The St. Louis Blues have a ton of defensemen, both on their team and in their system. While he was highly touted when acquired, Robert Bortuzzo may be getting lost among the shuffle.
The St. Louis Blues picked up Robert Bortuzzo back in 2015, because the team was in a shift period. They were looking to get more dynamic players.
Dynamic is not necessarily what you think of when you think of Bortuzzo, but the Blues had high hopes for him. He has not been a bad player, by any means, but Ian Cole has been a staple for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In the end, the trade helped both teams. Pittsburgh got a solid defender (Cole currently leads all blocked shots in the 2017 NHL Playoffs) and the Blues got a cost-effective guy that fit their style more while being ok with being the odd man out sometimes.
Bortuzzo’s main problem so far in his career is his similarity to Carl Gunnarsson, who we graded the other day. Both disappear for stretches, both are ineffective at times and both don’t provide much offense.
The biggest difference between the two has actually not been beneficial to Bortuzzo. Usually, you have no clue that Gunnarsson was ever even on the ice. Bortuzzo started making too many critical mistakes (usually a careless penalty) at key times of the game.
So, those untimely penalties, combined with some injury problems, Bortuzzo’s ice time would suffer or he would be a healthy scratch. Bortuzzo had some bad luck as well.
Just this past season, when he was playing his best hockey of the season and maybe his Blues career, he picked up an injury. Bortuzzo and Joel Edmundson started trading back and forth who was going to play well while the other was injured.
It’s been a rather unfortunate year for Bortuzzo in 2016-17. He started getting things figured out, but could not find a way to stay in the lineup consistently.
His ice time picked up considerably after the trade of Kevin Shattenkirk. However, injuries kept creeping in just enough to give other guys chances.
To his credit, Bortuzzo managed to really get his penalty problems under control. In 38 games played in the regular season, he only had 15 minutes in the penalty box.
Last year he had 52 penalty minutes in 40 games played. His last season in Pittsburgh, he had 63 penalty minutes in 38 games with them.
That’s a really impressive drop. It has not affected his play much either. His hits went down a little bit (77 from 90 last year), but his blocked shots went up.
Bortuzzo also stepped up to the plate when Shattenkirk was not there. His ice time went up by 30 seconds per game and was a plus-4 during the 14 games he played in March.
His ice time went down by quite a bit in the playoffs, but some of that is not his fault. The Blues put themselves in a lot of situations where a third-pairing defenseman would not get the playing time.
When viewed in the grand scheme, the drop was not that different either. He averaged 11:31 in the playoffs this year and 11:23 last season.
Ultimately, Bortuzzo has done what he has been asked and that’s about it. He’s not going to break the bank in terms of salary cap and he’s a solid seventh or sixth defenseman.
The problem with him is how he’s been discussed. In each of the last two postseasons, Bortuzzo is mentioned as far as the team having plans for him.
The playing time has not bore that statement out. His location in the lineup now is probably what it is going to be the rest of his Blues career.
Bortuzzo is a decent player, but he is likely at the point where he is what he is. He’s not going to play 75 or more games a season.
When he is in the lineup, he doesn’t seem like he is a detraction. He just has not found a way to make himself a player the Blues want to have in the lineup every night.