The offseason has arrived for half of the league’s teams that aren’t taking part in the playoffs plus those that were eliminated early. It’s time to examine what they will need to accomplish over the coming months. Next up is a look at St. Louis.
It would be fair to say that the 2022-23 season didn’t go as planned for St. Louis. A veteran-laden squad, there was an expectation that they’d be squarely in the playoff mix. That didn’t happen. Instead, St. Louis was one of the bigger sellers leading up to the trade deadline before going and doing some of their summer shopping early with the acquisitions of Jakub Vrana and Kasperi Kapanen. While those pickups suggest they aren’t intending to bottom out next season, they’ll have some work to do this offseason to try to move back up in the standings.
Round Out Coaching Staff
Following a disappointing season like this one, some had wondered if there would be big changes behind the bench. That wasn’t the case as Craig Berube remains as head coach but he’s in need of a pair of assistants as Craig MacTavish and Mike Van Ryn were both dismissed the day after the season. MacTavish had been brought in to replace Jim Montgomery (who became the bench boss in Boston) while van Ryn had been on the staff for the past five seasons.
MacTavish was responsible for the penalty kill early on in the season before Van Ryn, who also ran the defense, took over. In the end, the penalty kill had a success rate of just 72.4%, good for 30th in the league. The Blues could opt to promote from within to fill those vacancies with AHL Springfield head coach Drew Bannister and associate coach Daniel Tkaczuk being the top options to move up. Otherwise, they’ll look outside the organization to round out their staff. This one isn’t a very high priority but it’s something GM Doug Armstrong will have to work on in the coming weeks.
The optics for Marco Scandella’s time in St. Louis haven’t been great. The Blues acquired him from Montreal back in 2020 for a second-round pick and a conditional fourth-rounder. On the surface, that seems fine but the Canadiens had acquired him for a fourth-rounder alone just six weeks earlier. Yes, salary retention was a factor but it seemed like a high price to pay nonetheless. The four-year, $13.1MM extension he signed less than two months later also seemed on the high side. That deal has one season left heading into 2023-24 and it’s going to be a problematic one.
It isn’t that Scandella is a particularly poor defender. He’s a bit more of an older-fashioned rearguard who doesn’t jump into the play; he’s a stay-at-home player. Those aren’t in high demand anymore but he’s a situational player that can play on the penalty kill. There’s still a use for that type of player, just not at $3.275MM. With St. Louis having minimal cap space (less than $7MM per CapFriendly), that’s a premium for a sixth defender that they can no longer afford.
Of course, there aren’t many other teams that can afford that premium either. As a result, the Blues will have to incentivize a team to trade for him, further adding to those poor optics. Alternatively, they may have to look into buying out the final year of his contract. Such a move would save them $2.75MM next season but add $1MM to the books in 2024-25. In theory, they could waive Scandella and send him down in October which would free up $1.15MM in room but most of that would have to go towards a replacement body, making that scenario not a great one either. Frankly, none of them are ideal but if Armstrong needs some extra flexibility this summer, this is their best chance to get it and a move involving Scandella will need to be made.
Add Forward Help
One of the things that St. Louis will need cap space for is to add help offensively. The team parted with long-time veterans Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly prior to the trade deadline and while both players were potentially on their way out the door anyway as free agents, they didn’t exactly acquire impact pieces in those swaps, instead opting for futures-based returns. They were a mid-pack scoring team this season and with those two gone (plus Ivan Barbashev), there are some holes to fill offensively. They can hope for bounce-back years for Vrana and Kapanen but those two alone aren’t going to fill the void.
It’s not a great free agent market this summer for teams looking to add impact pieces up front but St. Louis does have three first-round picks at their disposal after acquiring top-rounders in both the Tarasenko and O’Reilly swaps. The period leading up to the draft in June could therefore be an ideal opportunity for them to acquire a top-six piece that’s either signed or under team control for several more years that can help replace the production from the veterans that were moved out.
Additionally, the Blues could also stand to add some help down the middle. They experimented with Pavel Buchnevich and Kapanen playing at center down the stretch to mixed results. It’s one thing to try these things when you’re just playing out the stretch but it’s unlikely that they view those two as full-season options at the position. Even among bottom-six options, those players would take up the bulk of the remaining cap space that currently exists.
Shop More Defense
Moving out Scandella fixes a short-term problem but St. Louis still has a particularly pricey back end. Their top-four defenders (Justin Faulk, Torey Krug, Colton Parayko, and Nick Leddy) are all signed through at least 2025-26 at a combined cap hit of $23.5MM. That’s a lot of money, especially when you add in a minimum of three other blueliners to round out the roster. While those four are certainly capable players, it would be fair to suggest that they’re not exactly getting the best bang for their buck.
On top of that, the Blues do have some promising youngsters that are on the cusp. Scott Perunovich dealt with injuries for most of the season but should be ready to be a regular next season. Tyler Tucker didn’t look out of place in his first taste of NHL action either and could be ready to be a full-timer on the roster a year from now. Finding room for them would be ideal, giving St. Louis another reason to explore a swap.
The easiest of the four to move is likely Leddy. It’s unlikely that they’ll want to move Faulk, Parayko’s term remaining on his deal hurts his value, and Krug is coming off a year to forget which would make it very difficult to move him for fair value. Leddy is the one on the shortest deal (through 2025-26) at the lowest cost ($4MM) which would make him the logical choice if Armstrong decides to try to funnel more money into his forward group to tackle the needs up front. There might be a short-term dip while Perunovich and/or Tucker get accustomed to a full-time spot but in the end, such an approach might be better for them in the long run.
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