Blues need to make a splash

News-DemocratJune 30, 2014 

The bottom line for every NHL franchise is winning a Stanley Cup.

It doesn't happen for everyone and for the St. Louis Blues, the championship drought dates back to the franchise's inception in 1967-68.

While the current club has found great success winning regular-season games under the team of Ken Hitchcock and Doug Armstrong, playoff success has, shall we say, been a bit more elusive.

Winning the Stanley Cup isn't easy. It takes more than talent, more than scoring and defense and goaltending. It takes a bit of luck, the right playoff matchups and the ability to dig deep and fight through tough Game 7's and overtime contests and everything in between.

The last three Stanley Cup champs and four of the last five were Western Conference rivals of the Blues -- the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014 and Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 and 2013.

Go back a bit further and six of the last eight teams to hoist the Stanley Cup were also from the Western Conference.

While the Blues have done an admirable job of digging out of the debris of previous ownership groups and crawling out of the Western Conference basement, plenty more work remains.

Since their last trip to the conference finals in 2001, the Blues have only advanced past the first round of the playoffs twice -- in 2002 (second round) and 2012 (second round).

The Blues went 10 years between winning a first-round series, from 2002 to 2012.

This isn't the time to stay the course or to hope for more from the current roster. That plan has brought the Blues to the brink in recent years as a slew of former No. 1 draft picks and other top prospects have matured into legitimate NHL talent.

This isn't the time to hope things get better. This isn't the time to wonder if this is the season that Player A or Player B have breakout years.

The nucleus of the Blues roster includes many in the prime of their careers, from Alexander Steen, David Backes and Jay Bouwmeester (all are 30) to T.J. Oshie (27), Vladimir Sobotka and Patrik Berglund (both 26) and Kevin Shattenkirk (25).

Two of the team's most promising young players are both 22, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. The window of opportunity is open and it's time to add a big roster piece at the exact location it's needed -- a playmaking center.

That player is Colorado free agent Paul Stastny, who was born in Quebec, Canada but also grew up in St. Louis and attended high school for two years at Chaminade Prep.

The 28-year-old son of Hall of Famer and former Blues player and scout Peter Stastny is finishing up a five-year, $33 million contract. He is reportedly seeking a deal worth up to $7 million a season.

According to ESPN, no fewer that 15 teams are hoping to make a run at Stastny when the NHL's free agent shopping spree opens at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

The Blues need to stay in the bidding and try to get a deal done.

The West isn't getting any easier. Teams like Minnesota, San Jose and Nashville are making moves to help position themselves toward the perceived big boys like L.A., Chicago, the Blues and Anaheim.

Armstrong has made bold moves before with varying results and he has remained in the hunt for top free agents and potential trade prospects this year in Stastny and Ottawa's Jason Spezza.

Stastny could always stay in Colorado, but the Avalanche has several other big-ticket contracts and in the near future will need to take care of young star Nathan MacKinnon.

The Blues have lacked a playmaking center for several seasons and Stastny fits the puzzle piece. He had 25 goals and 60 points in 71 games last season and in his career has 160 goals and 458 points in 538 games.

The Blues want players who can produce in the playoffs and Stastny had five goals and 10 points in seven games last season. His career playoff numbers include eight goals and 18 points in 22 games.

Perhaps hedging their bets against the potential loss of Stastny, the Avs on Monday traded winger P.A. Parenteau and a fifth-round pick for center Daniel Briere.

This will not be an easy contract for the Blues, but one that could be a wise investment if it results in a longer playoff run, better attendance and more attention.

Armstrong could opt to put together a package of players, prospects and draft picks for Spezza, who still has a year remaining on his contract that pays him $4 million with a salary cap hit of $7 million.

Stastny might be the better route if the Blues can pull it off. If not, they can always make another shot at landing Spezza.

(Norm Sanders has covered the Blues for the News-Democrat since 1995. He can be reached at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or follow him on Twitter: @NormSanders)

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