The St. Louis Blues, like all teams, continue to adjust to the change in how and when players get paid. Of course, we’re not talking about when they become free agents, but at what point you have to hand out the big contract.
In the old days, you used to spend much of your early years on team-friendly deals and then got a big payday near the end as a reward for your services. Things have slightly changed in the modern day, where you’re paying guys based on potential and what you hope they can achieve instead of what they actually have.
That’s kind of what has happened with the Blues and Colton Parayko. Parayko was initially a free agent at 24.
He had put up more than 30 points for the second straight year in his rookie deal, so the Blues rewarded him. He was given a big raise and a cap hit of $5.5 million.
The Blues won the Cup and Parayko had two 10-goal seasons. Couple that with the fact they did not believe they could afford to keep both him and Alex Pietrangelo and the Blues gave the eventual $6.5 million extension to Parayko.
Unfortunately, things have gone south. Parayko did have another 35 point season in 2021-22, but he had a career low in hits and a career high for turnovers.
A season later, in 2022-23, the physicality has barely outpaced last season’s totals, he could be on pace to have even more turnovers and he’s an astounding minus-21. Plus/minus may not be the best of stats, but the fact Parayko has been on the ice for 21 more goals against than for is telling.
Only Parayko knows if this is just a bad run of form or stems from a back injury that plagued him not long ago. Either way, it puts the Blues in a very sticky situation
St. Louis is tied up with Parayko until 2030 and has a no-trade clause. We can’t fault Armstrong for the deal because the Blues thought Parayko could be a top defenseman and those were the going rates and conditions when the contract was signed.
The issue now is that he’s proven he can’t be a top defenseman by himself. However, not all hope is lost.
Given what we have seen from Parayko in the past and what we know about him now, he’s not a great defender in and of itself. He can be when paired in the right tandem.
We saw how well he could perform with Jay Bouwmeester. The two of them were the go-to defenders when the Blues needed to shut down the opposition in the 2019 playoffs.
After Bouwmeester’s health scare, Parayko initially had the same kind of chemistry with Marco Scandella. The two of them complimented one another in almost the same fashion.
Why that chemistry with Scandella disappeared is anyone’s guess. Nevertheless, it still provides a little hope.
The hope is for the team, not the player though. We now essentially know that Parayko can’t live up to the contract by himself.
The offense has dipped, the skating ability is not there like it used to be and the defense is shaky too. In a vacuum, Parayko just isn’t likely to really be worth his $6.5 million cap hit.
What the Blues have to hope is that Doug Armstrong can pull another rabbit out of his hat. Somehow, some way, he has to find another Bouwmeester.
This person doesn’t even need to be exactly what Bouwmeester was as a player. They merely need to provide Parayko whatever it was that made him so successful.
The chemistry with Scandella is gone. Parayko has not looked good with Torey Krug or Nick Leddy either.
Initially, it seemed like the size of Niko Mikkola would be a good swap for what made the Parayko/Bouwmeester combination work. That pair didn’t click and Mikkola is now gone.
With nobody in the system seeming to match, the Blues will have to do something in the 2023 offseason. They’re tied at the hip with Parayko for a long time.
There has to be a way to salvage that marriage and it’s up to Armstrong to figure out how.