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2021 Blues Season Preview: Krug, Hoffman, other changes should solidify Blues’ return to playoff contention

After a bad bubble, the Blues are primed to bounce back.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Vancouver Canucks at St. Louis Blues Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday night, the 2021 NHL season will finally resume; the Blues will be taking on the Colorado Avalanche at 9:30PM Central. We’ve been looking forward to the new season for ages. A return to normalcy is something that we need. It’s a new year, it’s a fresh start for both the Blues’ playoff hopes and for all of us.

The Blues have been focused on improving their team after a short playoff experience in Edmonton, where they were bumped 4-2 by the Vancouver Canucks. The off-season has seen losses, but Doug Armstrong and company have committed to re-tooling and adjusting.

The Blues aren’t completely set for Wednesday night as of this writing, but there are a lot of assumptions that can be made about how the team will look.

Off-Season Losses: Alex Pietrangelo (free agency, signed by Vegas Golden Knights), Alexander Steen (retirement/LTIR), Jake Allen (trade to Montreal)

Losing Allen was the first off-season domino to fall, clearing cap space (at the time, it was assumed for Pietrangelo) and freeing up a slot for Ville Husso to step up as Jordan Binnington’s backup.

The loss of Pietrangelo to free agency was a blow to the Blues’ leadership team and a ding to a strong defense. Using the word “replacement” to describe Torey Krug is inaccurate, since he’s a different type of defenseman, but Pietrangelo’s absence may not be felt as strongly with Krug slotted in had it would’ve been if the Blues could not have signed a strong defenseman in free agency.

Another loss, coming on the heels of Pietrangelo (and earlier, Jay Bouwmeester), is the forced retirement/placement on LTIR of Alexander Steen. A consummate professional and respected voice in the room, Steen was forced to retire this off-season due to lingering back problems.

All of these losses are tough for a team to adjust to, but the Blues have done so admirably. Ryan O’Reilly has been named captain, Colton Parayko will be leading the defense with an A, and Brayden Schenn steps into Alexander Steen’s leadership role. None of these are replacements, but they’re a worthy and smart direction for the team to be taking.

Off-Season Additions: Torey Krug (free agency, via Boston), Kyle Clifford (free agency, via Toronto), Mike Hoffman (currently on PTO, expected to be signed before Wednesday)

Krug, obviously is the centerpiece here. He’s not a replacement for Pietrangelo, but as the second best available free agent defenseman on the market, signing him was a mission for Doug Armstrong. His addition will strengthen the power play as well as ensure that the team is just as threatening offensively on the blue line as they were with Pietrangelo back there.

Clifford is a veteran voice in the locker room with a couple of Cup rings and will help if there’s any void left over from Alexander Steen’s departure.

Mike Hoffman is an elite goal scorer with the man advantage and is more than a capable fill-in for the absent Vladimir Tarasenko. When Tarasenko returns, having them available as a one-two scoring punch should make other teams’ goalies very, very concerned. Head on a swivel, boys.

Assumed Lines:

These were the lines being rolled at Saturday’s practice:

It looks like Jordan Kyrou is getting a hard look on the third line, leaving Sammy Blais the odd-man out so far. Questions had been raised about Kyrou’s fit on the team, but it looks like he should be just fine.

Gunnarsson and Bortuzzo may be the two that get swapped out as the 6th/7th defenseman. The Krug/Parayko pairing is a powerful duo, and offensively should be very concerning for opposition teams.

How will the power play look?

Terrifying if you’re not a member of the St. Louis Blues. Other teams won’t want to give the Blues the man advantage. The team finished last season third overall on the PP, which contributed to their success in the West. There’s no reason to assume a noticeable decline in production this season.

Will the penalty kill improve?

The penalty kill was the Blues’ hiccup last year. At an effectiveness rate of 79.3%, they were 18th overall in the league, slightly below average. Binnington’s save percentage on the PK dropped from .870 to .858 from 2018-2019 to 2019-2020; the chicken and egg situation there is clear - a tighter defense on the PK would go a long way to fixing that drop, but a tighter defense between the pipes also helps the PK unit as a whole.

Will goaltending be a safe bet?

No one knows. As I’ve mentioned before:

Husso will more than likely get more playing time this season by virtue of the tight schedule and the ten back to back series that the Blues have. He’s been fine in the AHL but hampered by injury. He’s also had stretches of very solid play. He, like Binnington, is probably more than aware of the pressures and expectations on him for this year, and should work to meet them.

As the backup for a goalie who likes to get as much playing time as possible, Husso won’t get as many starts as he would in a traditional length season barring an injury to Binnington.

Binnington is focused on the present and the future, and that’s a good mindset for fans to emulate. We can’t tell what the future holds, but a solid season for Binnington means a playoff lock as one of the top four teams in the West.