ST. LOUIS, MO -- We are halfway through the 2017-18 NHL season and there are a lot of questions surrounding the current state of the St. Louis Blues.
In an attempt to find some common ground on the direction the Blues are heading, I gathered a few Blues writers and one former Blues defensemen to help answer some of those questions.
First, I've enlisted the voice behind the 590DaybreakDose and contributor to stlouisgametime.com, Dan Buffa.
Secondly, Laura Astorian, better known as Hildymac from St. Louis Game Time, will also chip in.
Chiming in is everyone's favorite Twitter agitator, and writer at Kangaroocourtstl.com, Art Lippo.
Our final guest at the round table is former Blues defenseman Jamie Rivers.
I will also be contributing my own opinions, so let's get started.
1. How should the Blues handle the Jake Allen situation? With his struggles costing the Blues wins, can they edit in Carter Hutton to back then out?
DB - Keep playing him. With no disrespect to Hutton, the Blues have invested mightily in this young man and cast him as the #1 in net, so why stop after a month of struggling? Allen isn't having a good season, but his save percentage isn't that much lower than his career mark. It's .900 vs. .912. While he is costing the Blues wins, I think it's more than just Allen.
It's the defensive execution from the forwards and defensemen in front of him. Sure, Hutton shut out San Jose and gets another start, but he isn't going to be a savior like Brian Elliott was last year. While this season is up in the air, sticking with Allen is important because he is your future goaltender. The man Armstrong chose. I think that's more important than an extended slump.
LA - It's tough because the Blues have mishandled their goalies for years. Unless (Blues GM Doug) Armstrong feels the need to deal (Kevin) Shattenkirk for an upgrade, I don't see anything happening. Frankly, Armstrong won't do that, and he shouldn't.
The Blues have been putting their chips on Allen for years - he's the reason both (Ben) Bishop and Elliott aren't here anymore - and the team just needs to ride it out. Hutton's a clear backup, and I'm not convinced that all the issues are on Allen anyway. The team needs to generally get their ducks in a row and be responsible for fixing everything that's wrong, not just the goaltending.
AL - Last year, I was 100% Team Elliott because the team was built for the present and there wasn’t contracts that forced (coach Ken) Hitchcock’s hand to keep throwing one goalie out there.
This season is different; it has transition-year all over it. I respect the job Hutton has done being the band-aid, but the Blues went pot committed on Jake Allen by trading Elliott and giving him an unnecessary extension. If Jake Allen is your present and intermediate future then you have to get him back out there and get him straighten out.
Allen is set to make 4.35 million next year. You cannot bring in a Ben Bishop or M.A. Fleury to right the ship, having two goalies with that kind of salary is just asking for a 2016-17 Dallas Stars situation where you’re over spending on mediocre goaltending and compromising your cap.
This current roster isn’t a Stanley Cup roster, if you’re not going to trade pieces to upgrade your roster because of future ramifications then you should also allocate the necessary time and patience to get your future goalie’s head screwed on straight.
JR - Blues need to give the net to Hutton while Jake goes back to work in practice and video room with Jim Corsi. This is a situation where you really hope your number 2 goalie can get you some wins or at least go .500 while your main guy finds his game again.
RR - I think the Blues should keep a short leash on Allen, for now. Obviously, you can't ride Hutton during this slump like you with Brian Elliott last year, but when its evident that Allen is struggling, Hutton has to be prepared.
Neither goalie has been spectacular, and you really hope that changes considering Hutton under contract for next year, and Allen was given that questionable four year extension in which he will be making 4.35M a year. The Blues are stuck with Allen for now, for better or for worse.
2. With right-handed always being a commodity around the league, and Kevin Shattenkirk being in the final year of his deal, what should Doug Armstrong target if he looks to trade him.
DB - #1 Center. Simple as that. Unless a stud like John Tavares sits out there, Armstrong must find a compliment for Vladimir Tarasenko on the first line. Imagine what #91 could do with a legit Adam Oates like center. If Paul Stastny is better as a second line center and helps others be better and helps the strength of your lines, find a guy to pair with Vova. Afterwards, you can pair Jori Lehtera on a line with Patrik Berglund so $8 million plus can serve as a third line deterrent.
LA - An actual center for Vladimir Tarasenko would be nice - we all know that Lehtera isn't cutting it anymore, and probably never did. Hitch seems hell-bent on not putting Stastny with 91, so why not find some way to shove Lehtera out? I also have zip faith in this happening.
AL - Honestly, it really depends on where the Blues stand by the deadline. If they think they're close then I would upgrade the Center position. However, with the potential of having Tage Thompson and Ivan Barbashev in the line up next year, I wouldn't be upset if they went for a talent RW or a package of picks and prospects.
JR - Army needs to look at getting some help at Center and maybe some better depth at the forward position.
RR - I would agree with the consensus that a center should be the number knew target in a deal for Kevin Shattenkirk, but the player should be in the correct age range. With this looking like a re-tooling year, any player acquired as the main piece in a deal for Shattenkirk should be no older than 25-26. If you can't seem to find that one guy, go for a younger prospect and try and re-stock the cupboards offensively. If you can't get a number one center prospect, go for the number two guy, and try adding an offensive wing prospect as well. The deal has to fit the core age range, but you can't get peanuts for him.
3. Following up question two, should and will Armstrong deal Shattenkirk before the trade deadline?
DB - Armstrong should trade Shattenkirk due to the unbalanced play of these Blues and how a playoff slot isn't a sure thing and their ability to stand with a team like Minnesota or Chicago isn't as absolute as it was last year. Why let him walk for nothing? Since Armstrong extended players before it was necessary, he can't Shatty his money, so get something for him and better your club next year and the one after. Your defensive depth will take a shot, but your center/forward depth could get a much needed boost. I don't think he will trade him. I think he blew his chance last summer. Hope I'm wrong.
LA - Shatt's the only defenseman with any sort of offense clicking this year, so I'm hesitant to want to see him go. But with the way that the cap's constructed, he probably should be dealt either before or at the deadline so the team can get a return for him. I see the Blues easily just holding on to him like they did with Backes for the playoffs, and having him walk without a return.
AL - Yes and yes. The Blues cannot let Shattenkirk leave without getting compensation back for him. This team is closer to 13th place in the conference than 2nd in the division; keeping Shattenkirk because you think you might make the playoffs is gross negligence.
JR - In a perfect world, Army is able to deal Shatty before deadline, but I don't think the Blues are deep enough with puck-moving defenseman that can quarterback the powerplay to get rid of him. These kinds of D-men are very coveted in today's NHL so replacing him will not be easy.
RR - The fact is, if Shattenkirk is a member of this team after the trade deadline, the Doug Armstrong has failed at his job. No doubt about it, Shattenkirk is the biggest trade chip that the Blues have, and the best Armstrong has had since he arrived in St. Louis. With what looks like a team that is going to finish outside of the playoffs, there is no reason to keep Shattenkirk around just to let him walk later. You have to get something back for him. If not, when does Armstrong's job come into question? With some questionable decisions on who to sign, and who let go, more colossal failure by him my be the straw that breaks the camels back.
4. Lastly, obviously this team looks three steps behind last years team, what does this team need to take the next step and become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender?
DB - Unload dead weight (haha). Find a team to take Lehtera and find a better linemate for Tarasenko, Play smarter hockey. How many dumb "too many men" can a team take? Embrace a certain style of play. Are you physical? Speedy? What do you do best? I feel like Armstrong traded away Hitchcock prototype players in David Backes and Troy Brouwer and replaced them with David Perron. I don't think there is one move that can make this team a legit Stanley Cup contender.
I do think it hinges on the goaltending to become great for this particular team to be elite again. What happened last year that made this team go so deep? Brian Elliott's play. If Jake Allen can turn it around, and Alex Steen can show up more consistently, this team has a shot. It's not as easy to fix as recent seasons. You can't just say, "get a goal scorer", because the Blues are 10th in goals per game. Special teams are good. 5v5 is average at best though. Goaltending is way below average. Allen and Hutton have to be better. Change that and the rest of the team may feel a bump in right direction.
LA - Maybe the "coach in waiting" think wasn't the best idea - it solidifies the idea of Hitch as a lame duck. I'm not saying that the team's purposefully playing awful because of this, but I think it's in their subconscious and I think it's contributing to some bad pay.
The defense and goaltending need to clean the cobwebs out of their heads and the offense needs to get close to being consistent again. If this actually happens? Who knows.
AL - The Blues got to where they were last year for near historic goaltending from Allen and Elliott. Allen was fantastic early and Elliott was fantastic in 2016. Did goaltending mask deeper issues? I think they're stuck with Allen so I will go with getting a real top Center. Time for the Blues to make a mistake with the Jori Lehtera experience and get him away from Tarasenko. He's a liability offensively and is mediocre defensively.
JR - This team needs a little more talent and Better depth at the forward position as well as consistent #1 goalie performances and stats to be considered a threat to go deep in the playoffs. The core group of this team is still relatively young and will continue to get better. Adding just a bit more talent could eventually turn this team into a serious contender.
RR - There is no easy answer here. You need to improve the top six, adding a center capable of scoring 60 points a year, as well as picking up another top six right winger.
They need productive goaltending, as well as a defense that can shut down a team during extreme pressure. That is this years Blues team, unfortunately.
I want to send a big thank you to everyone who contributed to this round table, and to everyone reading, I hope you enjoy!
Randall Ritchey is the St. Louis Correspondent for The Fourth Period. Follow him on Twitter.