The headline on July 10, 2014, read "Blues lose Vladimir Sobotka to KHL". The six most dreaded words for the St Louis Blues, became a reality. Not quite the sum of all fears, but close to it. The Blues have been building this team for years. Head coach Ken Hitchcock has done a fine job, and seems to have all the players fully committed. This was something they seemingly did not see coming. St Louis has come up short in the playoffs the last few seasons, but were actively making moves to improve the team.
The Blues' achilles heel, has been a lack of playoff scoring. Given the recent success of the Los Angeles Kings, NHL teams are prioritizing the need for strength at center ice. Having picked up Paul Stastny this offseason, the Blues were seemingly headed in the right direction, until this bombshell hit. The lineup should have had David Backes and Paul Stastny as the top two centers, backed up by Sobotka and Maxim Lapierre. Unstead, St Louis is now going to have to rely on veteran Steve Ott. Ott, along with goalie Ryan Miller, was signed at last season's trade deadline, and much like Miller, his impact on the team was negligible. 23 games played, zero goals, 3 assists, and a plus/minus rating of -12.
Miller simply did not come through in the big moments down the stretch of the regular season (Blues went 3-7 in last 10 games of the regular season), nor in the playoffs. In fact, Miller went belly-up in the first round of the playoffs, as the Blues were overwhelmed by Chicago, after winning the first two games of the series. As the series went on, Miller got weaker and weaker. He posted an abysmal .868 save percentage in Games 3-6, and ultimately wound up giving up five goals in the decisive Game 6; a 5-1 loss. File it under "Epic fail." Oddly, Miller is still considered a "top goaltender", which was a rather loose billing, even before this latest fiasco.
As the smoke clears, and we wait for NHL training camps to begin, the Blues look to rely on Brian Elliott in goal. Elliott has been solid over the years, and probably would have done a better job than Miller, had he been the postseason starter. Given the circumstances under which Miller came to the team, and the money committed, it would have been a sticky situation, had Hitchcock decided to bench Miller in the postseason. As an organization, the Blues were committed to ride and die with Miller. It was what it was.
The trade for Ott and Miller, was rather curious in the first place. The Blues gave away much-needed scoring (Chris Stewart), and a solid goaltender (Jaroslav Halak), for a non-scorer, and a goaltender who had never come up big in a playoff series. What's done, is done.
Looking toward the future, the Blues now have a hole at center ice which they must fill, otherwise they can say goodbye to any Stanley Cup hopes. When the team signed Paul Stastny, it seemed they were so close to making progress toward closing the gap on the vaunted four horsemen (Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll, Mike Richards) which the Los Angeles Kings have at center ice. In a flash, it all changed. Life comes at you fast, that's why you need a 'Plan B'. The Blues immediate reaction, was to sign Steve Ott to a new two-year contract. Let's see what else the Blues have.
Good luck to Sobotka, as he chases money instead of the Stanley Cup. I am sure he and Ilya Kovalchuk will have some great times.
In the meantime, the Los Angeles Kings and the Stanley Cup continue to travel the World.