Saturday, May 12, 2018

Pool Outlook for St. Louis

The St. Louis Blues were thought to be a shoe-in for this year's playoffs at the beginning of the season, the talent that they had setup for the year was a very impressive list and when they got off to a blinding start, there was some early chatter that it could be their year, finally.

The rigors of the NHL season, however, caught up to the Blues and it was a combination of injuries and a real drop in confidence in goal cost them their great start and they sank down to the bubble teams for the playoff race and it was something they just couldn't recover from, finishing as the top team outside of the playoffs in the Western Conference.

It undoubtedly had to be a very disappointing year in St. Louis, since they made couple of big moves over the summer, making one of the more lopsided trades (in their favour) in the off-season and everything else looked really good on paper.  On the plus side, the Blues have a great deal of this core group of players coming back and with a little bit more luck, they could be back in the playoffs and among the league's elite again.

That lopsided trade in the off-season saw Brayden Schenn come to the Blues in a deal with the Flyers and Schenn did nothing but impress in the 2018 season, finishing with 28 goals and 70 points in all 82 games, leading the team in pool scoring.  Schenn was thought to be going into St. Louis as a good top six option for the team, but he ended up being the team's top centre, becoming a great fit immediately.

The Blues didn't have a great deal of depth for the hockey pool this year, which could have been one of the reasons why they weren't as successful in the standings.  In total, they only had 10 players worthy of the hockey pool draft, including Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Alex Steen and Kyle Brodziak among the top 200 at forward, Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko and Vince Dunn among the top 100 blueliners and both goalies, Jake Allen and Carter Hutton, got enough minutes and wins to be in the top 50 goalies.  The Blues could have had one or two more players on their list, but those are the breaks.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

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.

Well, if a few steps back from where they were a year before last is missing the playoffs, then maybe I was really on to something there.  The loss of Shattenkirk on the back end and some new faces on the blueline could arguably have been a contributor to their goalie's loss of confidence in the middle part of the season.  The Blues did win their share of games, but it just wasn't enough this year.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

Well, this is the first one of the intriguing players that I had written about to have been traded in the season, as Paul Stastny was my pick for the Blues this year. and the proposition of him being traded was what made him into an intriguing player on my projections post.  His huge salary cap hit ($7 million) on a contract year, made him into a key player to move and he did, proceeding to breakout with the Jets, as they stormed towards the playoffs.  It was an educated guess to say he could move and he most certainly did.

2019 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Vladimir Tarasenko 7.500 Alex Pietrangelo 6.500 Jake Allen 4.350
Alexander Steen 5.750 Colton Parayko 5.500 Ville Husso 0.848
Jaden Schwartz 5.350 Jay Bouwmeester 5.400
Brayden Schenn 5.125 Carl Gunnarsson 2.900
Patrik Berglund 3.850 Robert Bortuzzo 1.150
Vladimir Sobotka 3.500 Vince Dunn 0.723
Tage Thompson 0.925 Chris Butler 0.650
Chris Thorburn 0.900
Zach Sanford 0.875
Jordan Kyrou 0.773
Ivan Barbashev 0.742
Sammy Blais 0.703
Conner Bleackley 0.700

The St. Louis Blues are not short on intriguing young talent coming up through their system, which adds a little bit of razzle-dazzle to the potential of their 2019 lineup.  There's no guarantee that these guys are going to make it, but they are currently riding into the off-season with eight of the 10 pool worthy players coming back and that's a pretty good start.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The two pool worthy free agents from last season's roster includes forward Kyle Brodziak and goalie Carter Hutton could potentially be on the move through the open market.  Hutton might go searching for an opportunity for more minutes as a starter, but I would imagine he could go back for the right price.

I am currently showing the Blues with $10.3 million in available cap space, before the cap ceiling gets lifted, so they should be big players in the free agent market.

I think it is more than fair to think that the dynamic junior Jordan Kyrou will get the longest of looks in Blues training camp, because he was just that good in 2018.  Kyrou just recently walked away with top honours in the OHL, he was dominant at the World Juniors for Canada, even if he doesn't quite make it to the big club, he should be awfully close and one to definitely keep an eye on.  The 2016 2nd rounder will either be on the big club roster or down in the minors as one of the first call-ups to start the 2019 season.

Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft
I thought the Blues would have added a defenseman last year with their first of two picks in the 1st round of the draft, but they didn't add one with either pick.  I don't think they have enough of a dynamic presence from the blueline among their top prospects and they could really use something to be working for them in their system.  A big kid like Jared McIssac, the Halifax Mooseheads defender, has shown some offensive flair with his 2018 numbers, but more importantly, he already has a big frame at 6'1" and 194 lbs., so he should match up well physically.

The Blues didn't really help their own cause by bulking up their defense last summer and I think it is critical that they make it a priority for this coming summer.  If they don't come up with someone from the free agent market, where there aren't very many names to be had, their season could hinge on how well they do there.  I don't think the Blues are very far away from being back in the playoffs, but some things have to happen first and maybe one or two of those current playoff teams from this year may have to regress as well.  It's a lot to ask for these days, so don't be too surprised if they just fall short again in 2019.
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