The St. Louis Blues have a lot of decisions to make this offseason. Who can come back, who can be added and who will be healthy are just a few. It makes for a tough plan for the opening day roster.
The St. Louis Blues have a tough road ahead this summer. This is not the first time we have been in a situation where there are unknowns going into an offseason.
It is the first time in some time that there are this many questions though. A combination of injuries, surgeries, regressing players and unknown free agents or trades to be made makes planning for next year’s team incredibly difficult.
That’s what we are here for. Leave it to us to make fools of themselves so you can all point back to see how wrong this was.
Nevertheless, I’m going to attempt looking into the crystal ball. This is my best guess, in early April, as to what the St. Louis Blues opening day lineup will be. And away we go!
Yes, this line is a big unknown right now for a few different reasons. The biggest is obviously the offseason surgery on Vladimir Tarasenko’s separated shoulder.
Can he heal in time for the regular season? The brain trust seems to think so as they indicated that if he had surgery immediately, Tarasenko should be good to go, if not by camp then by the start of the regular season.
The other issue with this line remaining together is the rumblings of discord beneath the surface. Apparently the problems stem from Schenn not feeling Tarasenko kept to the system. Off the record remarks were made about Schenn never knowing where Tarasenko was on the ice, which does not breed confidence in the trio despite their huge success together.
One last thing that could keep this line apart is an offseason move. If the Blues can acquire a center that fits better with Tarasenko, then you can spread out your scoring instead of having your top three guys on one line, making it easier for teams to defend.
Given what we know right now, trying not to deal in what-if’s, keeping this as your top line makes the most sense. Tarasenko played better on this line than when not. The other two could have easily been 30 goal scorers if the team did not tank in the winter months and Schwartz stayed healthy. No reason to split them up unless there is an indication they just cannot work together.
This second line is the biggest issue with the Blues. In reality, St. Louis barely had a second line this past season.
I’m not trying to knock any of the players, because they have their upsides, no matter how much anyone bags on them. That said, in terms of pure production and value, the Blues have way too many players that would be best suited for the third line.
In a perfect world, I would much rather put Steen’s sagging offensive production and defensive value on a third line. Berglund is much better suited to less minutes but trying to make those minutes impactful instead of forcing him to play high minute numbers.
This is where the team needs to make big strides. If Kyrou can have a big-time camp, I’d love to see him get a shot on this line. Thinking Kyrou can be a huge player for this team is a mistake, but I contend that he can be an Alex DeBrincat. DeBrincat would have been a fantastic secondary piece on a normal Chicago team, but was forced to carry a big load due to injury and age/salary problems catching up to the Blackhawks. Still, if you can get 20 goals and 40 points – which would be comparable to DeBrincat’s 28/52 – from an undersized rookie, you’d be in hog heaven.
The unknowns are where this team has to push. Getting someone for that top line would be great, but you have to pick up either a top-6 center or winger to spread out the offense and give this team more punch. The Blues were punching above their weight class early in 2017-18 and it was not sustainable.
Having a healthy Robby Fabbri will help that. Personally, I’d much rather keep him on the wing where he has had success, but the team seems intent on giving him a shot at center. Regardless, he has to be healthy or his career might be lost before it could truly begin.
This is another fluid line that could have a completely different look by the time next season starts.
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For now, we can base it on what we know or at least believe. Personally, I believe that Kyle Brodziak will be back even though he’s a free agent.
As good as he was for the team this year, I’d rather he return to the fourth line, but the lack of proven center depth on this team may necessitate him being on the third line. What could change that is how well Thomas does in camp. Given how high the team is on Thomas, it seems hard to believe he is not a pro next season. Whether he fits with the Blues for long is another matter. St. Louis might rather him get a full season in San Antonio.
I feel Thompson is ready for a full-time role, but there were definite holes in his game that have to be improved on. For me, if he’s not on the third line or above, send him to the AHL. That’s one of the few things I disliked about Ken Hitchcock the most, was trying to play skill players on the fourth line but asking the fourth line to play a fourth line type of style.
Sobotka could very well play center on this line too if they have more depth at wing. It would be nice to reward Sammy Blais with a spot here, but he’s hot and cold like so many of the young players, so he has to earn it.
It is also not a given that Soshnikov will return as he is a restricted free agent. I liked what I saw in flashes as he brought good energy and speed, which would be perfect for a third line winger if you do not have better options.
Who would have thought, prior to 2017-18, that Thorburn would be the name all but in pen for this line. However, while he’ll never be as beloved as his predecessor, he showed plenty of value by always giving good effort. If the Blues find someone better, then by all means move him to the side. Given the unknowns though, I’m more than comfortable with Thorburn on the wing of the fourth line as a regular.
The other positions are up in the air though. You might see Brodziak down on this line if things fall right. Since I’m putting Brodziak tentatively on the third line, that will give a spot to Ivan Barbashev. Having Barbashev on the fourth line might go against my argument of skill players playing down, but he has to prove himself at this point. He’s been given opportunities and not done enough to deserve a higher spot.
Soshnikov was included here because he brought some grit, but if he can play higher up by a line that would be preferable. Similarly, Sanford has the talent to player up the roster, but coming off injury, will have to show he will be healthy and available, as well as able to play more minutes.
This is where the injuries really come into play. There is a very vocal segment out there that say the Blues are better without Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson. The end of the season showed that is likely not true.
That said, the Blues better gear up with the idea that they will not be available. Bouwmeester has a hip problem and won’t be evaluated for six months. Things could change, but to me that means he will not be ready. Evaluated in six months likely means he will not be skating very hard until that time. That means he misses camp and might be getting into shape by the time the season opens.
Gunnarsson finally has a good year with the Blues and, in typical Blues luck, tears an ACL. Now, he might be ready for the season, but like Bouwmeester, you just don’t know. Leg injuries are odd in their timetable and the fact that you cannot really train in the summer puts you behind everyone. For now, I’m leaving them both out.
With that in mind, I hesitate to put Dunn on the top pairing for fear of a sophomore regression. However, Pietrangelo and Edmundson were just horrible together late in the year. Maybe that changes, but I’m not comfortable with that pairing.
The third pairing is also iffy. I thought Bortuzzo improved this year, but Schmaltz was hit and miss and Walman left a lot to be desired in the preseason. The team still expects good things from him, so I’m not banishing him by any means, but a team with defensive lapses can’t rely on a leaky rookie.
I know I’m going to get in trouble over this one, but people need to realize what makes sense here.
I would love to keep Carter Hutton as he’s been the league’s best backup for two years in a row. That said, his stats will give him enough clout in the market to demand more playing time and money. The Blues will have neither to offer.
I don’t think it is time to bring up Ville Husso either. He won awards in the AHL, but needs to prove he can handle the load. He won’t get that opportunity by riding the pine in the NHL. You can make the case that he’d be better off getting Hutton’s minutes from two seasons ago, but you risk his confidence if you throw him in the fire during a stretch like the Blues had from December through February. I’m fine giving him a shot, but I think they leave him in the AHL one more season.
So, the Blues will have to look to the free agent market for a backup. There will be some good ones available, but you have to find the right fit. It needs to be someone that can start 20-25 games and not have any kind of falloff. That sounds easy, but putting on the Note has an odd effect on goaltenders.
I would hope this team can learn from its mistakes and turn things around for next year. Despite that, if this is the team we go into next season with, I’m a bit afraid.
As mentioned, the Blues have to upgrade their top six players. You don’t want to give away prospects that might be good, but if you intend to contend, you can’t go into the next year with the same team and only add a few young guys. They need either a proven scorer or someone with locker room clout that can get on guy’s rears when needed.
Unfortunately, everyone is after that player, which makes it harder to land. Doug Armstrong will need to pull something off on the level of Schenn.
It will definitely be interesting to see how the coming months shake out. There is work to be done all around.