It's the question Blues' fans seem to be asking these days...
What about the defense, and are the Blues going to trade for/sign a puck-moving defenseman?
It's something the Blues have sorely missed since the days of Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis. Let's face it...they haven't had one since that time. The draft pick of Erik Johnson in 2007 was specifically designed to plug that gaping hole for the next 10-15 years. Coming out of the University of Minnesota, Johnson was known as a guy that could move the puck out of his own zone, create plays, be a physical presence, and present a hard, booming shot from the point on the power play. His first season with the Blues was above-average, but also a learning experience, as it is with all first year players. But, Johnson tallied five goals and 28 assists in 69 games for a team that finished 14th in the Western Conference. In comparison, when Johnson was lost for the entire 2008-09 season with a torn ACL after a freak golf injury, the highest scoring defenseman on the Blues for 2008-09 was Barrett Jackman....with 4 goals.
Considering that Barrett Jackman is not a puck-moving defenseman, or a goal-scoring defenseman for that matter, one word comes into play when seeing that stat...
The Blues missed Johnson's presence on defense last season, no doubt. Fresh off of knee surgery, who knows if Johnson is going to be the same, or better than he was in 2007. A torn ACL is a very serious, and sometimes career-threatening injury. Athlete's bodies react in different ways after that type of surgery is done, so there's no telling how EJ is going to look, much less produce, when he gets into game action.
Also, looking at the defense for the upcoming season (besides EJ), the roster as now sits like this:
Eric Brewer (he's a big question mark as well, after back surgery)
The Blues have varying issues with these guys as well. Polak has yet to accept his qualifying offer from the team, and both sides are far apart on a contract extension. He'll most likely get a one-year deal and re-visit this entire scenario after this season is over, or he can choose to sit out until he gets the contract he wants. The ball is in his court, but the Blues aren't going to budge and overpay him after one decent NHL season. John Davidson and Larry Pleau aren't dumb. They know this, and want Polak to be able to prove that last season wasn't a fluke.
Brewer, as I mentioned, underwent back surgery during the middle of last season, and has yet to return to skating activities. Is he going to be 100% and game-ready by the time the season starts? Who knows.
Alex Pietrangelo has a grand total of nine NHL games played under his belt. He was the Blues' first round draft pick (#4 overall) in 2008, and was sent back to Juniors to develop his overall game after his nine-game trial run with the big club. The Blues are hoping that after hitting the weight room and putting on some muscle, that he's more of a physical presence and be one of those puck-moving defensemen that can put the puck in the net. People have to remember, though, that he's still only at the ripe, young age of 19. If he makes the team this year out of camp, you can expect quite a few rookie mistakes.
Carlo Colaiacovo was brought over from Toronto a fourth of the way into the season in the trade that sent Lee Stempniak to the Maple Leafs. Colaiacovo made an immediate impact on a slumping Blues' team searching for answers on defense. Can Colaiacovo regain that form and play as well as he did last season?
Now that that's been taken care of, let's move on to the remaining defensemen out in the free-agent market, or are available for trade. Should the Blues use a defensive roaster spot on a veteran, puck-moving, scoring defenseman that can mentor the younger guys? Well, here's who is left...
Sergei Zubov - There's no question that, when healthy, Zubov is a guy that can put the puck in the net on defense. He's averaged 10 goals a season in 16 years in the NHL. And, he's a huge threat from the point on the power play. But, that's if he's healthy, and that's been a big question mark for him the last two seasons. Hip surgery sidelined him for a little less than half of the 2007-08 season, and all but 10 games of the 2008-09 season. Doctors are saying he's 100% and ready to go, but after two hip surgeries, is he really 100%?
Anton Babchuk - He's an RFA, which would require an offer sheet, but I've heard rumblings that he's looking to head to Russia again. Pass.
Christian Backman - Been there, done that, seen what he can and can't do...no thanks.
Brendan Bell - Another RFA. Has shown some flashes of a scoring touch, and is a decent defenseman in his own right. He could be a cheap, affordable option for an offer sheet if Ottawa is willing to part with him.
Marc-Andre Bergeron - Another scoring threat, especially on the power play, but is very weak in his own zone, and sometimes looks completely lost. Not at all your typical defenseman, which is what is hurting his value on the free agent market. The Blues have had enough defenseman in the past few seasons that really couldn't play the position to begin with, so signing Bergeron would be a big question mark.
Francis Bouillon - His days in Montreal appear to be over, but he's more of a physical, stay-at-home defenseman than anything. He wouldn't fit the Blues' needs.
Patrice Brisebois - Another Montreal mainstay that appears to be on the outs. Unfortunately, his best days appear to be behind him, and probably aren't coming back. Pass.
Jassen Cullimore - Pass. Enough said.
Rob Davison - A physical, tough defenseman that isn't scared to drop the gloves with the best in the league. But, that doesn't fit the description of what the Blues need, and they have two guys that can throw down already, Cam Janssen and DJ King.
Greg de Vries - He's been know to score a few goals, and is also a pretty physical defenseman as well. He could be an affordable option if need be.
Denis Grebeshkov - This young talent looks to have a ton of potential. He has a scoring touch and a hard shot. He's an RFA. Would the Blues be willing to throw him an offer sheet?
Bret Hedican - Now there's a name from the past! A former first round draft pick of the Blues back in 1988. How about a Bret Hedican-St. Louis Blues reunion? On second thought, maybe not.
Marek Malik - Snooze.....No way.
Kyle McLaren - Another one of those affordable possibilities.
Derek Morris - After having one of his worst seasons offensively in the NHL last year, his asking price may have dropped significantly. Still, he would fit the image of what the Blues would want in a defenseman. Can they persuade him to jumpto the midwest from the East Coast, though, because the Islanders are pushing hard for his services.
Mathieu Schneider - He's probably one of the best left in terms of a puck-moving defenseman. I've heard that Montreal is trying to bring him back and make him their new team captain, but for the right price, can the Blues bring him in to help on their blueline?
Dennis Seidenberg - Seidenberg had the best year offensively of his NHL career. He's looking to cash in on that with a nice payday. The Hurricanes have resumed talks on a contract extension. I doubt the Blues are willing to overpay Seidenberg after one outstanding NHL season, compared to five subpar seasons.
Darryl Sydor - Sydor has always been a durable defenseman with flashes of scoring touch. For a one-year deal at around $1.5 million, he could be a fit for the Blues.
As for trade bait, there seems to be only one guy out there, and we all know who that is:
Tomas Kaberle - For an average defenseman, Toronto and Brian Burke seem to be asking for the entire bank for him. Yes, the guy can score, but is he really as great as Burke seems to be making him out to be? I'm going on record and saying no. If the Blues were to trade for Kaberle, I'd be fine with it. But, if Brian Burke thinks that the Blues would be willing to give up the best we have in young prospects (Palushaj, Cole, Perron, Oshie, etc.), which is what I've heard, then he really is out of his mind.
So, what do you all think the Blues will end up doing? Will they stick with the young guys and see how it plays out, or will they sign or trade for a veteran defenseman? My gut feeling says the Blues will heavily pursue Zubov or Schneider going into training camp, and end up with one of the two.
But, that's just me. I'm just a blogger, what do I know?