Either way, the slumping start did nothing to help the overall confidence of this Blues team and they were not quite the team I thought they were going to be in the 2017 season.
The Central Division wasn't kind, no matter which way you sliced it, with the Blackhawks and Wild dominating the better part of the regular season, the Blues were able to pick up enough of the scraps for a 3rd place finish in the division. It wasn't like the Blues were a terrible team for long periods of time, but they did have their struggles and it wasn't until the end of January, before this team really clicked in and found their way.
In the playoffs, they had an unenviable task of taking on the same Minnesota Wild in the 1st round, but the Blues found some strength and pushed their way through their division rivals, but they couldn't quite solve the Nashville Predators in the 2nd round, unable to shut down the offense from their blueline, just like the Chicago Blackhawks before them.
It was thought to be a pretty prime year for the Blues, so now the question will be... do they have enough of the right pieces to make that same push again in the 2018 season?
The St. Louis Blues had their share of players taken in the hockey pool this past season, 12 players taken at the initial draft, including one 1st round pick in goalie Jake Allen, which comes as no surprise in the goaltending rush of the early rounds. The first Waiver Draft had one struggling Blue leave and one picked, while the second time around, saw an injury go out the door, but he wasn't replaced by another teammate. The trade deadline saw Kevin Shattenkirk leave to the Capitals, also not replaced, which means that the Blues finished the season with 10 players active.
Vladimir Tarasenko and Jake Allen both finished the season with 75 points on the year, both finishing in the top 20 in pool scoring, which certainly keeps their hockey pool values quite high.
It was a total of seven forwards, including Tarasenko, who finished the year as pool worthy, and they include: Jaden Schwartz, Alex Steen, David Perron, Paul Stastny, Patrik Berglund and Robby Fabbri, who was injured two-thirds of the way through the season. The Blues were not short on offense up front, that's for sure. After the Blues dealt Shattenkirk, however, it only left them with two pool worthy defenders in Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko and then the depth really dropped off. Carter Hutton, the full-time back-up, also finished in pool territory, making 30 appearances and finishing with 35 points, ranking him 39th. He's a good fit for a late goalie, if you can get him.
What I Said Last Year, At This Time...
I would certainly have troubles believing that this would be the same Blues team, if Backes was to leave via free agency and so, if he was to go, this team would certainly struggle in the tough times, making the losing streaks even longer. The Blues will have more than enough skill to win a lot of games, but the long grind of the season and the playoffs won't be the same at all. Let's say they make room for Backes though, it would be interesting to see where they make the room, possibly on the blueline, which could certainly improve. St. Louis is definitely in a state of flux right now and any talk of another Conference Finals appearance or better, will certainly hinge on their leadership contingency.
If coaching is one of those leadership areas, then yes... the season certainly hinged on that. The Backes-less Blues were a little off kilter to start the season, but letting go of Ken Hitchcock and promoting Mike Yeo definitely turned things around, especially in goal, where Allen really had to turn a corner in his season, before the Blues were able to make the playoffs. The skill was certainly there and into the playoffs they went, eventually.
2018 Pool Outlook
|Vladimir Tarasenko||7.500||Alex Pietrangelo||6.500||Jake Allen||4.350|
|Paul Stastny||7.000||Carter Hutton||1.145|
|Jori Lehtera||4.700||Jay Bouwmeester||5.400||Ville Husso||0.848|
|Vladimir Sobotka||3.500||Carl Gunnarsson||2.900||Evan Fitzpatrick||0.784|
|Ryan Reaves||1.125||Robert Bortuzzo||1.150||Luke Opilka||0.662|
|Dmitrij Jaskin||1.000||Joel Edmundson||1.050|
|Kyle Brodziak||0.950||Jordan Schmaltz||0.925|
|Mackenzie MacEachern||0.925||Jake Walman||0.925|
|Tage Thompson||0.925||Vince Dunn||0.728|
|Zach Sanford||0.875||Thomas Vannelli||0.712|
|Jordan Kyrou||0.803||Dimitri Sergeev||0.619|
It was overlooked on the blog, near the end of the season, that the St. Louis Blues re-signed forward Vladimir Sobotka, giving him the arbitration decision for the last few games of the 2017 season and then extending him for another three years at a much better rate for the player. Sobotka got some time in the playoffs and didn't look too far out of place, but he should give this offense a good boost in 2018 season, but there's still a lot of concern for their blueline.
Potential Losses in the Expansion Draft
With zero no-move clauses on their current roster, the Blues are not bound by too much, but they can protect the important parts of their team, heading into this off-season and there isn't a great deal that they should be afraid of losing. A down year from Jori Lehtera, might see his $4.7 million contract exposed, not to say that Vegas would be looking for that kind of lump, but he could be the best player available from the Blues.
Free Agency and the Salary Cap
The Blues only have one pool worthy player heading to free agency this summer and it's Colton Parayko, who is a restricted free agent, but does carry some arbitration rights, which is good for him.
The 10 pool worthy players on the table above are coming in at $46.1 million, which leaves less than $27 million for the remaining 13 players for the 23-man roster and the Blues already have a good chunk of that taken up by players down below. Seven more regulars on the roster, down to Jaskin and Bortuzzo, add another $19.8 million, which is a significant chunk out of the remaining total.
The Blues may have some shuffling to do, depending on who actually goes in the expansion draft.
St. Louis has already swayed their 2016 1st round draft pick, forward Tage Thompson, out of the NCAA ranks and he has his entry-level deal signed and ready to go and he'll be 20 years old once the season is a month underway, so his 6'5" frame should have enough physical maturity to hang with a lot of the men in the NHL and it makes him the one to watch for next season, if not the 2019 season. Obviously, taking him out of college with his contract signing has to mean that the Blues see something in him right now, so I'm curious to see how this pans out.
Needs at the 2017 Entry Draft
I'm looking at this year's pool outlook table and it looks really bare on the blueline, especially now that they have lost the services of Kevin Shattenkirk this season. The time is now to start replenishing their defense and starting young means starting in the 1st round. Good news for them, they not only have their own pick, the 20th overall selection, they also have the Washington Capitals pick, 27th overall, but we'll tackle the later pick, possibly with the Capitals outlook, but you will definitely see it with the mock draft recap.
With the 20th overall pick, I would be trying to make the most out of that defenseman pick and with that, the compete levels of Pierre-Olivier Joseph of the Charlottetown Islanders has me convinced that he could be the right guy for the Blues. Depending on who you ask, his height seems to vary with the reports, but all of them say he needs to bulk up, but if he gets that weight and keeps that jam, he's the guy that the Blues need down the road.
The Blues have enough weapons to win games with the run-and-gun, if necessary. They also have a goalie that is capable of stealing some games. In order to take a long run, both in the regular season and the playoffs, the blueline has to be good and without Shattenkirk or a confident number three behind Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester, the Blues look to be short of a playoff contender. Sure, they are likely going to win a fair share of games in the regular season and make the playoffs, but after that, what do they have? The Blues need to be shopping for that third defender and then we can talk about a long run. I think they are a few steps back from where they were a year ago.