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 identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.
Let’s ponder three questions facing the Blues.
[MORE: 2018-19 review | Under Pressure | X-Factor]
1. Can they do it all over again?
If winning the Stanley Cup is the hardest thing to do in hockey, then winning it two years on the trot is that much more difficult.
One team in the salary cap era has been able to pull off a repeat and they had some guy named Sidney Crosby on those teams. The point is that it’s uber-difficult, but a question that every Cup champion faces.
This is the challenge the Blues now face with more or less the same team they won the Cup with this past June. Not much has changed in St. Louis since Alex Pietrangelo hoisted Lord Stanley for the first time in franchise history.
But can a team that was in last place in January and now feeling the effects of the Stanley Cup hangover do it all over again?
The NHL’s tightest-knit group has all the chemistry one could ask for and it’s largely intact from a season ago. And now they have all of that experience to lean upon, as well. But the Central Division is no push-over and several teams have strengthened their squads while the Blues have chosen to rely on what’s within.
It’s certainly a tall order.
2. Will Alex Pietrangelo’s lack of a contract extension be a distraction?
He’s the team’s captain, talisman and one of the best defensemen in the NHL. And he’s (at this point) entering the 2019-20 season with a year left on his current deal and unrestricted free agency waiting for him next summer.
If you go back to December of last year, you’ll find a lot of ink was spilled where the best trade destinations for Pietrangelo would be. The Blues were an awful team at that point and the Blues, perhaps, could have capitalized on such an intriguing asset. They didn’t and were rewarded in the playoffs with a special performance.
His play during the Stanley Cup run will only have upped his asking price on the free-agent market. And the Blues need to decide on what to do before a John Tavares-like scenario becomes their own reality.
3. Is Jordan Binnington for real?
We’re going to cover this in a separate post, but it bears mentioning here.
Binnington should probably have won the Calder Trophy for the NHL’s best rookie after he won 24 of 30 decisions he figured in with a .927 save percentage and five shutouts. The most impressive part of all of this is he didn’t start a game until early January.
Now, he could face a schedule with a workload double what he played last season. Those are uncharted waters for 26-year-old.
Binnington made the most of his opportunity when handed one last year. There were no expectations then, however. Now, they’re higher than ever.
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
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Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck