With the Blues season opener against the Stanley Cup runner-up Philadelphia Flyers less than three months away, one can’t help but begin to worry about a very vital part of the game which seems to be missing from the team’s current roster. O-F-F-E-N-S-E!
The Blues scored just 218 goals last season, good for 17th in the league. That’s only 22 more goals than the worst offensive team, the Boston Bruins. The Blues were tied for 16th in five on five play and–hang on to your hockey sticks–they scored only one 5 on 3 goal the entire season. Are you kidding me? Only Atlanta was worse. By the way, how could the Thrashers not score a single five on three goal with Ilya Kovalchuk in their lineup for most of the season? That’s for another post, another day. Now speaking of the power play, the Blues finished tied for 20th in the league with the man advantage. They were just three percent better than the last ranked team–Toronto. Hint, you never want your favorite hockey team mentioned in the same sentence with Toronto.
Finally, a huge area of the game which often goes unnoticed. Faceoffs. An essential ingredient which leads to puck possession. It’s no coincidence the top two faceoff teams in the Western Conference were…guess who? That’s right, the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks and the number one playoff seed in the West, the San Jose Sharks. How many times last season did it seem the Blues lost crucial draws? Whether in their own zone or the offensive zone, it was a constant issue. The fact is the Blues finished 22nd in the league. Hang on once again to your illegally curved sticks, that’s just two percent better than the last ranked New York Islanders. Hint, you never want your favorite hockey team mentioned in the same sentence as the Islanders.
So what’s the point of all this? Simple. Let’s look at some potential problem-solving ideas. The best and most sensible place to begin focuses on the remaining unrestricted free agents. Nope, not too many impressive characters on the list. But rest assured, some of these players will make a general manager look like a genius next season. Possibly, just maybe, that GM could end up being Doug Armstrong. So Mr. Armstrong, give this a quick read:
How are you feeling about your current left wingers? David Perron is a restricted free agent who will undoubtedly be re-signed. T.J. Oshie can move back to left wing or stay at center. After that, you might as well have open tryouts with the local kids playing pickup in their Brett Hull and Brendan Shanahan jerseys. Why not Alexander Frolov? Yes his goal scoring totals are down the past three seasons, but he’s without question an upgrade over the current personnel. Frolov is a highly skilled player who needs a change of scenery from Los Angeles. He scored 19 goals last season, 32 the year before. He would easily replace Paul Kariya and provide much more offense to boot. Or if you want to pass on Frolov, how about Alexei Ponikarovsky? Another left winger who would add goal scoring ability. He tallied 21 last season, 19 of which came with the dismal Maple Leafs. He also has great size at 6’4″, 230 pounds.
How pleased are you with your current set of right wingers? David Backes and Brad Boyes are coming off terrible seasons. Obviously the hope is both will rebound. But there are some UFA right wingers who you might want to consider. Could a second chance in St. Louis be what Pavol Demitra needs? The Slovak was brilliant in the 2010 Winter Olympics. Nobody would expect the 35-year old Demitra to regain the form which saw him score 36 goals in 2003, but how good would the right side look all of a sudden with Backes, Boyes and Demitra as your top three? He would also provide a much-needed left handed shot from the right side. Or speaking of second chances in St. Louis, maybe a quick call to Lee Stempniak? He netted 14 goals in only 18 games with Phoenix to close out last season. At just 27 years of age, he certainly could add to the offense.
Finally, as Detroit has proven over the years, you can never have enough depth at center. UFA Eric Belanger scored 15 goals last season on a checking line. He was also a sharp 56.4% on faceoffs. It’s not always good to be quick on the draw, but in this case it is, and the Blues need help. To compare, Jay McClement tallied 11 goals and was 49.6% on faceoffs.
So if there’s anything to take out of this, it’s the fact that the Blues look very suspect offensively and there are players available who could provide help. Maybe some of them are just a properly-held iPhone 4G call away. Mr. Armstrong, can you hear me now?