What a weird season for St. Louis Blues fans... but totally in line with what a Bob Gainey-led organization - he's currently a "special advisor to GM Doug Armstrong", his protégé from their Dallas Stars days - feels like, as many of the moves and results are reminiscent of his time as Montréal Canadiens General Manager...
First, anointing a #1 goalie without competition too early is one of his signature moves, one he pulled with Carey Price six years too early, trading a staggering number of #1 goalies to make room for him, among which Vezina and Hart winner José Theodore, David Aebischer, Crozier winner Cristobal Huet, and of course playoff wunderkind Jaroslav Halak. Then came appointing no-threat backups, such as Peter Budaj, who just spent two full seasons in the AHL (although, to be honest, I would have put him in this year's All-Star Game).
To make room for Jake Allen to star in net, the Blues first got rid of now-Jennings winner Halak themselves, then co-Jennings winner Brian Elliott this summer, to install Carter Hutton as backup, who had one decent season out of the three-or-four he's played in so far.
Another signature Gainey move - and one that is rarer in professional hockey - is to have both the incumbent head coach and his heir behind the same bench, already labeled. With the Habs, upon firing Claude Julien, Gainey installed himself behind the bench to conclude the season, with "best friend" Guy Carbonneau as "associate head coach" to become full-time boss the next year.
In St. Louis, Ken Hitchcock, in the final season of his six-year term with the Blues, had next year's head coach Mike Yeo with him behind the bench. Not having the benefit of also being the team's GM, Hitchcock saw the players respond more to Yeo than himself, leading to his firing today; Armstrong said he had to let his "best friend go"...
Speaking of the stress of being in the final year of a contract, Gainey had no less than 13 skaters become free agents at the end of the 2008-09 season for a total of 22 player changes that summer - and not just bit players, either: out went ten-year captain Saku Koivu, All-Star Game MVP Alex Kovalev, first-liner Alex Tanguay, All-Star defenseman Mike Komisarek, as well as dependable players such as Tom Kostopoulos; in came Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Travis Moen, and no less than four new defensemen: Hal Gill, Jaroslav Spacek, Paul Mara and Marc-André Bergeron. Oh, and he traded for Scott Gomez...
In St. Louis this year, in addition to Hitchcock, several players are set to turn UFA this summer (Kevin Shattenkirk, Patrik Berglund, Scottie Upshall, Chris Butler) and a few will be RFAs (Nail Yakupov, Robby Fabbri, Colton Parayko, and pretty much everyone on the Chicago Wolves).
Speaking of Shattenkirk, one player he reminds me of is Gaston Gingras; they have similar styles of play, Gingras may have had a better shot and better skating ability and Shattenkirk may be better all-around, more physical and more impactful nowadays because of the way the game is played - which is why the current player is a #3 defender on a top-level team while Gingras was a #5 and powerplay specialist - but both are 40-some point producers while playing a sound game that moves the puck forward.
Here is Gingras, depicted with the Blues, on card #229 from O-Pee-Chee's 1987-88 O-Pee-Chee set, in one of those airbrushed photos they were so fond of:
Gingras played with Gainey on the Stanley Cup-winning 1986 Habs, with rookie Conn Smythe winner Patrick Roy in nets, which may have skewed his vision of how to deal with starting goalies. Speaking of which, the Blues also fired goaltending coach Jim Corsi, inventor of the Corsi shot-tracking pretend-advanced statistic, who paid for Allen's and Hutton's sub-par season, where they currently stand in 27th position overall. He was replaced by the two-headed monster of Martin Brodeur and Ty Conklin, because what the team needed this year was another scapegoat and another bizarre occurrence.
Oh, and by the way, the Habs had also let go of their goalie coach, Roland Melanson, after Price choked in the 2009 playoffs. Because history loves to repeat itself around Gainey.