It’s rare for Blues fans to all agree on the same thing, but one theme which tied all fans together throughout the 2016-17 season was the miserable play from Jori Lehtera. What drove his struggles? Blues fans have their ideas (a lack of talent seems to be a common guess), but Lehtera believes it had to do with the World Cup of Hockey and the additional pressure under his new contract and larger salary.
Lehtera scored seven goals and 15 assists through 64 regular season games. Though he did miss a good chunk of time with an injury which played a role in deflating his numbers, there really wasn’t much of an excuse for his numbers as he spent significant time skating with Vladimir Tarasenko. Despite skating with the Blues’ best offensive weapon, Lehtera continually found himself outside of the play, struggling to contribute.
Now, Lehtera did step up some in the playoffs, but that shouldn’t completely forgive what was an ugly season.
In a recent interview with STLToday, Lehtera spoke about his struggles, stating that the adjusted scheduled brought on by the World Cup and the fact he had a larger contract to live up to made it a tough year.
“It was a different summer because of the World Cup and that was like a weird start of the season, it was a lot of games to go through. When you don’t play at the level you want, new coach comes and then the injury, everything, it was just a lot of things going (wrong). But that can’t happen anymore. I think next year. it’s a most important season for me.”
There’s no question the World Cup threw some players off of their game, but that seems like a pretty bad excuse given the talent around Lehtera and his lack of drive and execution in even the most basic of situations. The eye test and the “does it look like this guy is trying” test didn’t produce great results.
As far as whether or not there was more pressure after getting a nice raise from GM Doug Armstrong, Lehtera said, “A little bit, yeah.”
Again, that’s a bad excuse. Lehtera’s cap hit grew to $4.7 million in 2016-17 up from $2.75 in 2015-16. That’s a big jump and he completely failed to live up to that cap hit. Of course, Lehtera just signed on the dotted line. The real blame for that contract lies with Armstrong who apparently saw something worth that much money. If you happen to know what that something is, please send a note to Lehtera.
All in all, Lehtera should be a better player next year than he was in 2016-17. He has the ability to at least improve over that performance, but don’t expect a miracle. It’s doubtful he’ll ever live up to that bloated contract, but the Blues have to hope he can at least provide some value in 2017-18 … unless they somehow trick Vegas into saying his name.