St. Louis Blues defenseman Colton Parayko has been through it the last couple years. He missed a good chunk of an already shortened 2020-21 due to a back injury.
We were already worried about his long-term health due to that, but he had a nice rebound season in 2021-22. Parayko tied his career high in points with 35, scoring six goals and 29 points.
Though he rebounded from an offensive standpoint, there was still something off about his game. Parayko was suddenly making terrible decisions with the puck, leading to a career high in turnovers.
That trend has spilled over into 2022-23. Though he might not hit 53 giveaways, he has 41 through 63 games, which is third most in his career and the season isn’t over.
Couple that with a horrible plus/minus rating – Parayko has the second worst plus/minus of all Blues defensemen – and you’ve got a player that has completely fallen out of favor with a large contingent of Blues fans. Unfortunately, once you pass through that door, it’s hard to get back through.
I will openly admit that I’ve been quite sour on Parayko this season. It came to the point that when his name was brought up in trade rumors prior to the 2023 deadline, I and many fans were completely fine with the idea that he might be sent elsewhere.
Parayko being gone would clear out much needed cap space. In theory, it would also provide the potential opportunity to bring in someone better.
However, two things have changed my mind (at least for now).
The first was a statement from Blues broadcaster Chris Kerber. He made an excellent point when he said, on 101 ESPN, as soon as you trade away a guy who is 6’5, can skate and keep up with the fastest and most talented forwards in the league, you’re immediately looking for that kind of player.
The second was simply his play in recent times. Parayko has been much, much better now that the trade deadline has passed.
In the game prior to the deadline, he scored a goal and had two points. In the six games during that span, he was a minus player twice, but only a minus-1 in one of those games.
We would like him to be better in that aspect, but you also have to remember that he’s often going up against the other team’s best lines. Statistically speaking, you’re going to get goals scored on you when you’re facing the other team’s best every night, even if it’s not your fault.
That’s been the difference. There have not been nearly as many plays where you could point the finger at Parayko and say that was absolutely on him more than any other guy on the ice.
Just from the eye test, he’s skating better, passing better and making better decisions. He’s attacking on offense, driving past guys and using his length to shield the puck.
Defensively, there’s been several plays where he has dislodged the puck due to his reach. It was almost reminiscent of the old days when he and Jay Bouwmeester were the shutdown pair.
In bringing up Bouwmeester, it also showcases how hard it might be to turn around Parayko’s public perception. Once the fans turn on you, it’s incredibly difficult to switch that back.
Blues fans are not nearly the worst, but we all know that we have to have a whipping boy. More often than not, it’s been a defenseman.
Barrett Jackman bore the brunt of that for several years as his tenure with the Blues wound down. The title of someone the team should trade away for a bag of pucks bounced around and then landed squarely with the aforementioned Bouwmeester.
Even though he returned from surgery and said he was fine, none of us understood how difficult it was for him to return to form after having his hip worked on. We all blamed him for all the Blues woes and said he was washed up and it was another bad Doug Armstrong contract.
That sentiment continued as the Blues struggled in 2018 and into the early part of 2019. However, as the team turned things around, so did Bouwmeester.
When he was finally healthy, we saw what he was capable of. The duo of Parayko and Bouwmeester were put up against the best scorers for every single opponent in the 2019 playoffs.
While there were hiccups along the way, the bottom line is they got the job done. The Blues don’t win the Stanley Cup without Bouwmeester and Parayko being nearly impossible to carry the puck in against.
When you have two defenders with a wing span that can cover probably more than half the defensive zone, if you include their stick reach, it becomes hard to find space. Space was at a premium for opponents if those two were out there.
Clearly, his unfortunate heart issue and early retirement changed things too, but it was basically a Stanley Cup championship that redeemed Bouwmeester in many fan’s eyes. Now, the question is whether it will take something equally dramatic to change the perception of Parayko.
The problem he faces now is that the Blues are no longer a championship team. He doesn’t have the prospect of winning another Cup to save him.
Granted, nobody thought the Blues were going to win in 2019 and they did. However, people thought they were going to be good and perhaps great the year after.
Right now, the Blues are a borderline playoff team in 2023-24 and that’s if players play better next season and there are still upgrades in the offseason. Parayko is one of the former.
We’ve seen much better from him after the 2023 trade deadline. While the rumors were short lived as far as fans knew about, maybe he was worried about his own standing within the team for much longer.
Whatever the case, he simply has to be better. Maybe he never truly becomes that number one defenseman – there’s little to think he can improve by that margin, after all.
That doesn’t automatically mean he’s not a good player. He has the intangibles and simply has to figure out how he can return to the type of player we saw him be in 2019.
Maybe that’s a mental thing for him. Perhaps it’s the Blues finding him the right partner.
No matter what it is, he’s got to find himself. Kerber was right. If the Blues trade him, it would be purely for salary reasons. As soon as he’s gone, the team would be looking for those same intangibles in another defenseman and big D-men that can skate don’t grow on trees.
Parayko will never be Chris Pronger. We were all wrong to make the comparison, or the comparison to Al MacInnis just because he had a heavy shot.
He can still be a better version of Colton Parayko though. That’s what the Blues need. Whether it ever actually reverses public perception of him is another matter.
After all, with social media, we turn our backs on 30-goal scorers and quality goaltenders like those are just laying around too.