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Blues free agency: 7 UFA defensemen that fit the picture

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Seven stalwart defenders worth signing in St. Louis.

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Blues need to solidify their defensive core. Vince Dunn, selected by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, has left an opening in the Blues’ top-four defense. The Blues already have a solid foundation in Torey Krug, Justin Faulk, and Colton Parayko. A strong singing this offseason could cement the team’s defensive core for the foreseeable future. General manager Doug Armstrong will need to balance initiative and caution this offseason with the sheer amount of free agents available.

Upgrading the penalty kill should be Armstrong’s top priority. During the regular season, the Blues were 24th in penalty kill efficiency with just a 77.8% success rate. In the playoffs, the Colorado Avalanche beat them down to a league-low 50% — significantly below the second-best rate of The four-game sweep against the Blues saw the Avalanche score 20 goals in that span — an average of five goals a game. If the Blues hope to make a big splash in the playoffs, they’ll need to sign one of these seven UFA defensemen to solidify their core.

Alec Martinez: LHD

There are two sides to signing Alec Martinez. On one hand, he’s an offensive wizard, generating an exceptional amount of scoring with the Vegas Golden Knights. He’s got plenty of years of playoff experience and has won the Stanley Cup multiple times. Still, his high-risk style of play raises some concern. During the offseason, it was revealed that he had played through the playoffs on a broken foot. When left untreated, a broken foot can cause swelling, tenderness, and increased pain, slowing the healing process to a crawl.

Such an injury can affect speed and agility in the long run. While Martinez was never a very speedy player, this type of injury could become re-aggravated, causing Martinez to miss multiple games. If test results this summer are encouraging, Martinez may be worth a look. Should the signing pay off, the Blues will have a highly experienced offensive defenseman at their disposal. If the injury returns, St. Louis will be set back to square one.

Mike Reilly: LHD

With both Jamie Oleksiak and Adam Larsson opting to sign with the Kraken, the big names for UFA defensemen have grown slim. Despite this, there are quite a few gems left in the mix. Mike Reilly is an ideal candidate for a team like St. Louis. Reilly played a pivotal role in helping the Boston Bruins advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Partnered with Brandon Carlo, Reilly balanced both offense and defense to help bolster scoring and smother the opposition. He ended last season with 27 assists in 55 games, just a shy under half a point-per-game.

At 28 years of age, Reilly has just entered his defensive prime. His advanced stats suggest he thrives at even-strength, excelling at both ends of the ice. Reilly’s only shortcomings lie on the penalty kill, where he’s posted less-than-stellar numbers. This may encourage the Blues to look for a defensive specialist who could fill in on the penalty kill where Reilly falls short.

David Savard: RHD

Speaking of defensive specialists who can fill in on the penalty kill, meet David Savard. Savard played a quietly significant role in securing the Stanley Cup for the Tampa Bay Lightning. As their main shutdown defenseman, Savard utilized low-even puck control to stimy the onslaught of the Montreal Canadiens during the Finals. Savard’s advanced stats paint one of the most unique pictures in the NHL. He was one of the worst generators of offense in the league but his defensive play was some of the best the NHL saw last season.

David Savard’s advanced stats, courtesy of Evolving Hockey
Table and data courtesy of Evolving Hockey

Savard is a stabilizing force of pure defense and nothing more. While he’ll immediately solve the problems of the penalty kill, the signing may run the risk of suffocating the Blues’ offensive creativity. If he’s deployed in a primarily defensive role, Savard will thrive. It may be prudent to sign an offensive defenseman alongside Savard to help fill in the scoring gaps he’ll have.

Tyson Barrie: RHD

If Savard is pure defense, Barrie is the polar opposite. The former Edmonton Oiler led all defensemen in scoring last year with 48 points in 56 games. He played a pivotal role in the Oilers’ lethal power play, which ranked first in the NHL with a 27.6% success rate. The Blues, by comparison, had the sixth-best percentage in the NHL. Barrie alone could help bolster the blueline’s offensive ability as the quarterback to a power play. When played alongside offensive weapon Mike Hoffman, the two could do some serious damage in the NHL.

Tyson Barrie’s advanced stats
Table & data courtesy of Evolving Hockey

Barrie’s advanced stats couldn’t be more different from Savard’s. Where Barrie thrives on offense, he falls woefully short on defense. This could be extremely problematic for a team like the Blues, who struggled to find defensive stability during the playoffs. Unless St. Louis plans on signing a player like Savard to make up for Barrie’s lapses, an isolated signing of just Barrie could spell disaster for the defense.

Ryan Murray: LHD

Ryan Murray is seen by some as a reclamation project. The former second overall pick has struggled mightily with injuries over his career, hampering both his development and ability to succeed. Murray has only played a full 82-game season once in his career. Despite this, he’s still a reliable defense-minded blueliner with nearly 400 games of NHL experience under his belt. Barring injuries, he can immediately fill a need on the Blues’ top-four and penalty kill units.

In addition, Murray is seen as a mentor by many in the NHL. He could be the perfect candidate to sign for a short term, teaching Scott Perunovich a few of his tricks before passing the torch to Perunovich. At an affordable cap hit, Murray could be a high-risk, high-reward signing for the Blues.

Dougie Hamilton: RHD

The big fish in free agency, Hamilton will be the subject of many would-be suitors throughout the league. The top-pairing defenseman has thrived in Carolina, helping the Hurricanes to reach the playoffs in each of the last three seasons he’s played with the Hurricanes. At 6’6”, Hamilton fits the mold of defensemen that helped the Blues win the Stanley Cup in 2019. Head coach Craig Berube loves colossal defensemen that can overpower their opponents. Berube’s physical system leans into Hamilton’s area of expertise. Hamilton has the opportunity to serve as the physical presence the Blues have needed since the departure of Alex Pietrangelo and Joel Edmunson.

Still, it’s important to temper expectations. Hamilton will not come cheap. He’ll have more than enough teams offering him long, exorbitant contracts. In addition, there’s a chance he may remain in Carolina. Is signing a guy like Hamilton to a high-cost, long-term deal worth it? It all depends on how close Armstrong believes the Blues are to contention. Long contracts are the price you pay for a coveted veteran. If Armstrong wants Hamilton, he’d better be ready to pay the price.

Ryan Suter: LHD

Suter and Zach Parise were recently bought out by the Minnesota Wild. At 36 years of age, Suter is far from the workhorse defenseman he once was. Despite this, he’s shown in recent years that he is still a solid top-four defenseman. At an affordable deal, Suter may opt to bet on himself with a contending team. This is where a team like the Blues can come in. If Suter signs a cap-friendly deal, they’ll have more flexibility to bolster the offense and blueline so that Suter won’t have to do those tough minute-munching shifts he took in Minnesota.

Suter can be looked at in one of two ways. On one hand, he’s a capable defenseman who can be signed to a good contract. On the other, age and injury concerns might deter would-be suitors. Like the Martinez and Murray signings, this one has the potential to pay off with a greater reward. Where they differ is the risk. Suter will be a very affordable defenseman with over 1,000 games of NHL experience. In a league that is paying premiums to depth defensemen, Suter could be a great budget signing for the Blues.