Last Word On Hockey’s Puck Drop Previews are back for the 2022-23 season! As the regular season approaches, Last Word will preview each team’s current outlook and stories to watch for the upcoming year. We’ll also do our best to project how things will go for each team over the course of the campaign. Today, we’re previewing the 2022-23 St. Louis Blues.
2022-23 St. Louis Blues
Tarasenko Trade Limbo
The Blues had a good season, finishing third in their division with 109 points. It wasn’t a completely smooth ride to get there, though. They started the season having exposed former cornerstone of the franchise Vladamir Tarasenko in the expansion draft. When the Kraken ended up taking Vince Dunn instead, the team was said to be looking to trade him, and even Tarasenko requested a trade. Both sides seemed to be done with this partnership. However, no one was able to make an adequate offer, and Tarasenko stayed with the team. And in doing so, he seemed to find some of the old magic that made him such an important piece in the first place.
Then, during the season, arose the goalie controversy. The question became was Jordan Binnington, the goalie that led the Blues to their first ever Stanley Cup, still good enough to hold the starting role on this team? And if not, what would the Blues do? Then, Ville Husso took the net and ran away with it. Husso was able to post a 0.919 save percentage while Binnington posted a 0.901. It seemed clear who the new starting goalie was.
The Final Result
St. Louis was able to win the first round of the playoffs over the Minnesota Wild, a team that many favoured in the matchup. In the second round, the Blues would fall to a dominant Colorado Avalanche team that would go on to win the Stanley Cup.
The Blues’ offseason wasn’t too significant in roster changes all around. The biggest change for the team was trading Ville Husso’s UFA rights and losing David Perron to free agency. The Blues’ main focus was signing their young players Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou to long-term deals. The loss of Perron and especially Husso could hurt this team a lot. Perron consistently generates at a 25+ goal and 55+ point pace during his most recent stint in St. Louis. That is not easy to replace. Husso, as well, served as a really good goalie that was able to help the team when Binnington was going through a tough stretch. For a goalie as streaky as what Binnington can be, that is a must for the Blues.
#STLBlues lock up another young core piece long term today signing Jordan Kyrou to a 8 year, $65 million dollar extension. @lkorac10 joins #Canucks Central with @danriccio_ and @SatiarShah to discuss.
LISTEN: https://t.co/mDLZc4njsd pic.twitter.com/jZaJeazLKo
— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) September 14, 2022
To fill the spot of Husso, the Blues brought in Thomas Greiss. The German goalie had a really tough couple of years in Detroit, posting a sub 0.900 save percentage last season and had the ninth worst GSAx in the league with -13.7 according to Evolving Hockey. The Blues really have to be betting on him rebounding with a better team in front of him, and with goaltending being as random as it is, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. But the Blues shouldn’t be relying on Greiss the same way they relied on Husso.
Other notable additions: Josh Leivo
Pavel Buchnevich – Robert Thomas – Vladamir Tarasenko
Brandon Saad – Ryan O’Reilly – Jordan Kyrou
Ivan Barbashev – Brayden Schenn – Logan Brown
Jake Neighbours – Noel Acciari – Klim Kostin
The Blues have some really potent players in their top-6. Ryan O’Reilly is known for his combination of excellent offence and defence, but Buchnevich should not be slept on in this regard either. He does this just as well, if not better than O’Reilly. The top six are rounded out with four more offensive threats. Saad had arguably the weakest season of this top-6 last season and was still able to score 24 goals. Tarasenko, if he’s able to continue last seasons magic into this one could lead the team in goals and points yet again. Thomas and Kyrou both had breakout seasons last year, and both could still continue their upwards trajectory since they are so young. This is an incredibly well-rounded top-6 with some top-end star power.
It’s really incredible to me to see Ivan Barbashev in the bottom 6 considering he had 26 goals and 60 points last season. While it may not be likely that Barbashev repeats this kind of season, this just speaks to how incredibly deep the Blues’ forward group is. Similarly, Schenn had a great season last year and still could find himself outside of the top-6 (though there is the possibility of the Blues playing him in the top-6 on the wing and shifting Barbashev to centre). The team’s bottom line could prove to be an opportunity to ease Jake Neighbours into a full-time NHL role. While normally you’d like to see a 20-year-old first-round pick playing more minutes and higher in the lineup, this Blues team is just too good in the top-9 for it to realistically happen.
Nick Leddy – Colton Payrayko
Niko Mikkola – Robert Bortuzzo
While there are no truly deep flaws for the Blues group at forward, the issues become slightly apparent when looking at their defence. Krug is a good defenceman still, but at age 31 he isn’t a #1 defenceman. Faulk really had a good year last season and has really cleaned up his defensive game from what it used to be. He is a good player to have here but may be asked to take on more than he could handle looking at the rest of the defence.
Parayko had a solid defensive season last year, returning to form a bit in that regard, but he never truly turned into the defenceman he looked to be growing into. He’s struggled overall of late, and being paired with a bit of an anchor with Leddy certainly will not help him to try to bounce back. This top four screams three okay to good players, but it’s not a group you’d expect from a Stanley Cup contender.
Niko Mikkola is the definition of a replacement level bottom pair. This is a fine way to approach a bottom pairing, assuming the D partner isn’t the offensive black hole that is Robert Bortuzzo. Bortuzzo is unable to generate anything offensively and doesn’t even excel defensively to make up for it. This bottom pair could even be forgivable on a team with a great top-4, but the Blues don’t have that. The blueline will likely need a lot of work come the 2023 trade deadline.
This season the Blue’s goaltending looks a lot shakier than last season without Husso. Binnington will not have the luxury of going through cold streaks. The Blues could opt to go with Joel Hofer as their backup, but he would likely benefit from a little more time in the AHL before making the jump.
Players to Watch
Tarasenko is entering a contract year. He had his best season in recent memory last year and will be looking to build off it in order to earn another large contract. He could be pushing for 40 goals if Robert Thomas’ playmaking continues to improve even more. Tarasenko will be leading the Blues’ top line and their power play. He is the best goal scorer on the team and he will surely be firing on all cylinders to make some money on his next deal.
Kyrou will be an interesting player to watch next season. He broke out last year and was rewarded with a massive extension. Kyrou will be an interesting player to watch to see if he lives up to the $8,125,000 extension that kicks in in 2023-24. Kyrou will have ample opportunity to produce, though, Playing with a potential line of Saad and O’Reilly could allow him to score as much, or more than he did last season.
2022-23 St. Louis Blues Prediction
The Blues have an amazing forward group and an incredibly lacklustre defence. This, in combination with a streaky starter and questionable backup, will make their games high scoring for both sides. They are really competing for third in the division with Nashville potentially, as Colorado and Minnesota are likely to secure first and second respectively. The Blues will be contenders to go as far as the third round if Binnington gets hot at the right time, but contending for the cup may be a bit far out of reach in the current state.