The defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues are hoping for more of the same this season. To that end, they left well enough alone and ensured their existing roster was intact. Sammy Blais, Robby Fabbri, Oskar Sundqvist, and goalie Jordan Binnington all signed contracts, while Joel Edmundson was awarded his one-year deal through arbitration. Carl Gunnarsson also re-upped in late June.
Two free agents, defenceman Michael Del Zotto and forward Pat Maroon, did leave. That opens up options for some younger players to jump into the gap, which is something Blues head coach Craig Berube is excited about. Even he signed a new deal, by the way, inking a three-year contract late June.
“Our young guys, they got to push the envelope here and come with a lot of energy early on in the season, that’s going to be really important,” Berube said. “We’ve got some young guys and some other players who will probably be fighting for a better spot in the lineup on a nightly basis, which is good, so I think we’re going to have good competition in our group, which is good.”
The Blues wove one impressive story last season. They were last place in the NHL in January of 2019 and managed to work their way not only into the playoffs but all the way to ultimate victory. This season, it’ll be a lot harder for St. Louis to pull off a similar surprise.
The Blues finished seventh in goal-scoring in the Western Conference with 247 goals. Three players had over 23 goals last season, including David Perron, Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko. Tarasenko led the team with 33 goals in 76 games. He had 45 points in the last 38 games of the season and is one of just two players with five straight 30-goal seasons. The other player is Alex Ovechkin.
Tarasenko’s consistency drives the Blues’ attack, but many believe the best is still to come. The 27-year-old has yet to surpass 75 points in a season, though he did score 40 goals in 2015-2016. O’Reilly had a career-best season with 77 points in 82 games, plus he picked up the Conn Smythe after his amazing playoff performance. He’s starting to shoot the puck more.
Brayden Schenn had an off year, with diminishing returns in most offensive categories. But the 28-year-old from Saskatoon did have a fantastic playoff run and found a spot on a line with Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. With those two as potential linemates, it’s possible Schenn has a career year this season.
Like Schenn, Schwartz had an off year last time out. The 27-year-old winger had just 36 points, including 11 goals, in 69 games. To contrast that, Schwartz had 59 points in 62 games in 2017-2018. His lower production came to an end in the playoffs, where he picked up a career-high 20 points in 26 games.
The Blues were among the stingiest teams in the NHL last season, allowing just 223 goals against. Much of that has to do with playing in front of Binnington in the second half of the season. He allowed just 26 percent of the team’s goals against in his 30 starts. The rest of the way, the Blues were powered by solid but not superior D.
That’s not for a lack of commendable names. Alex Pietrangelo tops the charts and is your best bet for fantasy numbers out of the St. Louis blueliners. He had 41 points in 71 regular season games, a step down from the past three seasons. But he came through in the post-season, with 19 points in 26 games.
Colton Parayko saw an uptick in ice time last season and is second in the category behind Pietrangelo. He’s only missed six games over the last four seasons and will see more ice time now that Marc Savard is the assistant coach. That should mean a retooling of the power play, which should mean a focus on Pietrangelo and Parayko as QBs.
As mentioned, much of last season’s success hinged on Binnington. The team came alive when he snagged the starter position and pushed Jake Allen aside to lead the Blues to the playoffs – and beyond. The 26-year-old won 24 games in 30 starts, with a 1.89 goals against average and a .927 save percentage.
Veteran netminder Allen is coming off a career-worst season. The 29-year-old won 19 of 45 starts, with a 2.83 goals against average and a .905 save percentage. With Binnington starting a likely 60 games, Allen will have the chance to redefine his game as a support player.
Apart from signing some critical players and seeing a pair of role players depart, it was a quiet summer for the Blues. Kind of. They were busy celebrating the Cup win, which predictably leads to questions about a “hangover.” And with no Blue, apart from Jordan Nolan, having hoisted the prize before, the feeling is as intoxicating as the off-season is short.
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