If the Stanley Cup playoffs started tomorrow, the St. Louis Blues would faceoff with the Chicago Blackhawks, yet again, in round one. I’ve taken to social media to find out how fans feel about that match-up. It seems as though there’s a split feeling that the Blackhawks have the Blues beaten by some. I, myself, am not whole-heartedly convinced the Blues pull it off, but I definitely can’t count the Note out.
Last season the Blues, seemingly, crumbled in the final stretch of the regular season. They appeared to have shaken off the bad luck bug at the start of the first round of playoffs against the Blackhawks. It didn’t last. Another early exit, this time in the first round, left fans, and perhaps the team, pointing fingers in every direction. It was bitter, if not sour, that it seemed that the booming confidence everyone received from the blockbuster trade that brought Ryan Miller to St. Louis was all in vain. Ryan Miller posted a .903 sv% in the 19 games played for the Blues in regular season, and just an .897 sv% in the 6 playoff games. The Blues paid a steep price for what turned out to be a sub par rental, trading Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier, a first-round pick in 2015 and a third-round pick in 2016. In return, the Blues received Ryan Miller and Steve Ott. It’s easy to point the finger at Miller, but in reality, the Blues didn’t score much either. Blues General Manager, Doug Armstrong, knew the Blues lacked a scoring punch too.
2014 was very good to the Blues. During the offseason Doug Armstrong was busy working out ways to add to the Blues scoring punch and depth. The Blues made a big splash by stealing Center Paul Stastny from the grasp of the Colorado Avalanche. Know one could really know how much of a blessing it would be convincing Jori Lehtera to come to the NHL, but a blessing it has been. With the rise of Right Winger Vladimir Tarasenko and Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk as elites this season, the Blues are undoubtedly the best they’ve been in a long time, since perhaps the 95-96 season when Wayne Gretzky wore the Blue Note crest.
Many rumors have come alive with Kevin Shattenkirk going down with an abdominal injury. No one can deny losing Shattenkirk for any amount of time is painful. Shattenkirk quarterbacks the power play, is still in the top 5 point producers on the Blues with 40 points in 49 games, and is arguably the most defensively sound player the Blues have. So it’s no wonder panic is in the air as the playoffs approach. Me? I’m not so concerned with Shattenkirk’s injury. Shattenkirk had his surgery less than a week after his February 1st injury by Dr. William Myers at the Vincera Institute in Philadelphia. Dr. Myers has a great deal of experience in the surgery performed with other NHL players. The last few procedures done on NHL players Dr. Meyers has performed, has ended with full recoveries from the players and missing an average of 27 games. This would give Shattenkirk a return time-table of late March, leaving more than a handful of games for Shattenkirk to find his game and get back to normal. Based on the previous success and time-tables, I have to believe that Shattenkirk will have no problems. In fact, Shattenkirk has been skating the last few days. My biggest concerns for the playoffs are not with the Blues at all, but there are concerns.
As I stated earlier, I think the Blues are better than they have been in a long time. Sure, there’s always going to be ways to improve a team, add some depth, but considering there is no unlimited free agency pool, considering there’s a salary cap, and anytime you want to get something, you have to give something, the Blues look great. The view has to be wider to find the greatest concerns. It’s the competition. The Blues aren’t the only team that’s better than they’ve been in a long time. For me to get into full details I’d have to write a multi-page report, not an article, but you don’t have to look far to find who to be concerned with. I could write an even longer article on how improved the Nashville Predators are. The addition of James Neal, the rise of rookie Filip Forsberg, Pekka Rinne being healthy, adding Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli. Ladies and gentlemen, Nashville is a force to be reckoned with. Most of the season, Rinne has been a brick wall posting .931 sv% in 45 games. Rinne is the type of goaltender that will make huge saves and demoralize another team’s offense. For a lack of better words, Rinne is a show-stopper. The Chicago Blackhawks are, as much as you hate them, a deep and worthy opponent. Recent trade rumors have tied them to multiple targets like Antoine Vermette and Andrej Sekera. If Chicago does add another threat. It’s going to be that much harder to get past them.
Of course, if you’ve followed the Blues for a handful of years, you would know that they have quite a problem dealing with the L.A. Kings and Anaheim Ducks. The Blues have not played the Ducks in recent playoff runs, but their regular season record against the Ducks the last few years is rough. The Kings have plagued the Blues both in regular and post season play over the last few years. If the Kings make the playoffs, there’s no reason to think that the Blues will not have the their hands full if they meet. The Blues have definitely improved this year, but they also have losing records against both of the California clubs this regular season.
Don’t think I’m knocking the Blues or necessarily praising the competition. I just know in order to defeat your enemy, you must know your enemy. The Blues are in amazing shape, but so is the opposition, and you need to know and respect that. I finally make it back to the original question. Are the Blues ready for the Playoffs? Sure…. If the Blues go into the post season in full force, firing on all cylinders, they are a legitimate contender. Would it hurt to make a trade to deepen the defense or add a top 9 winger for Stastny? I think it would be great, considering the opposition. I know that some think that making deadline trades has not done well for the Blues so they don’t welcome it. I think that’s comparing apples to oranges and borderline superstition. It’s not the same type of trade, it’s not the same players being traded, it wouldn’t be a trade of such significant roles . So the only argument one could have is that deadline trading hasn’t worked well in the past. That, to me, is superstition. The trade deadline hits next Monday, if the Blues feel the need to make a trade, they’ll make a trade. I don’t think it’s a deal breaker, but the right trade could definitely help.
I’m sure the Blues know what lies ahead of them. I think the fans need to understand too. Though the Blues are better than what they have been in perhaps decades, so are the teams they need to beat in order to go deep into the playoffs. They will need to fight hard to climb over their great and worthy opponents. One thing is for sure. When the dust settles, and the smoke clears, this post season should make for one of the most exciting Stanley Cup battles in recent memory. Whether the Blues will be standing when it’s all said and done, or be a casualty of war is all up to them. Long Live The Note.