Justin Faulk

Three observations on the Blues’ inconsistent start

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One of the fascinating things about the St. Louis Blues’ worst-to-first turnaround during the 2018-19 season was always going to be the lessons other teams in the league tried to take away from it. For example, how many teams off to sluggish starts this season would wrongly assume they could repeat what the Blues did while ignoring that the Blues were always built to win last season, and even during their dreadful start were always just one key player (a goalie) away from turning it around.

The Blues’ inability to get saves early in the season was the single biggest downfall for the team and was submarining an otherwise strong contender with a great defense. Once Jordan Binnington got his mid-season call-up and steadied the position everything came together and resulted in their first ever championship.

The biggest question after that was always going to be whether or not Binnington’s second half and postseason performance were something he could duplicate over a full season. As the Blues prepare to play their 10th game of the season on Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings the early results have been a little mixed, and the team is once again off to an inconsistent start having won just four of their first nine games.

So what’s going on with the defending champs?

The goaltending hasn’t been there yet

Defensively the Blues are right about where you would expect them to be, sitting among the league’s best teams in preventing shots attempts and shots on goal. Despite that, they still find themselves in the bottom half of the league in goals against and just like early last season the goaltending has been the biggest issue.

So far the duo of Binnington and Jake Allen has an overall save percentage of just .893, a mark that places them 23rd in the NHL. And while that is better than what they were getting early last season it is still not good enough. Most of that is due to Allen’s two appearances (eight goals allowed on just 53 shots), but Binnington hasn’t really been all that consistent yet, either.

For as great as he played late in the regular season, there was nothing in his professional track record to suggest he was ever going to maintain that level of performance every year. To be fair, the Blues don’t really need that sort of performance to win. They are so good defensively and do such a great job preventing shots that even above average goaltending would make them an incredibly difficult team to score against. When Binnington has given them that level of play this year, the Blues have won. When he hasn’t — as has been in the case in three of his past four starts — the Blues have lost.

They’ve surrendered a lot of leads

A somewhat surprising development given their strong defensive structure, but it’s come down to big keys — the goaltending issue mentioned above with a little bit of bad luck added in.

  • In their season-opener on banner raising night they let an early 2-0 lead slip away against the Washington Capitals and turned it into a 3-2 loss.
  • One week later they had a 3-2 lead against Montreal with 28 minutes to play and surrendered four consecutive goals on their way to a 6-3 loss.
  • In their very next game after that they had a 2-0 lead in New York against the Islanders with five minutes to play and allowed three consecutive goals to lose in overtime.
  • In the game after that they had a 3-1 lead against Vancouver with 27 minutes to play, allowed two consecutive goals, and then lost a marathon six-round shootout where only one goal was scored.

There is an element of bad luck to losing three consecutive overtime/shootout games within the first nine games of a season, especially when one of those games comes down to an extended shootout. You’re basically flipping a coin at that point and hoping it comes up heads, while the game-tying goal against the Islanders came on a rather fluky redirection in front (the first and third goals in that game, though, were not good ones for Binnington).

It is way too early to be overly concerned

The big picture outlook is simple: the Blues have received some of the worst goaltending in the league so far, while the quartet of Ryan O'Reilly, Jaden Schwartz, Colton Parayko, and Justin Faulk have combined to score two total goals — a trend that almost certainly will not continue — and the team has still managed to play at a .611 points pace (a 100-point pace over 82 games). We are also talking about a team that is probably one or two bounces away from having one of the best records in the league despite having not yet played their best hockey yet. The defense is still there, the defense is still playing well, and there is still room for some of their top contributors to produce more. As long as the goaltending doesn’t completely fall into a crater this is still a team that has all the necessary ingredients to get back on track.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Power Rankings: First look at 2019-20 season

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We kick off our 2019-20 PHT Power Rankings with a look at where every team in the league standings as the season begins this week.

What are expecting?

Do not give up on the Lightning, believe in the Avalanche, and be very, very, very worried about the defense in Winnipeg.

Where does your team stand as the season begins?

To the rankings!

1. Tampa Bay Lightning. They embarrassed themselves in the playoffs and this core has a record of falling short when the chips are on the table. But the same things were said about the Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues for years. They got over the hump. This team can, too. Still the best roster in the league on paper.

2. St. Louis Blues. Adding Justin Faulk to a Stanley Cup winning team is a nice way to end the offseason. Big question is if Jordan Binnington can come close to matching his 2018-19 performance over a full season.

3. Boston Bruins. This team is still loaded. David Pastrnak should be considered a real sleeper to win the goal-scoring crown.

4. Washington Capitals. Feels like the Capitals are kind of sneaking under the radar as a championship contender this season. The core is still in place and they are still great.

5. Colorado Avalanche. Buying all in on the hype. They needed to address their forward depth and they did that and more with Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi, and Andre Burakovsky joining the roster. Their young defense is almost as exciting as their forwards.

6. San Jose Sharks. Even after losing Joe Pavelski and Donskoi they still have a great group of forwards and the best defense in the league. There is also no way that Martin Jones can be as bad as he was a year ago. Right? Right?!

7. Toronto Maple Leafs. It is a broken record at this point, but with all of that talent they can no longer tolerate third place finishes and Round 1 exits. At some point, Mike Babcock and Co. have to do something.

8. Vegas Golden Knights. A full year of Mark Stone, one of the league’s best all-around players, is going to be a game-changer.

9. Carolina Hurricanes. Their playoff run was no fluke. All of the focus is on the defense, but their forwards are excellent as well. Andrei Svechnikov looks like he is on the verge of a breakout season.

10. Calgary Flames. This feels low for the team that finished with the top record in the West a year ago, but a lot of things went right for them and I just don’t know how much I trust a full season of Cam Talbot and David Rittich in net.

[PHT PREDICTIONS: EAST / WEST / STANLEY CUP]

11. Nashville Predators. Can Matt Duchene help fix what was a truly depressing power play unit? That unit was the biggest thing holding this team back.

12. Pittsburgh Penguins. A true wild card team that seems like it could be a Stanley Cup contender or miss the playoffs entirely. A lot will depend on Evgeni Malkin bouncing back, Matt Murray staying healthy, and figuring out a capable defense after their top pairing.

13. Dallas Stars. They have elite talent at all three levels (forward, defense, goalie) and Pavelski gives them a much-needed secondary scoring threat for their second line. Still some depth concerns, but this team was a double overtime goal away in Game 7 from reaching the Western Conference Final.

14. Florida Panthers. They addressed their biggest need with the addition of Sergei Bobrovsky, and while his contract will probably be a disaster before it ends, he is good enough in the short-term to help get them back in the playoffs, something they desperately need to do for their fans.

15. New York Islanders. Can Semyon Varlamov do what Robin Lehner did a year ago? If he can’t that is going to leave a big hole that will be difficult to overcome.

16. Columbus Blue Jackets. As long as one of Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins can be passable in net I am not sure the regression is going to be as significant as some think this season. They still have enough talent to compete for a playoff spot.

17. Chicago Blackhawks. They should be able to score, but forward depth is a concern and the defense, even after offseason changes, has big questions. An Olli MaattaBrent Seabrook defense pairing might be the league’s slowest.

18. Minnesota Wild. If everything goes right there is a path back to the playoffs this season. The return of a healthy Matt Dumba and Mikko Koivu would be a good start.

19. New York Rangers. Definitely a better team and what should be an entertaining one with the additions of Artemi Panarin and Kaapo Kakko, but lack of depth down the middle and on defense will be their undoing.

20. New Jersey Devils. If Cory Schneider does not rebound in a big way it could undo what was a wildly successful summer.

21. Arizona Coyotes. Phil Kessel gives them the type of game-breaking offensive talent they have been lacking for more than a decade. Is that enough to get them back in the playoffs?

22. Philadelphia Flyers. Enough good players to be an interesting team and just enough question marks to not fully buy into them.

23. Montreal Canadiens. They were just a couple points shy of a playoff spot, but a lot of teams around them managed to get better while the Canadiens mostly stood pat.

24. Winnipeg Jets. The forwards are great, especially now that Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine are signed, but the state of that defense, especially without Dustin Byfuglien at the moment, is some real nightmare fuel for Winnipeg.

25. Buffalo Sabres. They have two franchise players and made some nice offseason upgrades, but there is a huge gap between them and the top-three teams (and probably top-four, if you include Florida) in their division.

26. Anaheim Ducks. Probably one of the best goalie duos in the league and some intriguing young forwards will get a chance to excel, but still too many holes.

27. Vancouver Canucks. Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and Quinn Hughes offer long-term hope. The rest of the roster does not.

28. Edmonton Oilers. It looks like they are on the verge of wasting another prime season of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, which is still difficult to comprehend.

29. Detroit Red Wings. Steve Yzerman is going to need some time to get this thing back on track.

30. Los Angeles Kings. Even if Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick bounce back there just isn’t enough talent around them to matter.

31. Ottawa Senators. Anything other than the worst record in the league would be an accomplishment.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Morning Skate: Armstrong seizes another opportunity to improve Blues

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Looking at the salary cap implications for Matthew Tkachuk‘s new contract with the Calgary Flames. (Flames Nation)

• Blues general manager Doug Armstrong seized another opportunity to improve his team. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

• Why did Canucks forward Brock Boeser stay in Monday’s preseason game after falling into the boards? (Pass It To Bulis)

• Calumet, Michigan and the oldest ice arena in North America will be this year’s Hockeyville, USA. (NHL)

• The Boston Bruins are taking their time with David Krejci‘s injury. (NBC Boston)

• NHL centers say the face faceoff rules in place this season should help scoring. (Sportsnet)

• The Minnesota Wild’s line juggling has Ryan Donato moving from center to left wing. (Star Tribune)

• The Florida Panthers released veteran forward Troy Brouwer from his professional tryout contract. (TSN)

• The Chicago Blackhawks are looking forward to bonding on their international trip. (NHL)

• Some key questions remain for the Columbus Blue Jackets’ lineup. (First Ohio Battery)

MORE:
• 
ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Pietrangelo and beyond: Faulk’s impact on Blues’ salary cap future

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It wasn’t all that surprising that the Carolina Hurricanes traded Justin Faulk, but it absolutely was a little stunning that the St. Louis Blues ended up being the winner of that sweepstakes on Tuesday.

In fact, Faulk seemed surprised, too, so it’s not that off base.

Maybe we should have seen this coming, as the Blues were very quiet this summer, and made a big impact last year by landing Ryan O'Reilly. Either way, acquiring Faulk amplified a question people already had: what about Alex Pietrangelo?

When Faulk’s contract extension kicks during the 2020-21 season, it will carry a $6.5 million AAV. It’s a strangely fitting mark, as Pietrangelo carries a $6.5M cap hit for 2019-20, the final year of his current deal.

One cannot help but wonder if the Blues view Faulk as a replacement for Pietrangelo, right down to both being right-handed defensemen who can run a power play.

This is all fair to ask, as Pietrangelo is almost certain to make a significant raise from $6.5M per year. Without a Norris Trophy to his name, Pietrangelo might not command Drew Doughty money of $11M, but who knows? Demand figures to be high for Pietrangelo either way, even though he’ll turn 30 on Jan. 18.

Pietrangelo’s future is the biggest question that springs from the trade-plus-extension for Faulk, but it’s not the only interesting conundrum for the Blues. Let’s consider some of the questions ahead, including how Pietrangelo might fit in.

After 2019-20

Again, Pietrangelo is the headliner, but he’s not the only relevant expiring contract.

Cap Friendly estimates the Blues’ spending at about $65.6M with 16 roster spots covered for 2020-21. If the salary cap ceiling stays at $81.5M, the Blues would have about $16M to work with.

Rob Thomas and Jordan Kyrou could easily fill roster spots on their entry-level deals, which expire after 2020-21.

The Blues could actually do some juggling to keep Pietrangelo, especially if the ceiling goes up. They’d need to make a painful choice or two, possibly letting Schenn walk, but it’s not outside the realm of reason, especially if Pietrangelo takes a little less than his highest market value.

There are also some two-year deals the Blues could try to get out of …

After 2020-21

  • Both of their goalies only have two years left on their current contracts, with Jordan Binnington, 26, costing $4.4M and Jake Allen, 29, at $4.35M. It was a little surprising that the Blues didn’t trade Allen during this offseason, but if they can unload him sometime between now and next offseason, that could open up crucial space for Pietrangelo and/or Schenn. This current arrangement does provide some buffer if Binnington falters after his breakthrough, but the Blues likely don’t want to spend this much on a backup if that’s Allen’s fate.
  • Alexander Steen, 35, carries a heavy $5.75M. His salary is $5.5M in 2019-20, and then drops to $3.5M; maybe that would make Steen palatable for a cap-bribery trade to a team like the Ottawa Senators?
  • Tyler Bozak, 33, is expendable at $5M per year.
  • Jaden Schwartz, 27, could get a raise from $5.35M.

As you can see, there are some situations where the Blues might be able to free up some breathing room, particularly if they can convince someone to absorb Steen’s cap hit (or even a portion of it) for 2020-21.

Between Bozak, David Perron ($4M per year through 2021-22), and other mid-level players, St. Louis could conceivably cut out some inessentials.

This also serves as a reminder that teams should remain careful about giving depth players bigger commitments. If Oskar Sundqvist ($2.75M through 2022-23) indirectly costs the Blues a better player, that could sting.

***

It won’t be easy for the Blues to keep Pietrangelo, as Faulk could create an imbalance with Colton Parayko also being a prominent right-handed defenseman. While Faulk could give the Blues a relevant short-term boost, the long-term implications are messy.

That said, as you can see from the exercise above, there are ways that Blues GM Doug Armstrong can wiggle out of the toughest losses. That would mean waving goodbye to a surplus player or two, maybe even someone very useful like Schenn, but it’s possible.

Beyond seeing the Blues try to repeat, it will also be fascinating to see if they can keep the band together — or at least the virtuoso performers. Check out the Blues’ Cap Friendly page if you want to dig even deeper.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Trade: Blues get Faulk from Hurricanes, sign him to big extension

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After years of rumors about the Carolina Hurricanes shopping defenseman Justin Faulk, the team finally traded him away. His destination is a surprise, though, as he’ll be a big part of the future for the defending champion St. Louis Blues.

In a truly resounding move, the Blues traded for Faulk and handed the defenseman a hefty seven-year, $45.5 million extension. Faulk was entering a contract year, so that $6.5M AAV will kick in starting in 2020-21.

[MORE: How the Blues might be able to keep Alex Pietrangelo even after Faulk signing.]

Here are the parameters of the trade itself …

Blues receive: Faulk, 2020 fifth-round pick.

Hurricanes get: Defenseman Joel Edmundson, forward prospect Dominik Bokk, and a 2020 seventh-round pick.

Blues go bold, open up some questions

Once the shock from this trade fades, it’s inevitable to wonder what this all means for Alex Pietrangelo‘s future. The Blues were almost on the nose about it, as Pietrangelo’s contract is about to expire with a $6.5M AAV, which matches what Faulk’s extension will carry. There have been some surprises when it comes to free agent signings lately – including new Hurricanes defenseman Jake Gardiner – but the smart money is on Pietrangelo costing a lot more than $6.5M starting in 2020-21.

Does this mean that those discussions weren’t going well? Could it even forecast a preemptive move with Pietrangelo?

It’s oddly fitting that Faulk goes from one logjam of right-handed defensemen in Carolina to another potential logjam with the Blues. Not only is Pietrangelo a fellow right-handed defenseman (and a superior one to Faulk in that), but you can say the same for Colton Parayko.

Faulk has some use, especially if the Blues can use him in a protected role, but I’m personally not so sure he’s worth $6.5M per year.

 

Faulk is 27.

Hurricanes save money, get a prospect

Carolina will no longer enter the season with the Faulk question lingering.

They save some money, and also get an intriguing prospect in Dominik Bokk, who the Blues traded up to select 25th overall in 2018. During the summer, The Athletic’s Corey Pronman rated Bokk as the Blues’ second best prospect (sub required).

Edmundson, 26, enters the season on an expiring contract with a $3M cap hit. With Faulk gone, it will be intriguing to see if top power-play duties fall to Dougie Hamilton, Jake Gardiner, or perhaps a dark horse option. On paper, Edmundson seems like a downgrade from Faulk, but Carolina does save some money and cuts down on some uncertainty.

***

Frankly, I don’t love the long-term investment from the Blues’ perspective, and it felt like Carolina might get a little bit more for Faulk.

That doesn’t mean that this trade can’t benefit both sides. How do you feel about the move for both teams?

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.