Blues’ Acquisition of Leddy is Band-Aid on Defensive Depth

The trade deadline has come and gone, and the longstanding hole on the left side of the St. Louis Blues‘ defense has been plugged – for now – with the acquisition of veteran defenseman Nick Leddy. However, while the role may now be filled, the question becomes ‘for how long?’ The current state of the defense looks serviceable and can help win games with a flick of the wrist or a slapshot from the blue line. But, how well can these players play in all situations? Are their contracts worth it or holding the team hostage? What about the upcoming defensemen? Here’s a look at the state of the Blues’ defense.

Blues’ Defense

The Blues are in a difficult spot with their defensive core. The front office made their move, acquiring Leddy from the Detroit Red Wings to likely play with Colton Parayko on the top-pair the rest of the season. Even if Leddy were to re-sign with St. Louis, the organization is already on the hook for a combined $19,500,000 annually for Justin Faulk, Torey Krug, and Parayko, and all have full no-trade clauses. Even if the front office attempted to relieve themselves of one of those contracts, the players hold all the cards until the 2025-26 season when Krug and Faulk’s contracts turn into modified no-trade clauses and 2028-29 for Parayko.

Torey Krug St. Louis Blues
Torey Krug, St. Louis Blues (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The acquisition of Krug has not turned out as planned, and he has not turned into the top-pairing compliment to Parayko that fans had hoped for with the departure of Alex Pietrangelo. Instead, he has joined Faulk in an extremely formidable yet expensive, second-pairing unit. Front office managers and scouts can evaluate players until the cows come home but will never know how a player will react in their system or with their teammates until provided the opportunity. In this case, the Blues did well in acquiring a top-four defenseman but still lack that number one d-man that the team so desperately needs. 

The team’s defense is rounded out by 32-year-old Marco Scandella and 33-year-old Robert Bortuzzo, who are both signed through the 2023-24 season and paid $3,275,000 and $950,000, respectively, along with the pending restricted free agent, Niko Mikkola. While Scandella’s price tag is less than desirable in the eyes of most Blues fans, his performance has been worse. Upon his arrival, the approval rate was high, and fans were happy to have him on board. That quickly changed when the front office signed him to a four-year contract extension after only 11 games played for the organization. 

Mikkola and Bortuzzo play a gritty, defensive style that compliments the rest of the offensive-minded defensemen on the roster. Mikkola has proven that he can play up the lineup and may earn himself a consistent top-four role in the future. However, that role also means that either Faulk or Krug would pair with Parayko on the top unit or earn the top-pairing job if he continues to develop into a reliable defenseman. The club boasts many options to mix and match with, but none of them are the shiny two-way pieces that head coach Craig Berube once had on his Stanley Cup roster.

Blues’ Pipeline

The organization does not boast many options that will come up the ranks over the next few seasons. Scott Perunovich, the 23-year-old top defensive prospect for the Blues, is now a highly-anticipated player to reach the NHL level and join the team for years to come. He possesses high-end skating and vision that leads to increased creativity in the offensive zone. His wrist injury will require surgery and keep him out for at least two months and potentially the postseason as well (from ‘Blues notebook: Wrist surgery for Perunovich will keep him out eight weeks,’ St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mar. 9, 2022). 

Scott Perunovich St. Louis Blues
Scott Perunovich, St. Louis Blues (Photo by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Outside of Perunovich, 28-year-old Calle Rosén has the highest potential to reach and stay at the NHL level. However, he has been known to make ill-advised passes and turnovers that can develop into worse situations for his team. He saw six games with the Blues this season, registering two assists and a minus-one rating. In the AHL, he has four goals and 27 points in 39 games with a minus-two rating. He can make a push for consistent playing time in the NHL, but at 28 years old, his time is running out, and he’s not an ideal candidate for a pipeline prospect.

Related: Blues Need to Resist Trading Scott Perunovich

The Blues’ remaining three defensive prospects under contract are Tyler Tucker (22), Tommy Cross (32), and Steven Santini (27). Tucker is a physical defenseman with limited offensive production and could be a very good third-pairing player on the penalty kill, maybe even getting some time on the power play. Meanwhile, Cross and Santini are both bigger framed players at 6-foot-2, who both tend to play a safer, conservative game. Both players could fill in and play a shutdown role but are unlikely to ever make steady appearances in the NHL.

Blues’ Future

The Blues’ front office has some work to do when it comes to their defensive prospects. Plain and simple. While it is not easy to find players in the NHL Entry Draft or to make a trade for a top defensive prospect, the organization will need to think long and hard about creative solutions to address this need. Their window to compete for a Stanley Cup is closing and could be closing faster than anticipated if they cannot supplement their problematic defensive pairings.

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