The weakest link on paper for the St. Louis Blues in 2022-23 is the defensive unit. They kept the same group together with the re-signing of Nick Leddy during the offseason.
It was once an above-average unit that won the Stanley Cup in 2019, but it has become weaker every season since that run. There is a multitude of reasons for their decline and it starts with the management of the core group. The decision to let Alex Pietrangelo walk, the unfortunate ending to Jay Bouwmeester’s career, and a few other events have led to this fall from grace. The unit in 2022-23 will rely on the top-end of the group without any elite defensemen.
Torey Krug – Justin Faulk
This was the most consistent and trustworthy duo for the Blues last season. Both Torey Krug and Justin Faulk have come into their own after struggling early into their tenure in St. Louis. They play different styles, but their chemistry and instincts make them a formidable pairing that head coach Craig Berube leans on.
After struggling in his first season with the Blues, Faulk has become the most consistent and best performer on the back end. He’s only gotten better over the three seasons as a Blue and the numbers prove that. Last season, he played in 76 games and had the second-most goals of his career with 17. He also had 31 assists and 47 total points with an elite plus/minus of plus-41. His plus-41 ranked sixth in the league and was the third-best among defensemen.
As for Krug, despite the trade rumors this summer, he had a quality season in 2021-22 as well. Krug’s defensive game is somewhat underrated, but his main calling is quarterbacking the top power-play unit. The Blues’ power play ranked second in the NHL last season, trailing only the Toronto Maple Leafs. He had 43 points in 64 games last season with 19 points coming on the power play.
Both Faulk and Krug have five seasons left on their contracts and a cap hit of $6.5 million. They can be used in nearly every scenario and Berube has shown lots of trust in them. This pairing will be the most productive on both ends of any that the Blues can throw out there.
Nick Leddy – Colton Parayko
The Blues have been searching for a reliable defensive partner for Colton Parayko since the Bouwmeester retirement. While Nick Leddy was solid after the trade deadline last season, the Blues fell into that trap with Marco Scandella and that has aged poorly.
After signing an eight-year extension before the 2021-22 season, Parayko played an inconsistent 80 games. He showed flashes of his former self but hasn’t been as good or consistent as the Blues had hoped after making him their top shutdown defender. His offensive numbers were nearly as good as they have ever been in 2021-22, but the defensive numbers were lacking. The Blues don’t need offense from him, so using the tools he already has must be a priority to improve his defense for the upcoming season.
As for Leddy, I am skeptical of the four-year deal that the Blues gave him with an annual average value (AAV) of $4 million. The biggest reasons for skepticism are the Scandella mistake and Leddy’s lacking analytics. While Leddy has a lot of tools that fit the Blues style, he hasn’t shown enough for me to trust him for a full season. The Leddy deal also hurt the Blues because they had to let David Perron walk and remain cap strapped on the blue line.
This pairing must prioritize shutting down the opponents’ top lines. They have a chance to work well together and be dynamic, but the coaching staff must deploy them properly.
Scott Perunovich – Robert Bortuzzo
This is an interesting pairing, but I don’t believe the Blues have another choice. They can’t have Scott Perunovich sitting in the press box and Robert Bortuzzo is an excellent fit as the third-pairing defenseman for this team. With this decision, it will put Scandella and Niko Mikkola as healthy scratches and they can thank the moves of general manager Doug Armstrong for that. I still have a strong feeling that one of the five left-handed defensemen on the roster will be moved out before the season begins.
Perunovich should not be traded under any circumstances. He should get quality minutes and a major role on the power play. He is one of the reasons why the Blues were open to trading Krug, his ability to move the puck on the power play is already elite. He only appeared in 19 regular-season games and seven playoff games last season with his impact being evident.
Bortuzzo is simply a useful asset for the Blues as they lack in the depth department with right-handed defensemen. He is a solid penalty killer and terrific shot blocker and that is why the Blues have kept him around for a long time. I could see Mikkola as a fit next to him, but Perunovich has to play as much as possible. I don’t see any scenario where the Blues can justify Scandella playing over the likes of Krug, Leddy, or Perunovich.
Team Success Could Hinge on Blue Line
The Blues may be ready to roll with the defense they have, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right move. It appears likely that a move or two will be made before the season begins with Scandella or Mikkola being potentially expendable assets. Even with Krug and Perunovich being similar players, they are both too valuable to not play for the Blues this season.
A lot of this team’s success will depend on how this unit holds up. I don’t have a lot of confidence in it, but I hope to be proven wrong. This could be another season where the Blues’ offense will have to hold them up and score goals at a high level which is something they did last season.
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Ethan Carter has been writing at The Hockey Writers for over three years now. He also co-hosts The Blue Note Podcast for the Bleav Network, which covers the Blues and the NHL multiple times per week.