Marco Scandella

What is the Blues’ long-term outlook?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the St. Louis Blues.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Outside of top defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who would be the top free agent available this summer, pretty much every key player on the Blues’ roster is signed (or under team control) through the end of next season.

Ryan O'Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko are the two most impactful forwards on the roster and both have long-term deals through the end of the 2022-23 season at a combined salary cap number of $15 million. As long as they maintain their current levels of play (Tarasenko being a 30-35 goal winger; O’Reilly being a dominant two-way center) they are going to be the foundation of a contending team at a pretty fair price against the cap.

Things do get a little more complicated after next season when forwards Alex Steen, Jaden Schwartz, and Tyler Bozak, as well as BOTH goalies (Jordan Binnington and Jake Allen) will all be eligible for unrestricted free agency.

Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou also provide some nice long-term potential at forward, with Thomas being especially intriguing. The team’s first-round pick (No. 20 overall) in 2017 has already shown flashes of top-line ability and is one of their best play-making forwards at even-strength. Still only 20 years old, big things could be in his future. He still has one more season after this one on his entry-level deal. Given how good he has already been, the potential he still has, and his current contract status he could be one of the Blues’ most valuable assets next season.

On defense, Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk, Marco Scandella and Robert Bortuzzo are all signed to long-term deals, while Dunn is still under team control as a restricted free agent after this season.

Overall, it remains a top-tier team in the NHL in the short-term and should still be a Stanley Cup contender.

Long-Term Needs

Getting Pietrangelo re-signed would probably be at the top of the list.

He is their captain, their top defenseman, and if he leaves they do not really have another option to take over that role. With Parayko, Faulk, Dunn, and Bortuzzo there would still be a solid defense there, but none of those players really fills the No. 1 defender spot. It is also unlikely — if not impossible — they would be able to find anyone comparable to Pietrangelo on the open market.

Scott Perunovich is probably their top prospect, and he does have a lot of potential on the blue line, but he has yet to play a game of professional hockey and is a long way off from being able to fill a top-pairing or meaningful role.

Beyond that, their farm system as a whole is not the strongest and they have some fairly significant free agents over the next two years that they will need to do with — including the two goalies.

Long-Term Strengths

In the more immediate future they have an outstanding goalie with Binnington and Allen in place, and that is also probably the one position in their farm system that has some potential long-term options.

Their biggest strength, though, is simply the players they have at the top of their lineup.

Acquiring O’Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres before the 2018-19 season has turned out to be an enormous win for the organization. Not only because it gave them a bonafide No. 1 center that could drive play at both ends of the ice, but because it cost them almost nothing of consequence to get him. He scores at a top-line rate, is a sensational defensive player, and plays big, tough minutes against other team’s best players while being able to stay out of the penalty box. At a $7.5 million salary cap hit that is an enormous bargain.

Then there is Tarasenko.

He has been one of the NHL’s most dangerous goal-scorers for the past six years and can be a game-changing talent when he is on the ice. The Blues did not really get a chance to experience much of that this season due to injury, but he is a star and might be the one player on this roster that might (emphasis on might) have Hall of Fame potential if he continues on his current path.

MORE Blues:
Looking at the 2019-20 St. Louis Blues
Blues biggest surprises and disappointments so far

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.

Can Blues re-sign Pietrangelo after Scandella extension?

Can the Blues keep Alex Pietrangelo Marco Scandella Vince Dunn
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The hockey world is asking it once again: “Can the Blues really afford to keep Alex Pietrangelo?” The discussion re-emerged this week after the Blues signed Marco Scandella to a substantial contract extension.

Now, as St. Louis Game Time’s Dan Buffa argued, the Scandella extension doesn’t rule out the Blues re-signing Pietrangelo by itself.

Those questions get trickier when you zoom out and analyze GM Doug Armstrong’s overall plan. In attempting to be proactive, could Armstrong overthink things and see one or more of Pietrangelo and Vince Dunn leave town?

This post explores the uncertainty surrounding this situation, and how St. Louis might find ways to work around limitations.

The perils of being proactive: Blues possibly losing Pietrangelo or Dunn?

Armstrong is clearly trying to plan ahead. Consider the extensions Armstrong handed out while the Pietrangelo question dangled in the distance:

Between Faulk (28) and Scandella (30), you’re paying nearly $10M. You’d think that would be the higher end of what Pietrangelo might receive during these uncertain times. Locking down those two makes it tougher to argue that the Blues are merely being smart about the aging curve regarding 30-year-old Pietrangelo.

Fascinatingly, with all of the uncertainty regarding the potential cap ceiling for 2020-21 and maybe beyond, it’s possible the Blues could (or could’ve?) sign Pietrangelo for a risk-reducing shorter term.

The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford argued as much in a recent mailbag (sub required):

[Pietrangelo] was likely in line for a long-term extension in the range of $9 million per year, but that might not be possible with the Blues or with any other team. He might have no other option than to take a shorter-term contract now and position himself for a long-term deal later, when the cap rises again.

Losing Dunn could stun

Later in this post, we’ll discuss ways the Blues can earn space to retain Pietrangelo, even if the ceiling caps at $81.5M again or even slips. But something eventually has to give, and it could really sting if the Blues must wave goodbye to pending RFA Vince Dunn.

Dunn, 23, is younger than both Faulk and Scandella, and could conceivably show even more if given greater opportunities. Consider how Dunn compares to Faulk on this RAPM chart via Evolving Hockey (Dunn generally looks better than Scandella as well, though not as drastically):

Blues Pietrangelo Dunn vs. Faulk

Personally, it’s difficult for me to shake the concern that the Blues locked down useful but not essential players (Scandella, Faulk on better days) and nice yet maybe not as important ones (Schenn) instead of keeping a crucial one in Pietrangelo. An opportunistic team would be wise to try to pry Dunn away when there’s room for the blueliner to grow into an even more useful player.

Much of it smells like a team that assumes things are going to work out.

Could Armstrong have tricks up his sleeves to keep Pietrangelo?

And that’s where I wonder if Armstrong has a Plan B, or maybe through Plan Z.

Looking back over the years, we’ve wondered how, say, the Lightning could keep their big names. They always seemed to find the deals, and often convince players to take less money than expected.

Armstrong’s been able to pull rabbits out of his GM hat on plenty of occasions, too. Such a thought strengthens the retort many have: “Just assume Armstrong knows what he’s doing.”

And, yes, there are some options.

  • What if the league works out a compliance buyout? As Jonathan Willis explored for The Athletic (sub required), that could be a way for teams like the Blues to shake loose of players like Alex Steen ($5.75M AAV).
  • Failing that, the Blues could bribe a budget team to take on that Steen cap hit, or do the same for Tyler Bozak and his $5M AAV.
  • Jake Allen played so well in 2019-20 that it might be tough to part ways with a goalie insurance policy. Still, at $4.35M and coming off of that strong year, some team might want to give Allen a shot.

As you can see, the Blues could wiggle their way out of a jam or two with the above moves. Maybe they’d manage that enough to keep Pietrangelo and Dunn around, even if it’s on shorter deals?

Who knows, really?

I can’t help but wonder if the Blues hurt their margin of error a little more than they should have here. Then again, if the Blues keep another big name in Pietrangelo, they’d also have depth locked down.

Considering all that could change between now and free agency, maybe we’re the ones overthinking things about the Blues and Pietrangelo, actually?

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.

Blues agree to terms with Scandella on $13.1M, four-year deal

ST. LOUIS — The defending Stanley Cup champion Blues made another move to fortify their future blue line by agreeing to terms Thursday with defenseman Marco Scandella on a four-year contract extension.

The deal is worth $13.1 million – an annual salary-cap hit of $3.275 million through the 2023-24 season. Scandella played 11 games with St. Louis and recorded one assist before the NHL paused its season March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Scandella, 30, was the most recent addition for the Blues, who acquired him from Montreal in February before the trade deadline. General manager Doug Armstrong acquired Justin Faulk from Carolina in the offseason and signed the right-shot defenseman to a $45.5 million, seven-year contract.

The future of captain Alex Pietrangelo remains up in the air. Pietrangelo is set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season and will likely command a raise from his current $7.5 million salary.

To extend Scandella beyond this season, the Blues are sending a 2021 fourth-round pick to the Canadiens to complete the trade that already included a 2020 second-rounder.

Signing Scandella gives the Blues some security on the left side of their defense. He has 42 goals and 95 assists for 137 points in 580 regular-season games with Minnesota, Buffalo, Montreal and St. Louis.

Scandella was a second-round pick of the Wild in 2008 and has skated in 39 Stanley Cup playoff games.

Looking at the 2019-20 Montreal Canadiens

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the 2019-20 Montreal Canadiens.

2019-20 Montreal Canadiens

Record: 31-31-9 (71 points in 71 games), fifth in the Atlantic Division, 12th in East
Leading Scorer: Tomas Tatar – 61 points (22 goals and 39 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves

Season Overview

It’s tempting to summarize the Habs’ last two seasons by making a parallel with Max Domi‘s past two years.

Heading into 2018-19, people mocked Domi for his previous season’s goals total (nine) following the Alex Galchenyuk trade. They made fun of Marc Bergevin as his moves looked, at that moment, quite regrettable. Then Domi and the Canadiens played really well, and almost made the playoffs.

Of course, almost everything went right for Domi (easily career-highs in goals [28] and points [72]) and the Canadiens in 2018-19 … yet they didn’t make the playoffs.

Both Domi and the Habs performed reasonably well in 2019-20, but they also cooled off. Domi was fine, really (17 goals, 44 points falling in line with the strong start to his Coyotes career), yet people were likely let down after he set expectations higher.

Naturally, boiling things down to a Domi comparison simplifies things too much.

Really, if you’re going to gripe about any top Habs player, it might be Carey Price — or more accurately, the goaltending overall. Or maybe luck?

The Canadiens looked strong by just about every five-on-five measure, from sheer shot shares to controlling high-danger chances. They simply couldn’t finish (8.6 shooting percentage), get enough saves (.900 save percentage as a team), and continued to struggle on the power play (17.74 percent success rate).

This all leaves the Canadiens in a strange place. Bergevin isn’t quite as worthy of ridicule as before — even the Shea Weber/P.K. Subban trade looked better with time — but he also couldn’t capitalize on Price’s prime.

Now what? The Habs haven’t been tanking, making their long-term future look good (thanks to some smart picks and maneuvering) but maybe not great. In the short term, any path to postseasons seems bumpy as long as the Bruins, Lightning, and Maple Leafs already seem primed to hog the Atlantic’s top three spots most years.

(Honestly? As often as the Panthers shoot themselves in the foot, many would still take their foundation over Montreal’s thanks to Florida’s value-heavy, impressive forward group.)

Highlight of the Season for 2019-20 Canadiens

Is it too crass to argue that it was Bergevin turning a fourth-rounder into a second-rounder and conditional fourth-rounder via the Scandella trades?

Maybe zoom out and ponder the bucket of picks Montreal landed by moving out inessential parts in Cousins, Thompson, Reilly, and Kovalchuk? There was a lot of “something from nothing” in Bergevin’s work once it was clearer that Montreal’s 2019-20 ceiling was fairly low. Cap Friendly’s chart of Canadiens picks tells the story of a team that landed a lot of volume:

2019-20 Canadiens draft picks and beyond

Sure, you could argue that the Canadiens lack the “premium” picks of, say, their division rivals in Ottawa. But such a bulk of picks opens up options for Bergevin. He can try to trade up, or maybe shake loose some talent by moving his picks for roster players.

For all we know, not trading Tomas Tatar and Jeff Petry could end up being a highlight, too.

If you want a more hockey-related highlight, try the Canadiens’ early-season run.

After starting 1-1-2, the Canadiens rumbled their way to an 11-5-3 record by mid-November. Unfortunately for the Habs, it was not a sign of a larger rise, as they entered the pause at 31-31-9.

MORE ON THE CANADIENS:

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Buffalo Sabres

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the 2019-20 Buffalo Sabres.

2019-20 Buffalo Sabres

Record: 30-31-8 (68 points); sixth in the Atlantic Division, 13th in the Eastern Conference
Leading Scorer: Jack Eichel — 78 points (36 goals and 42 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves:

• Traded Evan Rodrigues and Conor Sheary to the Penguins for Dominik Kahun.
• Sent a conditional fifth-round pick to the Devils for Wayne Simmonds.
• Traded away Marco Scandella for the Sharks’ fourth-round pick, then flipped that fourth-rounder to the Flames for Michael Frolik.

Season Overview: 

Woof. What can you really say about the 2019-20 Buffalo Sabres but, “Woof?”

The Sabres present a story that’s felt basically the same for far too long, only with a rotating cast of characters.

While Jack Eichel’s basically willed them from seasons that rank among the worst of the salary cap era, the Sabres remain disappointing. Whether the coronavirus claims the season and playoffs or not, Buffalo’s playoff drought will extend to nine consecutive seasons. They’re heading toward a string of 11 misses in 13 seasons, and haven’t won a playoff series since that nice run in 2006-07.

Again, woof.

Sabres fans have largely had it, as you can observe from their Duane Drain. And who can really blame them?

If new head coach Ralph Krueger made any real difference, it’s negligible, at least in the short-term. The hope is that maybe he’s building something, but you have to squint to see the potential beyond Eichel, Rasmus Dahlin, and others making progress.

The Sabres added to that dire feeling with some brow-furrowing trade deadline moves. The season felt long gone when they traded for the likes of Wayne Simmonds, although at least Buffalo only spent marginal draft picks. Selling probably would’ve been the wisest move, but PR-wise, fans are likely far beyond tired of that liquidation approach.

Considering how tough the Atlantic figures to be for the near future, this Sabres franchise has its work cut out for it. Terry Pegula hasn’t exactly earned a lot of goodwill regarding how he’s handled COVID-19, either.

At least Jack Eichel rules though, right?

Highlight of the Season So Far:

The Sabres started 2019-20 on a heck of a run, going 8-1-1 in their first 10 games. They claimed that they didn’t fear echoing the 2018-19 season by ultimately falling apart, but, well … they did.

Again, Eichel authored many of the Sabres’ crescendos, including a robust personal point streak.

Victor Olofsson played a big role in Buffalo’s hot start with a historic early run of scoring, and while both the player and power play slowed down, Olofsson shows some promise.

Eichel, Olofsson, Dahlin and others simply need more help. Maybe Buffalo can actually build on the positives … eventually?

MORE SABRES BITS:
Sabres’ biggest surprises and disappointments
What is the long-term outlook for the Sabres?

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.