The Blues may be one of the more interesting teams leading up to the trade deadline. The team has talent, but has underachieved this year and is battling just to make the postseason as a wild card. St. Louis took the surprising step of firing highly-respected head coach Ken Hitchcock, who had already announced he was retiring following the 2016-17 season, but more changes could be on the way.
Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch hosted his weekly chat with Blues fans today and tackled several queries regarding what steps the team might take next. It goes without saying but the whole post is well worth your time. Regardless, here’s a compilation of a few of the highlights:
- Rutherford has long suggested the Blues need help at the center position and with Mike Ribeiro hitting the waiver wire today, one reader wondered whether St. Louis would take a chance on the talented pivot. While Ribeiro has a solid track record of offensive production, Rutherford just doesn’t see the soon-to-be-37-year-old as a fit for the Blues, citing the fact he has been a healthy scratch in Nashville on several occasions this season. Ribeiro does have 25 points in 46 games this season but only four goals. It’s likely the Predators sought potential trade partners prior to waiving Ribeiro and it would seem there wasn’t much interest. It’s possible someone besides St. Louis in need of center help will take a chance given the pivot is in the final season of his contract and wouldn’t come with much risk as a result. He did register a 50-point campaign in 2015-16 and tallied 62 the season before, suggesting he might still be able to help a team offensively.
- The scribe also addressed whether Hitchcock’s name might come up in connection with the Las Vegas head coaching job. Rutherford is of the impression the veteran bench boss wouldn’t be “keen” on the idea and while he doesn’t specify as to why, it’s possible that the 65-year-old is simply at a point in his career where he wouldn’t want to take on the challenge of building an expansion franchise from the ground up. However, despite the fact he was set to retire after the 2016-17 season, many in the industry have said they wouldn’t be surprised to see Hitch back in the league at some point.
- The Blues and Lightning have been linked as potential trading partners, given St. Louis’ issues in goal and the possible availability of pending free agent netminder Ben Bishop. However, Rutherford has heard that the Blues have interest in another Tampa Bay player: center Tyler Johnson. Johnson would make a ton of sense for the Blues. The team likely still fancies themselves as Stanley Cup contenders – if not necessarily this year – and a hypothetical deal for Johnson not only addresses a weakness now but would add a talented player who can be controlled as a RFA beyond the current campaign. Rutherford doesn’t specify what Tampa Bay would want in return but it’s safe to say a top-four defenseman would have to be part of the discussion.
- Lastly, Rutherford’s colleague with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jesus Ortiz, argues that the Blues “fired the wrong guy” when they dismissed Hitchcock. Ortiz is of the belief the team should instead have given GM Doug Armstrong his walking papers. He points to the hiring of Mike Yeo as “head-coach-in-waiting” as potentially undermining the authority of the veteran bench boss. In the press conference following the firing, Armstrong made a reference to “independent contractors,” when describing some of the players on the team and it’s fair to wonder if that condition is related to the team’s overall approach to the handling of the coaching situation. Ortiz also suggests that allowing Troy Brouwer and David Backes to depart as free agents hurt the team both on the ice and from a leadership perspective. Additionally, the team’s decision to trade goalie Brian Elliott and install Jake Allen as the undisputed #1 seems to have backfired. Hitchcock has long been able to coax above-average play between the pipes due in large part to his strong defensive structure. That hasn’t been the case this season as each of the team’s goalies, Allen and Carter Hutton, has a S% below 0.900. However, it should be noted that Elliott is also struggling in Calgary, and there is no guarantee he would have duplicated his success from last season had he remained with the Blues.