Blues Rebuild May Be Inevitable

What was once thought to only be a crossroad of the 2022-23 season now may have quickly developed into a much larger problem for the St. Louis Blues. As the team is currently regrouping and planning new schemes to break themselves out of a five-game losing skid, general manager Doug Armstrong took to the stage and addressed the media regarding the state of the franchise.

Doug Armstrong Addresses the Media

After Blues head coach Craig Berube and the team exited their high-intensity practice at Centene Center in Maryland Heights, the time had come for Armstrong to address the media and deliver his opinion and concerns regarding his NHL squad. One thing that was made clear early in the press conference was a reiteration and belief in not only the system that the team is delivering but in Berube as well.

St. Louis Blues Doug Armstrong
St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff Roberson)

“I believe in the coach, I believe in the system,” Armstrong said. “This isn’t a system issue, it’s a competitive issue. We have to rectify that. I told the players the coach is not going anywhere because the coach came from the American Hockey League where he coached young players and made them better and he coached veteran players and made them win here. So he can do both.”

Before the press conference, Armstrong met with the players and delivered a reality check, reiterating the state of the club in comparison to the rest of the NHL.

“We’re in the bottom quartile of anything that matters in the NHL right now and that’s the best we are, is in the bottom quartile. We’re in the bottom 10 percent in quite a few areas too. You look at goals-for, goals-against average, we’re in the bottom. You look at goal differential, we’re in the bottom. Our special teams are not special and so we need to make sure this is ground zero and start making our way up.”

The Blues have currently played 10 percent of their season as of Tuesday night’s (Nov. 1) loss to the Los Angeles Kings. While the season has barely begun, history has shown us that it becomes increasingly difficult to reach the playoffs if a team is not in playoff contention come American Thanksgiving. And though some fans are making comparisons to the Stanley Cup-winning season that saw the team go from last place to champions, this has a different feeling about it.

State of the Blues

It has only been eight games, and the season is still young, but the team has some serious work to do. The Blues currently has four players listed as either day-to-day or injured long-term. Forward Brandon Saad has only played two games this season with an undisclosed upper-body injury, and defenseman Torey Krug left Monday’s game against the Kings in the third period and is currently listed as day-to-day, also with an upper-body injury. The good news is that Krug was on the ice for practice and should hopefully be ready to play on Thursday. However, the club is also without two defensemen in Marco Scandella and Scott Perunovich, both sustaining their injuries during the preseason and sidelined for approximately six months.

This season, there is a clear separation in the team’s offensive producers. Leading the team, defenseman Justin Faulk and forward Brayden Schenn each have produced nine points in eight games. Just behind them, forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Robert Thomas have managed seven and six points, respectively. Among the team’s top players, forwards Jordan Kyrou, Ivan Barbashev, Pavel Buchnevich, and Ryan O’Reilly have a combined eight points in eight games. Of the four listed, Kyrou leads them with three goals while also holding a team-low minus-13 plus/minus rating. Last season, the Blues boasted one of the deepest rosters in the NHL with nine players scoring 20 or more goals. This season, things could be different if they do not pick up their pace. At this time, Buchnevich is on a 52-point pace, Kyrou for 31 points, and a combined 30 points between Barbashev and O’Reilly.

Blues Rebuild Could Be on the Way

During his press conference, Armstrong addressed the notion of a rebuild or a re-tool to his players and reiterated his comments to the press: “I said to them, ‘You look at the teams that have had success in the past that are into a different phase of their organization, everyone has the term retooling, rebuilding, whatever ‘re’ is, it sucks. I don’t want to be a re-anything, I want to continue what we’re doing now and I do believe in the group.”

Related: Blues Will Face a Cap Crunch Even With Rumored Cap Increase

While Armstrong and his front office staff may not believe or want a rebuild or re-tool in the future of the franchise, the salary cap suggests the Blues may have a harder time facing that reality than they hope. There is hope that the NHL’s salary cap could see a significant rise next season by at least $4 million, but that is contingent upon escrow debt from players being repaid in full by end of the season per NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. However, the NHL has projected an increase of only $1 million, regardless of whether escrow is paid up or not.

The club currently has two of its key players in O’Reilly and Tarasenko nearing the end of their contracts after this season with little financial flexibility to sign one, let alone both of the players. With seven forwards currently under contract for the 2023-24 season and an estimated $11.9 million in cap space available next season, a significant change may be on the way. At this time, $19.5 million is currently tied up between three of their top defensemen, and an additional $7.275 million is invested into Scandella and Nick Leddy. Moving one of them could provide a logical solution for a team that has multiple defensemen in its American Hockey League (AHL) lineup to help reallocate funds to invest further into the forward core.

Should the Blues front office decide to move on from O’Reilly and Tarasenko, a rebuild could be in store for the franchise. The team does not have the prospect pool and depth to sustain the loss of two franchise icons and expect to compete the following season. The club will have a tall task ahead of them as they look to rebound, rise through the NHL standings and put themselves back into playoff contention. Time will tell if Armstrong’s faith in his coach and system is rightly placed or not.