Disappointed Blues go into the offseason with plenty of questions to be answered
It all played out over 23 days this month, like a cruel April Fool’s joke.
The St. Louis Blues’ 5-1 loss to the Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon at United Center in Chicago eliminated the visitors in six games of this Western Conference first-round playoff series.
It was the 10th loss in 12 games for the Blues, who lost the final six games of the regular season, won the first two games of this playoff series in St. Louis and then, for the second consecutive year, lost four in a row.
"Well, it’s not real unfamiliar territory. We had a similar situation last year against the Kings," Blues captain David Backes told Bernie Federko on the FOX Sports Midwest Blues Live postgame show. "This one going into so many overtimes and having so many games close up until that third period when they get a power-play goal, we start pressing a little bit to try to create offense and then they were really able to stretch us out and capitalize on mistakes and chances. …
"We’ll be thinking about this long into the summer and into next year. The taste is sour. We played the game all year. Whatever was accomplished in the regular season and all that hoopla, we played for the postseason. We were built to still be playing right now. The fact is that we’re not and we didn’t get the job done."
In three weeks the Blues went from competing for the Presidents’ Trophy to another untimely first-round playoff exit against the defending Stanley Cup champs.
"I think St. Louis deserves a Stanley Cup and this should have been the year that we gave it to them," T.J. Oshie told reporters.
Steve Ott said: "It’s never fun when you expect to win a Cup. Let’s be honest, that’s what we expected out of us and (we) didn’t get the job done."
The Blues go into the offseason with plenty of questions to be answered.
The No. 1 question has to be what happens in net.
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong went all in when he traded Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier, a first-round pick in 2015 and a conditional pick in 2016 to Buffalo for goaltender Ryan Miller and Ott.
That was a steep price to pay for two guys who were set to be unrestricted free agents this offseason, but a worthwhile gamble if those players — specifically the goalie — made the difference in a playoff run.
Miller made 25 starts in a Blues uniform. He went 12-12-1 with a 2.53 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage.
In six playoff games Miller had a 2.70 GAA and a .897 save percentage.
Many fans will blame Miller for this series loss, but that’s not fair. Miller kept the Blues in the first five games but the team couldn’t come through with the goals they needed to win Games 3, 4 or 5.
That said, what happens with Miller and the Blues will be interesting. The 33-year-old made $6.25 million this season and will likely want similar money annually on the open market.
Do the Blues want him back? Does he even want to be back?
Those are questions we don’t have answers to right now.
Backup Brian Elliott is also an unrestricted free agent and the Blues have prospect Jake Allen waiting for his chance.
St. Louis could save money by handing the job to Allen and trying to re-sign Elliott, who made $1.8 million this season. But are the Blues willing to go with a young goalie on a team that should once again be among the best in the West next year?
If goalie is the biggest concern going into the offseason, adding another goal-scorer may be 1A.
The Blues’ lack of scoring was an issue in the second half of the regular season and then became the difference in losing four straight games to end this series.
After scoring eight goals in the first two games, St. Louis scored just six goals over the final four games.
The Blues had chances to win Game 4 in Chicago and Game 5 in St. Louis. Win both of those and they’re moving on. Win either of those games and they’re going to Game 7 on Tuesday.
The Blues’ balanced scoring throughout the regular season was one of their strengths, but they needed more late in the regular season and in this playoff series.
Among its forwards, St. Louis got four goals in this series from Vladimir Tarasenko, two from Oshie and one apiece from Alexander Steen, Jaden Schwartz, Adam Cracknell, Maxim Lapierre and Chris Porter. Backes did not score a goal in his four games.
Adding another goal-scorer could also help a woeful power-play unit that scored on just two of 29 opportunities (6.9 percent) in the playoffs and scored once in 16 tries (6.25 percent) in the four losses.
This goal-scoring issue could take care of itself with further development from Tarasenko and Schwartz and the addition of prospect Ty Rattie, but adding another scorer can’t hurt.
With players such as Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Steen, Oshie and Kevin Shattenkirk under contract through the 2016-17 season, the Blues have positioned themselves to be a contender for the next few seasons.
Armstrong will have some difficult decisions to make, but with most of the roster under contract for next season he’ll be able to concentrate on the Blues’ biggest areas of need and have the opportunity to add the pieces St. Louis needs to make a playoff run next April.
"This team’s real close," Ott told reporters Sunday. "Real close to being something special."
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.