When you listen to most fans, and even some analysts, the St. Louis Blues seem bound for trouble. They missed the playoffs in 2022-23 and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for improvement.
St. Louis definitely has issues. Their salary cap is at the forefront of that.
When you look at CapFriendly right now, the Blues have over $7 million in space. That seems like a decent amount.
The problem is that they have that much space, but at least five slots to fill. If you pay just $2 million per player, you’re already out of money and in the hole.
Joel Hofer being the backup will help. He will only cost $750,000 thus providing a little flexibility elsewhere.
However, that means the Blues can essentially not go after any big free agents. Even someone like Ivan Barbashev is likely to cost more than the $4 million he was being paid, taking away whatever wiggle room you may have had.
Also, you have to take into account that Scott Perunovich is a restricted free agent. Even if he doesn’t start the year in the NHL, you would have to account for whatever money he gets in a new contract.
It’s a lot of math and figuring out contracts that falls on Doug Armstrong. He has done well in the past, but this seems even more difficult.
There’s also the needed improvement on defense. St. Louis, as of the start of June, would begin the season with Torey Krug, Justin Faulk, Colton Parayko, Nick Leddy, Robert Bortuzzo and Marco Scandella as their starting six defenders. Calle Rosen or Perunovich would likely be the seventh defender.
While just about all of those names would fit in some sort of role on most NHL teams, the problem is they’re more prominent than they should be on the Blues. I don’t dislike any one of those seven names, but the Blues lack a true number one defender.
Colton Parayko has the ability, but he’s never put it together to truly be that top player. Krug is a good puck mover, but lacks the defensive ability to be a reliable top-line player.
Faulk probably belongs on the top pair, but he needs a steady player alongside. Leddy is steady, but he’s more of a second pair kind of player right now.
On a great team, you could honestly see some of those guys as third pair defenders. So, the Blues have a lot of second pair guys who have to punch above their weight.
So, with all these problems, how do the Blues turn things around? Well, they need to look to the Dallas Stars.
The Stars were inconsistent and could barely score to save their lives in 2021-22. They finished that season with 98 points and missed the playoffs.
Turn the calendar one season and the Stars ended the year with 108 points and finished second in the division. They made it all the way to the conference final before being outclassed by the Vegas Golden Knights.
Regardless, the Stars turned things around in a slightly unconventional way. They seemingly subtracted.
The Stars rid themselves of John Klingberg, once thought to be a regular Norris Trophy contender. Michael Raffl also came off the books.
Dallas really didn’t make much of a splash in the offseason. They brought in Colin Miller and Mason Marchment – no offense, but those aren’t headline generating names.
They added a prospect in Wyatt Johnston too. The 19-year old had a coming out party of 24 goals and 41 points in his first NHL season.
In addition to having a rookie play up to and, perhaps, beyond expectations, the Stars had other players step up. Jason Robertson improved his overall game and went from 41 goals and 79 points to 46 goals and 109 points.
Jamie Benn, much as he disgusts me, went from 18 goals to 33 goals. Joe Pavelski continued to defy age by scoring 77 points at age 38.
Now, some of it boiled down to luck. You can’t depend on most 38 year olds to get 77 points and you can’t always know if players will rebound.
However, the Blues have enough talent right now that if players play up to their talent level, they can rebound as a team. Of course, a 100-point season is probably out of reach, but that doesn’t mean the Blues can’t become a playoff team again.
Like Robertson, Jordan Kyrou could become even more of a playmaker and possibly a 100-point player as well. Pavel Buchnevich missed 19 games, so he can build on a 67 point season.
There’s still more in the tank for Robert Thomas, who had 65 points. He needs to score more, which will help his point totals and the team.
Sammy Blais had 20 points in 31 games with the Blues. Who knows if he can keep that kind of pace, but he certainly can help.
Jake Neighbours didn’t make the splash we wanted in his first year. However, even if he’s a third-line player, there seems to be enough talent to definitely do more than six goals and 10 points. He could be the Blues version of Johnston.
St. Louis has other players in the wings too. Zachary Bolduc had a fantastic junior season in 2022-23. Whether he can be NHL ready remains to be seen, but it’s an option.
Nikita Alexandrov had a good season in Springfield, in addition to some flashes with the Blues. Also, much of what the Blues do in 2023-24 will depend on how well their late-season additions of Kasperi Kapanen and Jakub Vrana can do in full seasons.
Then, there’s always the potential for some Armstrong magic. We can’t depend on him fleecing another team, but you never know what kind of trades he might have up his sleeve.
I fully expect the Blues to utilize their 10th overall draft pick. However, their other eight draft picks could easily be part of a trade package to bring in an established player.
It is likely too much to expect for this current squad to be playing for a conference championship. However, few thought Dallas would make that kind of turnaround either.
Many think next season could be bleak. A division rival has shown us that a few players playing up to snuff and some shrewd additions can turn things around much quicker than most expect.