The Blues have built the framework for a winning program in the ultra-competition Western Conference.
But the project remains incomplete. The Blues are good enough to play the defending Stanley Cup champions to a virtual standstill, but not quite good enough to beat them.
They earned respect from their rival but they did not advance. The Kings set the standard in the NHL these days and the Blues don’t quite measure up.
So now the hockey operation goes back to work. Here are some thoughts about the task at hand:
Ken Hitchcock is still the right coach for this team. When the Blues fell into some funks during the lockout shortened season, we all wondered if message fatigue was setting in. But this team finished the season with an impressive push and then delivered a big effort against the Kings. The Blues fell just a bit short, so the same coach with a refreshed roster could take a big run next spring.
Doug Armstrong must resolve his goaltending situation. Brian Elliott gave the Blues a chance to beat the Kings, but he did not elevate the team. He wasn’t quite good enough, especially with Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick on the other side. So what is a general manager to do? Jaroslav Halak was not happy watching the playoffs as the back-up. Then again, management was concerned about Halak’s inconsistency and inability to stay healthy. Rookie Jake Allen, the mid-season lifesaver, is an X-factor. The sensible call is to move Halak and go with Elliott and Allen. But Armstrong is a bold leader, so nobody should be surprised if he looks outside and bids for a veteran like Ryan Miller.
The team nucleus appears to be a bit stale. Crossing off veterans like Andy McDonald, Scott Nichol and Jamie Langenbrunner seems easy enough, but what about David Perron, Patrik Berglund and T.J. Oshie? They have been around for a while. They have become perennial also-rans wearing the Note. Fans are clamoring for change and that prospect doesn’t scare Armstrong. On the other hand, Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and Dmitrij Jaskin could assume bigger roles next season and freshen up the group -- just as Adam Cracknell and Chris Porter did this season.
For more on the Blues, check out my post on STLToday.com.