Saturday, April 12, 2008

Where to From Here?

-The Blues off-season had better be an on-season. All of us with a Blue-note tattooed on our heart want to keep believing that the re-building process is working...and that it will eventually lead to the Stanley Cup. My hockey friends and I have been discussing the current state of affairs at length, and it's darn hard to visualize the moves that can be made this off-season to keep everyone's chin up. But let's take a look at things and see if we can provide John Davidson, Larry Pleau and Andy Murray some reasoned assistance.

We have said for a couple of years now that the way to build this team to where it needs to be is from within. Draft picks and players we have developed through our system need to be the cornerstone of the team. So, if that's true, we should get as many of them as possible into uniform for 2008-09 and see what we have. I'm not saying we shouldn't try to win, just not necessarily make that the #1 priority for the coming season. I am of the opinion that if the Blues management team was honest and up front with the fan I believe they have been...that fans and season ticket holders alike will understand the situation and continue to support the club. JD and company should go to training camp with the mentality that all of our top prospects should have a better than fair chance of making the team. Then they should be put out there to give it a go. I don't think it would hurt to tell some lackluster veterans that this is your mindset either.

What players am I talking about. I would say anyone that has been on the radar for the last few years at Peoria...and all of our top picks as well. People like:

Whoever we get with the #4 overall pick in the upcoming draft
TJ Oshie (who likely will sign for the coming season)
Patrick Berglund (who's been tearing up his competition in Europe)
Lars Eller (last year's first pick who has also been impressive in his European exploits)
Ian Cole (a first-round defenseman picked in '07 and currently at Notre Dame)
Aaron Palushaj (winger-2nd round pick in '07)
Roman Polak (stalwart D at Peoria)
Steve Wagner (ditto..also was impressive in early-season Blues games this season)
Charles Linglet (a scoring machine at Peoria...but never given much of a chance in StL)
Ben Bishop (6-foot-7 goalie from St. Louis just signed out of the U. of Maine)

How do all of these people play on the Blues and still give us a chance to compete in the NHL Central? That won't happen. I'm just saying that if there's a borderline decision to be made at the end of training camp between a veteran who hasn't been all that impresssive...and a kid who might have a chance to open some eyes...then go with the kid. Even if that means taking a contract and salary cap hit or two. The Blues had...and will have...plenty of cap room to work with.

Am I saying that players like Dan Hinote, Cam Janssen, Jay McClement, Jamal Mayers, Ryan Johnson, Jay McKee, Matt Walker, Martin Rucinsky, Hannu Toivonen, and maybe a few more, should be let go? Not necessarily. But I would say that these guys should be far and away a better option than one of the kids. And I have a hard time imagining that these players would be that much better to where you wouldn't want to give youth a chance. (By the way--Walker, Rucinsky and R. Johnson are free agents)

So, let's say you break training camp in September with a bunch of these fresh faces on the team. Does that mean you're telling the fans that you won't win this year. Maybe. Who really believes that the Blues will be in line to make the playoffs...let alone win the Cup...this coming season. Just come out and say that we believe that these are the players of the future for The Note...and we need to let them play. Will fans reject that notion and not come to games? I seriously doubt it. I, for one, would be excited to see a youth-based club like this...rookie mistakes or not. If you truly believe that these kids are the ones who will be helping the club turn the corner, then you have to put your money where your mouth is. The Blackhawks had a youth-based team this past season and didn't seem afraid to advertise it. They did all right, and a lot of people began buying into the renaissance at the United Center. Chicago people, like those everywhere, like to get a glimpse into the future.

OK...we've added youth to the team. So, what do we do with some of the veterans who had down seasons in '07-' Paul Kariya, Lee Stempniak, McClement, McKee and Barret Jackman? In these days of multi-year contracts and the salary cap it's not nearly as easy to answer that question as it once was. But JD and coach Murray need to impress upon this group that the team will have little patience with under-achievement. The ownership and president have made more than significant investments in several of these guys and didn't really have much to show for it this year. I'd say you keep the radar turned on for any deal that might make sense and could help clear roster spots and salary commitments.

And please don't give veterans ice time just because they're veterans who make the coach feel comfortable with their use. Sure you want to win...but what did the veterans we have do for the cause of winning this season? And if you're going to play them at the cost of developing your future stars..I may not be the smartest guy around, but that doesn't seem to make any sense.

Whatever the strategy for the coming season, its clear that another batch of high-quality talent will be added to the organization in the June draft. I'm glad that Jarmo Kekalainen is our guy calling those shots. He doesn't miss very often.

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