Last week, the Blues bid farewell to Barret Jackman and T.J. Oshie, who had combined for 19 years and 1,315 games with the organization.
On the same day that Jackman became an unrestricted free agent, he signed a two-year, $4 million contract with Nashville. A day later, Oshie was dealt to Washington for forward Troy Brouwer, goalie prospect Pheonix Copley and a third-round pick in 2016.
Though both moves were anticipated, the departures of Jackman and Oshie represent radical change on a roster that has remained relatively intact over the course of three previous playoff ousters.
The Blues are expected to have Petteri Lindbohm, who will still be considered a rookie, assume Jackman’s role and Brouwer step into Oshie’s spot. In an under-the-radar move, they also signed free-agent center Kyle Brodziak from Minnesota last week to replace Marcel Goc.
Along with Robert Bortuzzo, who will be a regular after arriving late last year from Pittsburgh, the club will have four new starters constituting one-fifth of the starting lineup for opening night of the 2015-16 season.
Yet on the heels of a first-round playoff loss to Minnesota last year, and general manager Doug Armstrong’s decision to bring back Ken Hitchcock and his entire coaching staff, many are questioning whether the GM’s hand was heavy enough in re-shaping a roster that perhaps warranted much more.
“I see there being change,” Armstrong said. “We’re changing out a third of our defense from opening night (2014) and we’re changing out some forwards. I don’t know if people expected 12 new forwards and six new defensemen ... then they’re going to be disappointed. But there certainly has been some change and there’s certainly going to be some change that will come with responsibilities also.”
The Blues’ third defensive pair on opening night last year was Jackman and Jordan Leopold, so ushering in Lindbohm and Bortuzzo will give the team a new look. But this move was more about evolution, not accountability, which Armstrong acknowledged.
“You have to create space when you see someone like Lindbohm coming along,” he said. “We were going to be different regardless.”
The cry outside the organization for more turnover was at forward, but Oshie-for-Brouwer was the only significant swap.
Time will tell if the move will benefit the Blues, but for now it’s the only move that has been made to bolster an offense that averaged 2.33 goals per game against the Wild in the playoffs and counted on Vladimir Tarasenko for six of its 18 goals.
“T.J.’s a heck of a hockey player and was a very good player here, but I really think with his size and his style of play, we had players that played like that same style,” Armstrong said. “Brouwer (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) gives us a little bit of a different look.
“I think it just fits in to what I think you need to have success. He’s a Stanley Cup champion, he’s been on some very good teams in Washington and that size to play a heavy game. When you look at our conference, you have to play with size. This certainly makes us a more difficult team to play against. It was a move that we felt was good for our group.”
The knock on Oshie, however, was that he went silent in the playoffs, posting just two points in six games last season and nine points in 30 career playoff games with the Blues. Brouwer, though, netted no goals and just three points in 14 playoff games with Washington last year and has seven in 78 career playoff games.
Still, Armstrong believes that with the addition of Brouwer and some new responsibilities for a few other Blues, the results could be different.
Once again, the Blues are indicating that David Backes will get stronger consideration to play on the right side, an experiment that never seems to gain traction because of the need for him in the middle. But next season, the plan is for Paul Stastny to take on a top-six role after being relegated to the third line last year, a move that could free up Backes for the switch.
“So if you see a right wing of Backes, (Vladimir) Tarasenko and Brouwer, those are big, heavy bodies,” Armstrong said. “They’ll all bring a different element to the game. If Ken wants to use David back in the middle, playing him with Brouwer and whoever on the left side, it makes that a big, heavy line.”
Armstrong also feels that the emergence of players such as Dmitrij Jaskin, prospect Ty Rattie and possibly 2014 first-round draft pick Robby Fabbri could have a positive impact on the offense.
“We have some younger players that I would like to see take a bigger role moving forward,” Armstrong said. “This trade allows us to go in a little bit of a different direction. It opens up space for some of our younger players to grab another minute, minute-and-a-half of ice time, than what they had last year. I would say that Jaskin is going to get a good look, Rattie should have a good summer to see if there’s some hope. And I think Fabbri can come in here ...”
Is that wishful thinking? Do the Blues still have something else up their sleeve this summer? Armstrong sounds like a guy who is content, not on the verge of another move.
“This certainly solidifies our group of nine forwards,” he said. “We still have some areas that we need to fill in, but this (trade) wasn’t done to set up for something else.”
But for fans still hoping for more change, Armstrong reminded, “I never say never.”