Three questions facing St. Louis Blues
Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the St. Louis Blues.
1. Did GM Doug Armstrong do enough to get his team back to the playoffs?
Armstrong surprised a few people in the hockey world when he decided to ship Paul Stastny to Winnipeg at the trade deadline. The move wasn’t exactly well-received in the Blues locker room, but Armstrong had the team’s long-term interest in mind when he pulled the trigger on that deal.
Since then, he’s done his part to make sure that the Blues are better this year than they were one year ago. He added Ryan O’Reilly via trade, he signed a number of interesting free agents and he was able to re-sign some key figures.
We’ll get into the O’Reilly trade a little later on in this article, so let’s focus on the moves they made in free agency. Armstrong clearly felt like his team needed more scoring depth. Yes, they already have Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and Brayden Schenn, but getting production from their other lines was a bit of a chore. Now, they’ll be able to rely on solid depth scorers like Patrick Maroon, who has scored 27 and 17 goals over the last two seasons, Tyler Bozak, who is a nice third-line center, and David Perron, who put up a career-high 66 points with Vegas last year.
[2017-18 review | Under Pressure: Allen | Breakthrough: Dunn]
Their focus was adding goals to their lineup, and that’s what they did. Armstrong didn’t touch his defense, as Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko, Jay Bouwmeester, Vince Dunn and Joel Edmundson will likely be the first five defensemen on the roster. All five of those players are returning members of the team, so the Blues will hope that familiarity will help the group play better.
The only reason Armstrong had to make a change to one of his goaltenders is because Carter Hutton took off for Buffalo. He will be replaced by journeyman Chad Johnson. Some Blues fans were probably hoping that their GM to get them upgrade on Jake Allen, but that didn’t happen.
On paper, it sure looks like Armstrong did his part. Now, it’ll be up to the guys on the ice to get the Blues back to the postseason.
2. How will Ryan O’Reilly fit in with his new team?
Of all the moves Armstrong made, the O’Reilly trade was the most significant. O’Reilly gives the Blues another legitimate top-two center behind Brayden Schenn. As you may have noticed, the Blues waited until after free agency to make this move. So that leads you to believe that if Armstrong was willing to part with future assets to get O’Reilly, it means that he likes the look of his team heading into the season.
Sure, the former Sabre is now tied for the highest cap hit on the team (he and Vladimir Taranseko both have an AAV of $7.5 million), but they’ll be relied upon to do different things. Not only does O’Reilly contribute offensively, he’s also fully capable of playing a complete game. He’s solid in his own end and he can play the penalty-kill, as well.
And if Schenn, Schwartz and Tarasenko stay together, it means that O’Reilly will get to play with guys like Perron, Robby Fabbri, Alex Steen or Maroon on the second line. That’ll be great for them because the top line will get all the difficult matchups.
“I feel like I have a spark in me now,” O’Reilly said, per the AP. “There’s something different. It’s interesting how it happened, but I’m happy, I’m excited and I don’t regret anything that’s happened.
“There’s nothing like playoff hockey. It’s what we all kind of dream of doing. Unfortunately, my career, I haven’t done it enough. And I plan to come in and help this team get there, help this team win.”
Finding centermen isn’t easy, so the fact that the Blues were able to get two of them this off-season is a testament to the work that their management group put over the summer.
It’s hard not to like the fit for both O’Reilly and his new team.
3. Will the Blues figure things out on the power play this season?
It’s hard to imagine that a team with Tarasenko, Schwartz, Schenn, Pietrangelo and Parayko would struggle on the power play, but that’s exactly what happened to this team last year.
Of all the 31 teams in the NHL last season, only the Edmonton Oilers had a worse power play than the Blues. The Oilers finished the year with 14.8 percent success rate on the man-advantage, while St. Louis wasn’t too far ahead at 15.4 percent.
The addition of O’Reilly, which we spoke about earlier, should help on the power play. Of the 24 goals he scored for Buffalo last season, 15 came on the man-advantage. Over the last three seasons, he’s scored 25 goals while his team is up a man.
The Blues coaching staff will also have to find a way to put Schenn into better positions on the power play. Before landing in St. Louis, the 27-year-old had 17 and 11 power play goals over his previous two seasons in the Philadelphia. Last year, he scored eight. That’s a respectable number, but he can clearly do more.
And, finally, they have to find a way to get Tarasenko and his lethal shot open. He scored 33 goals during the 2018-19 season, but only six came on the power play. That’s not enough. Getting him into the double-digit range in that category would go a long way in helping them get better.