The Cup has been won, the beers have been drunk, and the parade has made its way down Constitution Avenue. Another NHL season has ended without a Stanley Cup for the St. Louis Blues, and another franchise gets to remove itself from the list of teams still waiting.
The Blues will enter their 51st season this fall seeking to do the same with a long list of obstacles in their path. While the league year quasi-officially gets underway with the NHL Draft next weekend in Dallas, teams are open for business. The Blues brass is doubtlessly at work seeking to shore up some contracts, shed some others, and accurately evaluate the talent level of their players as they approach what’s lovingly referred to as the “silly season.”
What decisions need to be made? What information needs to be evaluated? How do the Blues find answers without knowing the questions?
Today, we learn the questions, and we evaluate five big ones facing the team headed in to the offseason.
Is it a mistake to rely on Robby Fabbri?
Earlier this month, just down Clark Street, the Cardinals announced that top prospect and pitching phenom Alex Reyes would miss the remainder of this season after just four innings pitched. This follows a 2017 season which was lost to Tommy John surgery.
The Blues can sympathize.
Following an 18-goal and 20-year-old rookie campaign, Fabbri was on pace to duplicate (if not improve upon) those results in his sophomore year. Then came an ACL tear in February of 2017 and another in the same knee in September of that same year. He hasn’t played a regular season game since.
Mike Yeo has been the head coach of the Blues for 114 regular season and 11 postseason games. He’s had Fabbri in the lineup for two.
After the training camp injury last year, the Blues neglected to seek out a replacement for Fabbri’s scoring punch. Players like Ivan Barbashev, Sammy Blais, Dmitrij Jaskin, Magnus Paajarvi, and Tage Thompson cycled through what would otherwise have been Fabbri’s spot in the lineup, and that quintet combined for a highly disappointing 19 goals on the season.
That mistake can’t be repeated. The Blues have to honestly assess Fabbri from every standpoint - physically, mentally, and quality of skills - and consider whether they’re better served by moving on from what’s become a depressing story.
Jake. Buddy. What the...?
Jake Allen’s dismal season hardly needs further litigation except to say a compelling argument could be made that he single handedly kept the Blues from a playoff berth. A win in any of his final three starts of the season would have been enough to boost the Blues to the first round, and yet Allen lost all three games while surrendering 10 goals across them.
Allen’s performance at home against the Blackhawks on April 4th was poor enough that it might join Roman Turek against the Sharks in the annals of Blues history. While the team wasn’t eliminated until a loss to the Avalanche on April 7th, it seems in retrospect that the air went out of the balloon with the exaggerated roll from Doug Armstrong’s eyes.
He allowed fewer than two goals only four times after Christmas. Carter Hutton, last year’s backup, is an unrestricted free agent who’s likely to cash in elsewhere. Ville Husso, after a solid year in the AHL, is the flavor of the month. Allen will be hard to deal.
The goaltending market, however, is interwoven. Phillipp Grubauer of the Washington Capitals has some career parallels to Jaroslav Halak at the time the Blues acquired him. He might be an appealing target for that reason, and also because keeping him from teams like the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders might make those teams more likely to be enticed by Allen, who I wrote in January looks increasingly like Brent Johnson.
Does John Tavares like toasted ravioli?
With apologies to Tavares’s recently departed head coach, Doug Weight, the Blues haven’t had a true number one center since the days of Pierre Turgeon. Tavares, a point-per-game player, two-time Hart Trophy finalist, and one-time NHL First-Team All Star, has quietly developed into a superstar in Brooklyn.
Tavares is even a playoff producer - he has 22 points in 24 career postseason games - despite spending his entire career with the moribund Islanders. That franchise is applying all the pressure they can to keep him; hiring Lou Lamoriello as General Manager and sweeping out Weight and the inexplicably teflon Garth Snow is part of that plan.
If Lou is unsuccessful and Tavares makes it to market, nothing separates the Blues from securing a piece that’s eluded them for nearly two decades except for the expenditure of resources. The team made a special point last week to highlight that they are, as Jean-Ralphio Saperstein might say, flush with cash. By their own admission, money should be no object.
The Blues will have no leverage in any negotiation with John Tavares, and they shouldn’t hide from it. As tempting as it would be to do business as usual, Doug Armstrong may be better served by simply signing the contract paperwork and allowing Tavares and his agent to write in the relevant dollar amount. Every team in the NHL with the available salary cap space will be in pursuit of Tavares, but the Blues must do everything they can to prevail.
What makes Colton Parayko mad?
When Colton Parayko met with the media for the first time last summer after signing a five year, $27.5 million dollar extension, he was the same genial, “aw shucks” guy that he always seems to be in public. He said he didn’t make any flashy purchases. Just went on a trip with his dad. He’s a very nice boy.
Unfortunately for the Blues, he’s yet to display the ability to be a very mean man. That may be an essential component for him to add to his game moving forward. Despite a season in which his offensive production remained consistent despite his defensive responsibilities increasing, Parayko seemed at times to be timid about the physical components of the game.
Colton Parayko is listed at 6’6” and 230 pounds. He’s an imposing specimen who, should he decide to engage, has the ability to dominate opponents in the corners and deliver devastating physicality that can change the course of a game.
Neither of the two teams in the Stanley Cup Final were loaded down with defensemen who evoked memories of the hulking brutes of days of yore. Scott Stevens couldn’t play in today’s NHL without missing 30 games every season to suspensions. The game now is about transition, puck control, picking smart spots, and laser-like accuracy on passes.
To take those chances, however, requires presence. It requires engagement. Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov and Colin Miller and Nate Schmidt may not be punishing body checkers, but they use their size and strength to accentuate their transition game. Colton Parayko would be wise to follow in their footsteps.
How do you say “will you waive your no trade clause” in Swedish?
Patrik Berglund’s most recent contract extension puts him on pace to finish his career as the all-time leader in games played for the St. Louis Blues. Dreams of his number 21 hanging from the rafters at the Enterprise Center danced through the heads of fans when he was drafted a dozen years ago, and now those dreams may be close to being a reality.
The reality, regrettably, is more like a nightmare.
Both Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka carry hefty salary cap hits into next season. Sobotka seemed to float through much of last season with a degree of disinterest that shocked those who hadn’t seen him play since he left for Russia. He has two years remaining on his deal and he lacks trade protection. I’m sure he’ll find Glendale perfectly charming.
Berglund is a trickier case. He can block trades to 20 of the league’s 31 teams this season, and coming off a year in which he underwent another major surgery, finding a taker for four more years of a $3.85 million cap hit could be a difficult task.
He did somehow manage to record 17 goals in 57 games. Over 82 games, that would put him on pace for a career-best 24 goals. The Blues, who only had three 20-goal scorers last season, wouldn’t seem to be in a position to abandon another potential contributor.
And yet Berglund recorded only nine assists. Of those nine, seven were primary assists. Of those seven, only three were assists on goals scored by forwards.
Of those three, only one - a single goal by Alexander Steen against Columbus on March 24th - was a pass. The other two were deflections.
Patrik Berglund, ostensibly a center, passed the puck to a forward in a manner that resulted in a goal exactly one time over the full course of an NHL season.
Contenders have to demand more production of their players. And the Blues have to demand that Berglund accepts a ticket out of town.