Can Blues contend for a Stanley Cup after Pietrangelo’s departure?

After the smoke cleared in 2020 NHL Free Agency, the Blues indeed said goodbye to Alex Pietrangelo. Blues GM Doug Armstrong can be wily, though, and he reminded us by unexpectedly signing Torey Krug. That swap of defensemen serves as the most important change to the Blues during this offseason, but this seems like a good opportunity to ponder where the 2019 Stanley Cup champions stand heading into 2020-21.

With Pietrangelo out and Krug in, can the Blues contend in 2020-21? Let’s ponder what’s changed, what they’re up against, and their room to maneuver.

Blues lose Pietrangelo, but could make up some of difference on D

On the bright side, Torey Krug can replace some of the value the Blues lost in Pietrangelo’s free agent departure. While Krug isn’t as dominant defensively, he’s an offensive dynamo, and his all-around game is probably a little underrated.

Theoretically, the Blues could replace Pietrangelo’s value by committee, too.

To start, Krug could meet (and maybe even exceed) Pietrangelo’s offensive output. Although the Bruins’ firepower augmented Krug’s production, he has the skill to run a power play. And, for as much of a too-clever-for-their-own-good move it was to add Justin Faulk, Faulk could also help on the PP.

Above all, big defenseman Colton Parayko may stand as the biggest reason why the Blues decided they could afford to say goodbye to Pietrangelo. If anything, Pietrangelo might have obscured Parayko’s potential as a true No. 1.

Also, can the Blues — or someone — actually realize how useful Vince Dunn is?

Dunn Parayko Evolving Hockey
via Evolving Hockey

While it’s important to account for Dunn getting cushier assignments, you’d think the 23-year-old RFA would gain a little bit more attention. Consider this Evolving Hockey RAPM comparison between Dunn and Parayko at 5-on-5:

With that in mind, it’s a little puzzling that Dunn might find himself behind Marco Scandella on the Blues’ depth chart, as he’s listed by The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford (sub required).

(Frankly, if I were running most/all of the other 30 NHL teams, I’d be scheming to try to pry Dunn loose, and maybe sign him to a bargain deal.)

Anyway, the point is: losing Pietrangelo hurts. Even so, the Blues have the goods to be quite good on defense, nonetheless.

Why the Blues could get off to a bumpy start

Starting with the growing pains of moving on from Pietrangelo, it’s possible that the Blues might start 2020-21 slow. Beyond that reason, consider:

  • Vladimir Tarasenko could begin the season on LTIR. While this offseason was a wise time to go under the knife, it doesn’t mean he’ll be ready whenever 2020-21 starts. As well as the Blues played without Tarasenko last season, he’d be missed.
  • Their goaltending situation looks thinner.

As disappointing as Jake Allen had been the previous two seasons, he was fantastic in 2019-20. He clearly outplayed Jordan Binnington, who wasn’t disastrous, but also wasn’t a revelation like in 2018-19.

Shipping Allen out made plenty of sense from a salary cap perspective. That said, now the Blues must lean on Binnington, as Ville Husso currently stands as his likely backup. Being that Husso’s 25 and hasn’t played a minute in the NHL, that’s an unstable situation.

While the Blues’ cap situation is snug, I almost wonder if a Ryan Miller reunion would be in order? Sure, making him a trade deadline addition didn’t pan out, but he’s settled in nicely as one of the NHL’s more competent backups. Just spitballing here, folks.

As it stands, the Blues could be in tough if the 2020-21 season demands several back-to-backs.

Blues Stanley Cup chances Robert Thomas
Robert Thomas brings big expectations. (Photo by Joe Puetz/NHLI via Getty Images)

A smooth transition?

When you look at the Blues’ roster, you may note that the core isn’t getting any younger. Even after waving goodbye to 30-year-old Pietrangelo. These aren’t ancient players, but most of them are approaching age 30. Maybe Ryan O'Reilly‘s cerebral game means he’ll age like Patrice Bergeron; maybe ROR’s limited wheels will eventually slow him down too much.

But, either way, the Blues are built to win now. That said, they should also emphasize getting more out of at least one key young player.

That player is Robert Thomas.

You’ve probably heard about him before, but his development could have a big impact on the Blues’ ceiling. As highly as I thought of him, I must admit I was surprised to see Thomas ranked 20 on Corey Pronman’s list of the top 155 NHL players under 23 years old (sub required).

As far as career outlook goes, Pronman ranked Thomas ahead of Nico Hischier, Mikhail Sergachev, and Charlie McAvoy. Wow.

Whether Thomas finishes behind those strong players in the long run or not, it’s up to the Blues to get the most out of his talents. They may very well lean on Thomas in a bigger way in 2020-21, possibly lining him up with Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz.

Thomas isn’t the only young Blues player of note. Jordan Kyrou is intriguing in his own right. But we’ve already seen the Blues put some trust in Thomas, including during their Stanley Cup run, and now might be the perfect time to truly see what they have in the playmaker.

Fighting for second?

In 2019-20, the Blues won the Central Division, beating the Avalanche by a narrow margin. Even if the Blues kept Pietrangelo, they probably wouldn’t be favored to finish first in the Central ahead of Colorado.

That said, if the NHL’s current divisional format sticks — not a guarantee – then the Blues are in a solid position to at least finish in one of the top three spots. Consider that the Predators bled depth, while the Blackhawks embraced a rebuild. The Stars stood in place, while the Jets got a bit better. Finally, the Wild … are kind of all over the place.

Overall, the Blues appear to be in a favorable situation to grab a playoff spot, even if a higher seed maybe be tough to come by. Really, this team is built to win in the playoffs, so the key is to get there as healthy and fresh as possible.

Are they still true contenders in the West? That remains to be seen.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

    Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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    BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

    The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

    “That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

    Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

    “It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

    In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

    “It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

    Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

    In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

    “We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

    Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

    Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

    Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

    Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

    Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

    TAKE NOTE

    The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

    Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

    UP NEXT

    Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

    Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

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    NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

    Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

    The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

    Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

    “We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

    Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

    The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

    The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

    Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

    Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

    The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

    Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.

    Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

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    TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

    Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

    Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

    Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

    Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.