Saturday, July 08, 2006


St. Louis Blues Offseason Update

With the avalanche of hockey news these past few weeks (not of the Colorado variety), the major news involving the St. Louis Blues has gone under the radar for the most part.

The major ownership change was finally completed with Dave “Checkbook” Checketts and his partners taking over the franchise from Bill “I married into Wal-Mart money” Laurie.

Their first major move was to take TV analyst John “I never shut the hell up” Davidson and install him as President 1.0 of the Blues. What qualification does Davidson have to be president of a major business operation? Well, in the hockey world, he seems to have met the qualifications of being a former player. Screw business training, all you need to do is know how to skate with the pros. Mmm hmm.

JD’s first big move was to keep, yes KEEP, Larry Pleau as GM of the Blues. Yes, the same Larry Pleau that is responsible for the Blues being an absolute mess of a franchise with a rather thin group of prospects and a long road ahead. So, all hope of seeing Pleau booted out is gone because he is, apparently, a nice guy.

Give me a prickly guy like Brian Burke who gets results! I don’t care how nice Pleau is or how great his hair is, the man is not very good at running an NHL franchise.

This off-season has been a great example of Pleau’s ‘effective’ leadership. The Blues are a train-wreck, and we know a train-wreck can’t be cleaned up in a day.

That didn’t stop Larry Pleau from wasting money on a bunch of old Americans that are on the good ship old-age decline, in a desperate attempt to attract attendance and win games.

A summary of off-season moves:
1. Signed UFA Doug Weight to a $7mil/2 year deal.
2. Signed UFA Bill Guerin to a $2mil/1 year deal.
3. Signed UFA Dallas Drake to a $2.2mil/2 year deal.
4. Signed UFA Petr Cajanek to a $1.7mil/season multi-year deal.
5. Signed UFA Jay McKee to a $16mil/4 year deal.
6. Drafted D Erik Johnson 1st overall.
7. Signed UFA Dan Hinote to a $1mil/year deal.

Fans want wins, they don’t care if Bill Guerin and Doug Weight played for Team USA years ago. Fans don’t shell out $50 to see Guerin and Weight unless they are the few people who count those two among their absolute favourite players. The Blues are so far removed from the playoff race that adding a few old veterans is only going to help lose a few less games. Does anyone think the Blues are a playoff contender? The Blues had Doug Weight for most of last season and certainly weren’t in the playoff hunt. Bill Guerin and the 40-50 points isn’t going to boost them to high waters, since he’ll essentially replace what Mike Sillinger was doing for them last season.

I like Jay McKee, but like Willie Mitchell here in Vancouver, he’s not a guy I’d pay that much money for. McKee is good defensively, but provides very little offense at all. He’s certainly not worth the $4mil per year salary, although the market is so inflated right now that his contract doesn’t stick out.

Did they sign these old dudes to make the minimum payroll? Well, let’s look at the figures and depth chart as it stands this morning.

We can see that the Blues, once they signed their RFAs, are well over the minimum payroll, even subtracting a few guys down to the minors. It’s not like they needed to sign Bill Guerin to make the minimum.

The positives?

1. The old guys aren’t signed for a very long time. Guerin is only signed for 1 year and Doug Weight and Dallas Drake for 2 seasons. Pleau was smart enough not to tie himself with total albatross contracts. These guys will be off the books soon enough, and could be trade bait once the trade deadline approaches.

2. The old guys aren’t blocking any prospects. The Blues don’t really have any great forward prospects that need ice time to develop apart from Lee Stempniak, the inconsistent rookie who showed some nifty offensive moves from time to time, and Timofei Shish-kabob, who needs to be given some PP time to show what he can do, but isn’t a high-quality prospect by any means. Petro Sejna isn’t going to put up any numbers at the AHL level, and the Blues don’t have anyone else in the minors that is considered a top-end offensive producer at the moment.

3. The Blues defense actually looks fairly decent. If Eric Brewer can stay healthy, the young guys like Dennis Wideman and Christian Backman keep developing, then the group, as a whole, should do fairly well. I like the grit of this group, and I hope Wideman can provide the offense that he’s capable of.

4. Erik Johnson is going to college, at least for a year. This is good news because there is no use for him to be on the Blues right now, even though he could possibly make it. We don’t need him finishing -25 on a poor team and having his confidence shattered, plus burning a year of service time. The Blues defense is fine enough without him around, so he can develop at the University of Minnesota and develop his hockey skills and beer consumption habits in a nurturing environment.

What’s left for Pleau to do? Well, I like what Curtis Sanford did in goal last season, but his minor league track record is actually quite poor and I wonder if last year wasn’t just a fluke. If nobody else takes Manny Legace and his self-defeating attitude, the Blues may want to give him a shot in the tandem and return ‘Cash’ back to the AHL for another year of development.

The Blues could also use a real top-6 scorer for the second line, although Stempniak should be given the chance if the Blues can’t sign somebody that’s actually good. There is no use spending more money on a team that, most likely, won’t make the playoffs.

I'm saddened by the fact that you're spot-on with your analysis.
You missed the possible upside of another top draft pick in '07.
They were assembling the 05-06 team all over again, but Silly received an offer he couldn't refuse from the Isle.
I'd like to see Shanny signed for old times sake, but even I must admit that he can't help enough to make it worthwhile.
You missed the other business as usual things

resigning ryan johnson to 800k for no reason (stated reason, he was good on the blues horrible power play)

and hooking up with yet another ex-blue for the goaltending coach (wamsley)

when the blues get off to slow start will the next coach be which of the following ex-blues?:

basil mcrae?
one of the sutters?
rick zombo?
the chopper?

get you money down now!
The question that's really on my mind is if the Canucks will go 0-4 against the Blues next season.
Agreed on Ryan Johnson. $800,000 for that? He doesn't produce and he's actually quite bad defensively. There are many other players of his calibre available at the minimum. No use spending almost a mil on a warm body.
Surely you meant Peter Sejna will not post any numbers at the NHL level. In the AHL last year he had 50 points in just 44 games.

That being said, I tend to agree with you. I think he can carve out a decent career for himself in the Czech Republic or Sweden.
Given the sad lack of prospects in the organization, there's no realistic way to turn the Blues into a Cup contender in one year. If Sanford can maintain the level of play he displayed last year, and if the injury demon stays away, the Blues should flirt with .500. A little puck luck and they could even make the playoffs.
The Lalime fiasco (good riddance) put the 05-06 team in a hole they couldn't climb out of. I think the new ownership has made some moves (including the announced upgrades to the Arena-to-be-named-later that will put more people in the seats (there could hardly be less). The team is still rebuilding, and these moves will at least buy them some time.
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