Blues’ Rebuild Takes Shape with Blais, Kapanen, and Vrána
The commerce deadline has come and gone, and the longer term for the St. Louis Blues is beginning to come into clearer focus. For months, at the least because the commerce of Vladimir Tarasenko to the New York Rangers, it has been clear that the Blues deliberate on executing some sort of “retool” course of — although common supervisor Doug Armstrong has appeared to wish to keep away from publicly committing to a reputation for it. Perhaps due to his feedback, or maybe as a consequence of wishful pondering, many Blues followers believed that the retooling course of could be a “quick fix” and appeared to suppose that the most important overhaul could be completed earlier than the deadline, or at the least earlier than subsequent season.
But because the deadline approached, Blues followers watched as hoped-for targets dropped off the commerce market, with Timo Meier moving to the New Jersey Devils and Jakob Chychrun lastly being traded to the Ottawa Senators. Then, after Mattias Ekholm moved to the Edmonton Oilers, and it turned clear that Colton Parayko (and his contract) would probably be staying put, followers began to comprehend that the short turnaround that they had hoped for may not be on the horizon.
But whereas followers have been eager for marquee strikes, Armstrong was quietly constructing his roster for subsequent season. He made three strikes for forwards that will likely be in St. Louis by means of the 2023-24 season. And his alternative of additives — plus the feedback he made after the deadline had handed — show that whereas followers and Armstrong alike would possibly hope that the rebuilding course of strikes shortly, the crew’s focus continues to be on the long-term future.
Armstrong’s Unconventional Additions
First, let’s look carefully at what Armstrong has stated about his acquisitions earlier than we take a look at every new face in flip. To try this, we have to return earlier than the deadline, to the comments he made after buying and selling his crew’s former captain Ryan O’Reilly to the Toronto Maple Leafs. At the time, he made some feedback that caught the eyes of many followers, saying: ” We must retrench with gamers of their… [aged] 25, 26 and underneath [seasons] which have time period on their contracts to allow them to develop with that subsequent core of gamers that we now have.”
With three first-round picks out there on the time, many Blues followers instantly considered high commerce targets like Meier and Chychrun, each of whom met the age and time period necessities Armstrong alluded to. But after his additional deadline strikes and the feedback he made throughout Friday’s post-deadline interview with Andy Strickland, it appears he had one thing else in thoughts totally.
Armstrong didn’t mince phrases with speaking about the place he thought the crew was in its rebuilding course of:
Well, I believe we’re a yr sooner than I’d hoped to be on this course of… We wish to construct our crew again up. It’s not going to be in a yr. I don’t see us being energetic on this yr’s free agent market. That’s why we introduced in [Kasperi] Kapanen and [Jakub] Vrána. We introduced in two gamers which might be very hungry and on one-year offers. They’re going to wish to maximize their summer time and their subsequent season, and we may very well be the benefactors of that…
Armstrong explains why he introduced in Kapanen and Vrána
It’s going to be a course of, we perceive that. We’re not trying to be an 8-10 yr course of like another groups have gone by means of, however to suppose it’s going to occur subsequent yr… I believe we’re going to be aggressive subsequent yr. When you add in Kapanen and Vrána, we in all probability have seven legit top-nine forwards which have been top-nine forwards the final 5 years. We’re hoping Jake Neighbours will be the eighth, then we’ve gotta go discover the ninth. So I believe we’re gonna be aggressive, as we watch for the [Zachary] Bolducs and [Jimmy] Snuggeruds to mature and get into the NHL.
Armstrong discusses the timeline of his crew’s “rebuild”
With these feedback, Armstrong clearly defined his pondering: the crew isn’t able to compete at a excessive stage and won’t be in 2023-24. So the additions he made on the deadline have been designed to be “lottery tickets,” gamers with a probably excessive ceiling that might have a long-term future with the crew if all the things falls into place, or may depart shortly with no regrets for the franchise if issues didn’t work out. With that in thoughts, let’s take a look at who these three deadline additions are.
The participant on this trio that Blues followers will want the least introduction to is Sammy Blais, who was drafted and developed by the Blues, helped them win a Stanley Cup, and solely departed a season and a half in the past. Though he wasn’t one of many gamers particularly talked about in Armstrong’s feedback above, it’s clear that he suits into the identical mould as Kapanen and Vrána: he’s 26 years outdated, coming off a season filled with struggles, and (as of earlier this week) is on a one-year “prove it” contract with the Blues subsequent season.
Armstrong drafted Blais with the 176th decide within the 2014 NHL Draft. An undersized QMJHL participant, he shortly sprouted and developed into the menacing 6-foot-2, 206-pound ahead he’s at this time. That development spurt helped him climb the ranks of Blues prospects, and he ultimately made an impression on the crew. Head coach Craig Berube turned to him for a much-needed bodily presence in a vital sport towards the Dallas Stars on the crew’s street to the Stanley Cup, and he by no means seemed again, taking part in in 15 video games that postseason with a purpose, two assists, and a whopping 70 hits.
Valued for that grit, the Rangers selected him as a key a part of the return when the Blues dealt for Pavel Buchnevich final summer time. But Blais by no means received a lot of an opportunity to catch on in New York, largely owing to an injury he suffered at the hands of P.K. Subban. The ensuing torn ACL stored him out for the season, and he struggled to seek out his footing after he returned. In reality, he didn’t rating a single purpose in 54 complete video games with the Rangers — however scored one instantly upon his return to the Blues.
Related: New York Rangers Need to Bid Farewell to Sammy Blais
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Blais definitely doesn’t have the best ceiling of those three gamers, however he may need the best flooring, and not like Kapanen and Vrána, Blues followers and the teaching workers are already nicely acquainted with what he can contribute. In his first 10 video games again with St. Louis he has already seemed far more just like the participant he was between 2019 and 2021, permitting the Blues to take an opportunity on a no-risk one-year contract for subsequent season. He’ll be a fixture on the fourth line and look to battle for a long-term house within the NHL.
On a sleepy Saturday afternoon a couple of week earlier than the deadline, Armstrong made a shock transfer when he claimed Kapenen off waivers from the Pittsburgh Penguins. The waiver declare meant taking over all of Kapanen’s $3.2 million wage cap hit for the rest of this season and subsequent, which at present makes him the fourth-highest-paid ahead on the crew. But Armstrong clearly values the high-end potential of Kapanen, a ahead with a ton of talent and pace however who has been inconsistent and is usually a fringe participant (which doesn’t clearly match Berube’s system). Kapanen broke out in his first full season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, scoring 20 targets in 78 video games, and performed one other robust season there earlier than changing into the sufferer of cap limitations which compelled the Maple Leafs to trade him to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Kapanen by no means fairly gelled in Pittsburgh. Though he nonetheless had flashes of brilliance and managed 30 factors in his first 40 video games with the crew, he appeared to lose favor with head coach Mike Sullivan and was as soon as once more a cap casualty, because the crew waived him to bury his wage cap hit within the minors. The Blues seized the chance so as to add one other lottery ticket at no cost, and that’s what they’ve. If Kapanen can both play as much as his potential or add the flexibility and physicality to his sport that can make him a useful a part of a Berube-coached ahead core, he’ll excel subsequent season and have a superb likelihood at staying round long-term. If he continues to battle, it is extremely a lot an “easy come, easy go” scenario for Armstrong.
After some of the explosive NHL commerce deadlines in latest reminiscence, precise deadline day was extraordinarily quiet, apart from the early shocker that noticed the Blues add Vrána from the Detroit Red Wings for American Hockey League (AHL) ahead Dylan McLaughlin and a 2025 seventh-round decide. The Red Wings additionally retained half of his complete $5.25 million wage cap hit. It was time for Vrána to depart Detroit, a metropolis he’d come to with a lot promise. After scoring 11 factors in his first 11 video games there and signing an extension, he missed a lot of the 2021-22 season with a shoulder damage, then entered the NHL’s Player Assistance Program for 2 months early this season.
While the explanations for a participant to enter a program are stored quiet (for apparent causes), Red Wings common supervisor Steve Yzerman spoke on the situation on Saturday, saying “I don’t think I can really go into details on a lot of the things that have gone on. … I wish Jakub the best of luck in his hockey career, on and off the ice. … Was time for both parties to move on.” Clearly, the scenario between Detroit and Vrána had grow to be untenable, and the Blues moved so as to add a younger participant with a really excessive ceiling on an excessive low cost.
Vrána was as soon as the following huge star for the Washington Capitals, scoring 24 and 25 targets in back-to-back seasons in 2018-19 and 2019-20. He additionally performed 23 video games en path to the crew’s Stanley Cup victory in 2018. Many have been shocked when the Capitals dealt him to Detroit as a key piece of the return for Anthony Mantha. But his future seemed very brilliant in Detroit earlier than accidents and the nonspecified off-ice points received in the way in which. Now, the Blues have one more “project” participant who may simply grow to be a long-term fixture if he returns to his former high quality and re-signs with the crew.
Armstrong, for his half, minimized the chance of taking in a participant contemporary out of the Player Assistance Program, telling the media: “We did our research and you understand the risks, but there’s probably a lot of players that have those risks we don’t even know have them… I’m a big believer in second chances, or second opportunities. I’m not perfect. We don’t want to make the same [mistakes] twice, but we’re here to help these guys get along.”
Armstrong Plays the Odds
In Blais, Kapanen, and Vrána, Armstrong has added three gamers who’re determined to show they need to have a future within the NHL. In so doing, he introduced (whether or not deliberately or not) that his crew’s “rebuilding” course of won’t be accomplished in a fashion of weeks or months. But he additionally gave himself an amazing alternative to appear like a genius just a few months down the road. While it’s unlikely that every one three gamers will return to type and have brilliant, memorable futures with the Blues, the chances counsel that a number of would possibly. And if Kapanen or Vrána particularly start to resemble their youthful selves in just a few months with the Blues, Armstrong will appear like a shrewd tactician for including them on a budget when he did.