For the St. Louis Blues, it has been an offseason filled with rumors and nothing to show for it. The team is now worse on paper and that will likely show on the ice when the 2022-23 season begins.
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong continues to lean on his veterans despite their bad contracts and no-trade clauses. This plan doesn’t seem like it will work out, but I could be wrong.
Blues Lose Out on Tkachuk Trade
On Saturday, the Florida Panthers traded Jonathan Huberdeau, defenseman Mackenzie Weegar, prospect Cole Schwindt, and a 2025 first-round pick to the Calgary Flames for Matthew Tkachuk and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2024. This is a package that the Blues could not have matched, but nor did they seem to try.
According to The Athletic, “One source said the Blues’ proposal included Vladimir Tarasenko, Marco Scandella and a high draft pick; the team officially declined comment” (from ‘Matthew Tkachuk on picking Panthers over hometown Blues: ‘Could I have pictured myself there? Yes,’ The Athletic, 7/24/22). If that’s true, then the Blues must have known they never had a chance. Yes, Armstrong must trade Scandella and capitalize on Tarasenko’s value, but they should not have been considered cornerstones of this deal.
It doesn’t seem like the Blues were all that interested in bringing Tkachuk home, especially with that offer – it wasn’t even close to what the Flames got from the Panthers. I understand Armstrong didn’t want to blow his team up for one player, but a stronger effort would have gone over much better.
Blues Must Trade a Left-Handed Defenseman
The Blues have four to five left-handed defensemen, so they must make trading one of them a priority. Trading Scandella’s contract is the clear-cut choice here, as he has two years left with a cap hit of $3.275 million. He has been one of the Blues’ worst defensemen over the last two seasons, and the options ahead of him, mainly Torey Krug, Nick Leddy, and Scott Perunovich, deserve to play instead.
While Scandella has a no-trade clause of eight teams, there are 24 other teams to work with on a deal, and if it comes down to a simple cap dump, the Blues must be able to part ways with a second or third-round pick to get this contract off the books.
It would be a massive mistake if the Blues trade Krug or Perunovich and keep Scandella. They are clearly valuable to the success of this team, they provide an offensive skill that nobody else on the backend can provide, with the exception of Justin Faulk. The Blues might consider moving Niko Mikkola as well, but he’s a quality depth defenseman who can plug holes if necessary. The bottom line is that the Blues need to trade Scandella, and the time to get it done is now.
Projecting the Blues’ Current 2022-23 Lineup
The Blues can still put together a solid lineup for the 2022-23 season, but there is no denying that they are worse on paper now than last season. I still consider them a playoff team, but their upside is a bit lower than what it would be if different moves were made. The lineup below is based on projections and part of what they worked with last season. (In parenthesis is the 2021-22 offensive stats of each player.)
|LW Pavel Buchnevich (30 goals, 46 assists, 76 points)||C Robert Thomas (20g, 57a, 77p)||RW Vladimir Tarasenko (34g, 48a, 82p)|
|LW Brandon Saad (24g, 25a, 49p)||C Ryan O’Reilly (21g, 37a, 58p)||RW Jordan Kyrou (27g, 48a, 75p)|
|LW Jake Neighbours (1g, 1a, 2p)||C Brayden Schenn (24g, 34a, 58p)||RW Ivan Barbashev (26g, 34a, 60p)|
|LW Klim Kostin (4g, 5a, 9p)||C Noel Acciari (3g, 5a, 8p)||RW Nathan Walker (8g, 4a, 12p)|
|LD Torey Krug (9g, 34a, 43p)||RD Justin Faulk (16g, 31a, 47p)|
|LD Nick Leddy (2g, 6a, 8p)||RD Colton Parayko (6g, 29a, 35p)|
|LD Scott Perunovich (0g, 6a, 6p)||RD Robert Bortuzzo (1g, 5a, 6p)|
|Jordan Binnington (18-14-4 record, .901 save percentage (SV%))|
|Thomas Greiss (10-15-1 record, .891 SV%)|
Source: Hockey Reference
The offense looks solid, but some of these players won’t repeat what they did last season, and the team is still weak defensively, with less than stellar goaltending. The expectations should remain that they are a playoff team, but they have some major weaknesses. The keys here are making sure that Jake Neighbours gets a role in the top nine and that Perunovich gets worthy playing time.
The best moves the Blues can make now are trading Scandella and exploring the trade market for Tarasenko. Other than that, it seems as though they are comfortable going into the 2022-23 season with this roster. It’s a big gamble by Armstrong, but he’s been an elite general manager for many seasons, and he still deserves some trust.