Last season the Blues were hit by a rash of long-term injuries to their skilled forwards, and there was a lesson that came along with it. They'd better be prepared next time by having some NHL-ready depth in the organization.
It's difficult to have replacements on hand for the likes of David Perron (concussion), Andy McDonald (concussion) and T.J. Oshie (broken ankle). Few teams, if any, have that type of talent in the minor leagues, which makes a midseason trade perhaps the only option.
That can be a difficult task in itself, though, as few clubs are willing to part with their skilled forwards. But the Blues' reluctance to add significant payroll made those transactions impossible anyway.
The club was forced to move role players Matt D'Agostini, Vladimir Sobotka and B.J. Crombeen into top-six roles, creating a trickle-down effect that led to Chris Porter, Ryan Reaves, Adam Cracknell, T.J. Hensick, Philip McRae and others all gaining extensive duty in the NHL. Some were worthy of their promotion at times, but it proved not to be a sustainable situation.
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So, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong will travel to this week's NHL draft with a plan of trading draft picks for a player or two who could give the club depth at forward.
The desire is to acquire experienced third- and fourth-line help so if the team incurs more injuries, it won't have to rely as much on its American Hockey League affiliate in Peoria, Ill.
"Your depth is not only what you have on opening night, but when you have those two or three injuries, what are you putting on the ice?" Armstrong asked. "What you need is you need NHL-ready replacement players. Someone that knows how to play the position, knows how to play in big games, knows how to navigate through those difficult times of the year and can lend that experience."
If Armstrong can't find any trade partners at the draft, the Blues will look for veteran help once free agency opens July 1.
The Blues' top-six forwards, for the most part, will be healthy once training camp opens in September. Perron's condition is said to be improving somewhat, but he still hasn't started his offseason training.
"Same as a couple of weeks ago," Armstrong said.
Even if Perron misses the early part of the season, the Blues are planning to return Sobotka, D'Agostini and Crombeen to their regular roles. D'Agostini aided the Blues last season, posting 21 goals and 25 assists while playing a top-line role at times.
But while the club would have been lost without those contributions, the Blues are better off with players projected in their regular roles.
"You want to have that versatility for those guys to move up in a pinch and then other guys to slide in there," Armstrong said. "But if we are healthy and we move forward, some of those guys that were getting those situations aren't going to get them until there's an injury or someone fails."
Still, Armstrong would like to see more offense out of his third and fourth-line forwards next season. Last year, Crombeen dipped to 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in 80 games, while Porter chipped in just seven points (three goals, four assists) in 45 games.
"In the NHL, you have to produce," Armstrong said. "To me, for us to have success, we're going to have to have 12 forwards play every night … 12 forwards that can produce. If you're playing in the NHL on a regular basis, you should get a minimum of 15-20 points. We're going to need our top players to do the heavy lifting and we're going to need our bottom players to produce."
The Blues are ready to move on without forward Cam Janssen, who will become an unrestricted free agent July 1. That signals the club might give Reaves a chance to win the enforcer job, but Armstrong says it might not be a one-man job.
"I'm a believer in team toughness," Armstrong said. "You have to have it from your top players and then it bleeds down to the rest of your organization. If we're going to have team toughness, it's going to be led by (Chris) Stewart and (David) Backes. They have to set that tone, and then Crombeen and Reaves, if he makes the team, push through with that.
"What makes a team tough is everyone sticking up for themselves and then the 'herd' mentality takes over. If you're not willing to fight your own battles, everyone gets tired of fighting for you."