The Blues have a few options on defense for next season. Despite the loss of Alex Pietrangelo in free agency, they’re extraordinarily deep on defense. Torey Krug, Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk, Marco Sandella, Vince Dunn, and Carl Gunnarsson are a top six that many teams would be thankful to have.
None of these players are of Pietrangelo’s caliber, but their combined skillset is probably enough to get the Blues over the hump. Before anyone says anything about Faulk, I’m assuming that he has a better season next year. That is not a giant bar to leap.
Torey Krug was signed not as a replacement for Pietrangelo, but because while he’s a different type of player, he’s still a high-quality player. He’s offensive, he’s good on the power play, and it’s not hard to close your eyes and see him and Parayko quarterbacking each of the team’s power play units. It’s also not hard seeing them together on the team’s top pairing, as suggested by NHL.com’s Mike Zeisberger:
I like a potential Krug-Colton Parayko defense pair. Krug (5-foot-9, 186 pounds) is all about speed and would be an ideal complement to the much bigger Parayko (6-6, 230), who I feel is underrated, especially when it comes to his play in the defensive zone. Parayko’s physical style and defense-first attitude would allow Krug the freedom to skate up the ice and be creative, which is one of the things he does best. Such a setup would allow Marco Scandella and Faulk to form the second pair. Scandella (6-3, 212) would take care of the defensive end and allow Faulk (6-foot, 217) to jump into the play. When your top two pairs are Krug-Parayko and Scandella-Faulk, it seems like an ideal fit for 5-on-5 play.
That’s very contingent on having Faulk jump into the play effectively, but again, I think that Faulk deserves the “every season is a clean slate” benefit of the doubt.
My good friend James O’Brien over at ProHockeyTalk.com has a different way of approaching the situation. He wants to mix and mingle - he suggests not putting Krug and Parayko together even strength, and he thinks the Blues need to lean heavy on Vince Dunn:
As of this moment, 24-year-old defenseman Vince Dunn lingers as a restricted free agent. If I were an opposing GM, I’d blow up Armstrong’s phone to find out how much the Blues actually value an underrated defenseman.
That’s because, based on an earlier look at the Blues’ depth chart, Rutherford indicated that Marco Scandella and Justin Faulk are likely to grab the second pairing roles, pushing Dunn down to the third. This sure seems like a mistake, unless Armstrong believes he can pull off a “pump-and-dump” trade to get a mulligan on the entire Justin Faulk era.
Now, sometimes you run into a chicken-and-the-egg argument with underused defensemen. Maybe Vince Dunn laps up the cushy minutes, and would shrink in greater assignments. The Blues should think long and hard about finding out what more Dunn can do, as much as anyone else though.
James’ whole piece, including the number-crunching, is a worthwhile read.
Chances are strong that the lines will begin how Zeisberger suggested, but the Blues might be well served to keep eyes on that pairing. Even if all gears click, there’s no harm with trying something new. Dunn’s going to be a key piece of the Blues’ defense regardless of where he’s placed, and his new salary, whatever that might be, will reflect that.
Regardless of how you look at it, Parayko’s number one in Doug Armstrong’s eyes (subscription required), which opens up an entirely new discussion on contract terms and any potential trade down the line.