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Friday, May 17, 2013

St. Louis Blues: 3 things the Blues must address this off-season

Now that it has been quite some time since the St. Louis Blues were bounced from the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second year in a row by the Los Angeles Kings, it is already time to start looking forward and analyzing what the Blues must do to get over the hump next season.

There are several key decisions that will need to be made by general manager Doug Armstrong. Several players, including star defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk are restricted free agents, along with center Patrik Berglund and forward Chris Stewart. Armstrong must also consider bringing back unrestricted free agents such as Jordan Leopold and Andy McDonald as well.

Once again, the Kings showed the Blues that there are some glaring holes that must be addressed if the Blues are to take the next step. Here are three things that Armstrong and the Blues must do this off-season to better prepare themselves for a deeper run next season.

1. Sign Alex Pietrangelo to a long-term contract extension. 

This is paramount. It is absolutely key. Pietrangelo must be locked up to a long-term contract extension this off-season and Armstrong should be working on nailing down a deal now with the 23 year old star.

Pietrangelo is absolutely the center piece of this team and should be for years to come. He has emerged as one of the best all-around defenseman in the NHL and will likely get paid like it, but it is a check the Blues must cut.

Pietrangelo does it all. He posted 24 points for the Blues in 47 games played and averaged an incredible 25:07 minutes per game of ice time to lead the team. There is no other move that is more important than securing Pietrangelo to a long-term deal and Armstrong must get this done now.

2. Find a play-making center

Many fans complain about this team lacking a goal-scorer, and rightfully so. But this team does have guys who can find the back of the net, it just does not have a player to put others consistently in a position to light the lamp.

Guys like David Perron, T.J. Oshie, Berglund and Stewart would likely score more goals if they did not have to spend so much time and energy cyclyng the puck around the boards in attempt to create a scoring opportunity.

If the Blues had a play-making center that can control the puck along the boards, gain the zone with ease, and make plays from behind the net, guys like Perron and company would light the lamp with more regularity.

Finding a play-making center will not be easy and will not be cheap. Armstrong must be willing to move players via trade and owner Tom Stillman must open up the pocket book to take on salary or make a splash in free agency on a guy like Mike Riberio if the Blues hope to solve their scoring deficiencies. A play-making center is the answer, more so than sniper.

3. Reduce the number of goalies to 2

The Blues net is too full and Armstrong must cut ties with somebody.

Brian Elliott emerged as the No. 1 guy late in the season, but that does not make him safe. Jaroslav Halak could not stay healthy this year, and evidently, could not get along with his coach during the playoffs either and he makes a huge chunk of change.

Jake Allen figures to be around one way or the other next season because of the way he played and helped save the Blues season this year. Oh, and he also makes next to nothing.

So either Halak or Elliott must be moved along, with Halak being the likely candidate in a salary dump in order not only to make room for Allen as the back-up to Elliott, but also to make room in the budget to ante up and give Pietrangelo a huge contract and find a play-making center.

Armstrong has plenty of work to do and it is going to be fun to watch as his decisions regarding next year's roster unfold.