The St. Louis Blues missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011, but they didn’t miss by much, finishing one point behind the Colorado Avalanche after losing in the regular-season finale.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Blues team that, despite missing the playoffs, could be set up for a big year because they have cap room and top prospects on the way.
The Blues have cap space that should allow them to get seriously into the player acquisition game this summer, whether that’s taking a run at prized free agent John Tavares or having the wherewithal to deal for a player that already has a substantial contract.
What may be even more exciting, though, is that the Blue have some top-notch prospects on the way. Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou are among the top dozen or so prospects outside the NHL right now, and both could be in the St. Louis lineup next season.
If the summer goes right, and the prospects are ready, then next season could bring some significant expectations for the Blues. Those are first-world hockey problems, though, when you have to worry about high expectations.
For a team that missed the playoffs by a point, the Blues could have a formidable lineup by the time the puck drops on next season, and that should be really exciting, but there's work to be done.
Doug Armstrong/Mike Yeo
Brayden Schenn – Came over from Philadelphia and stepped into the number one centre job with the Blues, putting up a career-high 28 goals and 70 points while playing a career-high 19:44 per game.
Jaden Schwartz – Injuries cost him 20 games, but there was little doubt which player was driving positive results for the Blues. Schwartz had 59 points in 62 games with dominant shot and goal differentials.
Vince Dunn – The rookie blueliner was a solid contributor on the third pair for most of the season but, as injuries hit some of the Blues’ veteran defencemen, Dunn played a bigger role down the stretch, playing more than 19 minutes per game in his last 20 games of the season.
Jay Bouwmeester – More than 1,100 games into his career, the 34-year-old is naturally not the same player that he was at his peak. Injuries have started to hit the former iron man and he was buried in his own end a lot (49.4 CF%, -4.7 CFRel%) when he was in the lineup.
Vladimir Sobotka – Although his 31 points was his most since 2013-14, the veteran forward had been in the KHL since then. Sobotka was serviceable, but was outshot and outscored at 5-on-5, and the Blues probably hoped for better.
Jake Allen – After an amazing run down the stretch of the 2016-17 season, Allen headed into last season with big expectations and responded with a poor season, his .906 save percentage counting as his worst since he was first called up in 2012-13.
FREE AGENT FORWARDS
When the Blues acquired Brayden Schenn from Philadelphia, it seemed like a nice move, a player who had come off back-to-back seasons with at least 25 goals and 55 points, but a lot of that production had come on the power play where Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek could get playmaking credit. But Schenn arrived in St. Louis, moved into the first line centre role and delivered the best season of his career. He plays a physical game, too, but Schenn’s skill was probably a little better than expected.
It says something about how great Vladimir Tarasenko is that his 33-goal season counts as disappointing, and it is to some degree because he had scored 39, 40 and 37 in the three previous seasons, but his underlying numbers are still very positive. Tarasenko generated a career-high 3.83 shots per game last season, but shot a career-low 10.8% even though he got a bunch of quality shots. Alex Ovechkin is the only player in the league with more goals over the past four seasons, so let’s not worry too much about Tarasenko.
A first-round pick in 2010, Jaden Schwartz has been a steady prosurpassing 50 points four times in the past five seasons, but last season was different. Not only did he put up 24 goals and 59 points, he did it while missing 20 games and driving play when he was on the ice (57.0 CF%, +6.8 CFRel%). He’s a bit of an underrated star.
Thirty-four-year-old winger Alexander Steen isn’t the two-way force that he was earlier in his career, but he remains a solid contributor. He still has three years left on his contract, which may eventually pose challenges, but he’s still a solid pro.
The Blues got Vladimir Sobotka back from the KHL in time for the 2017 playoffs, and he played a significant role last season – more than 17 minutes per game for 81 games – but his contribution was, basically, fine. There would be nothing wrong with rolling him back out, maybe for fewer minutes, next season, but he could be an off-season trade chip, too.
Off-season shoulder surgery delayed Patrik Berglund’s start to the season and the 29-year-old still ended up with 17 goals in 57 games. He topped 40 points twice in his first three seasons in the league and hasn’t crossed that line since. He’s still under contract for four more seasons, but it’s conceivable that the Blues could find a centre-needy team that would be willing to shift Berglund back to the middle.
Ivan Barbashev has been gradually working his way into the Blues’ lineup, putting up 25 points in 83 games over the past two seasons. The challenge now, with prospects pushing for jobs, is keeping a spot and possibly moving up the depth chart.
2016 first-rounder Tage Thompson saw a half season’s worth of NHL action and the 20-year-old showed some promise, but he could also use more time to develop, too. He may not have a high offensive ceiling, but should become a steady NHL player.
The Blues traded Ryan Reaves to Pittsburgh at the draft, but couldn’t go without that fourth-line muscle, apparently, so they inked Chris Thorburn to a two-year contract. Given the depth of their forward talent, it’s hard to image that next year’s Blues team has a lot of room for Thorburn in the lineup.
Twenty-five-year-old winger Dmitrij Jaskin has managed just 25 goals in 266 games, but he’s a solid player who can fill a variety of roles in the lineup, as needed.
Acquired from Pittsburgh in the Reaves trade, Oskar Sundqvist was a part-time player for the Blues last season. It’s still up for debate if the 24-year-old is going to be able to stick as a full-time NHLer.
The Blues traded for Nikita Soshnikov from Toronto and his grade in a dozen games with St. Louis would probably be incomplete. He had some decent moments in a depth role with Toronto, so it’s worth giving the 24-year-old a longer look, but he’s still trying to establish that he’s a legit NHLer.
Robby Fabbri missed the entire 2017-18 season due to a (second) torn ACL, but the 22-year-old has scored 29 goals in 123 games, showing enough offensive potential that he should have value, if healthy. The ‘if healthy’ part is a big one though.
One of the real strengths for the Blues right now is that they have some high-quality prospects. Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou are the top two, and both could be ready to join the Blues next season, a major infusion of young (and, therefore, inexpensive) talent to the squad.
The Blue also have significant cap space this summer, which would allow them to take a shot at a premier free agent like John Tavares, but if they don’t land Tavares, the Blues should still be in play to land a significant player. (For example, in the Buffalo Sabres’ Off-Season Game Plan, I had the Blues trading for Ryan O’Reilly.)
FREE AGENT DEFENCEMAN
Captain Alex Pietrangelo got off to a wonderful start last season, and he ended up with a career-high 54 points but, as usual, his possession numbers were just okay – the Blues had ever-so-slightly better shot differentials with him off the ice. This isn’t some massive indictment of Pietrangelo, but it is a point of differentiation between him and perennial Norris Trophy candidates.
Twenty-five-year-old Colton Parayko has been an impressive contributor in his first three NHL seasons. His goal differentials (outscored 58-48 at 5-on-5) last season weren’t great, but he also had a career-low PDO of 97.8, despite solid defensive play, so odds are that will flip.
The Blues eased 21-year-old Vince Dunn into the lineup, and he spent most of the season playing well on the third pairing. He saw more minutes later in the season and offered a glimpse into what he could possibly provide in a role with more responsibility.
For most of his career, 29-year-old Robert Bortuzzo has been on the fringe of the lineup, a part-time player, but he dressed for a career-high 72 games last season and he earned that on merit. He’s a reasonably-priced physical presence on the third pairing.
Veteran blueliner Carl Gunnarsson was obliterated in terms of shot differentials (46.8 CF%, -6.6 CFRel%) and yet the Blues outscored the opposition 35-22 with Gunnarsson on the ice during 5-on-5 play. He also had surgery to repair a torn ACL late in the season, so the 31-year-old wil probably not be ready for the start of next season.
Father Time may be catching up to Jay Bouwmeester, who averaged a career-low 20:08 ice time per game last season in the 35 games that he played. GM Doug Armstrong thinks that a healthy Bouwmeester can still play, so we’ll see what happens when he recovers from hip surgery.
Twenty-four-year-old Joel Edmundson has made steady progress, taking on more minutes each season and he just played for Canada at the World Championships, an indicator of his development. He’s also a restricted free agent, so Edmundson should be looking a new long-term contract this summer.
Given the injury issues with Gunnarsson and Bouwmeester, the Blues would probably be wise to grab a veteran defenceman in free agency. Dan Hamhuis would be a good fit while John Moore, Toby Enstrom or Thomas Hickey could have some appeal.
|NAME||GP||W||L||T||SV%||EV SV%||2018-19 CAP|
FREE AGENT GOALTENDER
|NAME||GP||W||L||T||SV%||EV SV%||2017-18 CAP||STATUS|
Jake Allen was so good late in the 2016-17 season, posting a .935 save percentage in 26 starts after the All-Star break and .935 in another 11 playoff starts, that he looked like a solid No. 1 heading into last season. Then, after a fine start to the season, it started to go downhill in November and consistency eluded him the rest of the way.
Allen’s performance leads to the possibility that he gets challenged for the starter’s job, either with the Blues making a trade or giving top goalie prospect Ville Husso his shot. Husso has a .921 save percentage in 60 AHL games over the past two seasons, so he’s ready for the next step, though that doesn’t necessarily mean the 23-year-old will be ready to start.
|Robert Thomas||C||49||24||51||75||+17||Hamilton (OHL)|
|Jordan Kyrou||RW||56||39||70||109||+26||Sarnia (OHL)|
|Klim Kostin||RW||67||6||22||28||-6||San Antonio (AHL)|
|Jake Walman||D||59||4||16||20||-7||Chicago (AHL)|
|Jordan Schmaltz||D||31||5||18||23||+9||Chicago (AHL)|
|Ville Husso||G||38||.922||San Antonio (AHL)|
|Samuel Blais||LW||42||17||23||40||-2||San Antonio (AHL)|
|Nolan Stevens||LW||38||24||18||42||+6||Northeastern (HE)|
|Erik Foley||LW||38||16||19||35||+12||Providence (HE)|
|Petteri Lindbohm||D||23||1||2||3||+2||Chicago (AHL)|
|Jordan Binnington||G||28||.926||Providence (AHL)|
|Niko Mikkola||D||50||2||9||11||+11||Tappara (SML)|
|Tanner Kaspick||C||60||25||39||64||+25||Victoria (WHL)|
|Evan Fitzpatrick||G||46||.893||Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)|
|David Noel||D||68||14||32||46||-53||Val d'Or (QMJHL)|
29th – Martin Kaut, Ryan McLeod, Rasmus Sandin
The have approximately $62.1M committed to the 2018-19 salary cap for 18 players.
Three top-nine forwards, one defenceman, backup goaltender
WHAT I SAID THE BLUES NEEDED LAST YEAR
Financial flexibility, depth forwards, depth defencemen
Brayden Schenn, Chris Thorburn, Oskar Sundqvist, Vince Dunn
Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Robby Fabbri, prospects
PROJECTED 2018-2019 DEPTH CHART
|LEFT WING||CENTRE||RIGHT WING|
|Jaden Schwartz||Ryan O'Reilly*||Vladimir Tarasenko|
|Alexander Steen||Brayden Schenn||Jordan Kyrou|
|Patrik Berglund||Robert Thomas||Dmitrij Jaskin|
|Ivan Barbashev||Vladimir Sobotka||Tage Thompson|
|Samuel Blais||Oskar Sundqvist||Nikita Soshnikov|
|Zach Sanford||Nolan Stevens||Chris Thorburn|
|LEFT DEFENCE||RIGHT DEFENCE||GOALTENDER|
|Dan Hamhuis*||Alex Pietrangelo||Jake Allen|
|Joel Edmundson||Colton Parayko||Ville Husso|
|Vince Dunn||Roberto Bortuzzo||Jordan Binnington|
|Jay Bouwmeester||Jordan Schmaltz|
|Carl Gunnarsson||Jake Walman|
Scott Cullen can be reached at email@example.com