(Photo Credit: Stacy Bengs / Associated Press)
It was a very happy Canada Day for the St. Louis Blues, and much to the surprise of so many… there were fireworks. Lots of them. Free agency had teams signing players like piranha. We saw players going back to their originally drafted teams; players making fresh starts elsewhere in entirely new conferences; and strangely enough, teams not doing anything at all (I’m looking at you, Winnipeg). As if he read my article about the Blues’ “4H Problem”, GM Doug Armstrong miraculously obtained a solution for every point I presented in the span of a day. Let’s take time to think about that… a DAY. He signed reliable players, relieved cap space, lost a few iffy contracts, and only gave up one prospect and a few draft picks that can be recovered through trades later, if Armstrong sees fit.
(Please note: I am not going to go through the deductions from this team. I am only considering the additions of Tyler Bozak, Chad Johnson, Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron. Though the subtractions of Patrik Berglund, Kyle Brodziak, Carter Hutton, Vladimir Sobotka and Tage Thompson did change the chemistry of the team, and may or may not have contributed to solving the problems I outlined prior, I don’t want to judge that. Plus, I’m an optimist. I want to discuss what’s positive moving forward, and not dwell on what we lost).
Here’s the problem, and the corresponding solution:
Existing too much in one’s own mind. Instead of shooting the puck, thinking of it. Instead of making the save, thinking about it (i.e. little to no powerplay).
SOLVED: Trading for O’Reilly automatically solves a lot of problems both on 5v5 and the powerplay. Bozak also fills the void on the PP, and his numbers are not too shabby either. Perron had the best season of his career. These guys react quickly and score much. When they pass, those passes get buried. They will find places to be and will fire or pass the puck accordingly. O’Reilly and Bozak are top faceoff men, one of the most reactionary parts of hockey, and because of that, the Blues will have the puck more, control the play of the game more, and be better at everything they do. There is no head case mentality here.
Johnson I believe will also row in the same direction; he’s a reliable backup that, I believe, just had a lousy couple of years. He’s due for a rebound, thanks to having a better defense and a better set of forwards. But think: hypothetically, so what if you have a 3.58 GAA, but your record is 15-5-2 or something? You’re still winning games to get you to the playoffs!
In terms of goalies, Jake Allen knows that eventually, if he doesn’t start dealing with any and all issues that affect his gameplay, especially down the stretch between December and February, Ville Husso is going to replace him. That will happen eventually, but it’s up to Allen to be elite again. Having Johnson around as a backup is not going to push Allen, but his presence is going to light a fire underneath Allen. Why? Because Allen knows that’s a ticking time bomb. Johnson’s the stopgap between himself and Husso. No better place to prove what you have, and prolong your playing career, than knowing the next runner up’s gunning for your job. Plus, he will have reliable, hard-working defensemen and goal-scoring forwards that will take a lot of pressure off of him, and boost his confidence. That will solve a lot.
Not playing for your teammates, your coaching staff, and your city. Not being proud to wear the Blue Note, and feeling negative about where you are. Not doing whatever it takes to defend and care about this city and its reputation, uphold its values, and be a leader on the team. Not believing that the team can be a Cup contender, even if you go through a 7 game slump. Creating a bad atmosphere in “the Room”.
SOLVED: What most impressed me about O’Reilly, Bozak and Perron, is how excited they are to come (or come back) to St. Louis. O’Reilly said, “Let’s go win a Cup” and “I won’t let you down” to Armstrong the day he was traded. He’s telling the media how he has his fire back, how he’s so excited to get back on the ice in October. This, after a locker room cleanout where he told everyone that he lost his love for the game. He’s passionate, and he would not have said what he did if he didn’t believe it. The scenery change will do him good. He wants to be here. Bozak spoke with both current and former players about St. Louis, and believed coming here was beneficial for himself and his family. They are excited to move, he wants to raise his family here, and he wants to contribute to the lineup, however he can. He wants to be here. Perron could have made more money next season than what he will be making; Armstrong put an offer on the table, and Perron loved St. Louis so much that he said “no thank you”, and left a good chunk of it, possibly enough to help pay off O’Reilly’s sign-on bonus, because Perron would rather play here for less. He wants to be here.
Noticing a pattern here?
This speaks volumes to the heart these guys have, and they will love it here. Unlike many who think St. Louis is the most undesirable landing spot for their careers, these guys think it’s the best city in the world (it is, but I digress!). That will translate into the locker room too; positivity is infectious, and it will change the team’s chemistry from “we’re not good enough” at the end of 2017-2018 to “we’re good enough” in 2018-2019.
All three of them played with members of the Blues (O’Reilly was co-alternate captain alongside Brayden Schenn at the 2018 IIHF World Championships, and played with Joel Edmundson, Colton Parayko and Jaden Schwartz. He also played with Schenn for gold in 2015 and silver in 2017. Bozak is friends with Paul Stastny and played with Carl Gunnarsson and Nikita Soshnikov. Perron knows most of the team because he played with them two additional times before now!). They know who they jive with, and those they don’t know will be ones they can fit in with well. They will click. They will get a rhythm going. They will be a more solidified, unified team going forward.
I also want to point something out that was not made known in the media: O’Reilly, Bozak, and Perron are all former alternate captains. They can lead. There will be no leadership identity crisis: all of them know how to row in the same direction.
Moving slowly, being a one-dimensional player; not jiving with the team and keeping up with a fast-paced game.
SOLVED: “Hustle” does not always mean foot speed, although we did add that because Perron and O’Reilly both are pretty fast skaters. Bozak, not as much, but the way all of them handle the puck to get it up and down the ice, that says something. Also, all of them are two-way players. They know how to play up the ice, and they know what to do when they have to fall back and defend in their own zone with the defensemen, even if they are not the fastest. If you possess the puck more than the other team does by winning faceoffs, have a good Corsi for percentage, and basically box out opponents from passing you up… foot speed is on the low end of the totem pole in necessity. Hustle the puck up the ice, and that will make up for it.
Not caring enough about winning the Cup that you play with a bad attitude, with no grit, and not giving everything you have, from Game 1 to 82. Having no killer instinct to get things done or taking care of business; getting in your own way of getting what you want.
SOLVED: O’Reilly wants a Cup, and wants it bad. His energy and his zeal alone will be enough to rile up the guys and spur them on. Perron was games away from winning one. Bozak has never won one, and every time he had a chance, his team was almost a guarantee to get knocked out in the first round. All of them want to do whatever’s necessary to win, and win now. With the team behind them, there’s a good chance that will happen. None of the Blues have won with the team. Having new blood, a better center core, and exciting prospects in the mix will give them that edge. It will only help develop that same killer instinct that their Central Division rivals have.
I’m excited. Super excited. If he signs anyone else, great, but Armstrong did a bang-up job this weekend. And that’s all I have to say about it. I can’t wait for October!