The St. Louis Blues enter the 2022-23 season as one of the best teams in the Western Conference. They retained the majority of last season’s roster that had 109 points and advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
There are fewer questions with the 2022-23 roster than last season. That is due to the known commodities on the roster already. Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou breaking out are a large part of that certainty. However, there are still a few burning questions that must be asked before the season begins.
1. Who Replaces the Production of Perron?
The most significant free agent to depart from the Blues was David Perron. Over the past four seasons, he has been consistently productive while playing top-six minutes. He signed a two-year contract with the Detroit Red Wings that carries an annual average value (AAV) of $4.75 million. The contract is one that the Blues could have matched if they weren’t so strapped for salary cap space. They chose defenseman Nick Leddy over Perron despite the production. The loss of Perron shows how desperate the Blues are for defensive consistency, even if Leddy can’t provide that.
The Blues didn’t bring in any players that will replace Perron in the lineup. They will rely on their organizational depth to fill the void that he leaves. Kyrou is going to have the best opportunity to play more with the exit of Perron. He’s bound to play with Ryan O’Reilly and Brandon Saad this season which means he will get more ice time than he did in 2021-22.
If Kyrou can score 75 points in 74 games while being seventh among Blues forwards in ice time, then the sky is the limit for him. The team needs a winger to complement O’Reilly like Perron did. Kyrou and Saad could both be options for that role as each one of them play a different style. The roster shift also means that the Blues will rely more on their top six. They don’t have the same bottom six that they did last season and it’s worse on paper.
Losing Perron is significant, but it’s nothing that they can’t overcome. The diverse mix of forwards will help lessen the blow, but that doesn’t mean they won’t miss what he brought on the ice. It’s safe to say that the forward group will look different, but that could end up being for the best.
2. Who Leads the Defensive Unit?
The plan was always for Colton Parayko to take the reigns from Alex Pietrangelo as the leader of the Blues’ defensive unit. That hasn’t happened, which leaves them to rely on a collective group rather than a leader for the most part. They haven’t had a lot of success on the blue line since the Stanley Cup victory in 2019. That can change in the 2022-23 season, but a strong leader must appear.
I think Justin Faulk is the best defenseman that the Blues have and it’s not close. He has been as consistent as they come over the past two seasons. He has played 11 seasons and has proven to be a leader for this team when he is needed in that role. All of this is why I believe Faulk is the perfect option to lead the defensive unit.
Players like Parayko and Torey Krug are other options, but I haven’t seen the same consistency or leadership from them in the last couple of seasons. The good thing for the Blues is that they have plenty of veterans on the blue line, which means that they don’t lack options. But the only way that they improve is by having a strong leader and it looks like Faulk or bust to me.
3. What Version of Binnington Shows Up?
The majority of the success for the 2022-23 Blues will rely on Jordan Binnington. He struggled last season, but he was picked up by the fantastic play of Ville Husso. They likely won’t have that same luxury with Husso gone, which means that Binnington will have to be much better. Thomas Greiss is not a trustworthy option to pick Binnington up when he’s down.
Binnington was tremendous in the playoffs last season before it was cut short. He had a save percentage (SV%) of .949 in six games before the injury that took him out. However, the regular season was a different story for him. He struggled mightily with a SV% of .901 and goals-against average (GAA) of 3.13. The startling stat for Binnington last season was his goals saved above average (GSAA). The GSAA stat takes into account the SV% and shots faced versus the league average. Binnington’s GSAA in 2021-22 was minus-6.4 which was ranked 49th among goaltenders.
The defensive unit in front of Binnington is not good at preventing high-danger chances. He will need to return to his regular season form in 2018-19 or 2019-20 for it to be labeled a success. I believe that he can do this, but it’s going to take a lot of confidence and help in front of him to get it done. The good thing is that the Blues can score a lot of goals to make up for any goaltending shortcomings. Either way, Binnington has to be better than he was in the 2021-22 regular season.
The Blues Will Be Good
Their roster will be quite similar to what it was last season, where they went 49-22-11. They will be the favorites to finish second in the Central Division with the Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars possibly standing in their way. The bottom line is that they will be a good team, but the answers to these questions will determine how good.