NHL fans have very short memories. The realities of the salary cap force them to look at players with a “what have you done for me lately” mindset. A veteran can be beloved one season and be a pariah with an albatross contract the next.
A number of St. Louis Blues veterans currently stand on the knife’s edge between those two camps, and the 2022-23 season will be key for them to determine which side of the blade they fall on. In this article, we’ll look at those three players carefully to determine what they need to do to prove that they hold value for the Blues long term.
1) Brayden Schenn
Contract Details: $6.5 million AAV through 2027-28, NTC
It’s tough to pick a Blues forward who underperformed last season, but the extreme contract commitment general manager Doug Armstrong made to Brayden Schenn in 2019 will keep him under the microscope for the rest of his career. Last season was strong, with 24 goals and 34 assists in 62 games. But his shooting percentage climbed to 21.6%, well above the league average of roughly 10%. It is only reasonable to expect that he regresses towards the mean there. Additionally, Schenn’s defensive statistics are troublesome, and his metrics don’t grade well beyond his arguably inflated goal production.
In a recent article, The Athletic‘s Dom Luszczyszyn graded Schenn’s as the Blues’ least efficient forward contract, giving him a D+. Even he noted that Schenn “had a terrific bounce-back season in terms of production but has six years left at $6.5 million.” But Luszczyszyn went on to add that Schenn: “doesn’t drive play well enough to be worth that in the back half given he turns 31 at the end of the month” (from “NHL contract efficiency rankings: Grading every team in the league,” The Athletic NHL, Aug. 3, 2022). There’s no editing Schenn’s contract now, so the rest of his career will be a continual struggle to prove that he offers enough value to justify the cap hit he carries.
2) Colton Parayko
Contract Details: $6.5 million AAV through 2029-30, NTC
Speaking of Luszczyszyn’s evaluations, the only contract that graded lower than Schenn’s D+ is Colton Parayko’s. In fact, he rated Parayko among the 10 worst contracts in the entire league. Whether one agrees with that or not, the 29-year-old defender is coming off two consecutive troublesome seasons. During the 2020-21 campaign, he struggled with a back injury that limited him to just 32 games. And while his good health was a positive this season, his on-ice performance left a lot to be desired.
There were positives to his most recent season. He did lead Blues’ skaters in average time on ice, and he tied his career high with 35 points. The concern is that he has not developed into the true number one defenseman the Blues hoped he would be and are paying him to be. His career highs of goals (10) and points (35) are not the marks expected of first-pairing defenders these days. He is not a replacement for Alex Pietrangelo, and at 29, he probably won’t turn into one. He is the central issue in the Blues’ defensive nightmare right now.
Beyond the offensive side, though, Parayko has declined in his own end. He’s not the elite shutdown defender that he once was, like when he played alongside Jay Bouwmeester en route to the team’s first Stanley Cup. And the age curve from here doesn’t look pretty. As Luszczyszyn put it (bluntly): “He was once one of the very best defensive defenders in the league, but he’s lost that element over the years and doesn’t have the offensive upside to deliver at his price tag. And that’s now. At age 37? Good luck.” A strong season from Parayko, especially in his own end, would be a huge relief for Blues fans that are more than worried as he enters the first year of a very costly eight-year contract.
3) Jordan Binnington
Contract Details: $6 million AAV through 2026-27, NTC
There is no sugar coating it: the Blues’ season rests on Jordan Binnington. If he performs like he did last season, there will be no Ville Husso to rescue him. The Finnish netminder got a healthy contract with the Detroit Red Wings as a reward for the rescue act he managed last season. Now, the Blues have only Thomas Greiss if things go south, a decision that has left many scratching their heads. Binnington finished last season with an 18-14-4 record, a .901 save percentage (SV%) and a 3.13 goals against average (GAA). That won’t be nearly good enough this season, and there is no safety net for him this time.
Of course, the argument in favor of trusting Binnington is his playoff performance. Before the injury he suffered in his sixth start, he looked like the unbeatable goalie he once was en route to the Blues’ first Stanley Cup. He played in six games, went 4-1, and had a .949 SV% and a 1.72 GAA. He was the main reason the Blues pushed past the Minnesota Wild, and he looked like he might even steal a series from the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche. Unfortunately, the injury and the ugliness that followed cast a pall over his performance and left fans with unanswered questions.
Entering the regular season, Blues fans will wonder which Binnington to expect: the dominant playoff stud or the inconsistent (and often outright terrible) regular season underperformer. Most would probably happily settle for something in the middle. The playoff sample size was small, but it’s the most recent data we have to judge. If peak Binnington really is back, then the 2022-23 season could be one to remember in St. Louis.
Who Did We Miss?
We’ve looked at three players we think have the most to prove entering the 2022-23 season for the Blues. But there are certainly other candidates to discuss. Who do you think we missed, and why are you focused on him? Let us know in the comments!