When we discussed the St. Louis Blues’ offseason needs back in June, the first focus was power play help. At the time, we noted that the help could arrive either in the form of additional personnel, or with an additional assistant coach dedicated to special teams.
It now looks like the Blues have addressed that issue. Today, the team announced that it had agreed to terms to add NHL veteran Marc Savard as an assistant coach. Without question, they are adding Savard to address the power play issues. It may be just the addition the team needs.
Blues’ Power Play Woes
During the 2018-19 regular season, the Blues were actually near the top of the pack on the power play. The team ranked 10th in the league, with a conversion percentage of 21.1 percent. The addition of Ryan O’Reilly was a major factor, as the Selke Trophy Winner scored 22 power play points in the regular season. Vladimir Tarasenko also added 22 power play points, with 12 goals, matching his career high from 2015-16.
The Blues were also stalwart on the penalty kill, where they were ninth in the league. They defended 81.5 percent of the power plays they encountered. Oskar Sundqvist, whom the Blues signed to a four-year extension earlier this week, was a big reason why. His arrival this season was an unexpected boon to the team.
The issues with the Blues’ special team began in earnest during the postseason. The power play fell to pieces. They scored only 13 power play goals in 26 postseason games, and recorded the fifth worst mark in the playoffs at 16.3 percent. Only one of the teams that trailed them, the Carolina Hurricanes, advanced past the second round.
Even the dependable penalty kill looked weak in the playoffs. Though they were the least penalized team in the first three rounds, they killed only 75.4 percent of the penalties against them, once again the fifth worst mark. The Hurricanes still trailed them, but this time, none of the other three teams advanced past the first round. The penalty kill was truly exposed when the NHL suspended Sundqvist for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. In his absence, the Boston Bruins scored four power play goals on four shots.
Bluntly put, it is a miracle that the Blues managed to win the Stanley Cup with such paltry special teams numbers. Even though they were the champions, there was a clear need for improvement in this area. And the team addressed that issue with their Wednesday hire.
Savard’s Track Record
The Blues are turning to Savard for answers. The 41-year-old former player had an illustrious career that was tragically cut short by injury. In 807 career games played, he posted 706 points, including consecutive 97 and 96 point seasons. Most importantly, 292 of his career points came on the power play. But then, an illegal hit from Matt Cooke late in the season brought his career crashing down.
Savard has been open about his struggles since that hit. It took him years to truly recover, and though he played a handful more games in the NHL, it was certainly the beginning of the end. It was also a major catalyst in the NHL’s changes to player safety and its enacting a stricter standards for legal head hits.
Since recovering and officially announcing his retirement in 2018, seven years after his injury, Savard has become a fixture on Youtube. In videos like the one above, he demonstrates his knowledge of hockey equipment and his deep understanding of the game. The Blues are hoping that expertise will make him a spectacular special teams coach, and Savard seems ready for the task.
“I was a power-play guy in my playing career,” Savard told Blues’ reporter Jeremy Rutherford, “and me and [Blues’ head coach] Craig [Berube] have had many, many discussions when he took over the Blues. I’ve been able to watch the game a lot and I’ve picked up a lot of stuff on a lot of the power plays, what works and what doesn’t.”
Berube is certainly ready to join forces with Savard and get to work. He told Rutherford, “I was fortunate to play with Marc during my career and I’m very familiar with his passion and acumen for the game. He was a tremendous player and possesses an elite offensive mind. His addition will be a great benefit to our players and organization.”
St. Louis’ Missing Link?
The Blues are already Stanley Cup Champions, even with as paltry a power play as they had in the playoffs. Could Savard be the missing link to making them an even more potent threat in 2019-20? The Blues certainly believe he might be, and if he is, they will be one of the elite teams in the Central Division next season.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.