The 2018-19 Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues didn’t suffer from the proverbial ‘Stanley Cup hangover’ the following season as they remained one of the best teams the Western Conference had to offer.
In fact, when the league paused its season in March, the Blues led the west with 94 points and a .662 winning percentage across 71 games which ranked second league wide behind only the Boston Bruins.
The Blues did so without the services of goal-scoring winger Vladimir Tarasenko for much of the season, although their depth showed up in a big way up front.
On the back end, the team didn’t quite get the lights-out goaltending from Jordan Binnington that they did in their Stanley Cup-winning season, but a solid group of Blues defenders had them ranking among the team’s best defensive clubs nonetheless.
That said, change is afoot in St. Louis. The club saw some major subtractions this offseason, but also some additions that the team hopes will prevent them from skipping a beat heading towards the 2020-21 season.
With that in mind, let’s go ahead and take a look into the 2020-21 St. Louis Blues, their season preview and odds before diving into some predictions on how this season could shakeout in the gateway to the west.
2020-21 St. Louis Blues Season Preview & Odds
- Last Season: 42-19-10 (1st in Central Division)
- Key Additions: D Torey Krug, LW Kyle Clifford
- Projected Salary Cap Space: $0 (Currently $1,175,515 over the cap)
- 2021 Stanley Cup Odds: +2000
- 2021 Western Conference Odds: +900
Tip your cap to the Blues offense last season. No, they weren’t the most potent offense in the league, but built on a team effort, the team tied the Edmonton Oilers for 14th with 3.14 goals per game a season ago.
That said, despite missing Tarasenko for all but 10 of their 71 regular-season games, the Blues’ power play operated at a 24.3% clip a season ago, good for the third-best mark in the league.
It was certainly a team effort. For example, Ryan O’Reilly led the team with 61 points last season. Jaden Schwartz finished fourth in team scoring, but had just four fewer points than O’Reilly with 57. David Perron came in at second with 60 points and Brayden Schenn third with 58 points.
Plenty of that production came on the man advantage where the quartet of Perron, Schenn, Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo all tallied at least 20 power-play points last season. Of course, Pietrangelo is no longer with the team, and while we’ll get into that later, his presence could be missed as one of the top offensive defensemen in the NHL.
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) August 20, 2020
However, the team also added Torey Krug on the free-agent market. Krug might not be the same all-round blueliner that Pietrangelo is, but he was also the power play quarterback for a Boston Bruins team that ranked second with a 25.2% clip a season ago.
Clearly, general manager Doug Armstrong values keeping a high-octane power play unit in tow and that unit should only get better if Tarasenko could contribute, but he underwent another operation on his troublesome shoulder in September and would not be evaluated for five months. Given the recurring shoulder issues, we shouldn’t expect Tarasenko to be a factor for the Blues until potentially the second half of the season.
That said, this is an offense whose sum of its parts are greater than the individual pieces. The top four point-getters from last season return, and the Blues were thrilled to see 2017 first-round pick Robert Thomas break out with 42 points in 66 games after a healthy rookie season in which he notched 33 points in 70 games. At this point, he’s certainly in the team’s top six.
Veteran center Tyler Bozak has fit in seamlessly with the Blues over the last two seasons and he’ll handle third-line center duties one again alongside the likes of developing youngsters Oskar Sundqvist and Sammy Blais.
The Blues also added some sandpaper in the bottom-six in former Los Angeles King Kyle Clifford who spent the second half of last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs after a deadline deal with the Kings. Clifford was quick to sign a two-year pact with the Blues in free agency.
If the Blues could now get something out of Jordan Kyrou, they could be in business. Kyrou, the team’s second-round pick in 2016, was a highly-touted prospect coming out of junior after scoring 39 goals and 109 points in just 56 games with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting before notching a healthy 43 points in 47 games with the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage in his first pro season. While he also notched 15 points in 16 AHL games last season, Kyrou has just five goals and 12 points in 44 career NHL games and will look to contribute next season at still just 22 years of age.
It’s largely the same Blues forward group heading into next season, and if their power play can even come close to their production from last season, this group should be in good hands once again.
Of course, the biggest offseason change to this Blues team is on the blueline where long-time Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo departed for the Vegas Golden Knights in free agency. It’s a changing of the guard to be sure after Pietrangelo played parts of 12 seasons with the Blues after they drafted the 6-foot-3 rear guard with the fourth overall pick of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
While Krug comes in on a seven-year, $45M deal in free agency, he’s not going to replace the all-round contributions Pietrangelo brought to the table. Krug’s offensive abilities could replace that of the former Blues captain, especially on the power play, but we’ll see if the Blues miss Pietrangelo’s defensive presence. Keep in mind Jay Bouwmeester’s career could be over after last season’s cardiac episode on the Blues’ bench while right-side blueliner Justin Faulk – who the team acquired and signed to an identical seven-year, $45M contract last offseason – is known more for his offensive talents than his defending skills.
The team’s top all-round defenseman these days is Colton Parayko, who Pietrangelo himself recently touted as his replacement as the team’s blueline leader. The hulking defenseman contributes at both ends of the ice and is still just 27 years old after five quality seasons in the league, finishing with a career-high 23 minutes played per game last season.
That. Was. BEAUTIFUL.
Parayko rips his tenth goal of the season. #stlblues
TV: FSMW | Stream: FSGO pic.twitter.com/Vy6eC7VBZX
— FOX Sports Midwest (@FSMidwest) March 10, 2020
The bottom pair returns in the form of Vince Dunn and Robert Bortuzzo. That said, Dunn is cut from a wildly similar cloth to that of Krug and Bortuzzo is more of a physical presence on the blueline more than anything else.
Last season, the Blues ranked fifth with 2.66 goals against per game last season despite a penalty kill that slipped to 18th at 79.3%.
It appears the Blues deserve every bit of that defensive ranking. At 5v5, they ranked first with 28.04 shots against per 60 minutes played, ninth with 2.16 expected goals against/60, seventh with 24.47 scoring chances against/60 and 10th with 10.01 high-danger chances against/60.
That said, there’s little doubt that this is a changed blueline. One thing that hasn’t changed is the structure implemented by head coach Craig Berube, however the trio of Krug, Faulk and Dunn are offensive defensemen by trade. Parayko is the real deal to be sure and Bortuzzo’s stay-at-home ways fit well within Berube’s structure. The team also has veteran Marco Scandella in its top four, and while he’s been a hit and signed a contract extension with the Blues, he was also discarded by both the Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens last season.
I’m skeptical that the Blues can be as stout defensively as they were last year without not only Pietrangelo, but the rock-solid Bouwmeester whose presence could be missed as well.
Don’t expect the defensive production to plummet, but I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see a step back from this group next season.
After lighting the hockey world ablaze en route to a Stanley Cup in his rookie season, goaltender Jordan Binnington took a step back last season.
Binnington shocked his way to a dynamite 1.89 GAA and .927 Sv% across 32 regular-season appearances in his rookie season, but regressed to a 2.56 GAA and .912 Sv% last season, struggling mostly on the road where he posted a subpar 3.10 GAA and .903 Sv% in 20 games.
It’s difficult to know what to expect from the 27-year-old next season, perhaps something in between the two season thus far. However, we do know that Jake Allen, who actually out-played Binnington with a 2.15 GAA and .927 Sv% in what was a bounce-back campaign last year – won’t be there this time around after the Blues dealt him to the Montreal Canadiens for a pair of draft picks, shedding his $4.35M cap hit for the 2020-21 season in the process.
Between Binnington and Allen, the Blues tied the Tampa Bay Lightning for ninth in the league with a .910 Sv% from their goaltending while also ranking sixth with a .927 mark at 5v5 play.
Jordan Binnington was nearly UNBEATABLE in Game 7️⃣ of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.
— #ThankYouDoc (@NHLonNBCSports) June 12, 2020
Binnington will probably need to be sharper in 2020-21 as his backup now appears to be 25-year-old rookie Ville Husso, he of zero NHL games to this point. Husso worked to a decent 2.56 GAA and .909 Sv% last season in San Antonio, but is just two years removed from posting an ugly 3.67 GAA and .871 Sv% in 27 games with the Rampage in the 2018-19 season.
While most NHL teams are now leaning towards a timeshare in goal, it appears the Blues will be a team set to lean heavily on a No.1 in Binnington with Husso likely only to spell him in back-to-back scenarios, although such an arrangement remains to be seen.
With Binnington as their No.1, the Blues should be just fine in goal. Husso’s production will largely hinge on how his team plays in front of him, which if history tells us anything, should be fine as well. However, without Allen’s excellent relief work of Binnington last season, the Blues are not a top-five defense.
The goaltending situation doesn’t appear as sturdy as it was this time last year, however I don’t expect too many issues between the pipes with Binnington in tow.
2020-21 St. Louis Blues Predictions
The Central was a beast as recently as the 2018-19 season. Five of the eight playoff teams in the west came from the Central that year, including the Blues finishing third in the division behind the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets.
While the Colorado Avalanche are now a Stanley Cup favorite and the Dallas Stars are coming off a Stanley Cup Final appearance, the division appears far weaker than it was just two seasons ago.
The Preds and Jets are clearly no longer powerhouse teams. Nashville has endured a brutal offseason to this point and will almost certainly struggle to score goals next season while the Jets’ offense fell off a cliff last season. If it wasn’t for Connor Hellebuyck’s MVP-caliber production last season, the Jets would have been far out of the postseason picture.
Even the Stars could scuffle as they’ll be without their top offensive player in Tyler Seguin and their 1A netminder Ben Bishop each for the first couple months of the season. For a Stars team that ranked 26th in offense last season, losing Seguin hurts in a big way.
All of these factors are beneficial for these St. Louis Blues. The loss of Pietrangelo is a factor, but as a team, the Blues were a sound defensive club nonetheless. Again, the sum of their parts on the back end were greater than the individual pieces.
I’m also mildly concerned about the goaltending situation. If Binnington’s production doesn’t improve from last season, the Blues could have some issues preventing goals as I do expect some form of regression from defense corps. Nothing ground-breaking, but I’m not sure this is a top-five defenseman anymore, but could still remain in the top 10 to be sure.
The offense should be fine, but likely not good enough to make up for any defensive regression. They weren’t a great even-strength offense last season, and if the power play doesn’t remain elite, there’s probably regression to be had there as well.
That’s why I started with the weakening Central. Even if the Blues see some form of regression on offense and/or defense and goaltending, I still view this team as the second-best team in the division behind the Avalanche. I just don’t see any of the Predators, Jets, Minnesota Wild or Chicago Blackhawks as superior teams, although I do think the weakened division bodes well for an underdog Wild club.
I like the Blues to finish second in the Central and third at worst. However, I’m not sure there’s much postseason success to be had. I like the team, the coaching is great and the back end could surprise even me and return to top-five form even without their long-time captain.
However, sign me up for a second-place finish in the Central but a first-round postseason exit for the 2020-21 St. Louis Blues.