Thursday, December 07, 2006

Misery in Missouri

WELCOME TO J.D.'S NIGHTMARE
Dead last in the standings. Dead last in attendance. The worst power play in the league. A road record of 3-8-1, third-worst in the league, and an 8.3% power-play success rate away from home.

Unbelievably, the St. Louis Blues are on pace for fewer points (54) than they managed in finishing 30th overall last season (57) — and that's been the team's pace with their two top goaltenders between the pipes. Now, both Curtis Sanford (2.93 GAA, .897 sv. pct.) and Manny Legace (3.48 GAA, .883 sv. pct.) are down with injuries, both of which look to be serious.

Sanford is out up to two months with a serious groin injury, while Legace was knocked unconscious by a shot in practice and could miss considerable time.

Both injuries happened within five days of each other.

In comes 24-year-old Jason Bacashihua, he of 18 career NHL starts, and 20-year-old rookie Marek Schwarz to, er, save the day.

I think we can stick a fork in the Blues.

It's hard to imagine things can get much worse for St. Louis, who have to seriously think about shuttling out their "big" names and get right down to the league's minimum salary. New president John Davidson struck out with most of his off-season acquisitions — although to be fair, Bill Guerin is on pace for 35 goals and Jay McKee has missed almost the entire season due to injury.

My guess is coach Mike Kitchen will be fired before anything else, but GM Larry Pleau's probably on his way overboard as well. With the third-lowest salary base in the league this season, the Blues haven't really given Pleau much to work with, but other low-spending teams like Washington, Nashville and Carolina have found success so far. You have to think, however, that the decision to bring in aging veterans like Guerin and Doug Weight was Davidson's alone, and it's really a shame if Pleau takes the fall when he's been playing puppet the past two years.

The Blues can lose approximately $6.5-million in salary before they hit the league's floor, a figure that in effect is getting more and more substantial as times goes along. Here's a look at the biggest tickets Davidson/Pleau have to potentially ship out between now and mid-March and those players' contract status this summer:
  1. Keith Tkachuk, $5.7-million (UFA)
  2. Jay McKee, $4-million (UFA in 2010)
  3. Doug Weight, $3.5-million (UFA in 2008)
  4. Martin Rucinsky, $2.375-million (UFA in 2008)
  5. Christian Backman, $2.3-million (UFA in 2009)
  6. Eric Brewer, $2.014-million (UFA)
  7. Bill Guerin, $2-million (UFA)
  8. Petr Cajanek, $1.85-million (UFA in 2008)
  9. Manny Legace, $1.4-million (UFA)
  10. Bryce Salvador, $1.4-million (UFA in 2008)
One of the biggest (perennial) problems for St. Louis is the team's lack of decent prospects, as there's just nothing to get excited about on the Peoria Rivermen. There's really nothing to get excited about with this franchise period, other than the hulking 18-year-old they've got playing with the Golden Gophers.

It's time to burn down the mess Davidson made in his first off-season, rebuild in earnest, and hopefully give Erik Johnson some young teammates to play with by the time he's ready for the big show.

17 Comments:

At 3:18 PM, December 07, 2006, Anonymous Chris DeGroat @ The Checking Line said...

I don't know if you just listed the top 10 salaries on the team or not, but there's no chance that the Blues will be trading Christian Backman.

As for the prospects, you're really off base. There are very few teams... if any at all... whose farm systems I would rather have right now than the Blues and even if the Blues didn't have Johnson there would only be a few.

 
At 3:36 PM, December 07, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Those are the team's top 10 salary commitments.

Hockey's Future ranks the Blues' prospects 14th in the league, not much of a position for a team that had the 1st-overall pick last year.

McKeen's Hockey's list of the top 150 NHL prospects has just six players from the Blues:

Top 120 skaters
2. Erik Johnson
16. T.J. Oshie
52. David Backes
57. Carl Soderberg
104. Patrik Berglund

Top 30 goalies
18. Marek Schwarz

I'm not just making this stuff up.

 
At 3:45 PM, December 07, 2006, Blogger Brian said...

Not really disputing that the organization is screwed and screwy, but having six players in the top 150 isn't so awful for a 30 team league, is it?

 
At 3:57 PM, December 07, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

It's average. One of the problems has been the Blues traded away their first-round picks (or traded down in the draft) quite often in the last five years or so.

There's just no immediate help on this team... no one has broken out from the minors, and the team's two best prospects are both very young and playing in the NCAA — a league from which it traditionally takes longer to make the transition from. Where's the immediate help here? David Backes? He has 11 points with Peoria this year. Carl Soderberg has barely played in the SEL in recent years. Marek Schwarz looks great this year in the AHL, but is goaltending the issue here?

This team needs a lot more depth than this among its young players, and it hasn't helped that the 2000, 2001 and 2002 draft years were absolute wastelands for NHL-calibre talent (aside from Cajanek). Lee Stempniak and Dennis Wideman are the only under-25 players to make any kind of impact this season, and those are the sort of players you really need to step up these days.

The Buffalo Sabres they aren't.

 
At 4:00 PM, December 07, 2006, Anonymous Chris DeGroat @ The Checking Line said...

I'm know you're not making stuff up. You're just putting to much stock into marginal sources for prospect information. HockeysFuture is a complete joke and even though I subscribe to McKeen's, their specialty is prospects prior to the draft. They, for example, didn't even have TJ Oshie in their top 120 last year and now he's all the way up to #16. I'm not saying that I blame them for not having him there since he was an unknown at the time, but the point is that these lists don't really mean anything at all.

I spend a lot of time following prospects, both Blues and other teams. I obviously would want what is best for my favorite team and with Malkin and Kopitar not exactly prospects anymore there's honestly no system that I'd trade the Blues' system for right now.

 
At 4:09 PM, December 07, 2006, Anonymous Chris DeGroat @ The Checking Line said...

David Backes? He has 11 points with Peoria this year.

NINE of which are goals.

Carl Soderberg has barely played in the SEL in recent years.

Are you aware of how hockey in Sweden works? Soderberg wasn't playing in the SEL last year because the organization that he plays for was relegated down to the Allsvenskan. It wasn't like he could be 'called up' to the SEL. Last year he scored 39 points in 39 games in the league he is in and this year he has 15 points in 18 games in the SEL... and he's one of the main reasons why his team is in the SEL rightt now.

Marek Schwarz looks great this year in the AHL, but is goaltending the issue here?

You're right there, goaltending is not a concern.

This team needs a lot more depth than this among its young players, and it hasn't helped that the 2000, 2001 and 2002 draft years were absolute wastelands for NHL-calibre talent (aside from Cajanek). Lee Stempniak and Dennis Wideman are the only under-25 players to make any kind of impact this season, and those are the sort of players you really need to step up these days.

You are absolutely right about 2000 - 2002, which is why they hired Jarmo Kekalainen before the 2003 draft... who, if you weren't aware, is responsible for most of Ottawa's talent.

 
At 4:49 PM, December 07, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

You're right about Soderberg — for some reason I was thinking of his 2004-05 season with Malmo as last year.

By all means, cite some sources re: Blues prospects if you're not a fan of the ones I chose.

 
At 5:13 PM, December 07, 2006, Anonymous Chris DeGroat @ The Checking Line said...

James, I don't think that a one-stop location for good prospect rankings even exists. There are some places I value more than others... RussianProspects.com, DJ Powers and Eugene B. on HF are good, McKeen's isn't bad by any means but as I said before they focus more on prospects before they get drafted.

Let's just go back and look at the HF Rankings you posted before... They've got Pittsburgh #1 and LA #2... both are largely based on Malkin and Kopitar who aren't really prospects anymore so let's look at #3 Chicago.

This is who they list as the Hawks' top 5 at the time of the rankings:

Cam Barker (D), Jonathan Toews (C), David Bolland (C), Jack Skille (RW), Corey Crawford (G)

They list the Blues top 5 as:

Erik Johnson (D), TJ Oshie (C), Marek Schwarz (G), Patrik Berglund (C), Timofei Shishkanov (LW)

First of all... going back to what I said before about HF being a joke... Shishkanov in the Blues top 5? That's awful. Backes or Michel Birner (who tore up the OHL last year and has been injured in Peria most of this year) should be in there. Anyway...

Can you honestly tell me that the Blues don't stack up?

 
At 7:02 PM, December 07, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought St. Louis was in the state of Missouri, not the state of Denial. The Blues are awful. They hired a broadcaster and then forgot to fire the old GM. Somebody is responsible for signing a bunch of aging American retread forwards. They signed possibly the worst goalie in the league as their No. 1. The fans are voting with their wallets by not showing up. This franchise should be contracted.

 
At 7:54 PM, December 07, 2006, Blogger PDO said...

I think people are over-simplifying things here and not looking at the bigger picture.

The Blues had a GREAT off-season.

There was no amount of trades or free agent additions that could've been made to make this team a playoff team in one offseason.

So what do they do? Sign a bunch of vets to one and two year contracts that they'll be able to send off at the deadline for prospect depth. They just kick-started their prospects by signing all of these players.

Did anyone really look at this blues squad and think they'd win?

- PDO

 
At 9:58 PM, December 07, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

PDO's comment is right on.

I don't know enough about prospects etc. to really comment on the Blues. I think to expand on James' comments, look at not only the prospects but youngsters playing and contributing with the big club.

Then it looks ugly. The Blues fall short but, ahving said that, they have a pile of attractive chips to trade for more young players and prospects.

Next season they can pick up other team's salary dumps to get up to the salary floor and then do it again.

Next thing you know they have a bunch of good young players (presuming they play their cards right) and away you go.

 
At 10:40 PM, December 07, 2006, Blogger Dennis-IOF said...

__I think we can stick a fork in the Blues__

Any other far our predictions you wanna make James?

Things like...the Sabres will pick up at least 60 points this season!!;)

Seriously...the '07 Blues were probably done in July of '06.

The Oil can't win in Stl and I've hated JD for years so I'm gonna get a kick out of this;) And I just hope it doesn't cost too much to rent Brew.

 
At 12:34 AM, December 08, 2006, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

I watch WCHA hockey every week. I like TJ Oshie, but I don't love him as an NHL prospect. After that bus full of underclassmen left Grand Forks last spring, UND really needed some folks to step up, and neither Oshie nor Toews really have. Oshie is small, and my impression is that he's getting pushed around this year.

Of course, I'm biased, since I really can't stand the Sioux. I'm just hoping things are bad enough in Bluesland that they have Johnson stick around here for another year.

 
At 1:17 AM, December 08, 2006, Anonymous Chris DeGroat @ The Checking Line said...

Oshie has 11 points in 14 games... while playing with a broken thumb for the majority of the season.

 
At 3:55 AM, December 08, 2006, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

Oshie has 11 points in 14 games... while playing with a broken thumb for the majority of the season.

Of which four came against Quinnipiac the opening week of the season. Is he good? Definitely. Is he someone who I watch right now and say, "Boy, he's going to be a difference maker at the next level?" No. I think he's a ways away, still.

 
At 11:08 AM, December 08, 2006, Anonymous Chris DeGroat @ The Checking Line said...

Did you miss the part where I wrote "while playing with a broken thumb"? He could have scored zero points on the season and playing with a broken thumb would still be impressive.

I've seen Oshie play plenty and if Phil Kessel can play in the NHL despite his obvious deficiencies in many aspects of the game, then I don't see how you could possibly Oshie's ability to play in the NHL.

 
At 3:34 PM, December 08, 2006, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

I've seen Oshie play plenty and if Phil Kessel can play in the NHL despite his obvious deficiencies in many aspects of the game, then I don't see how you could possibly Oshie's ability to play in the NHL.

I never said TJ Oshie won't play in the NHL. I said that, at this point, I don't see him as a difference maker there. Does Phil Kessel have some holes in his game? Absolutely. Watching them both last year, though, my impression was that Kessel does some things so well that he's a good bet.

I think Oshie can be a useful player in the NHL. He's got a future. However, that isn't the standard in this post. We are looking for players that can slot in on the Blues and transform them from a disaster into a good team. I don't think Oshie's that guy. He'll be useful and good, but not someone that you can build a team around.

 

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