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In terms of both their success in the playoffs, and their success in getting rid of any assets of significant value who were going to walk at the deadline, the St. Louis Blues may have had the best season. While they aren’t contending for a Cup anymore, they managed to go all the way to game six in the second round in a year where some anticipated a step back, and this was WITHOUT Kevin Shattenkirk, who they traded at the deadline in order to not risk losing him for nothing.
Looking forward, St. Louis is in a decent situation for a team like theirs, but it’s certainly not perfect either, so let’s dive into their cap situation and offseason plan.
The Blues had a very Jekyll and Hyde-like season, with the notable turning point being the firing of Ken Hitchcock. Before the firing, the Blues were 19th in the league in points, and tied for the fourth worst in goals against with 156 in 50 games, something very uncommon in a Hitchcock coached team. After the firing, the team was on fire. They were tied with the Washington Capitals for first in the league in points, and first in goals against, allowing only 60 in 32 games.
Now, this has very little to do with Ken Hitchcock. The only thing that changed between the first team and the second team was the performance of their goaltending. Before Hitchcock was fired, Jake Allen had the third worst save percentage in the league among goals with a minimum of 20 games played with .895%. After Hitch was fired, it jumped up to .938%, which was first in the league. They continued in the playoffs, where he singlehandedly won the first round for the Blues. So, unless Yeo had the secrets to elite goaltending, and wouldn’t tell them until Hitchcock left, the coaching change wasn’t the reason for the teams’s turnaround.
Now, it’s not just Allen that prevents the goals. St. Louis is an elite shot suppression team, as they’re 51.6 5v5 CA60 was the third best in the league. Alex Pietrangelo leads the defense core in St. Louis, and while not the elite defensive defenseman some may make him out to be, he’s far from a terrible defenseman. Jay Bouwmeester is a solid shot suppressor still, although just about every other facet of his game has fallen off. Carl Gunnarson, Robert Bortuzzo, and Joel Edmundson aren’t really offensively inclined, but like Bouwmeester, their shot suppression abilities make them decent depth defensemen. Finally, Colton Parayko is the future of the Blues blueline, as he’s already looking like an elite defenseman, and he’s only 24.
Now, the main attraction of St. Louis these days: Vladimir Tarasenko. Tarasenko had another excellent season, as he had 75 points, including 39 goals. He’s also emerged as a solid two way forward, although a lot of that comes from his ability to drive offense, and keep the puck out of the other teams’ possession. Surrounding him are some quality top six/nine forwards in Jaden Schwartz, Paul Stastny, Alex Steen, Jori Lehtera, Patrik Berglund, David Perron, Vladimir Sobotka, Dmitrij Jaskin, and Robby Fabbri. Aside from Schwartz, who put up 55 points this season, none of them jump off the page as elite players, but they all have areas where they are much stronger that puts them in top six/nine territory. They also have their weaknesses, particularly offensively, so the Blues depth could be a bit better.
Now that they don’t have to worry about re-signing Shattenkirk, St. Louis is looking alright in regards to the cap. They have 12 forwards, five defensemen, and both of their goalies locked up, and have almost $4.5 million in cap space.
The problem is that the one defenseman the need to re-sign is Colton Parayko. As I mentioned before, he’s already an elite defenseman, so he could garner a lot of money if he wanted. However, it’s more likely that both him and the Blues undervalue him, so we might be looking at a situation where he signs a really cheap bridge deal, or a cheap long term deal. The question is whether or not $4.5 million is enough to entice him. Not that they should be too worried though, he’s still an RFA.
Other than Parayko, the Blues don’t have any really notable players to re-sign. Scottie Upshall, Nail Yakupov, and Magnus Paajarvi are their only other pending free agents, and if you don’t have the space to re-sign them, it’s not a huge loss.
Looking long term, things look pretty good for the Blues. They have all of their core players locked up, with Tarasenko signed until 2024 at $7 million, Schwartz until 2022 at $5.35 million, Pietrangelo until 2021 at $6.5 million, and Allen until 2022 at $4.35 million. Their only core player not locked up is Parayko, but he should (most likely) join this list.
If the Blues feel like they need to free up cap space, they could probably look to trade Bouwmeester or Lehtera to free up a bit of cap space, but they aren’t required to, so they probably won’t have to worry about it.
OFFSEASON GAME PLAN
Okay… do we like Dellow’s idea?
12M, 1 yr offer sheet for Parayko. Would mean giving up 2018, 19, 20, 21 1sts if STL doesn’t match.
— Platinum Seat Ghosts (@3rdPeriodSuits) June 2, 2017
This is gonna sound kind of boring, but they really don’t need to do much this offseason, aside from locking up Parayko. Ideally, the Blues should try to squeeze him under the cap at about $4 million for around five years, and look to the minors to fill the remaining roster spots.
If they find a way to free up space, they could look to free agency to improve their forward depth. They don’t need to go for any of the big names, but they could look to try and get bargain deals on depth players like PA Parenteau or Kris Versteeg. Although, it’d be smarter to look to the minors and bring up some of their younger players, and stay their current course.
Expansion draft wise, the Blues are certainly in one of the better positions in the league. Worst case scenario, they lose a player like David Perron, Robert Bortuzzo, or Joel Edmundson. You’d obviously rather keep them, but a lot of other teams have to expose better players.
The Blues took a slight step back this year, but still remained a threat on the ice, and are poised to improve some more, considering that they replaced their veterans with younger players. Whether or not this progress amounts to another third round appearance, or even better, a Stanley Cup, the Blues rebuilt on the fly, and could pay dividends because of it.
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