The St. Louis Blues organization is in a state of limbo and intrigue when it comes to the overall direction of the club. On Wednesday (Dec. 14), I had the pleasure of having a conversation with Ryan Kennedy, Editor-in-Chief of The Hockey News to discuss the Blues’ season, and the future outlook of the franchise.
Mike Meyer: I just want to thank you again for taking a couple of quick minutes here to discuss some Blues hockey. Starting with a 10,000-foot overview, what are your thoughts on the Blues’ season as a whole?
Ryan Kennedy: I mean, it’s been very puzzling, right? You look at them on paper, and this was a team that seemed to be in a really good spot where you had those experienced high-end veterans, Ryan O’Reilly, Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn, and then you had this clear new wave that had arrived last year in Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou. It seemed like they had, if not all the elements, at least most of the elements.
But what we’ve seen is they really struggle to find some cohesion, which is very strange for this group. Because there are a lot of admirable leaders in that room. So it’s pretty puzzling, and I will say to the organization’s credit, they haven’t panicked in terms of making a rash move. But it’s gonna get to a point where they say, ‘Well, we got to make sure we don’t miss the playoffs because we’re not built as a team to miss the playoffs at this point.’
Mike: And so from an outsider’s perspective, what do you think that this team can do to turn the season around? Because it seems like they have all of the internal elements. Is there anything that you’re seeing in particular that says, yep, turn this around, and I think they’re golden?
Ryan: Yeah, I think that goaltending needs to be addressed, at least in some way. And this is something we talked about on the podcast last week about Binnington. Just like the frustrations we’re seeing, and it’s funny, I think, Jeremy Rutherford interviewed him and clearly used the word antics, and Binnington said “they’re not antics.” Well, they certainly look like that to everybody else. And Craig Berube addressed that soon after (from ‘Craig Berube fed up with PK Woes and Binnington antics,’ St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 4, 2022).
Related: Binnington’s Antics Are Not Helping the Blues
Latest News & Highlights
I think they need to figure out who Binnington is. Is he the goaltender that won the Stanley Cup or is he more of a 1B? Unfortunately, that’s tough to do in the middle of the season, especially when the goaltending market always seems to be rather humbling, if you need a 1B. You look at it like you’ve given up 108 goals. That’s the worst in their division and that division features Arizona and Chicago.
Mike: Looking at the team as a whole, do you think they have the pieces to turn this around, make a good playoff run and any good playoff push, and if they do, how deep do you think this team could go?
Ryan: Yeah, I do think they’re one of those teams where if they got in, they’d be scary. But they’re one of those teams where it’s like, yeah, it’s a big “if” at this point, especially looking at that division. They were the only team that took games off of Colorado in the West last year, until the Stanley Cup Final. Obviously, Tampa took a couple from the Avs. But, you know, this is a team that we’ve seen have the most playoff success you possibly can in a year and win a (Stanley) Cup. A lot of those elements are still there. And some of the guys that have come since like, Torey Krug, have great experience themselves. So, they’re certainly built for the playoffs if they can get the goaltending. But again, we have seen Binnington be great in spurts, enough to carry the team when necessary. It really is just a matter of whether can they put it together.
Mike: I think a lot of fans have really started to see the writing on the wall, or in this case, the dollar signs on the wall. There’s a lot of money invested into the veterans, particularly on the blue line. If this team needed to go into a rebuild, do you see a market for some of the defensemen without the Blues retaining salary?
Ryan: I would certainly think so. The problem I guess is that O’Reilly and Tarasenko are [unrestricted free agents] (UFA’s) this summer. I guess you could shed a lot of salary, although you do [still] have the (Brayden) Schenn’s, (Brandon) Saad’s. You know, you get into a problem where you’re too good to rebuild. Can’t get rid of enough good players to be bad. That would be my thing with St. Louis is they have too many good players.
Also, their top four D all have no-trade clauses, which is a problem. So I guess if you could find a team that a Justin Faulk or Krug would be willing to go to and that’s one thing. But it feels like you physically can’t rebuild just based on the contracts you have. If anything it’s a bit of a refresh where you let a couple of veterans go or you make a big trade and you just try to get a different fix. And then you hope next year Scott Perunovich can finally be healthy and he can be at the NHL level or you see Jake Neighbours become a regular, instead of in the minors and playing some games up and down. And because (the Blues) have been so good, they don’t have the ‘A-List’ prospects, but some pretty good ones.
Mike: Well, and with that being said, let’s look to the future here. So (Zachary) Bolduc was cut from Team Canada‘s roster ahead of the World Juniors. From a Canadian’s perspective, was this surprising?
Ryan: Yeah, I don’t think it was surprising, especially when you play center for Canada. They always have too many centers and that’s where you see guys going to the wing. The fact that Shane Wright was loaned out by Seattle, that takes up a spot right there. And then, Dylan Guenther is a winger, but that’s a spot taken by an NHL guy. You have Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, Logan Stankoven is a center and he was incredible in the summer World Juniors for them. I don’t know what they’re going to do for the captaincy but I guarantee Stankoven is probably going to wear at least a letter. So it’s really critical to distinguish themselves as doing something else and when you look at Canada’s final roster, they went big and took some big kids. Caedan Bankier, Ried Schaefer, and then Zack Ostapchuk is the kind of guy that’s the third guy on the line. So Bolduc, that’s not his game. He’s more of a skilled guy. I think it was going to be pretty difficult for him just based on the depth they already had.
Mike: In terms of other Blues prospects, is there anyone that you’re just like, overly interested to see make their way into the NHL?
Ryan: I’ve always been a big Perunovich fan. And again, that’s just it’s really unfortunate that he’s had the luck, or lack of luck. You look at his profile, and that’s the kind of defenseman you want in the NHL these days, a mobile, smart puck-mover. Then, Jimmy Snuggerud is going to be massive. And I think he’ll probably have a big role for Team USA. This is a player where when I was talking to people last year for the draft, he was at the NTDP (National Team Development Program), and they said, “He’s just getting started. We’re not even going to see what his ceiling is until he gets to the University of Minnesota.” And of course, you see what he’s done with the Gophers so far this year, it’s been incredible with 27 points in 20 games.
(Aleksanteri) Kaskimäki made the Finland squad. Michael Buchinger is interesting, because he’s a kind of Swiss Army knife. And then (Arseni) Koromyslov, he’s pretty interesting too, because he’s more of a stay-at-home guy, just from what I’ve watched. You’re probably not going to see him for years because he plays (in the KHL) for St. Petersburg.
Mike: I think, like you said, the Blues don’t have a lot of ‘A-List’ prospects, but have quite a few players who can be great complementary pieces. A few good line drivers, but no one that is a top NHL prospect.
Ryan: Yeah, and even Neighbours is a perfect example where it’s like you can plunk him in most lines and you’ll be effective. And I think the Blues liked what they saw early on from him. It’s just a matter of getting him ice time right now.
Mike: One final question. Being a prospect guy, is there anybody in the upcoming draft that you’ve seen that stands out to you as a guy who would do really well in the Blues organization, or is a player the Blues should target based on their prospect pool?
Ryan: Well, I mean, if they could get Ryan Leonard, he’d be massive. He’s playing with the NTDP this year. And he’s just a fierce competitor, plays with a chip on his shoulder, very skilled as well. He’s on the top line there and a Boston College commit. That to me is the guy, he’s the kind of guy that Blues fans would love. I’m sure Craig Berube would love him as well, just based on the game he plays. So that would be my number one answer. He’s probably, if not a top-ten pick, he’s pretty close to it. So it kind of depends on where the Blues fall at the end of the day.
I want to thank Ryan again for his time and insight. Be sure to follow his written and audio work at The Hockey News.