This is the newest file in THN.com’s ongoing analyses of each NHL team’s off-season moves. Today, we’re breaking down the St. Louis Blues.
2021-22 Record: 49-22-11
Finish In The Central Division: 3rd
Salary Cap Space Available (As Per CapFriendly.com): $625,000
Unrestricted Free Agents: Tyler Bozak, F; James Neal, F
What St. Louis Has: An impressive core of skilled, experienced talent; a fully-signed roster; an accomplished, respected management team in GM Doug Armstrong and head coach Craig Berube; an elite starting goalie in Jordan Binnington; a deep defense corps whose top four players all are signed for the next four seasons; a top-six group of forwards, eight of who scored at least 20 goals last season
What St. Louis Needs: Salary cap flexibility; a trade that satisfies disgruntled star winger and top scorer Vladimir Tarasenko, and addresses the needs that will come after his departure; a solid season of goaltending support from new acquisition Thomas Greiss; good health and production from their fourth line of forwards
What’s Realistic For St. Louis Next Season: The Blues had a fair degree of tumult in 2021-22, first dealing with a trade request from winger and longtime cornerstone Vladimir Tarasenko, then pushing through the regular-season struggles of starting goalie Jordan Binnington. But they overcame adversity, found a way to keep Tarasenko in St. Louis, and had enough patience with Binnington to see him rebound later in the year and in the post-season. As a result, they knocked off the Minnesota Wild in the first round of the playoffs and gave the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche a scare before falling to them in six games.
Now, failing to make the Western Conference final for the third straight season after winning the first Cup in franchise history in 2018-19 isn’t the Blues’ idea of success, but let’s face it – winning just one Cup is difficult enough, let alone winning multiple Cups with the same group of players. All the stars have to align for a team to win it all, and St. Louis has to keep pushing with their core of talent while they all can continue to contribute.
Their tightness against the salary cap meant saying goodbye to departed unrestricted free agents David Perron and goalie Ville Husso, but the Blues still have a high-impact collection of forwards, a mobile, savvy collection of defensemen, and an ownership group prepared to spend to the cap limit every year. That said, Tarasenko is believed to still want out of town, and with just one year remaining on his current contract, he could deliver an important mix of prospects, cap space and NHL-ready talent in any trade. Such a move would be painful, but Tarasenko was a solid citizen for them last season, and it’s probably not worth the risk of keeping him in St. Louis if it means having an openly unhappy player in the dressing room.
Regardless, the Blues will be a playoff team again in 2022-23, and another showdown with the Avs looms large. This may be the last hurrah for this particular group, as captain Ryan O’Reilly and forwards Noel Acciari all will be unrestricted free agents next summer, and winger Jordan Kyrou will be a restricted free agent. The Blues will have cap space, but with Tarasenko gone one way or another, is it time for them to retool on the fly? That’s a question GM Doug Armstrong will have to deal with soon enough. But for now, at least, they’re still one of the league’s most dangerous teams, and they could easily vault over Minnesota for second place in the Central Division, giving them home ice advantage in the first round.