Reshaping the St. Louis Blues’ Defense

It’s well documented that the St. Louis Blues are a good team in the NHL. It’s also well documented that the Blues have flaws and a major need in the defensive part of the game.

Related: St. Louis Blues: 3 Trade Deadline Targets

It’s clear that it will be difficult for them to make a move, but it can be done with some clever maneuvers from general manager Doug Armstrong. There are still positive takeaways with some of the defensemen on this team but a lot of negatives as well.

Krug and Faulk Are the Anchors

The contracts of both Torey Krug and Justin Faulk are part of why they are the anchors, but they’ve also clearly been the best defensive pairing for them this season. They are both under contract with the Blues, at a $6.5 million cap hit, until the end of the 2026-27 season.

Justin Faulk St. Louis Blues
Justin Faulk, St. Louis Blues (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images),

They are both better when they play together, so this is the only pairing that is seemingly set in stone. Just a few seasons ago, these two were playing with Eastern Conference franchises, and now they are the defensive anchors of a team that won the Stanley Cup in 2019. It’s crazy to think about the evolution of Faulk from year one to year three with the Blues, he has improved so much. Krug has also played much better in his second season wearing the note, he’s been much more like himself.

While plus/minus isn’t always a great stat to reference, the two leaders for the Blues this season are Faulk at plus-30 and Krug at plus-21. They’ve had the biggest impact on the back-end for the Blues this season, it’s not close.

They also lead the Blues’ blueline in points this season, Krug with 28 and Faulk with 22, both nearing their St. Louis career highs. Their play certainly makes Armstrong and the front office look better, but their contracts could still be rough to watch in a few seasons.

Mikkola and Perunovich Have Shown Flashes

Although neither of them has played the entire season with the Blues due to injuries and COVID list stints, both Niko Mikkola and Scott Perunovich have shown flashes of being NHLers.

Scott Perunovich St. Louis Blues
Scott Perunovich, St. Louis Blues (Photo by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Mikkola has always had the potential to be a top-six defenseman, but he has really emerged in spots this season. He has always had the size with his 6-foot-4 frame, but his physicality is underrated too. He has had some struggles in recent weeks, but that will happen. He had only played 35 games before this season, which was for way fewer minutes than he has played in 33 games of 2021-22.

Perunovich has been the gem of the Blues’ prospect pool for the last few seasons, with his Hobey Baker winning season at Minnesota Duluth for the best College hockey player. Before an injury and some other issues, he had a steady 19 games with six assists. He is clearly offensively driven, with the ability to defend and make smart plays, he’s just a steady defenseman. Once he gets more acclimated to the league and gets more minutes, he could be a staple of the blueline for many seasons to come.

Either way, both of these players are likely to be a big part of the defensive unit’s future. They are both unique and play different styles, and they’ll have low cap hits for at least the next three seasons. Quality defensive depth is one of the key aspects of the current version of the NHL, the Blues have that in some ways, and it shows in one way with Mikkola’s emergence.

Parayko and Scandella Have Struggled

It’s already time to wonder if the extensions that Colton Parayko and Marco Scandella signed were the worst contract moves under Armstrong. They’ve both underplayed and have been the two worst defensemen for this year’s team, it’s not close.

Colton Parayko St. Louis Blues
Colton Parayko, St. Louis Blues (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Blues expected Parayko to bounce back this season after a lackluster 2020-21 and even gave him an eight-year extension with an annual average value (AAV) of $6.5 million. He’s done everything but bounce back, it’s been a rollercoaster of a season for him, with more bad than good. The extension looks bad, he’s established himself as a number four defenseman at his best, which isn’t good at all for his contract.

As for Scandella, his contract carries a $3.275 million cap hit for two more seasons after this, and it’s a disaster. He was solid after being traded to the Blues, but when the pandemic hit, his play was hit as well. He was not good in the 2020 playoff bubble, which was after his extension, he hasn’t played well throughout his entire extension. The cap hit is not great, but the term is the killer here, and the Blues will likely feel that in some way with all four of their big defenseman contracts.

Though Scandella would be more likely to go, I’m not sure that the Blues can get out of either contract. The Blues mistakenly thought Parayko could be a number one defenseman, but his play has fallen off a cliff since the pandemic. Many would say that Jay Bouwmeester’s abrupt retirement ruined Parayko’s game, but I believe the bubble ruined his play, he fell off when Scandella fell off. I’m not sure there is any revival coming for either of these players. A trade could bring in a new partner for Parayko, which could help, but my hopes aren’t up.

Future Moves to Make

There is a shortlist of players that make sense for the Blues to acquire at this trade deadline, all of them are defensemen. Their one true need is defense, so there are moves to be made even with their cap situation. This list is an example of realistic options for them to make a move for.

  • Ben Chiarot (Montreal Canadiens)
  • Mark Giordano (Seattle Kraken)
  • Nick Leddy (Detroit Red Wings)

I don’t view Jakob Chychrun as a realistic option, so I should get that out of the way. It’s not about the cap hit with Chychrun either, it’s the asking price, which is said to be astronomical. This is about a rental for a lower price than Chychrun or Provorov. The idea of the Blues bringing in a defenseman is something that has to happen for this team to make any improvements, the preference should be a veteran.

Chiarot is the ideal fit to me, he’s struggled this season, but that can be said about every player in Montreal. He has had injury issues, but if they can get him for a decent price, his play from 2015-16 to 2019-20 makes him worth the potential gamble. The current asking price is reportedly a first-round pick and a prospect, which is way too high, so it would have to come down, and I think it will.

Giordano would be a good veteran to put alongside Parayko, it is one player that I think the Blues could get to improve his play. His cap hit is $6.75 million, but the Blues can give up draft capital to fix that issue, and it may be worth it.

Mark Giordano, Seattle Kraken
Mark Giordano, Seattle Kraken (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He’s scored 21 points in 44 games for an expansion Kraken team that has struggled mightily, which is close to the 26 points he had last season. He’s only three seasons removed from a Norris trophy, I get that he’s 38 years old, but as a rental, it could fit well.

The final option listed is Leddy from the Red Wings, who was just traded from the New York Islanders prior to this season. He’s another rental with one season left at a cap hit of $5.5 million, and the Red Wings are likely to move some expiring contracts with Leddy and Marc Staal on the shortlist to deal.

His plus/minus of minus-26 is ugly to look at, but Detroit is 27th in the NHL in goals against. He’s also struggled offensively with 12 points and only one goal, but playing on a contender could boost his play. The price for Leddy likely won’t be all that high, and the Blues could add a fantastic skater for good value.

The bottom line is that Armstrong can’t stand pat and do nothing at this deadline, the blueline has to be reshaped somehow. Robert Bortuzzo, who just signed an extension, has a shelf life and can’t play every game. They have two solid anchors, but they have to figure out the rest to contend in their loaded conference that features premier Stanley Cup contenders.

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