The cornerstone of the recent success for the St. Louis Blues has been their blue line. And that could all change depending on what happens with captain Alex Pietrangelo this offseason.
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There are scenarios where the blue line virtually stays the same and there are ones where it changes drastically. A lot of the pursuit of re-signing Pietrangelo depends on whether the salary cap goes up or down in the NHL.
Under Contract for 2020-21 Season
The Blues have four defensemen on the 2019-20 active roster that have contracts for the 2020-21 season: Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk, Carl Gunnarsson, and Robert Bortuzzo.
Parayko is a cornerstone defenseman – he’s become one of the best defensive defensemen in the NHL. Some would argue that Parayko is the best all-around defenseman on this team – I wouldn’t disagree.
Faulk is a question mark for sure, he hasn’t seemed to fit in all that well this season. His offense has taken a hit since his time with the Carolina Hurricanes, but he has had good stretches of around 10 games this season, on a few occasions. I do think he will be back for 2020-21, but that may not be the case in 2021-22 with the Seattle expansion draft looming.
Gunnarsson has been in and out of the lineup this season but has been fairly solid for most of the year. He’s a pure veteran player who knows his job. I think he’d be back.
Bortuzzo fits pretty well in St. Louis – he’s a physical player that brings a lot to the team. I expect him and Gunnarsson to assume their roles next season as well.
Niko Mikkola is a non-roster defenseman who has a one-way contract for the next two seasons after 2019-20. I expect he gets a really good shot at making the roster in 2020-21 – he was impressive during his short time in the lineup this season.
Question Marks for 2020-21
There are a few pending unrestricted and restricted defensemen free agents for the Blues after this season: Pietrangelo (UFA), Vince Dunn (RFA), Marco Scandella (UFA), and a few non-roster guys.
Pietrangelo is the big one – Blues general manager Doug Armstrong has said that they will discuss an extension with the captain after this season. If the captain does hit the open market, Blues fans should be worried. He could be in line to make a lot of money as a free agent.
I would expect the Blues can reach a deal with Dunn as a restricted free agent this offseason. He’s been a steady presence on the blue line this season – it’s been an excellent year for him. They will need him, especially for his offense, if Pietrangelo walks.
Scandella has fit in seamlessly alongside Parayko as the shutdown pair. His size and shot have been noticeable in every game he’s played as a Blue. It was unfortunate to lose Jay Bouwmeester for the season as they did, but Scandella has been very good.
A potential college free agent for the Blues is Scott Perunovich, a skilled puck-moving offensive defenseman who they drafted in 2018 with the 45th pick. He’s been excellent in college at Minnesota-Duluth, and if he decides to sign an entry-level deal this summer, he could get a look for the 2020-21 roster.
Jake Walman, Mitch Reinke, Derrick Pouliot, and Jake Dotchin are the non-roster restricted free agents this offseason. I expect they would all get somewhat of a look for the roster but are all likely American Hockey League players.
Projecting the Blue Line for 2020-21
It’s hard to calculate what the likely seven rostered defensemen will be for the 2020-21 Blues, but I will try my best here.
For the top pair, my guess is that Pietrangelo will sign a large extension with the team and will continue to be paired with Gunnarsson. They seem to play pretty well together, and I’d assume we will see the normal rotating of Gunnarsson and Bortuzzo too.
The second pair, also known as the shutdown pair, will have a bit of a change. It seems unlikely that Bouwmeester plays next season, so I think Parayko will be paired with Mikkola as the shutdown pair.
I think Scandella will walk in free agency, as the Blues have to pay Dunn and Pietrangelo. There is a reason they extended Mikkola for two years on a one-way deal, he will likely be on the roster next season.
And finally, the third pair, I believe it will be offensive heavy with Faulk and Dunn. They have been pretty steady when together this season, and you’d hope Faulk can find some more offense next season, 16 points in 69 games won’t cut it long term.
Faulk needs to be around the 35-45 point range at least like he was in Carolina. As for Dunn, he is only going to get better, I think he will be tremendous next year.