The inevitable blues retool may come sooner than expected

Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong meets with the players, and the press, on Tuesday, November 1, 2022, as the team struggles to win. Video submitted by St. Louis Blues


A big change was always coming for the blues.

They were always on the verge of rearranging their roster and dismantling the remaining Stanley Cup cores. They were on their way to transitioning to a younger team with new faces and new leadership.

Time is running in the NHL. The game becomes faster and the competitive balance is greater.

General Manager Doug Armstrong wanted to run at least one more time with proud veterans in place, but, as he indicated last week, players will let him know when the round is over.

The eight consecutive organizational losses after Tuesday night’s defeat in Philadelphia said a lot.

While this group hasn’t reached the end of the line yet, it can see the last leg from its current location. Only a dramatic turn and a steady dash would keep this group in the race.

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Otherwise, it is time to start working in the future.

The Blues began moving to their next stage by securing young forwards Robert Thomas and Jordan Kerro to match eight-year contracts worth $65 million. These dynamic talents are difficult to acquire for teams that lack lottery picks.

They are the new foundation for the franchise. They are the reason the blues will retool, not rebuild, when it’s time to move on.

The Blues couldn’t stand the kind of agonizing tank rebuilding that other markets had. St. Louis loves hockey, but wouldn’t support years of doodling while the franchise started from scratch.

So the challenge for Armstrong will be to retool him quickly while maintaining a competitive team on the ice.

If the process should start this season, we’ll likely see another Vladimir Tarasenko and captain Ryan O’Reilly as the Blues. Both have expired contracts and both are heading to unrestricted free agency.

Even if the salary cap jumps from $4 million to $4.5 million as NHL Commissioner Gary Pittman hopes, fit those two under that will be difficult.

Tarasenko appears ready to test the market, given previous signals from his camp. If the Blues continue on their current path, Armstrong could ask if he would waive his no-trade protection to move to a competitor to complete the deal.

O’Reilly’s case is even harder, given the value of his leadership. He has been a catalyst for the team’s path to the Team Cup and has had a positive tone since his arrival.

But he is 32 years old this season. This game is getting faster all the time and neither does O’Reilly. Despite his struggles early in the season, contenders coveted him to fill the match role in pre-season play.

Earlier in his tenure, Armstrong replaced Kevin Shattenkirk and Paul Stastney and their expired contracts. He could move Tarasenko and O’Reilly on for more shots in the 2023 NHL Deep Draft, as well as expectations, to speed up the turnaround.

The Blues still enjoy a deep forward forward despite David Perron’s loss. Pavel Bukhnevich and Brandon Saad are tied for size-appropriate deals. Brayden Sheen’s long-term contract will keep a strong veteran in place.

Aside from Kyrou and Thomas, the Blues have some candidates for the team’s future core. Rookie winger Jake Neighbors can be fit for a long time with his strong two-way play.

Striker Zachary Bolduc is tearing up the Quebec youth hockey league again, as you might expect, and he could be at least a powerhouse asset by next season as he attempts to develop into a scoring streak role.

Alexey Toropchenko’s human rocket will have to occupy a lower front six role for some time. Perhaps Nikita Alexandrov, who went through a solid training camp with a good start in the American Hockey League, could do the same.

Winger Jimmy Snuggerud, the 23rd overall pick in 2022, started well at the University of Minnesota. He has good skill and a hockey sense, so he could get a scoring role if the skating improves.

Goaltender Joel Hofer hopes to end his development in the AHL this season so he can secure NHL work next season. He has the size, tracking ability and athletic performance to succeed, but his game still needs some cleaning before he moves on behind Jordan Bennington.

Vadim Zrinko, a seventh-round goal, deserves to be followed in Springfield as he backs Hoover. He brings a sparkling skill set to his transition to the North American game.

Armstrong’s biggest challenge will be instilling outstanding youth into the blue row. The younger Scott Peronovich looked like the future-strong quarterback coming out of college, but injuries derailed his career.

Nico Mikola appears to be part of the blues’ cup-era defender, but his management of the game still lags behind in blocking and fitness. Is it worth a bigger contract?

Tyler Tucker was another great find in the seventh round, but neither he nor his fellow AHL strongman Matt Kessel couldn’t be missed.

The Blues have four defensive men with contracts stretching deep into their thirties. This is fine when the team is competing, but not so good for the team that is being retooled. Fortunately, there is generally a seller market for men’s defense.

All of this gives Armstrong plenty to think about as his team tries to hold together and thwart the inevitable for another year.

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