Sizing Up The Blues

Well, they finally did it folks. They won it all after 52 years of destitution. Good for them, truly.


But if you weren't already tired of the Blues and their fans, now they're going to become even more annoying because they have the old "How many Stanley Cups do YOU have???," platitude to throw around. It's gonna be great!



Credit: Jeff Curry/USA Today Sports

The Blues won the Stanley Cup this summer, which usually signals a pretty inactive offseason as far as roster changes go. Most of their transactions came from new contracts and extensions, with the only trades being for center Dakota Joshua and defenseman Andreas Borgman. Let's take a look at their key re-signings.


The first week of free agency brought the signings of forwards Sammy Blais and Zach Sanford. Blais and Sanford are 23 and 24, respectively, and were signed to shorter term contracts for relatively cheap.


Blais hasn't shown much productivity during his time in the NHL; he's logged a total of 43 games with 10 points to show for it. His average time on ice (ATOI) is still low, so St. Louis probably wants him to prove himself more before they skate him longer. Against the Predators, Blais has played three games and notched one point.


Zach Sanford.... Credit: The Athletic

Sanford had a breakout year last year. He more than doubled his point total and played in almost twice the number of games than when he last was in the NHL in 2016-2017. Sanford also has a career +10 rating out on the ice, so he affects positive offensive movement for his linemates. Sanford has skated in seven games against the Preds and has a goal in one of those games. He tallied one of St. Louis' four goals in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Sanford will likely interchange with Blais on the Blues' second line, on which Conn Smythe winner Ryan O'Reilly skates as well. More on O'Reilly in a bit.


Robby Fabbri signed on for another year in July as well. Fabbri has been largely underwhelming since being drafted 21st overall in 2014, battling two ACL injuries and missing out on a lot of valuable developmental time as a result, including the entirety of the 2017-2018 season. In addition, Fabbri was a healthy scratch for Game 7 this year. In the four years since the draft, Fabbri has played 11 games against the Preds and recorded six points (2G, 2A). If he stays healthy, he could be a threat on a line with Ivan Barbashev and Oskar Sundqvist.


Ivan Barbashev... Credit: USA Today

Ivan Barbashev signed on for another two years at $1.475 million/year at the beginning of this month. Barbashev had a comparable year to Zach Sanford in that he doubled his point total and played in all but two regular season games. He has faced the Preds eight times in his young career and has one goal and one assist. On the way to the Stanley Cup, Barbashev had two goals and an assist against San Jose in the Western Conference Final, along with one goal in the SCF.


Oskar Sundqvist... Credit: NHL.com

One of the Blues' biggest booms last season was Oskar Sundqvist. Sundqvist nearly tripled his production from his previous three seasons combined. He has played eight games against the Preds and recorded two assists. In the playoffs this year, Sundqvist notched four goals and five assists. Though Sundqvist is also on the fourth line with Barbashev, the two should not be overlooked as offensive non-threats.


St. Louis also brought Joel Edmundson back for another year. Edmundson has been a pretty reliable third/fourth line defenseman over the past few years for the Blues. He's not insanely productive, but logs some pretty important minutes with a career +18 rating. Against Nashville, Edmundson has played 13 games and has a goal and assist apiece.



Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/AP)

Outside of the fact that they won the Stanley Cup, Jordan Binnington was the Blues' story line of the year. He re-signed for two years at $4.4 million/year. To repeat it with chagrin- Binnington came on board to replace Jake Allen in mid-January, when the Blues were last place in the league, and proceeded to reel off 24 wins with only five losses sprinkled in between. Two of those wins came against the Preds, one of them being a shutout. He finished the regular season with a .927 save percentage and a league-best 1.89 GAA. Even speaking objectively, Binnington had a certifiably insane run.


It will be interesting to see if he can prolong the insanity, however. He's going to be the Blues' starter this season, without a doubt. But a .927 save percentage is simply not sustainable. Not even Martin Brodeur passed, let alone touched, his .927 after the 1996-1997 season. With more opportunities this season to shoot on Binnington, the Preds need to feel out his weak spots and absolutely hammer them. 40 percent of the goals scored on him came from within roughly five feet of the crease, so creating effective screens is one place to start.




Credit: AP

Now let's talk Ryan O'Reilly. O'Reilly has a career -5 rating facing the Preds, but don't let that get you too comfortable. O'Reilly struggled a bit defensively against the Preds in the beginning of his career as a member of the Avalanche, with a -12 rating spanning from his rookie season in 2009-2010 to the 2013-2014 season. He never recorded another negative +/- season against Nashville after that. Last year, his first as a Blue, O'Reilly averaged a point per game against the Preds and boasted a +4 rating. O'Reilly earned the Conn Smythe this year after blazing through four rounds with 8 goals and 15 assists, for a whopping total of 23 points in the playoffs alone. He alternates between the first and second line center position, but needs to be hounded regardless of who's feeding him pucks.



Vladimir Tarasenko has never been a welcome sight on the ice for the Preds. Not for any other reason than him being an absolute offensive menace, really. He's seven years into his career and has amassed 30 points and has only recorded two negative +/- season series while playing Nashville.


Credit: Getty Images

St. Louis captain Alex Pietrangelo was a real pain in the rear for the Preds last season. Pietrangelo tallied five points against the Preds- more than he did against any other team the Blues played. The Preds need to prioritize controling Pietrangelo's ferocious forecheck before they even think about getting past him on offense. Luckily, Pietrangelo's partner on defense- Carl Gunnarsson- has never made much of a ripple in the Preds' waters. Perhaps Gunnarsson's ineffectiveness can counteract Pietrangelo's over-effectiveness. It's wishful thinking.



Credit: NHL.cz

Colton Parayko is second only to Ryan O'Reilly for the best +/- rating on the 2018-2019 Blues. This can be partially credited to the fact that Parayko logged more minutes than anyone else on the Blues last season (and 9th most of all NHL defensemen skating over 200 minutes), obviously excluding goalies. Parayko also lead St. Louis in the Defensive Point Shares category last year- meaning his defensive contributions often resulted in scoring for the teammates on the ice with him. He also took the most blocks on the team (157) and had the third-most hits (127). The kid is not afraid to get dirty, let's say. Until this past year, he's never been spectacular against the Preds. But Parayko wrapped up the season series with the Preds with a +5 rating, for the same reasons he led St. Louis in DPS. Parayko may not be the one to score, but he'll be involved in one way or another if he's on the ice.



My main pondering about the Blues is this:


They are structurally the same team they were when they were sitting at the bottom of the league.


Besides the rise of Jordan Binnington, all of the skaters they'll have on the ice when the season starts will be the same ones, in the same positions, that took all those first-half Ls. If it really can be credited to a spurt of confidence, suddenly synced team chemistry, or "Gloria" by Laura Branigan, or a mix of all three, then the Blues will be top competitors for the Central Division title. But if it was actually just a phase, an anomaly, an aberration, then St. Louis could very well finish in last place.


It will be one or the other, and the Preds should definitely err on the side of caution and prepare for the version of the Blues that won the Cup.








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