.
This is the conundrum that faces this franchise. You’re a really good solid team with all the numbers to back this up but can’t get past championship caliber hockey teams. It’s a familiar problem and the Blues are not alone in the west with this problem, the San Jose Sharks can certainly empathize with the Blues they are in the same boat.
The Blues had a significant off season move and that was to bring in center Paul Stastny from the Colorado Avalanche to strengthen them down or up the middle if you will. Great pick up especially in the stacked west, but is Stastny enough?
The problem too for the Blues is they had a lot of people going out the door most notably the very talented Vladimir Sobotka who elected to go to the KHL for a big money deal. They also parted ways with Derek Roy C, Roman Polok D & winger Brendan Morrow.
The Blues also signed Jori Lehtera from the KHL. Lehtera is a Finnish center man who was originally drafted by the Blues in 2006. Lehtera has been playing in the KHL so we really are not sure how he will adapt and his skills will translate to the high flying NHL. Lehtera should be a 20-30 goal scorer but this is North American hockey not European and there may be a significant learning curve the Blues will have to wait and see.
The Blues also did not resign goalie Ryan Miller and have elected to go in house with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen in nets. Not sure that is a bad move. Miller honestly did not really fit in St. Louis and was not the answer they were looking for. To be fair though I’m not sure anyone is the answer they are looking for including the players on the current roster.
Vladimir Tarasenko is a young stud and will be a beast. In the playoffs last year against the Hawks he & Alex Steen were really the only forwards that struck fear in Blackhawks fans hearts when you see them with the puck. If Tarasenko takes more strides he can become Stamkos like. He could be the key to the Blues offensively.
The Defense of the Blues is solid with Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester, Shattenkirk , Leopold and the pick up of Carl Gunnerson. The Blues are always solid defensively and will be again. No their problem is when they get to the most important parts of the year they seem to buckle down the stretch and until they figure that out they will suffer the same fates.
The San Jose Sharks have a very similar problem only they have decided to address it with a change of leadership on the team. They took the captaincy away from Joe Thornton and he and Patrick Marleau are no longer the leaders of the Sharks. The Blues so far have not taken that approach and really they are the only ones who can know what the right thing to do is.
On the outside however, in three years you folded in critical points of your season that doesn’t give the current leadership on this team my vote of confidence. The Blues also caved in the regular season as well. They were all lined up to be Central Division leaders but blew their games down the stretch and ended up behind the Colorado Avalanche.
Captain David Backes runs this ship sort of speak on the ice but should he? Maybe the mix of players does not have leaders who when the going gets really really tough know how to kick it up another notch. That is what it will take if you want to survive in the west. The Blues always seem to implode with silly untimely penalties or they try to bully their way through and it just doesn’t work when facing highly talented teams with championship pedigrees.
Their lack of discipline seems to always be an issue and that the coaching staff needs to be blamed for. Speaking of which it’s possible head coach Ken Hitchcock works the team too hard during the regular season so they have nothing left down the stretch. If the Blues fail to go far in the playoffs again will this be Hitch’s last year in St. Louis? He has been with the team since 2011 and for whatever reason has yet to deliver a champion.
While the Blues on paper are solid and picking up Paul Stastny was a good move, let us remember Stastny has never won a Stanley Cup. So again you have no one on this team that really knows what it takes to win a Cup, that’s not to say they can’t figure it out this year. Blues fans are sure hoping they do. In the meantime besides the Blackhawks and Kings, the Ducks, Stars and the newly led Sharks all improved as well.
It would be easier for the Blues if they were bad on either defense or offense you could just get better players but when your problem is intangibles like fire, leadership and finish you have major problems that are not so easy for the front office to fix.
This will be an interesting year for the Blues and the organization as a whole. If they fall short again looking in the mirror is never fun especially, when you don’t like the reflection you see and changes are necessary.