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Blue Notes: Summer Outlook

Written by Jason Granger
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Now that the Stanley Cup playoffs are over, the focus for hockey fans has shifted to what the summer will bring for their favorite teams. Will the Cup champ Bruins be able to keep their team in tact and not fall victim to the team purge that hit the Blackhawks? Can the Canucks find that missing element and finally win Lord Stanley's chalice? What will be the name of the new/old team in Winnipeg (hint, it won't be the Jets)? For Blues fans, this is, once again, a summer of uncertainty.

With owernship still in flux, fans have tempered their expectations for this offseason. Dave Checketts still has not found a buyer for the team, and there are rumors that he is trying to once again put together an investment team so he can retain control of the Note. One way or the other, the Blues and their fans go into the summer with a sense of frustration and more than a little fear.

Management like to point out that before the Blues were absolutely decimated by injury, they were atop the NHL standings and appeared to be in good position to take one of the top four spots in the Western Conference. Then, like dominoes, the Blues began to fall. David Perron, T.J. Oshie, Erik Johnson, Jaroslav Halak, Roman Polak, Andy McDonald and Alex Pietrangelo all spent time on the disabled list with varying severity of condition. The most severe injury, to Perron, continues to haunt the talented forward. While he is making improvement in his post concussion syndrome, he is still not ready to even begin light workouts.

Now, if Perron is ready for training camp, the Blues will have their full roster ready to go. With the additions during the season of Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk, they would arguably be more talented at the beginning of the 2011-2012 season than at the beginning of 2010-2011. However, there are still some glaring holes for this team, and with the ownership picture cloudy, it is doubtful that they could address many of them.

For starters, the Blues are in dire need of scoring. With the news that super prospect Vladimir Tarasenko is going to spend one more year in the KHL in Russia, the Blues will need to look elsewhere to get that scoring. The free agent market is slim this year, with only Brad Richards being a big-name scorer, and the Blues will not be in the market for him. There is always the draft, however, the Blues will not hafve a first round selection this year, as that went to Colorado in the Stewart/Shattenkirk deal. So that rules out a potential first round break through, for now at least.

The team does have quite a few picks from the second round on, so there is the potential that a package could be created to pick up a first rounder or established player. There is talk that Mike Richards of the Flyers is going to be available, and the Blues would be foolish not to pursue a deal there. Richards went for 23 goals and 66 points this year, which would have made him the leader on the Note, four points ahead of David Backes. Richards has proven to be a consistent scored in the NHL, and he could certainly help the young Blues (not that he is a grizzled veteran. He is only 26). The Blues have a wealth of young defensemen, and it is conceivable that the Flyers would take a couple second rounders, a good prospect (Nikita Nikitin springs to mind) and a forward for Richards and, say, a first rounder in return. Richards is good, but he's not Sidney Crosby, so that deal seems fair.

Some of the other holes to fill could come from within. For instance, the Blues will not be offering Ty Conklin, their backup goalie, a contract. Perhaps now is the time to see if Ben Bishop is ready to step up to the NHL as the Blues regular backup. He could be a low price, high reward type of guy. However, their other hole comes on defense. With the trade of Eric Brewer to the Lightning at the deadline last season, the Blues now have only Barrett Jackman as someone who could be called a true NHL veteran. With all the youth on the backline, they will need more than just Jackman to guide these youngsters. He doesn't even need to be an everyday player. Just someone the young guys can go to for advice or guidance. Think back to the last days of Marc Bergevin.

With Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk, Carlo Colaiacovo, Ian Cole, Polak, Nikitin, and Jackman, the Blues have a good, talented core of defensemen (though Jackman doesn't offer much offensively, nor for that matter, does Polak). The onus will be on players like PIetrangelo and Cole to show that they can lead this team from the backend. It would be more comforting, however, if there was someone else back there to bear the burden of leadership.

This could be a long offseason for fans of the Note. As frustrating as it is, don't look for a big splash from the Blues in the free agent market. There is always the chance of a trade, and there are rumors that Oshie is on the block. As popular a player as Oshie is, he off the ice issues last year were a distraction, and he is a talented, hard working player who could command something decent in return (packaged for say, Richards?).Blues fans will have to accept that, unless there is something drastic that changes with ownership in the next few weeks, news from the Blues might be scarce.

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