Now that we’ve taken brief glimpses at the other three divisions on the NHL, it’s time to hone in on the Central Division, which features the teams that stand tallest between the Blackhawks and a return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. We continue with two high-powered teams, starting with the St. Louis Blues.
Last season: 27-20-9 (63 points), fourth place in West Division
Key losses: D Vince Dunn, F Sammy Blais, F Mike Hoffman, F Jaden Schwartz
Key additions: F Pavel Buchnevich, F Brandon Saad
The St. Louis Blues addressed some needs this offseason, adding Pavel Buchnevich and Brandon Saad while losing Mike Hoffman and Jaden Schwartz, a trade-off that should mean more depth scoring for the Blues. The Blues essentially added Buchnevich for nothing, which should also very much help the team.
The Blues’ defense, which allowed 2.24 expected goals against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (18th in the NHL) will likely need to be better for the Blues to be a top-two team in the Central. Minnesota and Colorado are both likely to be high-powered and competent after coming out of a strong West division in 2021.
The Blues lost a young, top-four defenseman when the Kraken selected Vince Dunn in the expansion draft. While the Blues have a good top three of Colton Parayko, Torey Krug and Justin Faulk — who had a bounce back season in 2021 — their defense drops off after that and Krug also isn’t the most competent defenseman in his own end.
The Blues didn’t address their goaltender situation in any way in the offseason. Jordan Binnington finished the 2021 regular season with a .910 save percentage and his backup Ville Husso was at .893. The Blues will apparently ride that duo into the 2021-22 season, seeking better results with Husso having tasted the NHL and Binnington not having a gauntlet including the Avalanche, Wild and Golden Knights.
At the same time, the Blues also played many games against the Coyotes, Kings, Sharks and Ducks. If all Binnington could muster was a .910 in the 2021 season, that may not be good news for ‘21-22.
The Blues will be relying on their scoring this season if they’re going to make the playoffs. They’ve helped matters by finally signing Robert Thomas to a contract extension on Tuesday, but they still had one of the worst offenses in the league at 5-on-5 last season, generating just 1.91 expected goals per 60 — 30th in the NHL. Adding players like Saad and Buchnevich should help, especially when the forwards the Blues subtracted were Sammy Blais and Schwartz, not the most helpful offensively.
The Blues have attempted to remain young through some of their recent moves, including the signing of 23-year-old forward Jordan Kyrou to a two-year extension. The Blues also protected 25-year-old Ivan Barbashev over Vladimir Tarasenko in the expansion draft. Tarasenko has a trade request out, but it doesn’t seem like the Blues are in a hurry to move him, and no new trade rumors have popped up involving Tarasenko recently, although some teams may remain in now 29-year-old forward.
The Blues will likely seal a top-three spot in the Central division this season, but — unlike Minnesota and Colorado — there are more obstacles in St. Louis’s way.