Summer To-Do List
Each team looks to the summer offseason as a time to address several needs, whether it is a need to trim cap, add depth, fill a position, recover from injury or just to develop their prospects. The Blues fell into the category of needing to add a few players, evaluate how players like Erik Johnson has recovered from his injury, as well as take a look at their prospects and determine if any will earn a spot on the NHL roster.
So, how have the Blues done thus far?
In this writer’s opinion, so far so good, but there are still needs to be addressed.
One clear need was in net, as the Blues needed to add an option in net behind Mason they were comfortable with. The need for an experienced number two keeper was addressed quickly after the free agency period opened, as the Note signed Ty Conklin away from Detroit. As highlighted in a previous post, Brand New Blue – Ty Conklin, he will add an element of reliability in case Mason needs a night off. One has to think that the work load on Mason needs to be reduced this season, and Conklin should make sure Mason can get the rest he needs. Cross this one off the list.
Next was the need to evaluate players returning from injury as well as to examine how and where the prospects will be used this season. The first name that comes to mind is Erik Johnson (pictured above). Johnson, as we all know, missed all of last year and is looking to come back fully healthy in 2009-10. We got a good look at him at the Blues Prospect Camp (reviewed here and here) where he proved that he is essentially back to 100% as he performed a variety of moves to test his knee. Stopping short, quick turns and strong all around skating made Johnson look more than ready to go. It is yet to be seen exactly what shape Paul Kariya is in, but since he was ready to play at the end of the playoffs last season, one thinks he is set to go as well. Johnson looks good, and others that missed huge time in 2008-09 look good, cross this one off the list as well.
We move on to the prospects. Summer is a time to see how old prospects are doing and a time where we can take a look at some of the guys just drafted. This much is clear: Lars Eller (pictured at right) could seriously threaten for a NHL roster spot if he continues to play as he did at the prospect camp. The sniper stood out amongst the others, and gave fans a lot to look forward too. Aside from Oshie and Johnson who both carry NHL experience, Eller stood out amongst the rest of the prospects with his quick and powerful skating to his pin-point shooting. Currently, it is uncertain whether he will make the team or not, but if he continues to play the way he did in the prospect camp, he will be tough to not include at the professional level. Eller is a guy a lot of fans (myself included) are very excited about, and I expect him to play his first NHL game this upcoming season. Info on these prospects is coming in fast and steady, and the overall appearance of most is very, very positive. Cross this one off the list too.
So have the Blues already finished their summer to-do list? Not yet. One big question is still looming from the defense. The Blues likely need to bring in another defenseman to shore up their blue-line. Jay McKee has moved to Pittsburgh, while Eric Brewer still may have some injury woes to address, thus leaving the Blues searching for another defender with NHL experience. So who is out there, and who are the Blues targetting? Currently, as of the posting of this entry, their appears to be three main players that the Note are focusing on: Sergei Zubov, Mathieu Schneider, and Tomas Kaberle. Of these three, Kaberle will be the most difficult to acquire as it would require the Blues to make a trade with Toronto, and the current asking price is fairly steep. Zubov and Schneider on the other hand are both free agents and would probably only ask for a one-year deal. Expect the Blues to fill this need at some point this summer, as it seems very unlikely they will start the season without any further additions at defense. On the flip side, one defender still needs a new deal – Roman Polak. After his play for St. Louis last season, its tough to imagine the two sides won’t ultimately reach a deal. Polak is the only player without a contract, and the Blues have met with his agent off and on for months without reaching a deal. The club has confidence Polak will be signed with a new deal before training camp (mid-September), and no one has pushed the panic button yet. Though things have been drawn out to this point, expect Polak back in a Blues sweater next season.
The Blues may still look to add more scoring, but this is not anywhere near as urgent or needed as the defense issue. Heatley has been rumored in association with the Blues, but the price tag on him is probably much too high for St. Louis. Also, a trade of that caliber would require the Blues to dish some of their core prospects and young talent, which is not something the front office is overly eager to do.
There you have it. To this point the Blues have achieved exactly what they need to but still have a little yet still to accomplish. Look for them to sign a defenseman soon which should cross off all the major important tasks on their summer to-do list. Before you know it, the Blues will be back in action and once again we can stream into Scottrade to get our hockey fix.