Big Changes in St-Louis
The Blues made some big moves this off-season to get themselves back in the playoff mix. Their top six forwards have a solid mix of offensive flare and defensive acumen. The Central Division better watch out because the Blues aren’t a team to sleep on this year.
An underwhelming offense, brought down by a 30th ranked powerplay, was buoyed by a terrific defense. The Blues received ‘A’s’ for team defense and had adequate goaltending as well. The offense, from process to results, was the weak link last season.
What went right:
Led by their captain Alex Pietrangelo, the Blues allowed the 4th fewest scoring chances and the 6th fewest goals against in the NHL. Behind that strong performance, backup Carter Hutton had a career year. His .931 save percentage and 2.09 GAA led the NHL. It was also another strong year for Vladimir Tarasenko, who reached the 30-goal plateau for the 4th straight year and the 80-game mark for the third straight season.
What Went Wrong:
Bad luck hit the Blues even before the season started, as Robby Fabbri missed the year after tearing his ACL. The Blues’ offense could have used him after they finished a disappointing 24th in goals. Their powerplay was terrible, finishing 30th in the NHL despite boasting an elite sniper in Vladimir Tarasenko and adding Brayden Schenn, who scored only eight times on the man advantage after scoring 17 the year prior with Philadelphia. Trading away Paul Stastny, their number two center, at the deadline was an interesting move as the Blues were well in the playoff hunt at that point, although they did get a nice haul for what ended up being just a rental. The Blues ended up losing five of their final six games, including the final game against Colorado, which cost them a playoff spot. It was the first time the Blues finished on the outside looking in since 2011.
Key Additions: Ryan O’Reilly, Tyler Bozak, David Perron, Patrick Maroon, Chad Johnson
Key Departures: Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund, Tage Thompson, Scottie Upshall, Carter Hutton
Other Key moves: Re-signed Robby Fabbri, Dmitrij Jaskin, Joel Edmundson
After missing the playoffs, St. Louis was aggressive in upgrading its roster. GM, Doug Armstrong traded for Ryan O’Reilly to form a strong 1-2 punch down the middle with Schenn. Tyler Bozak signed a three-year deal with the Blues. He was a key piece of the Maple Leafs’ first powerplay unit, one of the league’s best, which should help the Blues improve on their 30th ranked powerplay. David Perron comes back for a third stint with the team after posting a career-best 66 points in 70 games with Vegas. Patrick Maroon, a St. Louis native, was also brought in on a one-year deal. The Blues also brought back some of their own in Edmundson, Jaskin, and Fabbri.
As for what they lost, In addition to first and second round picks, the Blues shipped out Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund and Tage Thompson, a big, promising forward. Carter Hutton essentially played himself out of the Blues’ price range after a breakout year that saw him finish 1st in save percentage and goals against average among qualified goalies. Jake Allen will return as the starter and St. Louis signed Chad Johnson as his new backup. The journeyman, who will be playing for the 7th team of his career, struggled on a poor Buffalo team last season, posting a .891 save percentage and a 3.55 GAA in 36 appearances.
Next season preview
What could go right?
Adding Ryan O’Reilly should have a huge impact on St. Louis’ powerplay. O’Reilly was the most accurate powerplay passer in the NHL, completing over 88% of his offensive zone passes. That number wasn’t inflated by completing a ton of easy passes either, as he was second in the league in completion percentage on passes to the slot. His playmaking will go a long way in helping the Blues finish higher than 30th in powerplay efficiency this year. Considering they missed the playoffs by a point with that struggling unit, it’s scary how good they might be if they field just a league-average powerplay, let alone a top-10 unit. St. Louis is also now a lot deeper up front after adding Tyler Bozak, David Perron, and Patrick Maroon in addition to O’Reilly. They will also get Robby Fabbri back after he missed the whole 2017-18 season with a torn ACL. It’s a safe bet to say the Blues should have better than the 24th-ranked offense in the NHL this season.
What could go wrong?
Jake Allen returns in net as the undisputed starter now that Carter Hutton is in Buffalo. Allen was maddeningly inconsistent once again last season for the Blues. He posted save percentages over .920 in October and December, but couldn’t even crack .900 in November and February. He eventually finished the season with a .906, 28th among starting goalies. St. Louis needs a more consistent performance from their starter if they want to make noise in the postseason, or else the Blues will have to hope Allen hits a hot streak at the right time.