Three questions facing St. Louis Blues

Getty
4 Comments

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the St. Louis Blues.

1. Did GM Doug Armstrong do enough to get his team back to the playoffs?

Armstrong surprised a few people in the hockey world when he decided to ship Paul Stastny to Winnipeg at the trade deadline. The move wasn’t exactly well-received in the Blues locker room, but Armstrong had the team’s long-term interest in mind when he pulled the trigger on that deal.

Since then, he’s done his part to make sure that the Blues are better this year than they were one year ago. He added Ryan O'Reilly via trade, he signed a number of interesting free agents and he was able to re-sign some key figures.

We’ll get into the O’Reilly trade a little later on in this article, so let’s focus on the moves they made in free agency. Armstrong clearly felt like his team needed more scoring depth. Yes, they already have Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and Brayden Schenn, but getting production from their other lines was a bit of a chore. Now, they’ll be able to rely on solid depth scorers like Patrick Maroon, who has scored 27 and 17 goals over the last two seasons, Tyler Bozak, who is a nice third-line center, and David Perron, who put up a career-high 66 points with Vegas last year.

[2017-18 review | Under Pressure: Allen | Breakthrough: Dunn]

Their focus was adding goals to their lineup, and that’s what they did. Armstrong didn’t touch his defense, as Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko, Jay Bouwmeester, Vince Dunn and Joel Edmundson will likely be the first five defensemen on the roster. All five of those players are returning members of the team, so the Blues will hope that familiarity will help the group play better.

The only reason Armstrong had to make a change to one of his goaltenders is because Carter Hutton took off for Buffalo. He will be replaced by journeyman Chad Johnson. Some Blues fans were probably hoping that their GM to get them upgrade on Jake Allen, but that didn’t happen.

On paper, it sure looks like Armstrong did his part. Now, it’ll be up to the guys on the ice to get the Blues back to the postseason.

2. How will Ryan O’Reilly fit in with his new team?

Of all the moves Armstrong made, the O’Reilly trade was the most significant. O’Reilly gives the Blues another legitimate top-two center behind Brayden Schenn. As you may have noticed, the Blues waited until after free agency to make this move. So that leads you to believe that if Armstrong was willing to part with future assets to get O’Reilly, it means that he likes the look of his team heading into the season.

Sure, the former Sabre is now tied for the highest cap hit on the team (he and Vladimir Taranseko both have an AAV of $7.5 million), but they’ll be relied upon to do different things. Not only does O’Reilly contribute offensively, he’s also fully capable of playing a complete game. He’s solid in his own end and he can play the penalty-kill, as well.

And if Schenn, Schwartz and Tarasenko stay together, it means that O’Reilly will get to play with guys like Perron, Robby Fabbri, Alex Steen or Maroon on the second line. That’ll be great for them because the top line will get all the difficult matchups.

“I feel like I have a spark in me now,” O’Reilly said, per the AP. “There’s something different. It’s interesting how it happened, but I’m happy, I’m excited and I don’t regret anything that’s happened.

“There’s nothing like playoff hockey. It’s what we all kind of dream of doing. Unfortunately, my career, I haven’t done it enough. And I plan to come in and help this team get there, help this team win.”

Finding centermen isn’t easy, so the fact that the Blues were able to get two of them this off-season is a testament to the work that their management group put over the summer.

It’s hard not to like the fit for both O’Reilly and his new team.

3. Will the Blues figure things out on the power play this season?

It’s hard to imagine that a team with Tarasenko, Schwartz, Schenn, Pietrangelo and Parayko would struggle on the power play, but that’s exactly what happened to this team last year.

Of all the 31 teams in the NHL last season, only the Edmonton Oilers had a worse power play than the Blues. The Oilers finished the year with 14.8 percent success rate on the man-advantage, while St. Louis wasn’t too far ahead at 15.4 percent.

The addition of O’Reilly, which we spoke about earlier, should help on the power play. Of the 24 goals he scored for Buffalo last season, 15 came on the man-advantage. Over the last three seasons, he’s scored 25 goals while his team is up a man.

The Blues coaching staff will also have to find a way to put Schenn into better positions on the power play. Before landing in St. Louis, the 27-year-old had 17 and 11 power play goals over his previous two seasons in the Philadelphia. Last year, he scored eight. That’s a respectable number, but he can clearly do more.

And, finally, they have to find a way to get Tarasenko and his lethal shot open. He scored 33 goals during the 2018-19 season, but only six came on the power play. That’s not enough. Getting him into the double-digit range in that category would go a long way in helping them get better.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Ovechkin, and Ovi Jr., take the ice at All-Star skills night

ovechkin all star
Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

SUNRISE, Fla. — When you’ve got the second-most goals in NHL history, you’re evidently permitted to bring a guest onto the ice for the All-Star Skills competition.

That’s why there were two No. 8 Washington jerseys out there Friday night.

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin took the ice with his Metropolitan Division teammates – and his oldest child, 4-year-old Sergei.

Sergei, named for Ovechkin’s late brother, was wearing an Ovi Jr. jersey. The kid has built a bit of a following in recent weeks, after scoring a goal at a Caps practice in December and playing a role in helping the Washington crowd celebrate his dad’s 800th goal.

It was Ovi Jr.’s first chance at being part of an All-Star weekend. His father hasn’t participated at All-Star since 2018, either because of COVID-19 or injuries. The last time his dad played in an All-Star event, Sergei hadn’t been born.

Alex Ovechkin has 812 goals. He only trails Wayne Gretzky’s 894 in NHL history.

And later in the night, Ovi Jr. got to center a line alongside his dad and Pittsburgh great Sidney Crosby. They each got an assist on a goal that Sergei scored – beating Roberto Luongo, the Florida great who came out of retirement for All-Star weekend.

Said Ovechkin after his son scored: “I think he’s really enjoying it.”

WELCOME HOME, LU

Luongo got to be part of one more All-Star competition.

In a building where a banner bearing his No. 1 jersey hangs – he’s the only former Panthers player to have that distinction – Luongo was a celebrity goaltender during the Breakaway Challenge during the Skills Competition on Friday night.

He stopped his lone shot in the breakaway, off the stick of Toronto’s Mitch Marner. On one hand, Marner is the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer this season. On the other hand, he was also wearing a white suit, sunglasses and a light blue T-shirt to keep with a “Miami Vice” theme.

Luongo was up to the challenge. Marner tried to beat him to the glove side, but Luongo got enough of it to make the save – then flopped forward to cover up the rebound, the smile clearly seen through his mask.

“You got too close,” Luongo told Marner.

Later, Luongo told ESPN during the telecast of the event that “this is my house. This is my home right here. The crease is my home.”

Luongo’s pads paid tribute to his career – the design paid tribute to his time both as a member of the Panthers and the Vancouver Canucks.

He also took part, and scored a goal, in a Florida alumni game on Wednesday night.

REMEMBERING JIMMY

Sergei Ovechkin – who knocked a shot into an open net during a stoppage of the skills events – wasn’t the only child who got a great view of the night.

Philadelphia forward Kevin Hayes has his 3-year-old nephew Beau with him for All-Star weekend. Beau’s father was Jimmy Hayes, Kevin Hayes’ brother.

Jimmy Hayes was 31 when he died in 2021 with fentanyl and cocaine in his system. He played for four NHL teams, including Florida.

Kevin Hayes is part of an All-Star weekend for the first time.

ANTHEM POISE

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by the South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus, and group crushed it – never minding that the crowd, representing several different fan bases, was going to shout some term specific to their team at various points in the lyrics.

Florida fans shout along with “red” and “Knight,” one a nod to one of the team’s primary colors, the other for goaltender Spencer Knight. There also were some shouts from other fan bases; some St. Louis fans, for example, could be heard singing “home of the Blues” instead of “home of the brave” to close the song.

And “O Canada” performer Hannah Walpole had some shouting as she sang as well, particularly when she reached the “true North” portion of those lyrics – something typically heard at Winnipeg games.

SLAP SHOTS

Cale Makar, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, was the first participant in the Fastest Skater event – the opening competition of the night. He fell coming around the second turn. … Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon, one of the broadcasters on the event, reported that he was “freezing” by working at ice level. “I’m used to the gear,” said Maroon, who was in a blazer and open shirt Friday night. … A big hit for those used to the regular colors of FLA Live Arena – and basically all other hockey arenas – was the ocean-water-shade of blue used for the blue lines and the creases. The faceoff dots at the circles on either end of the ice aren’t the standard solid red this weekend, but depict an image of the sun instead.

Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

Chase Agnello-Dean/Getty Images
0 Comments

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

“Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

mark stone surgery
Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

brunette dui
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
1 Comment

DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.