Not to get ahead of anything here, but this is an important offseason to come for the St. Louis Blues. They’ll likely make the playoffs, but there are still significant decisions to make for the future of the franchise this summer.
Last summer, they made splash moves by trading for Pavel Buchnevich from the New York Rangers and signing veteran forward Brandon Saad to a great deal. Their priorities will be different this summer with two major decisions to make and another issue to figure out.
What’s Next for Husso and Binnington?
The biggest story of the Blues season in 2021-22 has been the goaltending, with Ville Husso being the superior netminder for the majority of the season after a poor 2020-21 season. As for Jordan Binnington, he’s struggled mightily in his first season of a six-year contract with an annual average value of $6 million.
There is a big gap between these two with their numbers, and Husso has become the starter over the last month or so. A lot of it comes down to the confidence advantage for Husso over Binnington right now and the defense in front of them has been questionable. There is a strong argument to be made for the defense being worse in front of Binnington, and it’s likely accurate.
|Save Percentage (SV%)||.924||.899|
|Quality Starts (QS%)||20 (.625)||12 (.387)|
As the above table shows, the numbers aren’t close between the two and it’s been that way throughout the majority of the season. Binnington has struggled for almost the entirety of the season, his QS% has never been below .500 out of 121 starts in his career before this season. Husso could be having a one-off season, there is a chance he comes back down to earth next season, given the history of goaltending in the sport itself.
As for this offseason, Husso will become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) and is sure to have a ton of legitimate suitors. The only way that the Blues retain Husso is likely trading Binnington, which was rumored that they called teams about him before the trade deadline. I think if the gap in their play continues this way, it would be hard for the Blues to justify Binnington as their starter next season, but that extension will be tough to trade with his stats right now. Either way, this is the most important decision of the season, and it’ll be interesting to see how general manager Doug Armstrong approaches it.
What Changes Are Made to the Defensive Unit?
The weakest part of the 2021-22 Blues is their defensive unit and its lack of defense. They’ve had some bright spots with Torey Krug and Justin Faulk, but it’s been bleak after that. Colton Parayko and Marco Scandella have mostly regressed this season, although Parayko has had his bright spots. Their trade deadline acquisition Nick Leddy has been solid but doesn’t appear to be a long-term fit in St. Louis.
The options in free agency this summer for the Blues to add a defenseman will be there, as will the trade options. One priority this summer should be getting rid of the Scandella contract, which can happen via trade. Veterans like Erik Gudbranson or Ben Chiarot could be options at the right price, especially since the Blues won’t have the cap space without maneuvers to spend heavy money in free agency.
Trade options remain similar to what they’ve been for the last year, Jakob Chychrun of the Arizona Coyotes would be the big swing option for the Blues. Chychrun is only 24 years old and has a cap hit of $4.6 million for four more seasons after the 2021-22 season. The Blues would have to rid of the Scandella contract and pay a hefty price, but Chychrun does make sense for this blue line that already has virtually three right-handed defensemen locked in.
Overall, this is the number one biggest need to address this summer and I believe that the Blues’ front office knows that. They can worry less about the goaltending situation if they improve their defense, they must address both situations regardless.
Will They Extend Any Forwards?
The Blues have four forwards who will have contracts that expire after the 2022-23 season, and getting out in front of an extension could make sense for some of them. With Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas, both emerging as stars this season, getting them tied to the team for multiple more seasons to come makes sense. They could get matching cap hits as they both have now at $2.8 million.
Thomas has become one of the best playmakers in the NHL, with 16 goals and 44 assists for 60 points in 60 games. Once he figures out his defensive game and emerges as a two-way forward, he will be one of the most valuable forwards in the league. Kyrou was an All-Star this season and has shown his elite speed and skill, which has propelled him to 23 goals and 63 points in 63 games. Both of them are at exactly a point-per-game, so it’s been an enormous breakout season for the two future faces of the franchise.
As for the other two extension possibilities, it’s Ryan O’Reilly and Ivan Barbashev, who have expiring deals after the 2022-23 season as well. O’Reilly has just 47 points in 66 games, but his value to the Blues remains fairly high. He does a lot for this team, and even with many struggles this season, his faceoff percentage (FO%) is an above-average 56.7. The Blues likely don’t want to lose a third captain to free agency in less than a decade as well, but I think they’ll wait until after the 2022-23 season to negotiate this one.
Barbashev has had a breakout season with 22 goals and 50 points in 69 games. More than anything, he’s been reliable and has played every game but one. His current cap hit is $2.25 million and he is likely to get a massive raise when his next contract comes around. The Blues could look to lock him down to a more reasonable deal than he may get with another productive season. The Blues need to balance out their cap structure as they have paid a lot of money combined with term to their defensive unit.
This is a massive offseason looming for the Blues, as some of the teams in the Western Conference continue to rise to elite status, the Blues must stay afloat and contend. The decisions to be made are franchise-altering in some respects, there is no doubt about it.
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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.