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

 

Doug Armstrong

St. Louis Blues: Doug Armstrong Brings Carl Gunnarsson Back

featured image photo credit – johnmaxmena2/Wikimedia Commons

After some slight speculation, the St. Louis Blues have re-signed left handed defenseman Carl Gunnarsson to a two year contract with a cap hit of 1.75 million.

After an injury plagued regular season that saw him only play 25 games, he played 19 games in the playoffs in a Stanley Cup winning campaign. He played in all seven games of the Stanley Cup Final and contributed three points. He will forever be ingrained in St. Louis Blues history after scoring the overtime game winner in game two. His overtime goal gave the Blues their first Stanley Cup Final victory in franchise history.

Last Season

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In addition to his playoff success, we saw quite a bit of improvement from Gunnarsson when he was in the lineup. After a down season possession-wise in 2017-2018, he bounced back nicely in 2018-19 with a corsi for percentage of 53.9. In 2017-18, his corsi for percentage was 46.8. It did help that the Blues were on a roll in the second half of the season and that helped boost his corsi-for percentage.

Playoffs

Then in the playoffs, Gunnarsson was a brick wall on the Blues’ blue-line. In the visual below (created by Sean Tierney), you’ll see that Gunnarsson played on two of the best defensive pairs for the Blues. For a portion of the playoffs, he spent time with Robert Bortuzzo and time with Alex Pietrangelo. When he was alongside Bortuzzo, his xGA60 (expected goals against/per 60) was quite low. But, his xGF60 (expected goals for/per 60) was quite low. Later on in the playoffs, he played alongside Pietrangelo and they were the most effective pairing on the Blues. They were posting a low xGA60 and a high xGF60. It’s safe to say that if Blues head coach didn’t pair Gunnarsson with Pietrangelo that the Blues might not have won the cup.

visual created by Sean Tierney, data from Moneypuck.com

Given what we’ve seen, the 32 year old can fill in nicely on the Blues third pairing and bump up in the lineup if need be. If an injury arises, Gunnarsson would be a solid fill-in. So, there is no loss in this deal. It’s only a win for St. Louis. 

What This Means for the Blues

The Blues left side now includes Gunnarsson, Jay Bouwmeester and Vince Dunn with Joel Edmundson being an RFA (has received a qualifying offer). There had been reports that teams were in on trying to acquire Gunnarsson, but he decided to head back to St. Louis on a bit of a discount to take another run at a cup. The Blues are bringing back all seven of their main defensemen from last season. Blues general manager Doug Armstrong doesn’t see the need to make big changes on his blue-line and he’s confident in his defensive unit to bring the Blues right back to the Cup Finals. 

stats from hockey-reference.com and Moneypuck.com

featured image photo credit – johnmaxmena2/Wikimedia Commons

 

St. Louis Blues

The St. Louis Blues Are Stanley Cup Champions

The St. Louis Blues are Stanley Cup Champions.

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They’ve defeated the Boston Bruins in a seven game series. It’s been a crazy ride for the Blues, but they’ve pulled it off. It had been quite a rocky series, but the Blues were able to shut down the Boston Bruins in Game 7. Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington was a brick wall. He was able to shut down scoring chance after scoring chance. Binnington’s pad work was phenomenal. The Bruins couldn’t find a gap anywhere. He shifted from left to right and ensured that there was no hole open for the Bruins to capitalize. At the end of the night, Binnington made 32 saves and only allowed one goal.

In addition, the Blues forward group was outstanding. Sammy Blais, Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko made critical plays in game 7 to neutralize the Boston Bruins attack. All-in-all, it was a challenge for Bruce Cassidy and the Boston Bruins to shut down this group.

Plus, the Blues defense was outstanding. They were able to keep the Bruins at bay. Per MoneyPuck.com, the Blues only allowed 1.87 expected goals in game 7. Throughout the night, Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko, Vince Dunn, Joel Edmundson, Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson were incredible. They combined for 17 blocks and 13 hits. Great work.

The Blues’ Challenges 

Earlier this season, the Blues seemed like they were done for. There were rumours circulating around the Blues and their general manager Doug Armstrong shopping Vladimir Tarasenko, Colton Parayko, Brayden Schenn and Alex Pietrangelo. But, the Blues stood pat with their roster. Armstrong let go of former head coach Mike Yeo (now with the Philadelphia Flyers) and named Craig Berube as interim head coach.

Armstrong’s decision to replace Yeo with Berube paid off. Berube and the Blues coaching staff worked their magic and was able to create a brick wall of defense. Their defense and goaltending has been outstanding. Sure, they had some bumps at times, but at the end of the day they prevailed.

stats from hockey-reference.com, NHL.com and MoneyPuck.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

 

St. Louis Blues

St. Louis Blues: Colton Parayko Is A Dark Horse Conn Smythe Candidate

Colton Parayko has played some tough minutes for the St. Louis Blues. But, should he be considered for the Conn Smythe?

Tonight is Game 6 and the St. Louis Blues can erase 50+ years of misery and hoist the Stanley Cup. We all know that Alex Pietrangelo will receive that trophy, if the St. Louis Blues wins tonight. But, who will the NHL fork over the Conn Smythe Trophy to?

There are a lot of names being floated about. From Ryan O’Reilly, Jordan Binnington, and Vladimir Tarasenko, but an underrated candidate, in my eyes, is Colton Parayko.

Parayko

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Parayko is a guy that will not jump off the stat sheet, but he played top minutes against other teams top wingers through each round. He was able to shut down the likes of Patrik Laine, Tyler Seguin, and Logan Couture, and now he has been tasked with minimizing the impact of Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. Outside of the Game 3 blowout, the top line for Boston has been relatively quiet at 5 on 5.

As mentioned prior, Parayko will not tear the roof off with goals and assists. But, he does a great job at shutting down the competition. During the post-season, he’s mostly been paired with Jay Bouwmeester. Unfortunately, Bouwmeester isn’t the same defenseman that he once was. He’s slowed down since his days with the Calgary Flames. However, Parayko has taken a lot of the burden off of his back. Per the chart below from Sean Tierney, they’ve been one of the best defensive pairings. They have limited the amount of expected goals against. In addition, Parayko has fairly trustworthy for Craig Berube. Berube can be more at ease with Parayko on the ice than some of his other defenseman (i.e. Joel Edmundson and Vince Dunn). 

visual from Sean Tierney, data from MoneyPuck.com

In addition, per the visual below from Sean Tierney, Parayko has showed throughout the 2018-19 season that he’s a pest at the blue-line. He posted the second highest break-up percentage on the St. Louis Blues (just behind Alex Pietrangelo). Plus, Parayko creates a ton of zone exits and zone entries. He’s everything that you want in a two-way defenseman. It’s incredibly hard to find the perfect two-way defenseman, but the Blues have found one in Parayko. While he might not dazzle the eyes of fans with scoring chances, Parayko helps create the magic by getting the puck up the ice. So, don’t discount his efforts by saying that he’s not worthy of the Conn Smythe. His efforts haven’t gone unnoticed and he should be considered.

visual created by Sean Tierney, data from Corey Sznajder

Lastly, Colton Parayko has been a +6 and has generated 54 shots on goal, all while averaging 24:58 TOI. Beyond those stats, he has been a joy to watch. He skates so smoothly for a big guy and moves the puck so well. For all of these reasons combined, I would cast my vote for Colton Parayko for the Conn Smythe.

stats from MoneyPuck.com, Corey Sznajder and Hockey-Reference.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

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Controversy Surrounds Game Five Win For the St. Louis Blues

The St. Louis Blues pulled off a 2-1 victory over the Boston Bruins on Thursday night in Boston.

The win puts the Blues within one win of the franchise’s first Stanley Cup and they will have a chance to do it in St. Louis on Sunday with a win.

I know what you all want me to discuss and trust me we will get to that, but first let’s recap the first two periods.

First Period

TD Garden was rocking. When Zdeno Chara was announced in the starting lineup, the roof almost came off the place and it was going to be a raucous environment. Boston came out strong. They poured the pressure on Jordan Binnington and the Blues, they noted on the broadcast that the Bruins weren’t centering many passes, and their seemed to be a reason for that. Binnington has struggled with rebounds all series and the Bruins were trying to go for that and put one in that way. Binnington, though, played maybe his best period in the playoffs and kept the Bruins off the scoreboard. On the other side once they survived the first ten minutes or so the Blues started getting their chances, but Tuukka Rask was on his game early Both teams got a power play in the first and neither team could convert, Rask made a wonderful save on David Perron (more on him later) on the Blues power play and the first ended scoreless, which had to feel like a win for the Blues with how the game started and how crazy the building was.

Second Period

Like they have done so often this playoffs, the Blues struck early in the period, Zach Sanford made a  beautifully pass from behind the net  to Ryan O’Reilly who was able to stick it to the back of the net and give the Blues lead. Sanford was put into the lineup by Blues coach Craig Berube when Oskar Sundqvist was suspended for game three and has rewarded Berube’s decision with an assist in every game so far. The rest of the period was pretty ugly with only 14 shots coming out it in total. The Bruins got another chance on the power play after David Perron took a penalty but again was unable to do anything with it. So now we can get to the fun stuff as the game was 1-0 heading into the third in favor of St. Louis

Third Period

The beginning of the third started innocently enough and a few minutes in the Bruins went on their third power play of the game as Alex Steen went off for interference. For the third time the Bruins were stymied by Binnington and after dominating the first three games the Bruins power play has gone quiet in games four and five. So more time goes by and the Blues score when David Perron skates around the Bruins defense and is able to beat Rask making it 2-0.

The Trip

You guys want to talk about anything else? X-Men? Godzilla? Maybe discuss Game of Thrones Season Eight? No….ok. So on the David Perron goal Noel Acciari had the puck and was tripped by Tyler Bozak. There is no other way to put it he got tripped, the ref was staring right at the play Bozak looked up assuming a penalty had been called and things seemed to stop. David Perron, however, did not stop and redeemed himself in Blues fans eyes with that goal. Three things can be true on this play, for one like I stated above it was a trip, Bozak tripped Acciari. No one can rightfully dispute that. I saw some Blues fans and others say it might have been embellishment, I don’t see it, Acciari fell stayed down on the ice and had to be put into concussion protocol. Two, the Bruins stopped playing defense. Perron is a nice player but the Bruins allowed him to get where he wanted to be way too easily because they stopped playing. Three, and the one that might make me go into witness protection, that’s a save Rask has to make. The situation may change the viewpoint but take the trip out of your mind (I know it’s hard) if you isolate just Perron and Rask, that’s a save that needed to be made and Rask didn’t make it, which considering how amazing he has been all playoffs is a massive surprise.

NHL Refs

No matter what team you root you have to agree something needs to be done about how NHL refereeing is conducted.  Hockey is so fast that no ref is going to see everything and things will be missed, that is human nature, and as frustrating as that can be I think NHL fans are smart enough to understand that in the grand scheme of things. However, when officials miss calls like the trip when it is that blatant that continues to be the problem. For a lot of this postseason it seems the NHL has thrown away the rule book every team has been playing by all season long because they don’t want to decide the outcome of the game. How’s that working out for you NHL? By not calling penalties you are deciding an outcome and quite frankly that needs to stop. Go through any series and you can find egregious calls for and against every team. It seems like years ago but do you remember Boston vs Toronto Game Two? That was a game where nothing was called and the NHL was embarrassed by it. How many crews have been suspended because of an embarrassing call?

Solutions

I don’t have a perfect answer, no one does. Anything that will get thrown out and tried will go through trial runs and upset people. You have video review though…USE IT!!! The five minute major called on Vegas in Game Seven against San Jose cost them that game. Take a minute go look at a monitor and realize “I messed up I should change the call” but no these are non review able. San Jose I don’t mean to pick on you I really don’t, but the hand pass, how long would that have taken to review? Thirty seconds tops? (Blues fans stop complaining about that it got evened up and you won the series) Add in the fact that officials don’t get to be asked things by the media and if coaches or players dare criticize them they get fined. Rant aside let’s get back to the game.

Rest of Third

After a small delay when Boston fans threw trash on the ice, the Bruins started to take over again as the Blues went into a shell. Finally with around Six and half minutes left Jake DeBrusk scored and the TD Garden was able to go crazy for a positive result. The Bruins kept pouring on the pressure and a puck got through Binnington and was swept away by Carl Gunnarsson and that might have saved the game. The Bruins kept coming and coming until finally the Blues were able to corral a puck and get it out as the buzzer went off giving them a 3-2 series lead.

Wrap Up

This thing is far from over. The Bruins were down 3-2 to the Leafs after losing a home Game Five and went into Toronto played a great road game and then came home and got a Game Seven win. The Enterprise Center will be going crazy and this will be the toughest game of the playoffs for the Blues. Their job was made much tougher as it was announced Ivan Barbashev will be suspended for the game. The Bruins may have lost but for large stretches of the game they dominated and another effort like that in St. Louis and this thing will be going to a Game Seven. If you want to be entertained though go on twitter and find the video of the two Bruin fans fighting. Always fun to see two fans of the same team going at it in the crowd, and with Stone Cold Steve Austin’s music behind them it is perfect.

all numbers and stats gained from NHL.com

Featured Image are products owned by Nikos Michals and created by Tony Ferrari.