Tampa Bay Lightning
Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy
St. Louis Blues
Jordan Schmaltz – Vince Dunn
Starting Goalie: Jake Allen
Tampa Bay Lightning
Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy
St. Louis Blues
Jordan Schmaltz – Vince Dunn
Starting Goalie: Jake Allen
Every season, all NHL teams have to overcome adversity. Some lose players to injury, some go through coaching changes, others might hit a long losing streak along the way. Certain organizations crumble when they face difficult times, but there are others that find a way to weather the storm that comes their way.
In 2017-18, the St. Louis Blues have shown the hockey world that they haven’t just overcome adversity, they’ve thrived in it.
The Blues suffered a number of key injuries early on. They lost Robby Fabbri (torn ACL) for the season, Patrik Berglund missed all of October and most of November because of shoulder issue, Alex Steen missed the first six games of the season because of a hand injury he suffered in the preseason, and Jay Bouwmeester missed a lot of time because of an ankle injury he picked up in training camp.
“I think we did it last year too,” head coach Mike Yeo said of overcoming injuries. “That’s something that’s a quality with this group. They don’t accept excuses. Obviously, losing players like we did heading into training camp- we lost four players that we figured would probably fit into our top nine. And then losing Jay Bouwmeester on the back end too. We weren’t going to allow excuses to dictate how things were going to go for us. So I think we stepped up to that challenge. With that, we also knew that we were going to have to dig in. We started with a lot of games on the road against tough teams, so it really forced us to get to our team game very quickly. And then, when you do that, you build some confidence in it and then we just built from there.”
That’s a lot of important losses to overcome. Not only have they done that, the Blues have been more than competitive in the difficult Central Division. Heading into tonight’s action, the Blues are tied for second in the division with 38 points and 16 regulation/overtime wins (the Jets have the same amount). They trail Nashville by just a single point.
So, how have the Blues managed to stay on track?
There’s no denying that certain players have carried them this season. Brayden Schenn has proven to be an incredible draft-day trade acquisition. The fact that they were able to land him from the Flyers at a very reasonable cost proved to be a game-changer for St. Louis. Through 28 games, Schenn has picked up 13 goals and 33 points.
On top of having Schenn, the Blues have also benefited from having young veterans like Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Taranko. Although Schenn, Schwartz (34 points) and Tarasenko (29 points) aren’t playing on the same line anymore, all three players have come up huge for their team.
“I’ve played pretty much since day one of the season with (Schwartz) and I just feel like he’s an easy guy to play with,” Schenn told PHT before Tuesday’s game against Montreal. “He works hard, he’s good at both ends of the ice, he sees the ice (well), he uses his linemates and teammates, and he’s a great guy in the locker room. He’s a lot fun to play with. And then, whoever is on the other side, whether it’s (Tarasenko) or (Steen), we’ve had a few guys, it’s been fun.”
The star power doesn’t end up front with St. Louis. Alex Pietrangelo has been a monster on the back end for them, as he contributes offensively while playing hard minutes on a nightly basis. The 28-year-old has been mentioned in the Norris Trophy conversation because he already has 21 points in 28 games. He also averages almost 26 minutes of ice time per game.
Depth on D:
Sure, Pietrangelo is the best defenseman on the roster, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other quality blue liners on the team. St. Louis is loaded at the back, as they also have Colton Parayko, Joel Edmundson, Vince Dunn, Carl Gunnarsson, Roberto Bortuzzo and Jay Bouwmeester.
Unlike the Buffalo Sabres, the Blues have received plenty of contribution from their defense. Of the 92 goals they’ve scored this season (tied for sixth), 21 have come from their blue line.
The NHL is a league that’s become about skating, making quick decisions and moving the puck efficiently, and the group of defensemen the Blues have is certainly capable of accomplishing all of that.
Style of Play:
Yeo has the Blues playing the perfect style for the roster they’ve built. They’re constructed like a typical Western Conference power. They’re big, they can move and are a team that can make life difficult for the opposition with the way they forecheck and limit time and space.
Building a team like that isn’t easy. That’s why general manager Doug Armstrong is close to landing a contract extension. Unfortunately for the Blues, the fact that they waited this long to extend Armstrong might cost them.
They aren’t the perfect team (they don’t exist in a cap world). They could still probably use another forward or two that can contribute offensively, but it looks like they can take a punch and they can dish out a few too. That should help come the spring.
The NHL on NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Tuesday night, as the St. Louis Blues host the Edmonton Oilers at 8:00 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.
The St. Louis Blues have been hit hard by injuries so far this season, but that hasn’t stopped them from having some success in 2017-18.
Finally, they’ll be getting some good news, as Jay Bouwmeester is expected to play for the first time this season. Bouwmeester hasn’t suited up for the Blues since suffering a fractured ankle early on in training camp.
“It’s been a long time, especially at the start of the year when you miss training camp,” Bouwmeester told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I’m excited and hopefully and I’ll just jump in and not interfere with what’s going on here.”
“He’s a veteran guy, his skating ability, defensive game, I don’t expect him to step in and his game to be exactly where it’s going to be five, 10 games from now,” head coach Mike Yeo said. “We have to understand he’s missed a lot of time but his experience will make the transition. It will come along quickly.”
The Blues have been just fine without Bouwmeester, so they should be even better now that he’s back. They’ll head into tonight’s game with the best record in the Central Division at 15-5-1.
Things haven’t been going as well for the Oilers, who are alarming close to the basement of the Western Conference through 20 games.
Surprisingly, only two teams (Buffalo and San Jose) have scored less goals than Edmonton’s 50 this season. When you look at the individual numbers on the team, you understand why they’re struggling so much.
Another big issue has been the play of Cam Talbot, who went from one of the top goalies in the NHL to being pretty average this season. Talbot owns a 7-10-1 record with a 3.10 goals-against-average and a .903 save percentage this season.
“He’s part of the team … the goalies have to be better, the defense, the forwards, the coaches have to be better,” said head coach Todd McLellan, per the Edmonton Journal. “None of us have lived up to where we need to be and that’s why we’re where we are in the standings.
“I’m not going to single out the goaltender. It’s team-wide.”
Every week, PHT will provide its readers with some fantasy hockey advice. This column will continue to look at the top players available on the waiver wire (players owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues) and ones that are owned in 50 more than 50 percent of leagues that can be cut.
Brock Boeser-RW-Vancouver Canucks (41 percent)
If you could add just one player this week, it should be Boeser. The Canucks winger has been lights out, as he has five goals and 13 points in just 10 games. Over the weekend, Boeser put up a hat trick and an assist in a win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Mathew Barzal-C-New York Islanders (owned in 17 percent of leagues)
Barzal is coming off a five-assist game against the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday. The 20-year-old has now collected at least one point in each of his last five contests. He’s up to 13 points in 14 games this season.
Bo Horvat-C-Vancouver Canucks (34 percent)
Horvat and Boeser have a couple of things in common. First, they both play for the Canucks, and second, they both had four-point performances against the Penguins on Saturday night (Horvat had a goal and three assists). Horvat scored 20 goals and 52 points for Vancouver last season, so don’t be surprised if he betters those numbers this year. He has 11 points in 13 contests this season.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-C-Edmonton Oilers (24 percent)
The Oilers have been desperate for secondary scoring this season, and finally, Nugent-Hopkins has provided them with some. He saw his four-game point streak come to an end on Sunday, but he’s still managed to collect six points in his last five contests.
Hampus Lindholm-D-Anaheim Ducks (23 percent)
Lindholm missed the start of the year because of offseason shoulder surgery, but he’s back and playing pretty well. He’s accumulated two goals (one on the power play) and two assists in seven games. He’s also averaging almost 23 minutes per game, which means he’ll continue to see plenty of ice time.
Tim Heed-D-San Jose Sharks (11 percent)
The Swedish defenseman is only in his second year in North America, but he’s always been regarded as an offensive blue liner. Heed had 14 goals and 56 points in 55 AHL games last season and he’s continued to produce in his first full NHL season. In San Jose, he’s up to two goals and five assists in 11 contests. That’s some very interesting production from a defender.
Joel Edmundson-D-St. Louis Blues (16 percent)
The Blues have gotten a good amount of offensive production from their blue liners this season. Edmundson, who’s in his third season, had three goals in 69 games last year. This season, he’s already up to four goals in 15 contests. Edmundson is on pace to 22 times in 2017-18, but there’s an excellent chance that he won’t come close to that. Still, he could be worth an add in leagues that award more points for goals.
Jason Spezza-C/RW-Dallas Stars (53 percent)
Spezza has been a productive NHLer, but it’s time for his fantasy owners to cut ties with him at this point. He’s put up just five assists in 14 games and his ice time is also taking a pounding (he’s averaging under 13 minutes per game). There are too many solid options on most waiver wires to hang on to Spezza.
Milan Lucic-LW-Edmonton Oilers (63 percent)
It’s surprising to see that Lucic is still owned in this many leagues. The Oilers forward has just two goals and four assists in 13 games. He will only provide steady value in leagues that award points for penalty minutes (he’s racked up 14 PIM in 2017-18).
Conor Sheary-LW/RW-Pittsburgh Penguins (69 percent)
On the surface, Sheary’s six goals in 16 games are an impressive amount. But there are a few things to keep in mind. First, three of those goals came in the first five games of the season. Also, he’s found the back of the net just once in his last five contests. Sheary also carries a minus-9 rating, so if you’re playing that category, he’s been hurting you. There are better options on the waiver wire.
This post is part of Blues Day on PHT…
When considering the future of the St. Louis Blues, especially looking at their Cap Friendly page, the immediate thought is that they’re really “locked in” to their current core group.
So … let’s start this Blues cap analysis by looking at that very core group.
Mostly ripe core
As of this moment, nine key players are signed through at least the next three seasons at a total cap cost of $47.425 million:
Vladimir Tarasenko: $7.5M through 2022-23
Alexander Steen: $5.75M though 2020-21
Jaden Schwartz: $5.35M through 2020-21
Patrik Berglund: $3.85M through 2021-22
Vladimir Sobotka: $3.5M through 2019-20
Alex Pietrangelo: $6.5M through 2019-20
Colton Parayko: $5.5M through 2021-22
Jake Allen: $4.35M through 2020-21
Now, there are some quibbles with that group.
Steen, at 33, might see some steep regression. Some might be a bit underwhelmed at Sobotka and/or Berglund, at least when it comes to such term.
Even those issues are debatable, though, and the overall look is quite intriguing. You might grimace at the idea that $7.5M is “cheap,” but that really might be fair in assessing Tarasenko. Since 2013-14 (his first full season), Tarasenko scored the fifth-most goals in the NHL with 137. Only Alex Ovechkin scored more during the past three seasons.
Allen seemed like he was getting a respectable deal early on, but considering how his numbers skyrocketed once Mike Yeo replaced Ken Hitchcock, that $4.35M could be a Cam Talbot-ish bargain.
It stings to lose Kevin Shattenkirk, but for all we know, Parayko may eclipse Pietrangelo as the Blues’ best defenseman before their contracts expire. Considering how nice a bargain Pietrangelo is, St. Louis has some very good things going for them in the high-end.
Speaking of that defense …
Things get more interesting when you consider contracts that will be up sooner.
In particular, there could be decisions to make after 2018-19, at least if GM Doug Armstrong isn’t as proactive as he tends to be. Here are some notable defensemen who only have two years left: Jay Bouwmeester ($5.4M), Carl Gunnarsson ($2.9M), Robert Bortuzzo ($1.15M), and Nate Prosser ($650K). Joel Edmundson, meanwhile, is slated to be an RFA after this season.
Edmundson seems like a keeper, but beyond that, the Blues must ask some tough questions about players like Bouwmeester. J-Bo already reached the 1,000 games plateau, and he’s just 33.
Such choices might end up being tough, yet at least the Blues have options. That’s especially true if Vince Dunn eventually makes the leap and Jordan Schmaltz can reach some of that first-round potential.
Who else will join the core?
Considering his $7M price tag, Paul Stastny hasn’t always lived up to his billing in St. Louis, placing him under pressure to earn a new deal with his current contract expiring after 2017-18. Even so, there’s also pressure on the Blues to decide what to do with Stastny; what would be a reasonable price to re-sign him or would they move him for assets much like they did with Kevin Shattenkirk?
Robby Fabbri is another key contract year to watch.
The Blues would honestly be smart to sign the 21-year-old for cheap, as there have been more than a few flashes of brilliance already with Fabbri. If they don’t, though, the 21st pick of the 2014 NHL Draft could easily parallel Viktor Arvidsson – in production, if not style – this coming season.
To an extent, St. Louis seems to lack that “surplus” scorer that really drives pre-season hype through the roof. It’s also up to Mike Yeo to build on the work Ken Hitchcock left behind.
Still, when you consider the lack of albatross contracts and the handful of good-to-brilliant deals on the books, the Blues seem like they’re in a pretty good place. The question is: can this group do better than that?