The 2022-23 season has not been good through nine games for the St. Louis Blues. They’ve lost six games in a row and are 3-6-0 on the season. Tougher opponents are ahead in the month of November, including tilts with the Boston Bruins and Vegas Golden Knights next week.
This has been an eye-opening season for the Blues, it’s safe to say that few people saw this ineptitude coming. A lot of their issues have come from poor communication and chemistry, something that shouldn’t be happening for this team.
Related: Blues Problems Go Well Beyond O’Reilly
With the Blues’ turmoil comes a fan base that is not pleased with how their team is performing, and rightfully so. I reached out to fans on Twitter to get their questions for this mailbag. I’ve also enlisted our Blues team at The Hockey Writers to help with the answers. Here are the answers to the questions from myself, Stephen Ground, Marcus Ashpaugh, and Mike Meyer.
What Would Have to Go Right for the Blues for Them to Be a Consistently Competitive Team for Many Years to Come?
It feels like they’re a long way away from that, given their start to the season in 2022-23 and their salary cap table. General manager Doug Armstrong has tied himself into way too much money for the foreseeable future on players that aren’t worth it. Not to mention, the Blues’ prospect situation, especially in net, is not ideal. They’d have to get a better defensive structure and unit combined with players performing up to their standard for them to be competitive much longer. But they need to make some hard decisions on the future of the franchise and that won’t be easy.
My pessimistic side says they’re way past any hope of that. The Blues’ defensive contract situation is so bad, there’s really no hope of improving it, and they have no defenders in our pipeline whatsoever who could potentially make an impact on the cheap. If I’m forced to be an optimist, I’d say this: pay whatever you have to unload one of your big defensive contracts. Trade whichever expiring contracts you don’t plan to keep and prioritize getting a high-quality defensive prospect in return. Then watch a younger core grow around Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou as your older guys settle into more limited veteran roles. But I think it’s a long shot.
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It’s pretty simple for me. They need the players that are getting paid and have no trade clauses within their lengthy contracts to perform. Colton Parayko, Torey Krug, Justin Faulk, Nick Leddy, Brayden Schenn, Pavel Buchnevich, Thomas, Kyrou, Brandon Saad, and Jordan Binnington are all locked up for at least the next four seasons with varying no-trade clauses (NTC) among them. That core will likely remain mostly intact for the next few years, with many of them currently vastly underperforming.
Free up some cap space. This is a team that has proven its ability to remain competitive while drafting mid-way through the draft year over year. While this is not a sustainable success model, it is something that Armstrong has proven he excels in. The biggest key moving forward will then be his (and the front office and ownership) ability to limit long-term contracts for aging players.
How Do the Blues Unload Krug? Too Expensive, Injury Prone, and Too Small to Be Effective D-Man.
I’m not sure they can, he hasn’t produced well enough to live up to the contract. He was rumored to be on the block over the summer, but it never felt like they would make a move. They would likely need to trade extra assets or retain salary to trade him. He’ll have four years left after this season, and he’s making $6.5 million. Not many teams in the NHL will want to take on a contract like that for a player like Krug, who has never stayed healthy for a full season.
Krug was good in 2021-22, but that hasn’t carried over for him or anybody through the first nine games of this season. It has never felt like he was a good fit in head coach Craig Berube’s system, but that’s another story for another day. To sum up my answer to the question, I don’t think they can unload Krug.
They don’t, probably. Maybe there’s room for a rebuilding Bruins team that will likely be starting some kind of rebuild next year to bring him back as a fan favorite, but even if the Blues did that, it would cost them a lot. With Parayko, Krug, Leddy, and to a lesser extent Faulk, they are locked into long, costly defensive contracts that will be nearly impossible to unload. But I disagree, he’s too small to be an effective defenseman. As a Blue, he’s done what he has done throughout his career: elite offensive defenseman who is below average defensively. That can work in the right system, just not the Blues system.
I’m not sure it would be possible right now unless you find someone willing to swap bad contracts, and both teams hope to recoup something of value. Unfortunately, with his contract currently running through 2026-27, I don’t see a way it could happen unless his game somehow takes off. If it does, then the team is likely playing well and wouldn’t be looking to offload him anyhow.
Man isn’t that the $32.5 million question? He’s played well (to some extent) but hasn’t been the top-pairing defenseman that this team has needed. The Blues lack a true number-one defenseman, and while Faulk has been playing that role well, I’m not sure he can sustain it for a long period of time, let alone multiple seasons. Krug would need to 1) waive his NTC and 2) likely be paired with a prospect or two in order to take on his contract. Either that or the Blues take on some money in return. I’m not sure if he would be willing to move to a non-contender, so the options will be slim. If the cap moves the projected $4.5m this offseason like it is rumored it could, the Blues will have a better chance at making it happen
Is There a Point on the Calendar if They Don’t Show Signs of Turning It Around That You Say Blow It Up?
The usual NHL trend is American Thanksgiving, which is Nov. 24 this year. But I would extend that slightly further and say that the middle of December is the time to blow it up if things are still this poor. One thing that the Blues have on their side is that the top of the Western Conference is littered with a few overperforming teams, like the Chicago Blackhawks and Seattle Kraken.
The Blues would likely be looking to trade Ryan O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, Ivan Barbashev, and others in the case that they blow it up at the trade deadline this season. The value of those players, with the exception of Tarasenko, is slipping with how the season has begun. The Blues almost did this in the 2018-19 season, but they turned it around and the rest is history. I can promise you that it won’t happen the same way in 2019. The Blues need to get something in return for their players on expiring contracts, which starts with Tarasenko. It’s sad to even think about, but a long and painful rebuild could be on the way.
I’m eyeballing Christmas as the make-or-break time. If they are still struggling at all, even a fringe playoff team, they have to rip the bandaid off and make some changes. They cannot afford to go into an offseason risking losing Tarasenko, O’Reilly, and Barbashev for nothing. It is completely not an option. Honestly, it might not be an option even if they are a playoff team. This team stayed relevant and became a Stanley Cup winner by Armstrong making tough decisions to trade Kevin Shattenkirk and others when he had a fringe playoff team that he knew wasn’t a serious contender. He seems to have lost that killer instinct recently. He needs to get it back.
I would say around Christmas and the New Year if they’re not able to turn the season around before then. By that point, most teams know what they are. From what we’re seeing right now, I don’t think this team would have the capability to flip the season on its head as they did in 2018-19. If you’re able to get out ahead of the trade market sometime in January, that may be the best way for this team to maximize any return. I do agree that I would rather this team blow it up and try for a higher lottery pick than fight for a final playoff spot just to likely get bounced in the first round.
Thanksgiving is the point in the year that the Blues will have played 19 games (23%) of their games. That final Wednesday the 23rd to Monday the 28th will see the guys take on the Buffalo Sabres, Tampa Bay Lighting, Florida Panthers, and Dallas Stars, all teams that have been playing well this season and will be an excellent measuring stick for the team. It will still leave ~75% of the season and time to make some adjustments (should Armstrong be able to pull something off).
Blues Could Be Headed for a Rebuild
The easy takeaway from this mailbag is that the Blues could be headed for a rebuild. They’ve played terribly to start the season, and there is no fix in sight. They have too much money invested into a flawed and underperforming roster on top of the term for each player being longer than it should be. As we all noted in our answers, it’s obvious that the Blues should make serious changes, and seller moves at the deadline if they don’t turn it around.
After losing David Perron to free agency for nothing, they can’t do that again this season. There is no change in sight for this team, they haven’t played well. They aren’t going to make a coaching change with Berube, so the only other option is making trades which will more than likely happen. It’s an unfortunate start to the season, but a rebuild is likely coming, and everybody knew this day would eventually come. It’s just a surprise that it’s already happening.