After yet another disappointing playoff exit for the Cup-hungry St. Louis Blues, there was a lot of debate about just how they might get over the hump. Or would they ever?
The acquisition of netminder Ryan Miller at the 2014 trade deadline at great cost to the Blues wasn’t the answer, as the Blues blew a 2-0 series lead against Chicago and lost four straight for their second first-round exit in the past three seasons.
But credit GM Doug Armstrong for staying on task as he shook off that disappointment and landed the top center on the free-agent landscape, signing longtime Colorado Avalanche Paul Stastny to a four-year deal worth $28 million early Tuesday afternoon.
Stastny has seen his career revived in the past couple of seasons, beginning with a star turn at the 2013 World Championships. That led to a second straight berth with the U.S. Olympic team in Sochi, and he enjoyed a strong 2013-14 season with a revitalized Avs team, scoring 25 times in the regular season and then adding an impressive five goals and five assists in the team’s seven-game first-round series loss to the Minnesota Wild.
A solid two-way player, Stastny will fit in well with the blue-collar work ethic long espoused by Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. As was made obvious by the Dallas Stars’ earlier acquisition of Jason Spezza, it’s no longer simply good enough to have a top center in the Western Conference; you have to have a bunch of them. Adding Stastny to play behind (or in front of) captain David Backes will take pressure off the rugged Backes, who last year formed one of the league’s most dynamic forward combinations with Alexander Steen and T.J. Oshie.
But by the end of the playoffs, Backes was worn down (in large part due to a dirty hit courtesy of Brent Seabrook) and the team’s offense dried up. During the team’s final four games they scored just six times.
Although the Avs anticipated Stastny’s departure -- acquiring veteran center Daniel Briere in exchange for P.A. Parenteau on Monday -- the Blues’ acquisition also ups the ante within the suddenly competitive Central Division.
As noted, Dallas made things much more interesting in the Central with its addition of Spezza to play behind Tyler Seguin. And the Blackhawks are another team looking for help down the middle, as is Nashville, which acquired sniper James Neal from Pittsburgh on Friday at the draft but needs to find a top center to help get him the puck.
Stastny would have looked good with the Preds or the Blackhawks or even staying with the Avalanche. But that’s not how it turned out and that’s good news for Blues fans who are anxious for such good news to translate into playoff success.