The St. Louis Blues made the postseason during the 2020-21 campaign, despite the departure of their captain, a rash of serious injuries, and the challenges of a pandemic-shortened season. But their immediate departure from those playoffs indicates that they leave a lot to be desired going forward. So the Blues team at THW set off with an objective: evaluate each player’s performance and assign them a letter grade. Who performed well? Who did their part, but little more? And who disappointed the team? In this article, we’ll index all of our report cards (given to players who played 10 games or more, plus head coach and general manager), and we’ll quickly analyze what the grades mean for each group.
- Ivan Barbashev (Grade: C-)
- Sammy Blais (Grade: B-)
- Tyler Bozak (Grade: B)
- Kyle Clifford (Grade: D)
- Jacob de la Rose (Grade: C)
- Mike Hoffman (Grade: B)
- Dakota Joshua (Grade: B+)
- Jordan Kyrou (Grade: A)
- MacKenzie MacEachern (Grade: C)
- Ryan O’Reilly (Grade: A-)
- David Perron (Grade: A+)
- Zach Sanford (Grade: D+)
- Brayden Schenn (Grade: C)
- Jaden Schwarz (Grade: F)
- Oskar Sundqvist (Grade: Incomplete)
- Vladimir Tarasenko (Grade: B-)
- Robert Thomas (Grade: C-)
The Blues had 17 forwards play 10-plus games in the 2020-21 season, an immediate sign of all the injuries they dealt with during the campaign. Depth options like Dakota Joshua, who didn’t seem likely to factor into the NHL plans, ended up playing an important role and performing admirably. In fact, the major trend in these report cards is depth: forwards who play valuable but limited roles like Joshua, Tyler Bozak, MacKenzie MacEachern, and Ivan Barbashev did so admirably, earning C grades or higher. Unfortunately, Kyle Clifford, signed during the offseason to add grit and size to the fourth line, did not do so well, as his D grade indicates.
But by far the bigger problem for the Blues in 2020-21 was the performance of their top forwards. The team ranked 29th in expected goals for per 60 (xGF/60) at 5-on-5 and dead last in high danger chances for (HDCF). Top forwards like Brayden Schenn (C), Zach Sanford (D+), and Jaden Schwartz (F) let the team down offensively. Vladimir Tarasenko (B-) can be forgiven for coming off a pair of lengthy injury recoveries, but, assuming he’s with the Blues next season, he needs to prove that he can be at least 80 percent of the goal scorer he once was.
On the bright side, the Blues had a young player break out in Jordan Kyrou. His season had ups and downs, but he was the best forward on the roster for much of the first half of the season. And David Perron, though not a newcomer by any means, had probably a career season, becoming the first Blues player since the late Pavol Demitra in 2002-03 to maintain a point per game pace for the entire season. And rounding everything off, there is captain consistency Ryan O’Reilly, who, in his first season with the “C” on his chest, maintained his stellar and consistent output for the franchise.
- Robert Bortuzzo (Grade: C+)
- Vince Dunn (Grade: C-)
- Justin Faulk (Grade: A)
- Carl Gunnarsson (Grade: C)
- Torey Krug (Grade: A-)
- Niko Mikkola (Grade: C+)
- Colton Parayko (Grade: C+)
- Marco Scandella (Grade: D+)
- Jake Walman (Grade: C+)
Nine defensemen played 10 or more games for the Blues this season. Most notably, young defensemen Niko Mikkola and Jake Walman both showed their ability to play a significant role in the NHL, playing 54 combined games and each earning C+ grades. Justin Faulk had by far the best season of any defenseman, one of just three players, along with Perron and O’Reilly, who general manager Doug Armstrong said performed well enough after the season. Faulk was 17th in the NHL with 24:16 average time on ice (ATOI) per game, devouring minutes for the franchise that had lost Alex Pietrangelo to free agency and Colton Parayko to injury for much of the season.
Parayko was a clear issue on the team this season, with his back injury making his performance hard to evaluate. He did ultimately play in 32 games, but it was clear he wasn’t right most of the time he was on the ice. The other big defensive disappointment was Marco Scandella, who looked like a shell of the player he had been after the Blues acquired him at last season’s trade deadline. Playing on the first season of a four-year, $13.1 million contract, his performance will be a major concern for the team going forward.
Jordan Binnington made the most headlines this season by signing his six-year, $36-million contract extension in March. Despite some stumbles after that, he ended the season on a hot streak and was a big part of the reason the Blues were able to pull out of a nosedive and make the playoffs. Unfortunately, Ville Husso struggled mightily in his first full NHL season. His numbers were not good enough to be a reliable NHL backup; however, the team may choose to stick with him and spend their cap space in other places for 2021-22.
When Armstrong praised Faulk, Perron, and O’Reilly, he specifically labeled himself and the coaching staff as under-performers. That much is hard to deny. We don’t know the full story of why Pietrangelo left for the Vegas Golden Knights but allowing the captain and cornerstone defenseman to leave obviously made the team worse. None of his offseason signings (Clifford, Hoffman, and Krug) made major impacts, and the team simply looked flat and without direction.
On the other hand, it’s difficult to put the blame entirely on Armstrong’s shoulders when head coach Craig Berube failed to utilize his players properly. Armstrong clearly signed players to make the team faster and more transition-focused, but Berube refused to deploy them in those roles. Most notably, he took Hoffman off the first power play unit almost immediately and was slow to return him there. Also, Berube’s strategy of the team taking ideal shots rather than pouring shots on net clearly helped contribute to the lack of HDCF. His unwillingness to adjust the team’s offensive strategy was a clear contributor to the franchise’s struggles. In all, both Armstrong and Berube clearly had a poor season, and each needs to be better to move the team in a new direction going forward.
Conclusion: Blues Have Work to Do
The Blues got bounced out of the playoffs in four games. Clearly, that signals that the team needs to improve. But these report cards suggest that every aspect of the team could use improvement. Most of the skaters were average at best, with few outlying exceptions. Binnington was okay, but not at his best for much of the season. Husso struggled. And both Armstrong and Berube need to do considerably better ahead of and during the 2021-22 campaign. The Blues believe their window is still open. But if they’re going to climb through it, they’ll need to do a lot better than they did this season.
Stephen Ground is a veteran of over three years at THW, focusing on the St. Louis Blues, NHL goaltending, and the annual World Junior Championship. He is the co-host of the Two Guys One Cup Podcast, a hockey podcast focused on the Blues.