While the world may have just turned their calendars to 2022, it’s the NHL that is currently in the middle of their 2021-22 season. All attention and focus are currently being drawn toward pressing subjects like COVID-19, wrapping up the Winter Classic, and the March 21 trade deadline. However, it is never too early to turn a slight eye to the future and wonder just who may or may not be wearing the Note next season.
Let’s take a look at five different players on the current roster and see just who may not be returning to St. Louis for the start of next season.
Marco Scandella has played his way up and down the lineup this season and has recently found himself on the third-pairing unit or as the odd man out more times than not. Currently, the team has all that they need in terms of offensive defensemen, and are certainly in need of individuals that can play the defensive side of the puck. At times, it has appeared that he cannot accomplish either of these tasks.
The defenseman is averaging just over 18 minutes on ice per game, the fourth most amongst Blues defensemen, and 71% of his starts in the defensive zone. As an individual relied upon in the defensive zone and to get the puck out of their own end, Scandella currently ranks as the lowest Corsi For percentage (42.7), and the lowest Fenwick For percentage (42.2). Both of these metrics look at the amount of time the puck is controlled by your respective team while the player is on the ice with positive relation occurring above 50%. The team needs defensive-minded defensemen on their blue line and he may not be one of them moving forward. If general manager Doug Armstrong can find a way to package a deal for someone like Jakob Chychrun of the Arizona Coyotes, the team would only take on an additional $1.35 million before any other additions to a trade.
Charlie Lindgren has been a fascinating story not only in St. Louis but across the NHL. A goaltender that went undrafted then signed a two-year, two-way contract with the Montreal Canadiens in March 2016, then a three-year contract extension in Feb 2018. Lindgren never found his groove or opportunity in Montreal behind a very likely future Hall of Famer in Carey Price. In the 24 games, he appeared in Lindgren went 10-12-2 with a 3.00 goals-against average and .907 save percentage.
After signing a one-year, two-way contract with the Blues before the 2021-22 season, Lindgren started his season in the AHL and was ultimately recalled amid injuries and COVID-19 protocols. Through five games this season, Lindgren is 5-0-0 with a 1.22 goals-against average and a .958 save percentage. Though it is only through five games, there is something different about Lindgren in his time with St. Louis.
This season, the team has $6.75 million committed to their goaltending, $6 million of which is committed to starting goaltender, Jordan Binnington through the 2026-27 season. Backup goaltender Ville Husso is slated to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, leaving a potential opening for the position. Should there be an opportunity to prove himself, there could be a battle for the backup and an opportunity for one of the goaltenders to showcase themselves to a new contract for a different organization for the upcoming season. If Lindgren continues his steady performance in the AHL this season, he may want the opportunity to prove himself elsewhere with a full-time NHL position.
Tyler Bozak is a veteran forward of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Blues who served as a key player for the 2019 St. Louis Stanley Cup-winning team. At 35-years-old, he is certainly not as young as he once was and it’s no surprise that it shows up at times during games. The team is fortunate enough to have younger options to throw out on the ice late in the game to defend a lead or press for a game-tying goal. However, he is not one of those options. As the injuries and COVID cases continued to rise for the team this season, he was able to fill a temporary void for the club through increased ice time.
The Saskatchewan native signed a performance bonus heavy contract with the club late in the offseason to return to St. Louis. This season, the team and organization have proven there is valuable depth in the minors that deserve a chance at a starting role currently held by Bozak. Moving forward, there could be a desire for a player of his style and character. However, this season could not only be his final season in St. Louis but the final season of his career.
The right-handed 32-year-old is a tough case. A third-pairing defenseman that plays a very physical style of hockey that could earn a low-cost contract extension to appease both parties. This type of extension could ultimately provide a valuable trade chip that should be easily moved if and when the organization deems the time has come to move on. Robert Bortuzzo’s 6-foot-4 frame allows him to contribute a physical style of play that can often be a tone-setter and praised amongst fans of the brash, “in your face” style of hockey, something the organization currently lacks an excess of. Fans will certainly never forget the fight during a team practice that seemed to be a turning point in the Blues Stanley Cup-winning season. However, the physical style can often take a toll on a player’s body and cause them to become less effective earlier in their career.
The Blues currently do not have many options in the pipeline that would make Bortuzzo an obvious candidate to move on from after the 2021-22 season. However, the current roster does not offer him much room either as Colton Parayko and Justin Faulk currently hold down the first two pairings and up-and-coming defenseman Scott Perunovich is earning his share on the third pairing unit. Should a younger player of a similar play style and build become available, the organization could be tempted to move on.
In what is probably the most confusing and uncertain storyline of the season, Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko should be considered a candidate not to return next season until the puck drops on the 2022-23 season. Tarasenko is currently leading the team in goals and points this year after an offseason trade request shocked St. Louis and the hockey world. With his contract ending after the 2022-23 season, the Russian sniper will continue to be regarded as “trade bait” and at the top of many wish lists for teams looking to make a trade. The 30-year-old has proven this season that he is healthy after shoulder surgeries in 2018 and 2019 and committed to working hard for the team he is playing for each night. He has a full no-trade clause until the end of his contract and is in full control of his destiny whether it be under this contract or when he would re-sign with the Blues or sign with a new team.
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.