The St. Louis Blues are coming off of one of the most improbable seasons in NHL history, one that culminated in the franchise’s Stanley Cup Championship. But now, the offseason is upon them and the front office, led by general manager Doug Armstrong, has some work to do.
It might not seem obvious that the defending champions would have a lot on their plate, but there are still some significant questions that need answering. Here is a look at four of the Blues’ most pressing offseason needs.
1) Power Play Help
When we discussed Blues’ offseason needs early in the second round of the playoffs, two of the three needs we identified were related to the power play. That need was reinforced when the Blues converted just one of 18 opportunities on the man advantage in the Stanley Cup Final.
The solution to this problem isn’t obvious. The Blues seem to have the personnel to produce a better power play, but the results aren’t there. As we identified back in April, they would benefit from a left-handed power play quarterback on defense, but those do not grow on trees. It would cost a lot to acquire one either via free agency or trade.
The solution might also come via coaching, but the Blues do not have an obvious opening there. Though interim head coach Craig Berube has not officially signed an extension, there is no reason to believe he won’t eventually do so. And while he did not choose the assistant coaches (Steve Ott and Mike Van Ryan were part of the Blues staff under Mike Yeo when he started the season), they seemed to gel well enough.
Whatever solution Armstrong arrives at, the team certainly needs to bolster their power play attack. They were ranked tenth in that category during the regular season but never got it going during the playoffs. And they will need an improved man advantage to keep pace with their division, where only the Nashville Predators fell outside of the top half last season.
2) Affordable Goalkeeping
The Blues found their man when Jordan Binnington rose from obscurity to become the first-ever rookie goalie to win all sixteen games in the playoffs. But that has put them in a bind. He is a restricted free agent (RFA) this season, and while it’s difficult to project exactly what he’ll make, it’s safe to say he won’t be cheap.
The problem is less Binnington’s contract than what they will pay their backup. Jake Allen signed a four-year, $17.4 million contract in 2016, and he still has two seasons at an average annual value of $4.35 million.
While we don’t know what Binnington will sign for, we can safely believe it will cost $3 million per season at a bare minimum, and it will likely be more than that. The Blues cannot afford to pay Binnington that much and pay Allen over four million to back him up.
With the demand for experienced goaltenders in the NHL, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a suitor for Allen in a trade, even if the Blues need to sweeten the pot to convince someone to take his contract. If they can offload his contract and sign a veteran backup for less money, they will be in much better shape entering next season.
3) Answers on Pietrangelo
Alex Pietrangelo is the Blues’ captain, the first in franchise history to lift the Stanley Cup with the Blue Note on his chest. The organization would like to hang on to him for a long time, but he is set to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) after next season.
Locking up Pietrangelo is probably little more than a formality. He is the captain and has laid down family roots here, marrying a woman from the area. But no one wants to go through the season with the uncertainty of approaching free agency lingering in the air. Armstrong needs to lock up his leader before the pressure mounts.
4) Room for Growth
Throughout the postseason, two young players emerged as significant parts of the roster. Berube inserted Sammy Blais in Game 6 of the second round, with the Blues facing elimination, and he made an immediate impact, collecting nine hits and scoring a goal.
Later, in the Stanley Cup Final, Berube looked to Zach Sanford as a replacement when Oskar Sundqvist was suspended for Game 3. He had a goal and three assists and was a plus-five in the remainder of the series.
On top of Sanford and Blais, the Blues have a number of young prospects, particularly Jordan Kyrou, who need a place to play. Whether they are every day contributors or not, there needs to be space for these players to get playing time.
St. Louis already has a loaded forward core, and only Patrick Maroon is a UFA among their regulars. Depth is a strength for any team, but some of these young players have earned NHL playing time. Whether it’s here or somewhere else, the Blues need to figure out where these youngsters are playing.
The Work Never Stops
None of these concerns are emergencies, and perhaps that’s no surprise for the Stanley Cup champion. But the Blues do need to address these four issues before they begin the 2018-19 season. If they do, they’ll be a finer, smoother, and more potent threat to repeat as champions.
Stephen Ground is a veteran of over three years at THW, focusing on the St. Louis Blues, NHL goaltending, and the annual World Junior Championship. He is the co-host of the Two Guys One Cup Podcast, a hockey podcast focused on the Blues.