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Can Going Backwards Really Move the Team Forward?

by Jeff Ponder
July 6, 2010

Improvement rarely occurs in professional sports without any outside variables.

Blues President John Davidson and company seem to have disbelief in this idea. The organization has re-signed forward Brad Winchester, along with the team reportedly re-signing defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo. Both players were starting-18 guarantees throughout the 2009-10 season, and now it looks like they will be back for good throughout 2010-11. Is this a smart move for the Blues at this current juncture?

Winchester hit the open market on July 1st, hoping to entertain other offers from around the league. But the Blues decided to get him back, signing him to a 1-year, $750K contract just the next day. Winchester scored three goals and five assists in 64 games last season, mostly playing on the fourth line. The 6'5” 231 lb. winger is not known for his scoring ability though; he is brought back because the team wants grit and strength down low in the corners. But why did the team bring in Matt D'Agostini and Vladimir Sobotka to do the same job?

Looking from another angle, Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuk were not exactly the greatest goal scorers for the Blues last season. But their combined goal total saw 31 pucks enter opposing nets; how does this team plan on making up for their combined production? D'Agostini and Sobotka's totals from last season (D'Agostini with Montreal and St. Louis, Sobotka with Boston), accumulated six goals with their respected clubs. These two cannot be expected to put up numbers to match Kariya and Tkachuk's amount. Scoring just 218 goals as a team last year, the Blues ranked 17th in the NHL out of 30 teams. They need a boost offensively, but it looks like the team will have yet another season with scoring woes since there have not been any new additions.

Just as the offense looks like it will be more of a disappointment than an improvement, it seems that the defense shows no sign of improving either. Colaiacovo, who had a strong season in a Blues jersey last year, was second on the roster in plus/minus with a plus-eight. He was strong at moving the puck out of his end and being one of the best in keeping the puck in the offensive zone on power-plays. That is why the team, reportedly, is working out a deal with the Canadian defenseman that would pay him around $4.25M over a two-year period (via spectorshockey.net). As good as Colaiacovo has been since being acquired from Toronto in November of 2008, it almost seems pointless to re-sign the defenseman.

Davidson keeps stressing to the fans that the team will be set for years on defense. So why keep bringing these guys back that probably do not have long-term plans with the organization?

"The only thing we're missing back there now is experience," Davidson said of his young defensemen before the draft. "We've got good puck-moving defensemen that belong to us, good stay-at-home defensemen, and even good stay-at-home defensemen who can move the puck. We all want quicker development, but it doesn't happen that way. These kids are going to come in and do their best to earn it."

How can they possibly earn it if they aren't even given an opportunity? Davidson has stated before that he wants Blues fans to watch the kids grow; what better arena for fans to watch than the Scottrade Center?

“One thing we promised our fans was come and grow with us and watch our young kids grow,” Davidson said shortly after the hiring of Davis Payne. “Going forward, we really look to improve our kids with Davis.”

Payne cannot work with the kids if they are not even with the NHL club.

Not only is the signing of Colaiacovo going against what Davidson is preaching, but now reports are pouring in that Mike Weaver may be back next season. How are players like Alex Pietrangelo and Ian Cole supposed to grow and be NHL-caliber defensemen in a few seasons if they aren't being given playing time in the big league?

What may be even more frustrating to Blues nation is watching other defensemen drafted after Pietrangelo change the face of their franchises. Luke Schenn, drafted one pick behind Pietrangelo in 2008, has been a coveted defenseman in Toronto since his NHL arrival in early 2009. His plus-two rating was third on a Maple Leafs roster that finished near the NHL cellar. Playing in 79 games last season, Schenn has become a mainstay for Brian Burke's club.

Tyler Myers has easily been the most accomplished defenseman from that draft though. Winning the 2010 Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, Myers scored 11 goals and 48 points, including 16 power-play points. Drafted eight spots behind Pietrangelo, Myers has proven that the deep defensive draft in 2008 provided many great defensemen.

These two players are just the beginning; defensemen Luca Sbisa of Anaheim and Michael Del Zotto of the New York Rangers have both contributed to their teams and were both taken in the first round of the 2008 draft behind Pietrangelo.

With the recent moves made by the Blues, it is hard to tell what direction the club is headed. The talks of a parade down Market Street may have to be hushed until the Blues can figure out which way forward is.

Stay tuned in with Jeff Ponder's BluesNetMix blog by checking in every Tuesday at bluesnetmix.com.


  1. Ponder... I disagree w/ your statement about replacing Tkachuk and Kariya's goals scoring. KT may have played in the bottom six, but he was given TONS of PP time, same with Kariya. Their production/ice time will be given to Oshie, Perron, Backes, Berglund, McDonald and Boyes. The Blues PP stunk last year and should get better. I think the 6 players listed above will produce more by having more ice time on the PP and at even strength.

    On the D side I agree that the young guys need to get NHL experience and will be disappointed if Petro doesn't get playing time all year. They do have issues w/ depth. If they don't bring in anyone else and have injuries they only have Cole/Strachen/Cundari, and maybe Nikitan as NHL capable guys.


  2. we need defense experience!!!!