SOURCES CLOSE TO THE ATHLETIC HAVE CONFIRMED THAT ALEX PIETRANGELO IS SIGNING IN VEGAS, MEANING THIS ARTICLE IS NOW OUTDATED.
The Blues have done the best they can in light of all of this off-season’s dramatics but there are still moves to be made. They have lost — or will lose — notable pieces to their lineup and the replacements leave a bit to be desired. There is still a lot of hope for the Blues off-season, though, even if their current moves shine a little light into them moving in a new direction.
But I’m a sentimental cynic. With the right level of smarts, the Blues could not only come back just as good as they were last year, they could be much better. It feels like hyperbole but trust me. Here’s what I would do if I was suddenly thrust into the GM role.
Before we start, a huge thanks goes out to JFresh for all of his help with this article and a model featured later. You can check him out on Twitter and can access his interactive models for yourself through his Patreon.
If I Became GM...
Before we dive in, we need to establish our goals. Obviously, I want Pietrangelo back. I know, I know... it’s drawn out at this point. But the guy finished fourth in Norris voting, damnit! He is one of the best defensemen in the world.
With news that Vegas’ morale is dirt-low following Pietrangelo rumors, and Pietrangelo himself returning to St. Louis without a contract, the Blues are poised for a sneaky steal. Multiple reports have claimed that the defenseman hasn’t closed any doors, even if he is a bit sour towards St. Louis. Seeing him return, alongside Krug, would be... really good. Really, really good.
I also won’t be reverting any deals. Krug’s signing was far below market value. The Blues made out like absolute bandits with the deal they gave him. Kyle Clifford’s deal is also a very good fit in a Blues bottom-six that thrives with defense-first, physical presences.
To sum up the goals: embrace the new guys, bring back the captain, and win another damn Cup. With these in mind, I made three moves and two signings. The impact on the lineup was... nuts.
What’s the first move in my arsenal of accomplishing these goals? Trading Marco Scandella. The defenseman has a pricey $3.275 million cap hit. That may be just-alright for the reliable, middle-four play he brings but on a Blues team where the sky is the limit, his deal needs moved.
There are thankfully plenty of teams looking for defensemen. The Winnipeg Jets are among the most defensively-dry teams in the league and would surely benefit from Scandella, even if his contract is a bit of a detractor.
But the same could’ve been said of players like Erik Gudbranson’s $5 million cap hit. He netted a fifth-round pick in trade. Johnny Boychuk’s $6 million contract is also actively being shopped. Scandella is better than both of these names, on a much better deal, so the idea of him netting, say, a third-round pick is not outlandish.
There is something very important to note, though. Scandella has a modified no-trade-clause. That means that, in the event of a trade, he would be able to submit a list of seven teams that he wouldn’t want to move to. That limits the Blues options a bit but he’d still definitely be moveable.
The Scandella trade takes the Blues from -$2.858 million to $416,152 in cap space. We’re positive!
Doug Armstrong was featured on ESPN 101.1 today and he drew a... grim... picture of the Steen situation. It’s still speculation but it’s hard to not think that Steen isn’t bound for LTIR (long-term injured reserve) thanks to an injury that sent him back to Sweden for the off-season. It seems the general thinking among the Blues world is that Steen will end up on LTIR.
If he is placed on the IR, the Blues cap space would go from $416,152 to $6,166,152. Um... big improvements are being made!
Alright, now we’re on to the difficult moves. The ones that make me sad. Scandella is easily replaced by Scotty Perunovich, one of the most promising prospects to not play in the NHL yet. And Steen’s removal from the lineup, while sad, would help clear up some of the clog in the Blues bottom-six.
But... I would trade Tyler Bozak next. I’d do it very begrudgingly but his $5 million cap hit is simply too expensive to keep. With Robert Thomas, Oskar Sundqvist, and Ivan Barbashev all capable of replacing his role as third-line center, I think the Blues would gain more than they lose.
I say that with a heavy heart, though. Bozak has been terrific for St. Louis. He is among the best defensive-forwards in the league, a topic I touched on more in another article. But there are better places for him to be. Most notably would be with the Minnesota Wild, a team that is desperate for top-nine centers. Bozak would fit perfectly within that lineup, likely even earning a top-six role. In return, the Blues probably wouldn’t receive much. If I was GM, I’d be looking for a second-or-third-round pick.
Bozak also has a modified no-trade-clause, though. His clause allows him to submit a list of 10 teams that he does not want to move to. This cold make-or-break any trade possibilities but, for the sake of this article, we’ll assume he doesn’t block out every team that wants a top-nine C.
A Bozak move would take the Blues cap space up from $6,166,152 to $11,166,152. Wow, now we’re talking.
Alright, so I’ve made the cap space. Now what?
I’m not going to pretend like I have surprises up my sleeves. The exact opposite, actually. I’d re-sign Alex Pietrangelo — one of the best defensemen in the league and a Norris-snub — and Vince Dunn — a unanimous top-end youngster who is due for a breakout — as quickly as I possibly could. Here is how both are projected to sign, assuming they re-sign in St. Louis.
Alex Pietrangelo signs an eight-year deal with a cap hit of $8.427 million.
Vince Dunn signs a two-year deal with a cap hit of $2.631 million.
There we go! This makes the Blues defense terrifying. It’d easily become one of the best in the league. This would come with a bit of a close-shave, though. The two would take up $11.058 million in cap space if they inked these contracts, only $108,000 short of the cap space St. Louis would have.
But that’s an issue that would be easily fixed. These two signings would leave the Blues with eight defenseman. But if they moved Carl Gunnarsson to the AHL, they’d have a perfect seven D in their NHL lineup and would be left with $1,183,152 million in cap space. This is the absolute-ideal number for GMs — giving the team enough flexibility to make roster moves in the face of injuries and such. Many GMs like to keep this buffer space around as they enter the season.
The Resulting Lineup
Alrighty, here’s what we’ve created:
Jaden Schwartz — Brayden Schenn — Vladimir Tarasenko
Zach Sanford — Ryan O’Reilly — David Perron
Kyle Clifford — Robert Thomas — Oskar Sundqvist
Sammy Blais — Ivan Barbashev — Jordan Kyrou
Jacob de la Rose, Mackenzie MacEachern
Torey Krug — Alex Pietrangelo
Vince Dunn — Colton Parayko
Scotty Perunovich — Justin Faulk
C’mon, you can’t tell me this lineup isn’t exciting. This looks like the perfect Blues lineup! Clifford brings the same size and grit that Patty Maroon had. Justin Faulk (RD) and Robert Thomas (C) are also both able to return to the positions they do best in. And to top it off, the Blues are left with two great reserved forwards, not including Klim Kostin who definitely needs NHL attention.
That Defense Though
But the best part of this lineup? The defense. Wow, wow, wow is this defense impressive. Let’s plug it into JFresh’s ‘WAR Roster Generator’. This is a tool that looks at how each player performed in 2019-20 to help give an idea of how much of an impact the D group as a whole would provide. Here’s our newly-crafted lineup:
That’s... uh... really good. 7.5 WAR from the defense is well above average. It’d easily fight with some of the best lineups in the league. And with a resurgence from Faulk and Parayko, and Perunovich providing more than replacement-level play (which he surely will), that number would shoot even higher.
The newly-crafted Blues defense would be a massive upgrade from last season, to say the least. And that’s only to mention the boost they’d provide at even-strength! Krug’s impact on the power-play — on top of Pietrangelo, Dunn, and Faulk already forming a great PP group — would be incredible. This defense would be incredible.
In the End
But I didn’t even mention the offense, which would also be absolutely terrific. They’d also be an upgrade from than last year, assuming Tarasenko and Blais can finally stay healthy. The newly-formed lineup would be expected to net 104 points, easily fighting for first place in the league.
Crafting this lineup comes with some upsetting changes, I agree. But in return the Blues get to hang on to one of the best defensemen in the league and retain the promising Dunn, while also taking full advantage of Krug’s signing. It’d be a thrilling lineup to watch, with all six defenseman (well, hoping Faulk bounces back) providing a capable punch on offense and admirable defense.
And this comes at the expense of, really, only two players and two very-likely trades. It’d put the Blues back on top, after a post-season that went awry and an anxiety-filled off-season. There’s still hope! Let’s see what magic-man Doug Armstrong can do.