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WHEELER: Avoid Blues Panic, Remain Calm

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Now that we’re a couple of days removed from the Blues disappointing Game 6 loss to the Kings I hope you’re in the mood to be rational and not emotional. Time has passed, logic has had time to take control over anger and frustration.

Now we can begin to calmly look ahead.

Before I get into a few thoughts please take heed of what I am about to write: trust Doug Armstrong.

Since taking over as the Blues GM, when has Armstrong decided to sit on his hands when he’s had the financial wherewithal to pull the trigger on a deal? If there is a move, or set of moves, available to him this offseason and the money works (more on that in a minute) then I fully believe he’ll do what needs to be done.

There is no evidence – zero, zip, none – that would indicate Armstrong is a passive, “we’re good enough as we are” kind of GM. So trust him. Pretty much every move he’s made has been a positive one for the Blues so let him do his job.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s proceed to most important considerations: money, internal options and external options.

Money

According to multiple websites that track NHL salaries and the salary cap, the Blues were approximately $18 million under the cap for this past season. This is not something that ownership or Chairman Tom Stillman should be blasted for. At least not yet.

They’re not sitting pretty when it comes to local revenue. I do think things will get better but the lockout came at the worst possible time, a time when Stillman was working to rally local corporate support for the Blue Note. The lockout must have impacted those efforts and it will take time to try to get things going in the right direction.

If you expect the Blues to go spend to the cap this offseason you’ve got a few screws loose. They will likely raise the payroll a bit but it won’t be off-the-charts, blow-you-away kind of stuff.

So here’s the deal moving into 2013-2014…

* The Blues have an estimated $41.2 million already committed to contracts next season and the cap is expected to be $64.3 million. For points of reference, the Blues were at $52.2 million last year and the cap was $70.2 million. If the Blues can only spend to the level they did last year, that leaves about $11 million for UFA’s, RFA’s and whatever trades they would attempt to make.

* UFA’s – Andy McDonald, Jamie Langenbrunner, Scott Nichol, Andrew Murray, Jordan Leopold and Jeff Woywitka.

The only player on that list that I can currently see returning is Leopold, depending on what his cost will be. He made $3 million last year but there are several defensemen who are RFA’s so if any of them are allowed to leave or dealt that could create room for Leopold…maybe. Keep in mind, the Blues have several RFA’s ready to get salary bumps.

McDonald is a talented player but he made $4.7 million this past season and the Blues can’t afford anything close to that for him, not with Vladimir Tarasenko and Dmitrij Jaskin available for Top 9 minutes next year. I’d be willing to bet on McDonald playing elsewhere next season, which is too bad. He’s a good guy.

* RFA’s – Chris Stewart, Patrik Berglund, Evgeny Grachev, Alex Pietrangelo, Kris Russell, Ian Cole, Kevin Shattenkirk, Taylor Chorney

That’s a lot of money needing to be spent right there. Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk, Berglund and Stewart are all looking at significant salary increases. The four of them could take up all of that $11 million I mentioned above, meaning holes would have to be filled from within. Or Doug Armstrong could wheel and deal a bit, moving a high salary player or three to make room for some new blood.

* Trades candidates (excluding RFA’s) – David Backes ($4.5 million), T.J. Oshie ($4.175 million), David Perron ($3.8 million), Barret Jackman ($3.167 million) and Jaroslav Halak ($3.75 million)

Keep in mind that those are cap hits, not actual salaries. Both are important for the Blues purposes but for most trades the cap hits matter more. Also, please note that I only included those players because of the the money they make. If you’re going to clear significant cap space, you’d have to move from this group.

I wouldn’t even consider moving Backes. The Blues need his physicality, they need his presence in The Room and unless some team just blows you away with an offer it just doesn’t strike me as something I’d do.

Halak is the most likely candidate to be dealt, in my opinion, simply because of what Brian Elliott and Jake Allen have shown they are capable of. You try to deal from areas of depth and the Blues have some depth here.

Internal Upgrades

I already mentioned Tarasenko and Jaskin as players who could make markedly greater contributions next season. Give them both a normal offseason, a normal training camp and time to get a feel for the Blues system and the NHL game and they could be key offensive threats.

Tarasenko was not the same after his concussion but I believe he’ll rebound just fine. He’s got those “sniper” skills people are always talking about. Jaskin certainly may as well but I haven’t seen enough of him to have an opinion.

Aside from those two, or perhaps a surprise from a prospect like Ty Rattie, any improvement will have to come from guys at the NHL level playing better or by picking someone up from outside the organization.

External Upgrades

I looked at the FA list before sitting down to write this. Unless you want to spend $7 million or so a year on an aging player like Jarome Iginla (14 goals this year) I don’t see a “sniper” out there that would be that much better than what you already have.

Don’t get me wrong, there are players that would make the Blues better but would the cost of bringing them in, balanced against the player/salary you’d have to move to fit them in, really be worth it? How much better would they be if they subtract and 18 goal scorer and add a 23 goal scorer while also adding $1-2 million per year.

This could be an interesting offseason because it’s the first under the new collective bargaining agreement. The market may be flooded with players being let go because of teams having cap problems and that could provide just the right circumstance for the Blues to swoop in and grab a bargain or two. Fingers crossed…

Finally

I do believe some change is coming this offseason. I wouldn’t be surprised if Doug Armstrong pulled of something huge but at the same time I wouldn’t be shocked if he decides he likes what he has and wants to keep it together.

Thankfully he is more patient than many of us. And when it comes to hockey deals and the makeup of a team he’s smarter than us too. Does that mean we can’t have opinions about moves (or potential moves)?

Of course not.

But I trust Armstrong’s hockey acumen, his timing and his understanding of what it takes to get deals done. I believe he has plotted a course, that he has targets in mind and that he will do the best with the money he has to spend in filling out the roster.

If the Blues were a “cap team” we wouldn’t have these discussions. We could talk about where they can spend all that cap space with other teams needing to downsize. But the economics of the game don’t allow for teams like the Blues, who don’t generate the kind of local revenue teams like Toronto, Detroit and Chicago do, to spend to the cap.

I hope Stillman and his group can find away to change that. It’s not their fault but it is the reality they’re facing. I don’t think this new collective bargaining agreement did enough to fix this problem but I’ll give it time to see if I’m wrong about that.

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