The St. Louis Blues had a myriad of problems in the 2022-23 season. Of course, the biggest one was keeping goals out of their own net.
The simpletons out there will blame Jordan Binnington, because blaming the goaltender is just easy and lazy. However, putting whoever you consider the best goaltender of all time in the Blues net in 2022-23 would not have changed their fortunes much.
The problem was you had an entire defensive corps that underperformed, were often injured and simply had bad seasons overall. When a mediocre season by Justin Faulk is the best the team had to show, you know it was not a good showing by any of the six or seven blueliners the Blues regularly featured.
While the vast majority of that issue has to do with the guys that laced up the skates, you can’t take all the blame off the coaches. Craig Berube couldn’t find the right words to get them to play better, nor could the defensive assistant in Mike Van Ryn.
Unfortunately for Van Ryn, it cost him his job. That might have been a long time coming, but it finally came to a crashing halt.
I rarely advocate for any coach to lose their job, but Van Ryn kind of lived off the 2019 Stanley Cup run. The team was not stellar defensively early on in 2018-19.
They had plenty of defensive lapses in the other four seasons with Van Ryn as the head of the defense. The Blues usually managed to be just good enough to get by, but there were often odd holes and a lack of intensity from the guys no the blue line.
I can’t say for sure that’s down to coaching. I’ve often defended Berube when the Blues have not been good enough because I always say that a coach can yell until he’s blue in the face, but it’s up to the players to implement it.
However, the flip side of that is if the instruction is not good enough or the system is not good enough. Perhaps that is the case with Van Ryn.
St. Louis does not have a true top defender, but none of their current top six are as bad as they were this past season. So, if that is true, then the new hire for the team’s assistant will be all the more important.
Normally, I’d have said an assistant coach won’t make that much of a difference. In this case, I think we’ve already been shown that the guys on the bench with Berube actually do make a difference.
With Kirk Muller as an assistant for Ken Hitchcock, the Blues were stellar. When he left, the team struggled to adjust.
In more recent history, the Blues were basically the only team to challenge the Colorado Avalanche when Jim Montgomery as an assistant. When he took the Boston job, the Blues went into the toilet. There’s plenty of reasons besides Monty’s departure, but it is clear it was a reason.
The Blues going in the tank and the Bruins becoming the best regular season team ever showcased how much an impact Montgomery could have. Boston did not make a ton of changes from 2021-22 to 2022-23, other than trading for Pavel Zacha. That means the coaching change was a gigantic reason they had such a huge turnaround, going from fourth in the division to 65 wins.
So, whoever Doug Armstrong and Berube select as the new defensive assistant could make a huge impact. It’s also the easiest change to make.
You’re not likely to be able to easily trade any of your big defensive contracts. Torey Krug is clearly overpaid and Colton Parayko has too much term left.
So, getting a new voice that might better connect with the players you already have is the best – if not only – option. Getting it right could make the difference in the Blues contending for the playoffs or being a lottery team for the second year in a row.