The St. Louis Blues were hoping for a carbon copy of the player they lost to the KHL back in the summer of 2014. The player they got instead brings a different skill set, but is still missing something.
When the St. Louis Blues lost Vladimir Sobotka to the KHL in the summer of 2014, it was a disappointment, but understood. The Blues were smart not to put up the kind of money the Russian league was willing to pay for a guy that was a third line player in the NHL.
Nevertheless, the Blues were happy to have him back when he returned. They desperately needed someone who was feisty, threw their body around and won faceoffs.
Unfortunately, not all those skills came back to North America with Sobotka. Playing in Russia, and getting slightly older, took some of the sting out of Sobotka’s game.
He has transformed himself into something different. Sadly, the Blues could use the old Sobotka as much, if not more, than the current one.
Final Grade: C+
If you look at Sobotka’s stats and base his grade on nothing but that, he should get a B or higher. He set several career highs.
Sobotka’s 11 goals were the most he ever scored in the NHL. His 31 points were the second most of his career, missing a new record by three points.
Sobotka also set other career bests. He averaged 17:07 on the ice per game, had a career best for blocked shots with 45, the most games played (81) and took the most shots he ever has.
Despite his high of 11 goals, his shooting percentage was the lowest it has been since 2010-11. He tied a career high for turnovers.
The offense was an added bonus for Sobotka, but he was mainly brought in to help a young team learn defensive skills. He fell short in that category.
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His minus-6 plus/minus rating was the worst he has ever had with the Blues. The only worse seasons were when he was coming up with the Boston Bruins.
Sobotka’s overall point share numbers were on par with what he’s done with the Blues. There is a slight downward trend in his defensive point shares though, even including his years before leaving North America.
Despite all that, the high numbers on offense should have been enough to vault him into a higher grade. It was his inconsistency that kept him lower though.
As Jeff Gordon points out, Sobotka had two different 17-game stretches where his offense dried up. He scored no goals and one goal during those separate funks.
His offense came in bunches too. He did turn it on, scoring seven points in nine games in March. However, he went cold when the team needed every point, scoring no points at all in the Blues final six games.
Sobotka also won the fewest faceoffs of his Blues career. Now, it must be noted that some of that was not his fault as he was moved to a wing position. Even so, he left the Blues as one of their best faceoff takers and returned to be taken out of that role. His percentage was not bad, but given the extra playing time, you would expect more.
That’s the other thing that puts his career numbers in perspective. He had more ice time and more games than ever and only managed two more goals than his previous best.
He was given solid time on the power play units. Despite this, he only had no goals and three assists on the man advantage.
Lastly, there was simply not the physicality we grew accustomed to from Sobotka. His hit totals were not incredibly far from his best seasons. However, there we did not see the little guy with gumption as Darren Pang calls him.
He was not as aggressive on the forecheck and, thus, did not force as many turnovers per game as he had in the past. Sobotka is getting older and became accustomed to being more of an offensive player in Russia. Despite this, the Blues needed the old Sobotka more than they needed the couple extra goals.
Going forward, if Sobotka keeps up those same numbers and returns to a third or fourth line role, the Blues will be set. If he keeps his points per game pace and as diminished game totals or ice time, the numbers are likely to go down.
Unless he is included in a deal, Sobotka will be on the team next season as he has two ears left on his contract. He doesn’t have to play with reckless abandon, but he needs to be more forceful like he used to. That was the biggest reason his grade got lowered for 2017-18.