The St. Louis Blues were one of the most inactive teams this summer, right alongside the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks. With their relative success in a difficult Central division, it’s easy to understand why they didn’t make too many seismic transactions. Still, they had a moderate backslide in points last season despite making it to the second round. With only 99 points, they easily could have found themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. The team’s only major move this off-season was trading Jori Lehtera for Brayden Schenn, by most accounts a trade they came out on top. Still, did the Blues need to be more aggressive?
The team has one of the most consistently underrated defensemen in Alex Pietrangelo, and Colton Parayko behind him is no slouch. After that, however, the pickings on defense are rather uninspiring. Jay Bouwmeester still logs substantial time on ice, with a 22:24 average, but there are signs his play is starting to slip. His last four seasons have been negative possession seasons (relative Corsi), and his offensive game has completely dried up. He only scored one goal to accompany his 14 assists last season. Furthermore, age is starting to catch up to him in terms of footspeed. He’ll be 35 this season, and that issue isn’t going to get any better in the years to come. Carl Gunnarsson only saw sheltered time last year, with just over 13 minutes a night against weaker competition. Robert Bortuzzo is a 6th defenseman at best and Joel Edmundson has work to round out his game if he wants to solidify himself as a top-four defender. Ultimately, the team needs defensive help, especially when the team will be up against the likes of the Blackhawks and Stars on a regular basis.
The offense is deep but undeniably overly reliant on Vladimir Tarasenko. Paul Stastny is looking nowhere near worth his contract, and Alex Steen has to slow down at some point in the near future. Jaden Schwartz is primed to have another solid 50+ point season, but if the bodies around him again struggle with consistency it could be an uphill endeavor. Robby Fabbri is another player to watch, as the former first-rounder looks to put together a solid, healthy campaign. The aforementioned addition of Schenn is valuable, but the team could arguably have done more to bring fresh blood in. The team is really banking on Vladimir Sobotka to prove his worth, but there is still the risk of him not producing. He’s never topped 10 goals in an NHL season, after all. Ivan Barbashev looks very promising, but he’s still somewhat of an unknown entity at this point. Ultimately, the team lacks a proven, go-to offensive threat behind Tarasenko Whereas other teams in the division have exceptional one-two punches, the Blues are still hoping to develop theirs fully.
There were available names this offseason to be had if GM Doug Armstrong was willing to make the moves. An Alexander Radulov, for example, would have done wonders to ease some of the pressure from Tarasenko. There are still names available, though, such as Thomas Vanek and Jaromir Jagr up front. On defense, not much remains at this late date. A trade would really be the only sensible option. The team is still relatively undersized up front and overtaxes the top defenders. Cap space was undoubtedly an issue, as at $72.57 MM currently there was little room to maneuver. Still, moving out a larger contract like Stastny’s or Bouwmeester’s might have cleared room to add an important piece or two. The Blues lost Kevin Shattenkirk at the deadline, and it remains to be seen how his absence will affect the team over the course of a full year. The coaching staff behind Mike Yeo did phenomenal work to bring the team back into contention, but stagnation can often cost teams who are on the bubble. It will be interesting to see if Armstrong remains quiet this off-season, or opts for an additional move before the season’s start.