The St. Louis Blues saw a multitude of success in the regular season during their 2021-22 campaign. From the production of nine players scoring 20 or more goals, to the breakout of forward Robert Thomas and the performance of goaltender Ville Husso, the team may be in line for some regression in 2022-23. Let’s take a look at four players who will be under the microscope to repeat or increase their performance from last season.
The 2021-22 season was a year to remember for Ivan Barbashev. After consistent third and fourth line deployment, he saw an increased workload this past year following the departure of Sammy Blais, Mike Hoffman, and Jaden Schwartz. Over the first five years of his NHL career, he recorded 42 goals and 89 points over 270 regular season games, while averaging 12:26 of time on ice. This past season, his increased role resulted in a career-high 26 goals and 60 points over 81 games while averaging 16:26 of time on ice. With the Russian in his final year of a two-year contract extension, the pressure may begin to mount on the 26-year-old to determine what kind of a player he will be moving forward.
This past year, Barbashev consistently saw an upgrade in his linemates as he was surrounded by the likes of Thomas, Pavel Buchnevich, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Ryan O’Reilly. When looking at his career averages before the 2021-22 season, it is easy to be skeptical that he could replicate the same level of play and point production. Over the last three seasons, he has recorded 98 points, 61 percent of which came from last season alone. When compared to his career as a whole, he shot at a 6.1% higher shooting rate than the 17.3% he recorded over his first five years in the league.
While Barbashev may have the skill and ability to continue his high level of play moving forward, there is reason to be skeptical and pessimistic about the upcoming season. Without a doubt, he will be under the microscope throughout 2022-23.
The first goaltender to bring the city of St. Louis a Stanley Cup, Jordan Binnington has been a shell of himself at times over the three seasons since. After recording a 24-5-1 record in the regular season of the 2018-19 Cup run, he has recorded a 66-41-19 record with a 2.75 goals against average (GAA) and a .908 save percentage (SV%), while saving 0.1 goals above average (GSAA). This past season, he saw his starting role stolen by Husso until he was able to reclaim it once more near the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. The postseason gave fans and the organization confidence once more in the starting netminder as he recorded a 4-1 record, a 1.72 GAA, a .949 SV%., and a 6.4 GSAA rating.
Over the offseason, the Blues and Detroit Red Wings agreed to send Husso in a trade in exchange for the 73rd overall draft pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. The trade was a sign to Binnington, the organization, and the fans that the net belonged to him once more. The Blues then signed veteran goaltender Thomas Greiss to back up the 29-year-old, once again showing confidence and job security. As such, Binnington will have his work cut out for him to prove that he can handle the workload during the regular season and postseason.
The franchise’s first-round draft choice of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft has yet to make his mark on the NHL and time may be running out for him to do so. At the young age of 23, Klim Kostin has only played in 46 NHL games over three seasons, 40 of which came during the 2021-22 campaign. After scoring two goals in his season debut against the Arizona Coyotes, it took him 30 games more to score his third goal. In that span, he recorded four assists and averaged just over nine minutes of ice time per game.
Kostin and the Blues came to a one-year agreement after a year in which he played 40 games in the NHL, recording four goals and five assists (nine points). Midway through the season, he was demoted to the American Hockey League (AHL), where he played for the club’s minor league affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds. He scored three goals and three assists in 17 regular season games and eight points (four goals, four assists) in 18 Calder Cup Playoff games. Throughout training camp and preseason, he will have players like Jake Neighbours, Nathan Walker, Logan Brown, and Josh Leivo all pushing for ice time which could force him out of the lineup should he experience a dip in performance.
Only two years after the Blues signed Torey Krug to a seven-year deal worth $45.5 million, it is hard to believe that he would already be subject to trade rumors. Initially brought in with the expectation that he would partner with Colton Parayko, he has never found the right chemistry and ability to take on the role that would require him to play top-pairing minutes. Over the last two seasons, he and fellow defenseman Justin Faulk have found a chemistry that has made them into one of the consistent pairings on the team’s blue line. However, with the emergence of 23-year-old Scott Perunovich, the status and security in St. Louis for a player like Krug has come into question.
The 5-foot-9 defenseman may be undersized by NHL standards but he can still move the puck well because of his terrific passing abilities. He’s also not one to shy away from blocking shots or a physical battle. However, he is a player that is on an expensive contract worth $6.5 million each year until the end of the 2026-27 season. To add another wrinkle to any potential trade conversation, he has a no-trade clause until the final two seasons when it becomes a 15-team no-trade clause.
Each of the listed players could perform extremely well for the Blues this coming season and contribute to significant roles in the overall success throughout the season. However, each of these players could also cause the team to experience significant troubles, resulting in at least one being traded by the start of the 2023-24 season.