The Blues will clean out their lockers Tuesday, heading on vacation without a playoff appearance for the first time in seven years. It’s now up to general manager Doug Armstrong to fix the shorthanded roster he helped provide coach Mike Yeo.
Privately, several players seethed at the trading deadline after Armstrong weakened the roster by trading away center Paul Stastny.
Armstrong is paid to look at the big picture, and he decided it made more sense to plan for the future at the trade deadline in late February. A few players left behind, however, resented that he essentially gave up on them.
Because Armstrong didn’t view this roster as one capable of competing for the Stanley Cup title, he decided not to invest in it during the regular season. His belief became a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially when he removed a key veteran who might have helped them seal the pivotal point the Blues needed to reach the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season.
Although it may be unfair to place all the blame or credit on one player, goalie Jake Allen could and should have made life much easier for his teammates. He must accept responsibility for the Blues’ failure to reach the playoffs.
Even with Stastny, though, this Blues team didn’t have much of a chance beyond being a first-round casualty in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
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Now it’s up to Armstrong to fix his roster. With the approval of Tom Stillman's ownership group, Armstrong transitioned the roster away from an aging core after the Blues reached the Western Conference finals in 2016.
The Blues have been a team in transition for two years now. They survived a tumultuous 2016-2017 season to reach the playoffs and even win a playoff series, but they fell short this season.
They will no longer be able to claim being a team in transition next season. Well, that claim will at least seem inexcusable.
Armstrong must fix the roster and add some veteran help.
Armstrong surely realizes that he deserves some of the blame for the Blues’ inability to reach the playoffs because he put together the roster that missed two legit Top 6 forwards all season.
As forward Tage Thompson showed this year, most top young prospects will have growing pains during their rookie seasons.
Even defenseman Vince Dunn, the Blues top rookie performer this season, had his share of costly mistakes in an impressive first year in the National Hockey League.
There will be more growing pains next year as the Blues try to usher in more of their prized young prospects, so Armstrong must bring in some veterans who can lead and carry a heavy load.
The Blues need another center. They need a legitimate second line, not a third line playing as a second line.
Armstrong must also decide if he can afford to put another season at risk with goaltender Jake Allen behind the net. Allen has proven to be too inconsistent to be trusted to carry the weight of an entire season as a No. 1 goaltender.
Carter Hutton has proven to be a superb No. 2 goaltender, and he deserves a raise in free agency this offseason.
Armstrong and coach Mike Yeo must also fix the power play and the penalty kill. Whether the blame belongs to the roster’s talent, the coaching staff or a combination of the two, the Blues know they cannot afford to once again have one of the worst power play units in the NHL.
Armstrong put this roster and coaching staff together. It’s now his turn to fix it. Unlike the previous six years, he'll have a long offseason to fix the Blues' problems.
Jose de Jesus Ortiz
@OrtizKicks on Twitter