The 2018-19 St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup Championship, the first in the history of the franchise. But, naturally, some players made a bigger contribution than others. In this series, we’ll look at the Blues’ star players, and see who made the grade and who needs to retake the test.
If any single player totally encapsulated the strange 2018-19 season for the St. Louis Blues, it was defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. He was unidentifiable through the first months of the season, every bit the embarrassment as the team was as a whole. But as the season progressed, his play continually improved.
By season’s end, he looked as good as he had in years, and he was critical in helping the franchise capture its first ever Stanley Cup. It was enough to earn Bouwmeester a contract extension, but was it enough to earn him top marks on his report card?
A Dreadful Start
The season could not have started worse for Bouwmeester. Recovering from offseason hip surgery, and not recovering quickly enough, he looked like a shell of his former self. The third overall draft pick from 2002 looked his age or worse. In the first two months of the season, he was one of the worst players on a terrible team.
It quickly became clear that Bouwmeester was not 100 percent healthy. In his first 20 games, he was a minus-10 with only two assists and 16 penalty minutes. His name was constantly on the tip of fans’ tongues when looking for scapegoats for the team’s paltry start. And apparently it wasn’t only fans. After he regained form late in the season, Elliotte Friedman reported that Bouwmeester was as close as one game away from being placed on waivers at the low point of the season.
As the team started to improve, so did its veteran defenseman. By the time of the trade deadline, when it was uncertain whether the Blues would be buyers or sellers, Bouwmeester was a potential trade chip. But some began to wonder whether the Blues should re-sign their blueliner.
Bouwmeester and Parayko
Bouwmeester truly began to find his form when head coach Craig Berube and defensive coach Mike Van Ryn paired him more consistently with Colton Parayko. The dwarf of the pairing at just 6-foot-4, Bouwmeester provided the younger Parayko with a veteran presence. Together, the two became the shutdown line for the Blues.
Standing on each other’s shoulders, the two defenders would be 13 feet tall. Standing side by side on the ice, they were an impassable defensive force. They dominated their opposition and constantly shutdown opposing scoring threats, including the “Perfection Line” of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak in the Stanley Cup Final.
Not only had Bouwmeester made himself irreplaceable defensively, he had also upped his offensive game, too. Even after leaving November with only two points, he finished the season with 17, his second highest total in five seasons. Despite severely limited minutes in the first third of the season, he finished averaging 20:44 a game, higher than his total from the season prior.
Bouwmeester entered the postseason on fire. He also entered as the leader in regular season games played without a Stanley Cup Final appearance. He had never played in a playoff game before he arrived in St. Louis, and he had only played in 49 such games in his career prior to this berth.
Buoyed by his second half resurgence and with a brand new contract in hand, Bouwmeester was determined not to let another opportunity slip through his grasp. While Joe Thornton and other veterans stole the headlines, he quietly worked for his opportunity to lift the Stanley Cup for the very first time.
The partnership with Parayko continued, and the stalwart pairing were in top form throughout the postseason. Bouwmeester played all 26 games, collecting seven more assists, averaging 23:30 time on ice, and finishing as a plus-nine. That tied him with Jaden Schwartz for first on the Blues. Most importantly, he secured the ultimate prize, the long-awaited Stanley Cup.
Without question, Bouwmeester was not completely healthy to start the season. But it would be unfair to blame him for the team’s decision to deploy him too often and too early. When he began to recover, he was a critical difference maker that helped the team on their way to a Stanley Cup.
Despite the poor start, Bouwmeester finished with one of his greatest seasons in recent memory. He formed an unstoppable partnership with Colton Parayko and put the greatest demon of his career to bed. Now, the two-time All Star, longtime iron man, and five time Canadian gold medalist can finally add “Stanley Cup Champion” to his incredible resume.