What do the St. Louis Blues do now?

After winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, the St. Louis Blues have some choices to make.

General Manager Doug Armstrong has $15,470,406 in cap space to work with and some players he has to resign. Doug Armstrong has already made a couple moves this off-season by signing Carl Gunnarsson to a two year contract and officially taking the interim tag off Craig Berube. It is easy for a GM to just the band back together but that doesn’t always work. After having an eventful summer in 2018 things seem like they will be a tad quieter in 2019.

The Jake Allen Question

Blues Twitter made it two weeks after winning the Cup to start complaining or praising Jake Allen again. The 28 year old is on the books for two more seasons at a cap hit of 4,350,000. Going into the 2019-2020 season he is going to be the clear back-up to Jordan Binnington. That is a lot of money to give to a back up goalie, but ponder this Blues fans, Binnington is beloved in St. Louis and can do no wrong. However, he is not a proven starter. He had a great run for the Blues and seems to have all the ability but we just don’t know. If you tell yourself you do know you are lying to yourself. If Binnington needs to prove he can be an legit number one guy, like a Braden Holtby or whoever comes to mind when thinking of a starter. The Blues have never had a guy, that every season, the fans know they are going to be solid in net for 10 years and are hoping Binnington is that person. If he is, Allen is expendable but if not, even if he is expensive Allen can be a very good back-up goalie and has been in his career at points. Also if not Jake Allen, then who? Keith Kinkaid? Curtis McElhinney? Both of those guys are options for the Blues if they decide to move on from Allen, but it is up to Armstrong to make sure he gets actual assets and isn’t trading Jake just to trade him.

Restricted Free Agents

The Blues have a lot of restricted free agents to lock up, but, unlike a lot of teams, they don’t have any superstar talents to lockup. At forward, the Blues need to give new contracts to Ivan Barbashev, Robby Fabbri, Zach Sanford, Oskar Sundqvist and Sammy Blais. All of these guys are solid pieces, and all played their part in winning a Stanley Cup, but none of them should break the bank. All can be locked up for a couple years at a relatively cheap rate and produce whe given the ice time. Sundqvist and Barbashev will be the most expensive of the group as guys who can play center and score but by no means will they cap the Blues out. On defense the only RFA is Joel Edmundson who had a bit of a down season and after signing a three million dollar contract last offseason may see a bit of a dip this year. The most important restricted free agent is goalie Jordan Binnington. He is going to receive quite the raise from the $650,000 he was making last year and the comparable is Matt Murray who has a cap hit of $3,750,000. Will he take that? No idea maybe the Blues feel he should make more than Jake Allen but whatever happens Binnington will be the most expensive RFA to sign.

Unrestricted Free Agents

After resigning Carl Gunnarsson, the Blues have one UFA of note in Patrick Maroon. Not trying to insult Michael Del Zotto and Chris Thorburn, but neither are making an impact on the Blues roster next season. Maroon apparently has been gaining interest from teams like the Calgary Flames, who saw how productive Maroon was in the first few rounds of the playoffs and want some of that action. For the Blues, it is going to be important that Doug Armstrong does not overpay Maroon, no matter how easy it would be. The man proclaimed himself a “hometown hero baby” at the parade after scoring one of the biggest goals in Blues history, with his double OT winner against the Stars in game seven, but just look at the facts. He had 28 points in the regular season, even though he got a ton of power play time. In the playoffs, he was on a productive line with Tyler Bozak and Robert Thomas, but that line slowed down as the playoffs went along, and especially in the finals, when Thomas went down with injury. The Blues are loaded at forward and do not need to overpay anyone. If he wants to take another discount and stay, awesome. He will always be loved here.

(P.S. as someone who went to the same high school as Patty, that was tough to write.)

Trades/Free Agents

The Blues don’t appear to be talking to any of the upper tier, or even middle tier free agents. So, maybe a depth signing here or there, but nothing that will change the outlook of the team. Besides Jake Allen there may be a trade or two on the roster. Brayden Schenn has one year left on his deal and may command a lot of money next off-season. The Blues prospect cupboard at forward looks pretty good, so there may not be a need to keep Schenn maybe there is a trade there. However I doubt it happens and Schenn will simply just walk next off season.  Alex Steen is making quite a bit of money as a 35 year old depth piece, but he has a no trade and looks like he has found a role on the fourth line. Trading Steen will be difficult as he has a full no move clause and no teams are clamoring to take on that money. The Maple Leafs were reportedly talking to the Blues about Robby Fabbri maybe something is to be done there. Fabbri is a rather unfortunate case as with all the injuries he has suffered we may never see the fire cracker of a player he was in 2015-2016 season especially in the playoffs. Alex Pietrangelo also one year left on his deal and believe it or not some Blues fans are saying to trade him. Legitimate number one right-handed defense-men don’t grow on trees and no way the Blues will trade their captain and no way will he be able to walk in free agency.

The Young Guys

The improvement will come from their young guys taking another step. Robert Thomas had a nice rookie season, but looks like he could be a star and step in as a top line center down the line. Prospect Jordan Kyrou has proven all he needs to prove at the minor league levels, and it is time for him to prove he can be a legit NHL player and be the elite scorer he was in the AHL and OHL. Klim Kostin, Dominik Bokk and Alexei Toropchenko are all promising prospects, but may be a couple years away. Erik Foley had his year at Providence derailed by injury, but he was a part of the Paul Stastny trade and is another promising piece for the future. Oskar Sundqvist is an example of being patient with a player as he went from AHL depth piece to being a surprise star for the Blues playing all over the lineup and really contributing to that four line punch the Blues brought. If he can take another step and become a 40 point player, this team gets that much better. Vince Dunn is the guy on defense the Blues are looking at to make a leap and be a top four guy. He has wonderful offensive skills but needs to work on his play in his own end.  Although the Blues seem to have their defense set, but injuries happen and guys like Mitch Reinke Nikko Mikkola and Jake Walman will get looks at the NHL level. It may be better for the Blues to keep Allen and let Ville Husso rebound after last season.

Final Piece

Overall it appears the Blues are in a good position moving forward. The veterans are complemented by a lot of young talent and the scouting staff in St. Louis always seems to be able to find good players in the later parts of the draft. The core isn’t old with players like Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly well within their prime and have a lot of good years left. They have their coach in Craig Berube and appear well and ready to make another run at a cup next season despite what will probably be a quiet summer.

Player Profiles via hockey-reference.com

Featured Image Credit: Dinur Blum

 

Boston Bruins: Dominant In Game Three Against The St. Louis Blues

The Boston Bruins Left No Doubt As They Outplayed The St. Louis Blues In Game 3

 

Downtown St. Louis was rocking for the first Stanley Cup Final game in 49 years, with thousands upon thousands of people packed the different venues in the downtown area. There was a buzz in the air.

That excitement died after one period as the Boston Bruins took a commanding 3-0 leading heading into the first intermission. The game started out well enough for St. Louis as they came out strong, including Sammy Blais landing a massive hit on David Backes and Jake Debrusk took a penalty for kneeing almost right away. That sound you heard when the penalty was called was from Toronto, with Maple Leafs fans yelling FINALLY!!!.

The Bruins held strong on the penalty kill though, and finally got a shot through on Jordan Binnington with 13:57 left in the first from Torey Krug, who had an excellent game.

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Blues fans went crazy as Binnington made an incredible save off the stick of David Pastrnak. That was when Boston really started to dominate as David Perron took a penalty for interfering with Brandon Carlo and the Bruins power play went to to work. Krug got a shot off and Patrice Bergeron tipped it in for his ninth of the playoffs.

Boston continued to control the play and with 2:20 left in the first, Charlie Coyle continued his strong playoff as he flipped one through the legs of Binnington to put the Bruins up 2-0. A couple of minutes later, Sean Kuraly put one in right before the end of the period and it was 3-0 and the crowd was deflated. The Blues challenged it for offside, which proved to be the wrong choice and the goal stood and the Bruins went back on the power play just as the first period ended.

Second Period

With another power play the Bruins went to work and Pastrnak scored, making that four goals in the last five shots for the Bruins. Things starting getting chippy after that and after every whistle it seemed as if there was white sweater and blue sweater face to face, yapping at each other.

The Blues had their chance on the power play as Zdeno Chara went off for an unsportsmanlike conduct call. Tyler Bozak had a prime opportunity in front of the net and Tuukka Rask made a nice save pushing it aside.

The St. Louis crowd had something to cheer about though as Ivan Barbashev potted one off a nice feed from Zach Sanford and it was now 4-1. The Blues crowd tried to will their team to get back into it but Colton Parayko took a penalty for high sticking Brad Marchand, and Krug scored on a shot Binnington would like back and it was 5-1.

For the first time in his young National Hockey League career,  Binnington was pulled and replaced by Jake Allen. Play went back and forth for a little bit after that but the Blues were unable to beat Rask with anything and the Bruins took that 5-1 lead into the third period.

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Third Period

If you thought things were getting chippy before, Perron took a roughing call against Rask in a play that was very unnecessary from the Blues forward, who had a very rough game. Connor Clifton, however, took a matching minor so the Bruins were unable to put their lethal power play back on the ice.

The Bruins penalty kill was able to kill off a penalty called on Carlo but were put right back on it with Chara getting sent to the box for roughing. Parayko gave Blues fans a ray of hope when he was able to put one in off a Bruin glove and it flipped over Rask cutting the lead to 5-2.

DeBrusk then flipped one over the glass and got sent to the box for a Delay of Game penalty and many were wondering if the Blues were really going to be able to make this a game again. It wasn’t meant to be though as the Boston penalty kill was outstanding once again.

Things seem to stay under control for a little while and the Blues pulled Allen for an extra attacker, trying to get back into the game. St. Louis was able to put a little pressure on Rask, but he was up to the task and Noel Acciari got the empty netter to extend the lead to 6-2. Alex Pietrangelo was called for slashing and the Bruins put an exclamation point on this dominant performance when Marcus Johansson scored the final goal of the game in a 7-2 final giving the Bruins a 2-1 lead in this best of seven series.

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Wrap Up

The only good news for Blues fans is that even though Boston dominated, it only counts for one game and if your a Bruin fan you have to beaming with confidence after one the biggest beat downs in recent memory in the Stanley Cup Final. Another effort like that on Monday and the Bruins will have a chance to end this next week at the TD Garden in Boston.

We have seen the Blues and Binnington bounce back after tough losses and they will need to do so again in a must win game at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis Monday evening.

The Bruins went 4-4 on the power play and it only took four shots, which is unacceptable from an NHL team, but also goes to show how great this Bruins team is. Rask wasn’t unbelievable in Game 3, but came up big when the Bruins need him too, stopping 27 of 29 shots. Binnington was pulled after only stopping 14 of 19 shots and Allen in relief duty stopped three of the four shots he faced.

Krug had a four-point night with a goal and three assists and after a quiet first couple of games, Bergeron came on strong with a goal and two assists.

Game 4 is set for Monday at 8:00 E.T. in what will be a must-win for the Blues, or Boston will take a commanding 3-1 lead.

 

All statistics were gained from NHL.com

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals

 

 

St. Louis Blues

New Year, New Me: Five Key Stats that Drove the St. Louis Blues from the Cellar to Conference Finals

The clock struck midnight bringing in a new year. 2019 had arrived and the St. Louis Blues were tied for last place with the Ottawa Senators. The team, originally chosen by many to compete for the Central division crown, was reeling.

Trade rumours had begun to swirl about players such as captain Alex Pietrangelo, young defensive stalwart Colton Parayko and do-it-all center Brayden Schenn among others. Teams were calling, talks were had and the Blues decided not to sell. They believed they had a good enough team to compete. Not necessarily for the Stanley Cup Championship, but for a playoff series and the possible added revenue that comes with it.

As the calendar turned from 2018 to 2019, the Blues turns a page on their season. After finishing the calendar year in dead last, their season is among only four that are still yet to finish. The St. Louis Blues are in the Western Conference finals. There are five stats that explain their nearly unprecedented turn around. Some obvious, some underlying. The Blues have been night and day since January 1st.

Points (Team)

This is the most obvious and easily digestible among fans. In the 37 games prior to the new year, St. Louis has just 34 points. That’s a P% of 0.459 which isn’t nearly good enough to warrant playing in the NHL let alone compete for anything. The Blues were a team without any drive. They didn’t seem to be present for the first three months of the season.

The new year came and the St. Louis Blues awoke from their slumber. They made necessary changes and began to reap the rewards. Out-pacing even the powerhouse Tampa Bay Lighting in the new year, the Blues had a league leading 65 points in their final 45 games. The Blues began to dominate and their total points are just the surface.

High Danger Goals For Percentage (HDGF%)

This is a stat that isn’t used in the mainstream very often but it can be useful in understanding how a team in performing on the high danger chances they are getting. It indicates whether or not a team is taking advantage of their best opportunities from the high danger scoring area in comparison to their opponents on the same quality chances. For example:

Team A has 15 HDGF and Team B has 10.

Team A has a HDGF% of 60%

The Blues has been an absolute dumpster fire prior to the new year. Struggling to generate offence as a whole and they weren’t generating a large number of high danger chances. The only thing that could make that fact a serious problem is the reality that they were under-performing on the limited chances they did generate. The Blues ranked second-to-last in the NHL with a HDGF% of 43.68%.

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After the switch flipped and the Blues began to win at an incredible rate, things began to change. In the back half of the season, beginning Januray 1st, the Blues began to dominate the HDGF%. Running at a 60.82% clip, the Blues were only outdone by the Western Conference’s top team in the regular season, the Calgary Flames. This massive, almost 17 point, improvement is a major factor in the improvement of the Blues.

Expected Goals Against vs. Goals Against

Another major factor in the turnaround for St. Louis was their switch in goal. It was right around the start of 2019 that rookie Jordan Binnington took over for Jake Allen. After being given numerous chances to prove that he could help the Blues to success, patience had clearly worn thin and a change was made. The stat that best shows the difference in goal is xGA vs GA.

Sporting an xGA of 64.39, the reality was that the Blues has 82 GA. This is a difference of approximately 18 goals that the Blues and their netminders allowed more than expected. A team can’t expect to produce positive results when they can’t rely on their goaltending.

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Their improvement in their final 45 games was evident once Binnington fully took a hold of the net. They allowed 65 goals in those games which was about eight less than the expected 73.1. Binnington taking over combined with Allen’s improved play in the back-up role were the driving forced behind their improvement.

Scoring Chance Scoring (SCGF%)

The St. Louis Blues offence took a massive step in the right direction after the new year. Not only increasing their amount of scoring chances for (SCF), but they also increased the rate in which they scored. A telling underlying number that shows the increased efficiency in scoring is SCGF%. It compares the amount of goals scored on a scoring chance for each team in relation to their opponent. For Example:

Team A scored 15 goals on their scoring chances, Team B scored 20 goals.

Team A had a SCGF% of 42.85%

The Blues were unable to take advantage if their limited scoring chances early in the year but allowed their opponent to finish their chances. This lead to an extremely poor 43.51% SCGF%. This was largely a goaltending issue but the deployment in the defensive zone of both their forwards and defencemen. The change occurred after a slight change in strategy and scheme once Craig Berube took over as head coach from Mike Yeo at the end of November.

After the team got used to the coaching change and the scheme and playing-style change, they improved greatly in their SCGF%. Using their new structure and improved deployment, the Blues were able to improve 10 points to 53.5% SCGF%. The Blues became more active in the offensive zone, getting better puck movement which led to more goals.

Sometimes it’s just Luck (or PDO)

PDO has often been used to quantify a teams luck. High shooting percentages and high save percentages are the biggest culprits in making up a teams PDO. Essentially, you add your team save percentage and shooting percentage and you want it to be about 1.000. Any higher, you are likely getting some lucky bounces. Any lower and the team would be in the opposite end of the spectrum. The stat is often looked at for measuring sustainability. Can a team continue to be this good/bad? PDO helps explain it.

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This season has shown the St. Louis Blues exactly how PDO works. When they were putting up a league worst performance prior to their turning point, the Blues carries a PDO of 0.986. While this doesn’t seem like that big of a difference, it is a decent drop off the desired 1.000. The combination of poor play in net and poor shooting percentages led to the Blues to the basement of the league.

The new year brought new fortune. With Binnington solidifying the goaltending situation and the shooting percentages regressing back to the mean, the teams PDO normalized. They even got the slightest bit lucky with a 1.016 PDO. They were finally getting a few breaks. If they hadn’t, who knows if they would have finished a few points lower and then not have the chance to go on the run they are on. Luck, or PDO as a quantification, played a major role in the Blues resurrection.

What Turned the Tides?

The two major events occurred around the first day of the new calendar year. the first of which occurred near the end of November, Mike Yeo was let go and Craig Berube took over. While he didn’t make insane scheme changes he did make sure he held guys accountable for their effort. He knew that the talent was there, he just had to let the team work out it’s chemistry after an impressive summer where they added Ryan O’Reilly, Tyler Bozak and hometown kid Patrick Maroon. All three players had to find their spot on the team and figure out how to gel.

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Berube came in and preached hard work. He demanded players work for when they are on the ice and do what they’re supposed to in all three zones. His attitude and philosophy was put to the test when Jake Allen’s up-and-down play continued to prove he was not the answer in net. The Blues called up rookie Jordan Binnington on December 9th and they started him right away to send a message. The wisest choice Berube made after taking over as interim head coach may have been riding the hot hand in Binnington until it was no longer a question. It was the rookies net.

The goalie who began the year as the backup in the AHL had taken a firm grasp on the NHL net. His record after taking over was 24-5-1 with a .927 Sv%. In just 32 games, Binnington put on a strong enough performance to be nominated for the Calder trophy as one of the top rookies in the league. Binnington may very well be the MVP of the St. Louis Blues. Craig Berube’s decision to hold everyone accountable, from the net on out, was the turning point for the team in the cellar before the clock struck midnight and the calendar changed to 2019.

For more on the NHL, follow me here at @TheTonyFerrari on twitter!

All stats and info is from nhl.comhockey-reference.com, and Naturalstattrick.com

St. Louis Blues: Evaluating the Goaltender Marketplace

It’s not a secret that the St. Louis Blues desperately need a goaltender. 

The Blues’ number one goaltender, Jake Allen has been insufferably bad. At this point in the season, Allen has a 3.12 GAA and a .900 SV% after 22 games in net.

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Their back-up goaltender, Chad Johnson was waived earlier this week. Unfortunately for Blues fans, Johnson wasn’t great either. In 10 games played this season, Johnson had a 3.55 GAA and a .884 SV%.

St. Louis Blues fans should be thankful as Johnson is no longer with the organization. Earlier today, it was announced that the Anaheim Ducks had claimed Johnson off of waivers. The Ducks desperately needed a goaltender after it was revealed that their backup goaltender, Ryan Miller would be on the shelf for roughly six weeks with a sprained MCL. 

With Johnson on his way to Southern California, the Blues will now rely on Jordan Binnington to backup Allen. Binnington hasn’t played in the NHL since 2015-2016. In the 2015-2016 regular season, he only made one start and it wasn’t pretty. 

So, it’s fair to say that Doug Armstrong, the general manager of the St. Louis Blues should look to make an upgrade in-goal. If Armstrong adds a top goaltender, the Blues might be able to get out of their struggles.

Who Might be an Option?

If I’m in Armstrong’s loafers, the first call that I would make would be to the Boston Bruins. 

This season has been rather rocky for the Bruins. At the moment, the Bruins sit in fourth place in the Atlantic Division. Unfortunately for fans in New England, the Bruins have had a number of health issues. They’ve been without their elite centre, Patrice Bergeron since November 16th. In addition, Bruins’ winger, Jake DeBrusk is hurt as well. Even if both forwards come back tomorrow, the Bruins will likely still look to add another forward prior to the deadline.

If the Bruins want to add a forward, they could potentially look at trading Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis. With Halak having a strong year, the Bruins have two great goaltenders that they can rely on. Aside from Halak, Bruce Cassidy also has Tuukka Rask at his disposal. Rask did struggle early on this season, but he seems to be back to his old self. With Rask on the roster, the Bruins don’t really need two strong goaltenders and should look to capitalize on Halak’s rising value. 

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Halak Back In St. Louis?

For St. Louis Blues fans, Halak should be a familiar name. Halak played for the Blues from 2010-2014. 

During his time in St. Louis, Missouri, Halak was outstanding. In fact, in his 2011-2012 campaign, he had a 1.97 GAA and a .926 SV%. While it’s not 2013, Halak can still be exceptional if he returns to St. Louis. Sure, he won’t be the same goaltender as he was in 2011-2012, but he can still be dominant. 

In the Tableau visual below, Tyler Kelley, contributor of FanSided’s Pucks and Pitchforks (New Jersey Devils blog) shows how Halak and St. Louis Blues’ goaltender, Allen performed last season. 

Tyler Kelley

Overall, Halak is a better all-around goaltender than Allen. The only statistical category that Allen was extremely better than Halak was xSv% (Expected Save Percentage). Aside from xSv%, Halak truly was more consistent. In addition, you notice that Halak was a lot better at MDSv% (Mid Danger Save Percentage), Sv%, GSAA30 percentage (Goals Saved Above Average/30) and dSv% (Delta Save Percentage). 

The best part for Blues fans is that they wouldn’t have to part with a significant amount to land Halak. Armstrong could potentially send Patrick Maroon or Tyler Bozak to Boston to acquire Halak. While some Blues fans might not be happy to send Bozak to Boston, the need for a top goaltender out-weighs the need for a veteran third line centre. Plus, there are a few centremen in the organization that could fill in for Bozak. All-in-all, it would make a lot of sense if Armstrong were able to acquire Halak.

stats from hockey-reference.com and NHL.com

tableau visual from Tyler Kelley