The State of the St. Louis Blues' Defense
The St. Louis Blues came into last season basking in the afterglow of a surprise Stanley Cup championship. Their title defense was not as sweet as they fell to the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Much of that loss was because of sloppy play, and poor defense, letting elite skill players like Elias Pettersson skate all over you.
Now, after getting bounced in the first round last season, the Blues want to prove to everyone that their Stanley Cup run from the year before was no fluke. Much of their championship run was due to great goaltending and defense. To get back to the Stanley Cup this season and beyond, it all starts with the blue line. What can we expect from the Blues’ defense?
The biggest move the Blues made was not resigning Alex Pietrangelo. This is surprising considering how much he contributed to their 2019 Stanley Cup win. Instead, the Blues signed Torey Krug from the Boston Bruins. Pietrangelo and Krug shared very similar statistics last season, but the Blues opted to go after the player with a more affordable contract, locking Krug to a seven-year contract estimated to be about $45.5 million. Meanwhile, Pietrangelo signed with the Vegas Golden Knights for seven years and approximately $61.6 million.
This is a big move for the Blues, as it saves them roughly $15 million over seven years, and it allowed them to resign a couple of other players. Besides the Krug signing, the Blues already have Justin Faulk and Marco Scandella locked down to long-term contracts. The Blues also still have Colton Parayko, who is entering year four of a five-year contract he inked back in 2017.
The Blues recently acquired Steven Santini, a former 2nd round draft pick for the New Jersey Devils, who spent last season in the Nashville Predators organization. He provides a solid defensive prescience but needs to work on his offensive game.
Vince Dunn, who contributed to their defense over the last two seasons, remains unsigned. Singing him might prove difficult since the Blues currently are approximately $1.5 million over the salary cap.
The Blues have a solid defensive core and all of them are 30 years or younger. For the
next four years at least, the Blues have three solid defensemen ready to defend in front of Jordan Binnington. But the real question is, do the Blues have prospects who will be NHL-ready in the next few seasons while maintaining their core?
Let’s look at the defensive talent the Blues have in the system. The most NHL-ready defensemen in their system include Niko Mikkola, Jake Walman, and Mitch Reinke. Mikkola played five games last season, and he displayed great toughness but lacked the offense needed to produce points. Walman played one game for the Blues last season. Reinke took a step back last season during the shortened AHL season, scoring only 22 points in 46 games.
Tyler Tucker also could be ready to break through to the NHL in the upcoming season. But first, he needs to make his mark for the Springfield Thunderbirds.
Matthew Kessel leads a young core of defensive prospects in the Blues’ organization. The Blues drafted Kessel in the fifth round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft and expect big things from him. They also took Noah Beck in the seventh round of the same draft. The big question with these prospects is if they would be ready to take over for the core defensemen once those key pieces move on.
What Doug Armstrong Needs to Do
If the defensive prospects in the system do not pan out for long-term contention, then Blues’ general manager Doug Armstrong needs to make some deals that help secure the future of this team. With the Blues already over the salary cap, Armstrong might have to move some contacts to free up space, and that might enable them to acquire another defenseman that they could sign to an extension to help them contend over the next few years. If the Blues want to win another Stanley Cup, they have to analyze whether the prospects in their system are a good fit, and if not, they must decide what to do with them to help solidify the blue line over the next few years.
Krug, Faulk, Scandella, and Parayko locked in for the next two years, the Blues have two strong pairings, while plugging in different pieces for the last two defensemen. Armstrong has to decide in these next two years if the prospects in the system are ready to advance, and if they will replace potential departures. Fixing their cap issues will also go a long way toward determining which defensemen stay for the long-term.