The St. Louis Blues still have a decent amount of talent on their roster. However, they are also just as close to being irrelevant.
The memory of the St. Louis Blues winning their first Stanley Cup is still fresh in all our minds. We can still remember where we were when the seconds ticked off the clock.
We still remember the rain on the morning of the parade. Some might still remember the taste of the champagne or beer if they were sprayed by one of the players.
Unfortunately, fans also still remember the sting of being eliminated in the first round by the Vancouver Canucks. Vancouver did a lot to deserve to win that series, but the Blues never got to their game.
Some might call it sour grapes, but it is hard not to feel like things would have gone differently if the pandemic never hit. St. Louis was slowing down a little, but it felt like having the time off hurt them more than helped them.
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Nevertheless, there is little time to cry over spilled milk. While the Blues were eliminated in August, the next season is being planned to start in December. As of writing this, that’s only around three or three and a half months away, depending on the start date.
That might be a good thing. The franchise has no time to sit and ponder what went wrong, but they need to quickly spin the focus toward the future because the future is quite unknown.
The Blues are currently in an odd predicament. When the team acquired Ryan O’Reilly, they said the Blues opened a five-year window to win a championship.
They won in the first year, so now they are looking for a second in that window. The strange thing though, is the window is still open, but the Blues are sitting on the sill rather uncomfortably.
There is little doubt that the team still has the talent to win another title. They say you need depth up the middle to win championships and St. Louis has that.
If they want to space guys out, they have three top-notch centers in O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn and Robert Thomas. If they want to elevate Thomas to a top-six center, they can easily move Schenn to the wing and not miss a beat.
St. Louis still has youth too. They have Jordan Kyrou on the cusp, Klim Kostin is knocking on the door and the Blues actually only have five players on the main roster that are over 30. You can increase that to seven if you include the couple players that are sitting at 30 right now.
The Blues still believe in their goaltender Jordan Binnington. If he falters, Ville Husso was always the goaltender in waiting. He just got leap frogged.
However, the problem is the Blues are right on the edge. One little nudge in either direction could lead to vastly different outcomes.
With the talent the Blues have and a buy in for Craig Berube‘s system, the Blues can definitely contend for another Stanley Cup. They play a team game, so they’ve proven to have a next-man-up mentality that served them well.
The flip side of that is the Blues are precariously close to losing a seat at the contender’s table. That has little to do with losing to Vancouver and everything to do with an uncertain offseason in 2020 and potentially 2021.
Right now, all fans are laser-focused on whether the Blues can retain Alex Pietrangelo. That makes sense because the team could look vastly different without him.
While the Blues would still have defensive talent without Petro, and they might still add a piece should that happen, they are an incredibly different team. As The Hockey Guy put it on YouTube, your top four looks a lot different if you are forced to have Marco Scandella or Justin Faulk on your top pair.
Both of those guys are good players, but you depend on your top pair to be your best overall defenders. We have not yet seen the best of Faulk, but he’s still not a great defender. Scandella played very well when acquired by the Blues, but he’s not Jay Bouwmeester either.
Colton Parayko has the talent to be a top-pair defender, but we also saw several cracks in his game. Vince Dunn is not reliable enough defensively to be on the top pair and it feels weird to rely on Carl Gunnarsson to be up that high too.
Additionally, the Blues are going to be missing a lot of goals without Vladimir Tarasenko. We can talk about how well they did without him during 2019-20, but you can only expect other guys to step up for so long.
Without a player like Tarasenko, you’re basically asking all your top guys to never have a slump. You’re also hoping everyone else can stay healthy because, past Kyrou or Kostin, there are no NHL ready forwards looking for a chance.
St. Louis’ developmental system went from being in the top five in the league to lower half of the league in a relatively short amount of time. Much of that is due to the Blues having guys make the transition, like Robert Thomas and Kyrou, but it also has to do with trading draft picks for current players.
That catches up to you eventually.
Even at the NHL level, the Blues feel suddenly thin without Tarasenko. Zach Sanford is a decent player, but he legitimately becomes one of the top six best forwards on the team without Tarasenko, in terms of being proven, and that’s sort of a scary thought.
So, right now is what the Blues have. There aren’t guys challenging from below as much as there were before.
There isn’t really a wealth of depth ready to make the transition.
We can debate whether Pietrangelo is worth the possible asking price, but the bottom line is the Blues could drop off quite a bit without him. Couple that with missing your top scorer for the second season in a row and you’ve suddenly got almost a totally different lineup than the one that won a championship just one summer ago.
St. Louis still has talent enough to contend in their division and all you need to do is make the playoffs. They’re not in need of a rebuild either.
They are on a precarious edge though where just a change or two could take them from championship material to a team battling for the last playoff spot. That’s the cruel reality of sports.