St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong made a difficult decision this offseason. Evaluating a team that had exploded the season prior offensively but struggled in front of its own net, he had to choose between two unrestricted free agents (UFAs) to keep on his team. One was a relative newcomer, Nick Leddy, whom Armstrong acquired from the Detroit Red Wings in the closing minutes of the trade deadline. The other was a beloved fan favorite, David Perron, who had played for five different NHL teams at that point in his career but only ever signed a contract with the Blues.
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With a salary cap crunch of his own making (made more difficult by the flat cap ceiling) to overcome, Armstrong decided he could only afford to keep one of the two. Identifying help on defense as the team’s biggest need, he chose to keep Leddy, allowing Perron to sign with Detroit. Now, six games into the season, the wisdom of that decision is already being put to the test for a host of reasons. Let’s look at each of them in turn.
Perron’s Hot Start
Like a fine wine, Perron just seems to get better with age. Now in his age-34 season, he’s playing for his sixth team, he’s bringing a much-wanted veteran presence to a Red Wings team desperate to get over the hump and back into serious playoff contention. Seven games into the season, he has already managed four goals, including two game-winners and a three-point game against the Los Angeles Kings.
Obviously, Perron won’t continue on a nearly-47 goal pace. But early returns certainly suggest that the Blues were not passing on damaged goods in letting him leave. No one in St. Louis believed that they were. He is still a highly-effective hockey player who provides huge value to his team (as his 57 points in 67 games last season demonstrates). But the hot start makes the Blues’ struggles offensively an even more bitter pill to swallow.
Blues Short Handed, Struggling Offensively
One of the reasons Armstrong probably felt comfortable moving on from Perron was his team’s seeming abundance of talent on offense. After all, the Blues had nine players score 20-plus goals in the 2021-22 season. But as so often seems to happen in these situations, that depth is already being tested. The Blues are currently missing two key forwards, both part of last season’s 20-goal club, Pavel Buchnevich and Brandon Saad. Buchnevich played game one and was quickly reported as day-to-day, but the issue is lingering, and he has since been transferred to the injured reserve. Saad is also listed as day-to-day but has been missing in all three of the team’s recent losses.
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In addition to players who are missing from injury, there are those who are just plain missing. Jordan Kyrou — fresh off signing a hefty eight-year extension — has had a rocky start to the year and is drawing the ire of the Blues faithful. He only has one goal, as does team captain Ryan O’Reilly. The eight 20-goal scorers who remain with the team this season have combined for just nine tallies through the first six games. Perron’s four goals certainly would make a major difference for the Blues. But their biggest struggles might not even be in the offensive zone.
St. Louis Defense Still in Shambles
Though Leddy isn’t the sole issue, it appears that his return has done little to mollify the team’s problems in its own end. The Blues have played only six games, so it is difficult to measure like-for-like with other teams. But right now, they are eighth-worst in the league in both expected goals for percentage (xGF%) and high-danger chances for percentage (HDCF%). Neither exclusively measures offense, but both suggest that the ice has been heavily tilted toward the Blues’ net this season. And while Leddy may not be to blame, he clearly has not helped to improve the team’s blueline substantially.
Thursday’s game was the team’s worst performance of the season, allowing six goals to the rival Nashville Predators on the road. All five goals scored on goaltender Thomas Greiss (the sixth was scored against an empty net) were scored from in close, with defenders failing to box out the opposition. Leddy was only a minus-1, while Justin Faulk and Torey Krug were minus-3. Again, the blame cannot be placed on Leddy alone, or even primarily. But he also has not proven to be the solution to the problems on defense, and that means it is still up for debate whether it was wise to sign him at all.
Too Soon To Tell for Armstrong
Ultimately, it is far too soon to tell whether Armstrong made the right call in letting Perron leave and signing Leddy. But it certainly proves how hard the job of an NHL general manager can be. In letting Perron leave, Armstrong bucked the fan’s desires and moved on from a beloved franchise favorite. That’s the kind of decision you have to get right. Six games is far too small a sample size to condemn his conclusion, but the early returns are certainly troubling. The Blues need a big win against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday to turn the ship around.