St. Louis Blues 2021-22 NHL Season Preview

St. Louis Blues 2021-22 NHL Preview
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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.

[Related: Every free agent signing by all 32 NHL teams]

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.

Breakout Candidate

Robert Thomas

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.

Best-Case Scenario

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.

Worst-Case Scenario

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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    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.