The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. We’ll examine best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the St. Louis Blues.
2020-21 Season Review
• Record: 27-20-9 (63 points) fourth place in NHL Western Division
• Postseason: Lost in First Round of Stanley Cup Playoffs in four games to Colorado Avalanche
• Offensive leader: David Perron (56 games, 19 goals, 39 assists, 58 points)
• Free Agent Additions: Brandon Saad, Pavel Buchnevich (trade with New York Rangers), Michael Frolik (PTO), James Neal (PTO)
• Free Agent Subtractions: Vince Dunn (Seattle Kraken), Jaden Schwartz (Seattle Kraken), Samuel Blais (trade to New York Rangers)
Biggest question facing the St. Louis Blues?
• The Vladimir Tarasenko situation
Tarasenko has been the Blues’ most dominant offensive player for the better part of the past decade, but his future with the team came into doubt this offseason when he requested a trade. No trade ever happened — at least not yet — and he remains in St. Louis where he says he is committed to give everything he has as long as he plays there. While the trade question continues to loom, there is also the question of what sort of player Tarasenko is going to be this season if he does remain with the team. Injuries have limited him to just 42 games (regular season and playoffs combined) over the past two seasons, while his offensive production plummeted when he was on the ice this past season.
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The injuries no doubt played a role in that drop in production. Can he get back to being the dominant offensive player that he was with a healthy start to the season? It would certainly do wonders for the Blues, not only when it comes to them finding success with him on the team, but also rebuilding his trade value if that request is still out there. They need a big season from him.
What’s the salary cap situation?
The Blues do not have any massive contracts on their payroll, bu they do have a lot of contracts in the $5-8 million range that make that cap space disappear quickly. David Perron is the most significant pending UFA after this season, while Tarasenko and Ryan O'Reilly both have two years remaining on their $7.5 million per year contracts. Brayden Schenn, Pavel Buchnevich, Brandon Saad, Justin Faulk, Torey Krug, Colton Parayko, and Jordan Binnington are all signed for at least the next four seasons (and a couple of them are signed beyond that) at a combined salary cap hit of just over $40 million per season. That is their long-term core.
This is probably the third year in a row you could say Thomas is a breakout candidate, and at some point it has to actually happen. But he is still only 22 years old, an extremely talented player, and already one of the best 5-on-5 playmakers on the roster. He was limited to just 33 games a year ago and one of several Blues players to miss significant time during the season.
If Thomas does not have his breakout season, you might also want to keep an eye on Jordan Kyrou after his promising 2020-21 performance. He took a big step forward in his development and is also on that breakout watch list for this season.
This is still a very good roster and it should be a playoff team. The arrivals of Buchnevich and Saad are going to be significant for the offense, and if they can get a healthy Tarasenko to have a big year that is going to be a huge plus. Add in some breakout years from Thomas and Kyrou and another big season from Perron and you suddenly have the potential for a fairly deep offense.
Binnington is going to be the real wild card here, though. He is three seasons into his career, has a significant contract, and there is still some doubt as to what type of goalie he is. At different times over the past three years he has looked a bonafide No. 1 goalie and at other times had some meltdowns in the crease at the worst possible time. If they get the good version on a consistent basis and into the playoffs there is no reason this team can not make some noise in the postseason and contend.
The big question here is on defense, and given how the Blues have been built and played over the past few years that is a stunning development. They still lack a true No. 1 defender after Alex Pietrangelo‘s free agency departure to Vegas a year ago, and losing Dunn this offseason is a big deal because he was a good player they never fully utilized. They have a lot of money tied up in the defense but need to get more out of players like Torey Krug and Justin Faulk. If that does not change, and they get the inconsistent version of Binnington, this team goes from a contender to very ordinary very quickly.
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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.