The St. Louis Blues could not be in a worse spot than they are right now, sitting in sixth place in the Central Division and 25th overall in the NHL. They are out of the playoffs but not in the sweepstakes for the number one overall pick. It will be detrimental to the franchise if they finish the season in this position, potentially losing out on free agents and impacting their ability to strengthen their farm system.
The Blues have had as uncertain a start to a season as any team in recent memory. They began with a three-game winning streak before losing their next eight contests. They then captured seven-consecutive wins before losing eight of the next nine games. Frustrations seemed to boil over against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday when goaltender Jordan Binnington punched Jason Zucker in the face while he was trying to play the puck behind the Blues’ goal.
This rollercoaster has put St. Louis five points out of a playoff spot heading into Tuesday night’s showdown with the New York Islanders, and just seven points separate the Blues from the Anaheim Ducks for the worst record in the Western Conference.
Blues Are in Danger of Losing Future Free Agents
Falling outside of both the playoffs and the lottery would essentially mean losing a recruiting piece in free agency. They will never have as much appeal as the Vegas Golden Knights, Toronto Maple Leafs, or Los Angeles Kings. However, general manager Doug Armstrong and head coach Craig Berube have done a great job of selling the Blues’ ability to win to convince free agents to come to St. Louis to play.
Fresh off a Stanley Cup win in 2019, the Blues were able to convince Torey Krug to be Alex Pietrangelo’s replacement, but since then, Brandon Saad has been the only other free agent of significance to join the team. Meanwhile, big-market teams on the west and east coasts attract big-ticket free agents with regularity.
The Blues could regain some attention in the market if they secured a lottery pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. They desperately need a high-end prospect in their farm system who could change the outlook of the future.
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The Blues could also have considerable flexibility with their salary cap after the 2022-23 season if $15 million come off the books from the potential departures of Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko. Not to mention the big contracts of Ivan Barbashev, Noel Acciari, Niko Mikkola, and Thomas Greiss. Of course, at some point, they will need to make Marco Scandella’s contract fit into the cap, but with the expiring contracts, that shouldn’t be an issue.
The Blues could use that flexibility to reload the roster and be competitive again in 2023-24. However, if they are unable to retain either Tarasenko or O’Reilly, it will be difficult to sneak into a playoff spot in a competitive division.
Winning Solves Everything
The Blues are much better off being a playoff team in 2022-23, though the road to the playoffs will be increasingly tricky if they cannot find ways to win consistently. They are seven points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild-card spot in the west, but Colorado has two games in hand.
The Blues have made the playoffs in 10 of the last 11 seasons despite multiple coaching changes and much roster turnover. They have also been one of the most consistent teams in the NHL over the last decade. However, despite their regular-season success, they have made it past the second round only four times during the 11-year stretch.
Making the playoffs but losing in the first two rounds is something Blues fans are very familiar with, and if they manage to sneak into the playoffs this season, they are likely to fall to the same fate. Still, the market expects the team to be in the postseason, and the Blues going back to their winning ways would solve a multitude of issues on and off the ice.
There is some hope if they fall into NHL limbo. The 2021-22 Golden Knights were expected to be Stanley Cup contenders, and those expectations increased after the acquisition of superstar Jack Eichel. But instead, they fell three points shy of a playoff spot.
The Golden Knights then traded away their first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft to the Buffalo Sabres and didn’t select a player until 48th, in the second round. However, they were bailed out of the potential disaster of being a middling team for the next five years due to a variety of players, like Mark Stone, who was able to return from injury to start the campaign.
The Blues do not have the superstars and cannot afford to miss the playoffs and expect to land near the top of the Central Division next season. However, if they do miss the playoffs, they will need to be sure it is far enough down the standings to ensure a quality draft pick, something they haven’t had since 2008, when they selected Pietrangelo fourth overall.
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Covering the St. Louis Blues at The Hockey Writers, Jason Martin has spent time covering professional and college sports for almost a decade, including stops at Troy University and Auburn University at Montgomery. He currently resides in Alabama with his wife, Matty.