It has been a rough start for many of the St. Louis Blues forwards this year. After an unbelievable 2021-22 season that saw nine players score 20 or more goals, the offense has seemingly dried up to begin 2022-23. While a majority of the players that produced offensively for them last season have a proven track record in either the NHL or earlier in their careers in the American Hockey League (AHL) or juniors, the most surprising player was Ivan Barbashev. Like most of his teammates, he is off to a slow start offensively and on pace to score 27 points, a far cry from his 60 points in 81 games in 2020-21. However, his start may be indicative of a regression to his career average, proving last season was an anomaly. If that is the case, Blues management would do well to field offers for him before the trade deadline.
During the Blues’ losing streak, general manager Doug Armstrong stated that if his team continues to misfire and fails to produce, changes will be made to the roster. With Barbashev in the final year of his contract and a likely candidate to receive a pay raise above his current $2.25 million salary, he could become a casualty in a trade to motivate the club.
The Start of Barbashev’s Career
Barbashev, 26, was drafted 33rd overall by the Blues in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Making his NHL debut during the 2016-17 season, he found his scoring touch in the final 14 games of the regular season scoring three goals and nine points, while averaging only 13 minutes of ice time each game. Over the following four seasons, he scored 33 goals and 77 points in 240 regular season games. While the opportunity to produce offensively may have not presented itself on a regular basis, as he was often relegated to a bottom-six, grinder-type role, the decision to draft him in the second round became highly contested in a draft that saw a star player like Brayden Point drafted 46 picks later by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Anomaly 2021-22 Season
A large factor that contributed to the offensive breakout this past season came from the departure of long-time Blues forward, Jaden Schwartz. With an opening in the top-six, he saw an uptick of nearly three minutes of ice time per game and consistent opportunities on the power play. While his time and 12 points on the man advantage only accounted for 20 percent of his production, it showed that he could be a viable solution for the team in search of scoring options. Last season, he hit career-highs in nearly every offensive category by producing more shots on goal (plus-0.472) per game, points per game (plus-0.32), shooting percentage (plus-6.1 percent), and time on ice (plus-3:02) that nearly screamed a significant regression was due in 2022-23.
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However, when the postseason began, Barbashev regressed to the postseason player that he has been historically in his career and struggled once again. Despite his 60-point season and offensive breakout, his two points over 12 games kept him true to his career form. In over 50 career postseason games, he has scored only nine points. He, like many members of his team, became one of the key players that failed to produce offensively during the postseason that saw the team bounced in six games against the Colorado Avalanche.
What Are the Blues’ Options With Barbashev?
Despite seeing an average of 15 minutes of ice time this season, along with two minutes of power play time, Barbashev has yet to find his offensive touch, a factor that may not ever come to fruition. While he is not the only forward in St. Louis this year that has seen a slow start, he is one of the tougher players to project what his stat line will read when the final buzzer sounds in April. While the Blues hope that he can return to form and come close to producing 60 points once more, expectations will need to be tempered for his offensive production moving forward.
The Blues are a team that will be under tremendous financial pressure this coming offseason. With team captain Ryan O’Reilly and fellow Russian forward Vladimir Tarasenko also listed as pending free agents, they will have limited funds to bring players back for the 2023-24 season. Barbashev may become one of the easier options for the team to re-sign to a lower-cost contract moving forward. However, should they not see him in their short or long-term plans, will likely search for a trade partner and add to their shallow prospect pool. He may never be a player that produces anywhere close to 60 points again in his career and Armstrong will likely keep that in mind when considering his options for Barbashev’s future.
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.