Blues Need to Rebuild Amidst Disastrous Season

The St. Louis Blues are 12-15-0 through 27 games this season. This season has been wildly disappointing, to say the least. They’ve had ample opportunity to figure this out and haven’t come close to doing so. There is plenty of blame to go around, but it’s hard not to blame the roster construction for most of their issues. Obviously, there are a lot of players on this roster that are underperforming as well.

While it’s impossible for the Blues to blow this entire thing up, they could still do a serious retool or rebuild. There are far too many long-term contracts with no-trade clauses for them to blow it up. However, this roster has major flaws and there need to be changes made as this season already feels lost.

Blues Need to Trade Rentals and More

This is likely something that won’t happen until after January, but it has to be done. The Blues have three huge rentals in Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly, and Ivan Barbashev. They can’t afford to let them all walk into unrestricted free agency without getting assets in return. There are multiple examples of the Blues losing key players in free agency without getting anything in return. David Perron is the latest example, but they should have re-signed him. The difference is that the Blues are clearly not a Stanley Cup contender this season.

Vladimir Tarasenko St. Louis Blues
Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It starts with Tarasenko, who has been surrounded by trade rumors for over a year. He requested a trade in the offseason before the 2021-22 season, but the Blues held onto him. He was terrific last season with 82 points in 75 games. As for this season, he hasn’t been as consistent with just seven goals in 25 games. Last season, he scored 0.45 goals per game and 1.09 points per game. This season, he’s at 0.28 goals per game and 0.80 points per game. His trade value is still high, as any contender should want to bring him on as a rental. I’d be surprised if general manager Doug Armstrong doesn’t trade him this time. Potential Tarasenko suitors could include the Edmonton Oilers, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders, and others.

The second-best rental is Blues captain O’Reilly. It’s been a wildly uneven start for him, and not in a good way. He has just 14 points in 27 games and nine goals overall. Prior to this season, he had 10 straight seasons of being above 0.40 in assists per game. This season, he’s at 0.19 assists per game. However, given his playoff track record and value as a two-way center, teams should still be calling. In four playoff runs with the Blues, he has 49 points in 51 games and a Conn Smythe Trophy. Teams that could look to trade for O’Reilly are the Oilers, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers, and others. I could see the Dallas Stars or Colorado Avalanche also making a push, but the Blues might try to avoid trading him to a division rival.

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The third rental is Barbashev, who is having an interesting season. After a career year in 2021-22, his numbers are predictably down. He has 12 points in 27 games and a total of four goals. Any team that could use a hard-hitting forward should want to trade for him. Barbashev has a lot of experience with a key role in the 2019 Cup champion team. I assume that any playoff contender will want to trade for him given his experience and low salary cap hit. Outside of the rentals, the Blues should also try to shake the roster up with other trades. The problem is the contracts on their books are ridiculous in terms of years remaining and cap hit. I have to assume that teams would consider trading for Colton Parayko, Torey Krug, Nick Leddy, or Justin Faulk, but likely not until the offseason.

Blues’ Defensive Unit Needs to be Overhauled

While the Blues’ goaltenders have not made enough saves, their defensive unit has been brutal in front of them. This unit was built with major flaws, and I’m not sure how management didn’t see that last season. It’s easy to say that re-signing Leddy was good for stability, but he’s just not a good player anymore. They have over $27 million invested in this below-average defense, which is disastrous. I’m not sure where they start with the overhaul of this defense, but playing Calle Rosen more would help. He’s been the Blues’ best defenseman this season, but don’t tell that to the coaching staff or front office.

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

I think the move that starts the overhaul would be trading Krug in the offseason. They need to get away from his contract, which will run through the 2026-27 season. They can bring in Scott Perunovich to run the power play if he is healthy. Krug’s defense has been rough this season, which should be expected, but the Blues don’t have the personnel around him to make up for it. When he was with the Boston Bruins, they had far better defenders around him to make up for his lack of defensive prowess. It’s hard to see the Blues getting a trade to work for Krug, but they have to try.

After that, I expect that Parayko should be discussed in trade talks. However, I’m not convinced that the Blues would want to trade him. If they can’t see his major flaws as a defender now, they never will. He’s not the player that they wanted him to be, and they’re paying for it with an eight-year contract that runs through 2029-30. The same can be said for Leddy, but his deal is only for four years. He’s a below-average defender with good skating ability. If I were Armstrong, I would try very hard to move at least two of these large contracts on the blue line. Also, Marco Scandella should not play another game for this team. A change in philosophy would also help them, as they need to bring in personnel that can defend within a structure. The bottom line: the Blues need to fix this defense and it starts with shipping players out.

Armstrong Deserves Plenty of Blame

On top of the coaching staff and players, there should be criticism for Armstrong as well. He built this team and handed out bloated contracts with no-trade clauses in almost every single one. He deserves a long leash for the success that he’s had with the Blues, winning the Cup in 2019. But there have been a number of moves made by him since 2019 that make zero sense. The extensions for players like Parayko, Scandella, Brayden Schenn, Jordan Binnington, and others don’t look good. He’s been good with trades, but uneven in free agency. The trade for Pavel Buchnevich was brilliant, but the signings of Krug and Brandon Saad have had mixed results.

St. Louis Blues Doug Armstrong
St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff Roberson)

I don’t understand why he thought that re-signing Leddy was the proper move. It reeks of the Scandella extension, which has been a disaster from the start. He has made it nearly impossible for the Blues to do a proper rebuild around Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou with the disastrous contracts he’s handed out. The best thing he can do now is trade rentals and other contracts to go through a retool, where they might not be bad enough to get a legitimate draft pick inside the top seven or so. But there are multiple immovable contracts on the books right now, which makes things much more difficult. It’s a brutal situation for Armstrong to be in, but he put himself there.

I don’t think the Blues will contend for the next three seasons or so after 2022-23. They need to revamp their roster and build around Thomas and Kyrou in the best way possible. As I mentioned, it will be difficult with the number of bad contracts that they can’t move, but something has to be done. I certainly don’t think that a coaching change would fix any of this either. But the Blues must realize that they aren’t contenders right now and blowing it up as much as possible will only help them in the future.

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