Through most of the history of the two franchises, if you told fans the St. Louis Blues would end up like the St. Louis Cardinals, those fans would be overjoyed. How could you go wrong with a comparison to a team that has won 11 world championships and several more league pennants?
Unfortunately, the comparison does not end up so well if it happens now. Of course, there are still paths and ways this might change, but the likeliest scenario for the 2021-22 Blues is that they end up like their neighbors, which means full of promise that does not pan out because too much needed to happen.
As we inch closer to the Fall months and the start of a new hockey season, the Blues have not made their biggest move. While most media members still tell us Vladimir Tarasenko will be traded, the entire situation hangs over the team like the sword of Damocles.
I maintain that the Blues would be better off retaining Tarasenko and forcing him to use his talents to up his stock. Of course, there are arguments to be made about locker room chemistry and the amount of salary cap left to fit Robert Thomas and, possibly, Tyler Bozak.
While there should not be a single Blues fan out there that wants Bozak gone, we should all prefer a healthy Tarasenko to a third-line center. Regardless, the likelihood still seems that Tarasenko will be gone at some point.
That’s where the baseball comparison comes in. Very few people would say the Cardinals did nothing in their offseason as they brought in an All-Star caliber player in Nolan Arenado. It was a splashy move that appeased many and definitely improved the team, but they still failed to address all of their needs. So, in 2021, we have seen what happens and that’s an underwhelming team.
If/when Tarasenko is gone, the same will be true of the Blues. No fan can say the Blues did nothing as they did make offensive additions in Pavel Buchnevich and Brandon Saad. Yet, those two simply replaced what was already lost.
Buchnevich has not proven the consistency, but his production will hopefully offset the loss of Mike Hoffman. Saad has a little more offensive upside, but the question is whether he will be as effective as Jaden Schwartz. Both players are higher quality than Sammy Blais, but that’s still another player out of the mix.
The argument I’ve made in favor of keeping Tarasenko is that all your offseason moves have only countered the production lost via free agency, trade or the expansion draft. The Blues went into the 2021 offseason as a team in need of more offensive production, not simply replacing the goals lost from a couple players.
If you remove a potentially healthy Tarasenko from that equation, you’re left with the 2021 St. Louis Cardinals. That is to say, for the 2021-22 Blues to be successful, they need everyone to stay healthy, everyone to play up to their potential and also have a few surprises where guys surpass what you expected.
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We did not get that from the 2021 Cardinals. Nobody should expect to get it from the Blues.
The 2020-21 Blues had the talent to do more than they did, but they were decimated by injuries. Even if this year’s squad stays healthier, they are still going to have injuries and the amount of players ready to step in from the minors is quite a bit thinner than it has been.
For the Blues to be considered a Stanley Cup team, as presently constituted (minus Tarasenko), they would need Buchnevich to become a 30-plus goal scorer. He was on pace to do it in 2021, but the fact remains he has not done it yet. Players often take time to adjust to a new team and a new style. Just look at the start of the Blues careers for Ryan O’Reilly, Torey Krug and Justin Faulk. All of them are quality players, but they had huge blips to start their time in St. Louis. You’re asking Buchnevich to be an elite scorer right from the first puck drop.
While you’d be giving a huge vote of confidence in Jordan Kyrou, you’re also putting on the pressure. Suddenly the Blues go from a team that would love Kyrou to score 25-30 goals to needing at least 20-25 out of him. He is capable, but it’s a big leap from feeling someone can score that many to essentially having to score that many.
David Perron is not old at 32, but the team will need him to be the 2019-20 or 2017-18 version of himself. The Blues leading goal scorer in 2021 was O’Reilly. He’s more of a scorer than most centers the Blues have had over the last decade, but that’s still not his wheelhouse. Are you honestly expecting, perhaps demanding, he score 28 goals like in 2018-19?
Saad is a versatile, solid player. However, if the Blues trade Tarasenko and get no NHL talent in return, the team could not afford the season Saad had back in 2017-18 when he scored 18 goals and just 35 points. They have to have the version that scored over 20 goals and 47 points in 2019-20 – the point totals put up in Columbus would be even better.
Even if you do get those kinds of totals, you’re needing the rest of your roster to stay healthy, or not be injured at the same time, and also produce. While I’m no baseball aficionado, the seasons that Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt have had are on a decent pace – slightly below what you’d like, but not terrible.
In a vacuum that’s fine. However, when you combine the hit and miss nature of the Cardinals and their injury problems to key players, aka Jack Flaherty, then it’s a recipe for disaster.
Don’t even start on the bullpen. Every offseason the Cardinals need pitching help and, like magicians, they do something to distract us and then the same problems come around.
I see that as being the problem for the Blues. We can talk about defense and needing bigger bodies, etc. but some of that can be fixed by scheme and chemistry, much of which were missing in an odd 2021 shortened season.
However, you can draw up plays until you are blue in the face, but if you lack scorers, you’re not going to score. The Blues need guys that can put pucks in the net, and though they have some, they are banking on them to all do it at career paces just to keep up.
You have your Buchnevich, O’Reilly and Kyrou, just as the Cardinals have their Arenado, Goldschmidt and Dylan Carlson. But, you’re depending on Saad, Perron, Brayden Schenn and probably even someone like Oskar Sundqvist to all have good years, just as the Cardinals had to have Tyler O’Neil, Harrison Bader, Paul DeJong and Yadier Molina to all have good-to-great years.
As we saw with the Cardinals, just a couple mediocre seasons mixed with some injuries threw the entire thing into free fall. While the Blues could withstand more than the Cardinals and still make the playoffs, they’re no more a championship contender than their baseball cousins unless just about everything goes right.
None of this is said to bash the team or the guys that put on that sweater. I think the Blues will still be an incredibly tough team to play against most nights and get more than their fair share of wins. But, now that we have a Stanley Cup, we all want another one and have to get more realistic about what that would take.
A team in need of scoring in the offseason only replaced the scoring they lost. They are not incapable of winning, but like the 2021 Cardinals, they would need a lot to go their way. We’ve seen what happens when those things don’t go your way with the 2021 Cardinals. We saw how it went for the 2021 Blues as everyone had a bad playoff and they still had Tarasenko then. Soon we’ll see how it goes with the 2021-22 Blues.