The St. Louis Blues’ 2021-22 season represented a major transition for the franchise. No longer a stout defensive team built from the blue line out, they finished second in the NHL in goals scored, with nine forwards recording 20-plus goals. Though the season came to an end in a six-game defeat by the Colorado Avalanche in the second round, there are plenty of highs and lows to reflect on. In this series, we’ll evaluate each player who played 10 or more games with the team (as well as the head coach and general manager), grading their individual performance and looking at their future with the team.
What Went Right: Seemless Transition
At the trade deadline, it was a foregone conclusion that the Blues needed a left-shot defenseman. The team was linked to players like Jakob Chychrun as a player that could fit the bill and pair well with someone like Colton Parayko on the top-pairing, someone they had been trying to match with since Jay Bouwmeester departed from the NHL. When the team announced their acquisition of defenseman Nick Leddy, fans and media alike were stunned and thought the Blues sorely missed the mark and shot themselves in the foot. However, their front office proved everyone wrong when he joined the team and became one of their key defensive players throughout the playoffs.
The 31-year-old defenseman transitioned seamlessly from a team that was out of the playoffs to a Stanley Cup contender as if he had been there all season long. He showcased his crisp passes and transition from the defensive to offensive zones and his ability to defend the best of the best around the league. Throughout the playoffs, he was heavily relied upon to defend against Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov and Colorado’s top line featuring players like Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. Leddy finished the season in St. Louis playing 20 regular-season games, where he scored two goals and eight points, along with nine postseason games scoring one goal and five points.
What Went Wrong: Creating More Questions for Defensemen
Leddy has proven that the Blues can acquire under-the-radar type players and fit them into their team with little to no transition period. The problem that becomes of this is a potential price tag that he could be earning after showing he could still be a reliable, top-four defenseman.
If Leddy did anything truly wrong in his time with the Blues, it was that he created more questions surrounding the future of their defensemen, specifically those on the left side. He excelled in his time in St. Louis and showed he can be a player that pairs well with Parayko and play on the top unit. Unless they are willing to change their deployment and mindset of who their top-pairing defensemen are, they will likely attempt to sign and play him as a top-pairing defenseman. While this may help other players earn ice time, specifically the pairing of Torey Krug and Justin Faulk, it creates problems for players like Scott Perunovich who will need playing time and a specific role in the NHL.
- Averaged 21:03 of average time on ice (third among Blues defensemen)
- Blocked 18 shots over 20 games (0.9 per game)
Final Grade: A
The Blues have been in desperate need of a two-way defenseman to fill in on the left side for the last few seasons now. By the time they had reached the playoffs, it was clear that they needed a player like Leddy to solidify and balance the defensive pairings moving forward. His three-game absence was noticeable as he, among several other defensemen, was out of the lineup due to injury and left searching for balance.
What’s Next for Leddy?
Coming off of a six-year, $38.5 million contract, Leddy is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. He averaged $5.5 million per season over his most recent contract and will look to earn at least $5 million annually on his next one. The Blues currently have just over $9 million in cap space this coming season and a log jam on the left side with Marco Scandella, Niko Mikkola, Perunovich, Krug, and Calle Rosen all fighting for contracts and playing time with the team next season.
General manager Doug Armstrong will need to get creative this offseason as it is the defensemen that need new contracts this year, while the forwards will be up for renewal next year. While Leddy is an enticing option to play top-pairing minutes for the Blues moving forward, Armstrong and company will need to be cautious about the contract they are planning to offer. With young players like Perunovich on the rise, there are bound to be more questions surrounding the state of the defense over the next few seasons as well.
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Mike is a writer for The Hockey Writers and covers the St. Louis Blues since November of 2021. He has a keen love for statistical analysis, prospects, signings, and trades. Follow Mike on Twitter for further Blues or Central division hockey discussions, interview requests, or to provide content info.