Expectations for the 2016-17 Blues were fairly low entering the season despite a deep playoff run last year. The team traded away its main goalie in Brian Elliott, committing to a future of Jake Allen. Decisions were made to focus on the team’s future which partially resulted in the departure of both David Backes and Troy Brouwer. With three key members exiting, it seemed like the Blues were headed for a bumpy season. Now that the Blues have crossed the midway point of the season, fans are realizing that road might be bumpier than they had feared.
On paper, it was clear from the beginning that the 2016-17 Blues would struggle to achieve the same success found by the 2015-16 Blues. You can’t lose players such as Elliott, Backes and Brouwer and not see some immediate short-term fallout. What has been surprising is how the Blues have faltered in areas of their game they should still be thriving in. The defense should still be pretty good. The offense has some glaring weaknesses, but it should be able to collect its fair share of chances. They should be competitive on the road. They should still have the drive and instinct to be competing at a high level each night. And so on.
After 42 games, the Blues are barely in the playoff picture. They have the second-fewest wins on the road of any team in the NHL. They have a negative goal differential. They are averaging just 27.8 shots per game (28th in the NHL). Jake Allen has the 25th-best GAA of any goalie who has played in 20 or more games. Plus/minus is a dumb stat, but only four Blues players have a positive plus/minus (Bortuzzo, Jaskin, Megan and Reaves).
The list goes on.
To be fair, there are some positives. The Blues have a decent power play which ranks 9th in the NHL at 22.1% and the penalty kill is a bit better at 6th in the NHL at 84.7%. Vladimir Tarasenko has been his usual awesome self despite the fact he has been forced to skate with Jori Lehtera which is the equivalent of trying to swim with a 50-pound weight tied to your leg.
So, what do we make of all of this?
For starters, the Blues are honoring their 50-year history by playing consistently inconsistent hockey. Their fitting tribute is infuriating and deeply depressing following their 2015-16 run which renewed hopes that a Cup could be within reach.
Allen should be playing better than he is, but he was always at his best when he was being pushed by Brian Elliott. Elliott has been horrible this year, but the Blues took a system which worked and tinkered with it in preparation for the future. Carter Hutton has been fine, but this is Allen’s net and he’s losing it. He’s flailing around in his crease, fighting off fairly simple shots and allowing goals on shots he simply has to stop.
This Tweet on Allen really summed things up nicely:
Lehtera … I’m not going to add anything further here. He’s signed to one of the worst contracts in the NHL and he’s barely doing anything despite being featured alongside Tarasenko for huge chunks of the season. That’s maddening.
There are a lot of players to be upset with, but let’s keep in mind who created this roster and who made the decisions to get to this point – Doug Armstrong. The Blues were forced into a tough spot over the summer because they were crunched by the cap. They were forced into difficult decisions because Armstrong has awarded bloated contacts – none more so than Lehtera’s – to players who are undeserving.
Because of all of the contacts, the Blues worked themselves into a tight spot. Trading Kevin Shattenkirk seems to be the only potential change which could find help offensively down the middle, but it would come at such a high cost that the net gain might not be positive. Shattenkirk is a rare talent and would be difficult to lose.
There are no easy fixes. There are no small patches which could be applied to turn things around. The Blues are looking more and more like a team that needs a massive overhaul. They could start with the head coach as that’s a transition which has already started, but sweeping roster changes will be needed to get this team back on the right foot.
Remember what Doug Armstrong said before the season: The Blues might get worse before they get better. That’s proving to be the case, but the Blues are looking more average, more feeble and more disjointed than most would have predicted. As a result, Armstrong’s word of caution might not be enough to save his job.