St. Louis Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong fields questions at a press conference.
As Vegas and Florida demolish each other in quest for immortality, the St. Louis Blues are among 30 other NHL squads agonizingly sitting on their hands until late June.
So what else can we do with this team other than overthink?
The Blues tore down some major studs in their Cup-winning core as a final, defeated gasp to a paltry season, after shipping rentals Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko to the Leafs and Rangers (respectively). It became clear to the fanbase that youth would become the new driving force behind a retooling squad. With Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas’s monster extensions kicking in, the Blues have just a hair over 7.5 million in free cap. Between that freedom and three first round picks in this year’s draft in Nashville (including the 10th overall pick), that gives the Blues some decent runway to turn around a losing season and reach playoff contention in a weak Central division.
That all being said, what’s brewing in General Manager Doug Armstrong’s mind before the draft on June 28th and the opening of free agency July 1st? Army could trade away one of his three bullets in the first, make a splash signing, even send another huge piece away from St. Louis. And Doug certainly seems to feel that sentiment as the draft approaches:
“I don’t like [having a top 10 pick],” he said in a media avail on June 2. “I’d rather be farther back in the draft. But it is exciting. It’s exciting for your staff, it’s exciting for people around to see there is a ray of sunshine in a dismal season… It’s not a lot different because I let the amateur staff do their job at the draft. I have a better knowledge of who we’re going to get at 10. When you’re picking at 28, 29, 30, 32, there’s so many players. You don’t know what’s going to happen in front of you.”
After lots and lots of mulling, thinking, and imagining a roster hitherto a Fantasy Hockey roster, here are a couple of options the Blues could look at to make themselves look dangerous again, ranging from being totally plausible to a complete moonshot.
Rational Signing – Carson Soucy
Carson Soucy (Seattle, UFA) was a smart pickup by the Kraken as a two-way defenseman and could become the foundation of rebuilding the Blues’ left side. He may want to stick around in Seattle after their first playoff appearance got them as far as game 7 of the quarterfinals, but with an expiring deal of 2.75 million, he could slot in well along the likes of Colton Parayko and become a shutdown defender, much like we saw of Jay Bouwmeester back in the Cup run.
Bold Signing – Ryan O’Reilly
O Captain, our Captain. After his brief stint with the Leafs, the rumors seem to confirm the Blues former captain won’t be returning with the Leafs again. That said, could the latest captain of St. Louis and Conn Smythe winner O’Reilly run it back with the Blues again? His previous 7.5 million deal with the Blues ran out this year, and it may not be too far-fetched that Armstrong takes his temperature on returning to St. Louis as a number-one center.
Galaxy-Brain Signing – Patrick Kane
Grab your pitchforks and torches. The city of St. Louis sports’ second-biggest pariah (behind Stan Kroenke) becomes a free agent this year after a multi-cup winning 8-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks. With a staggering previous cap hit of 10.5 million, 34-year-old Patrick Kane won’t be a sustainable option (money-wise) for most NHL teams, but a career-low 21 goals and 57 points last year proved Kane still has elite scoring capabilities.
Rational Trade – Marco Scandella
After a season plagued with injury, Marco Scandella’s return to the lineup may have done much more harm than good. The 32-year-old blueliner went from 70 games last season as a bottom-4 defender to just 20 this season, scoring only one goal. He went from a contract year just before his extension to an abysmal 5% projected WAR (according to JFresh Hockey). Most armchair GM’s would just buy out his contract entirely and eat the 2 million owed, but if any real GM would take on a deteriorating contract like Scandella’s (we’re not looking in Tempe’s direction), it would be a solid loosening of the belt in terms of cap space, even if the return is a bag of pucks.
Bold Trade – William Nylander
After another season lost in Toronto, shockwaves around the Leafs organization are firing off one after the other. Dubas is fired and moves to Pittsburgh, Jason Spezza resigns, Brad Treliving becomes the new GM; what could be next? Our guess is as good as anyone’s, but the consensus around the league is at least one of Toronto’s “Big 4” in Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, John Tavares, or William Nylander, will not return in blue and white.
“This can’t be about the ‘Core Four’. This is about the Toronto Maple Leafs,” Treliving said in his first press conference as GM. “It’s not about four players, it’s not about two, it’s not about one. It’s about the 23 guys we’re gonna have in this organization”.
While it seems Matthews is untouchable, Tavares is the resolute leader of the locker room, and Marner’s cap hit is simply gargantuan, which leaves one of the Leafs’ most productive forwards: William Nylander.
Nylander, 27, won’t be the easiest pill to swallow should the Blues decide to strike: Nylander carries a cap hit just under 7 million for one last year. That might require some cap gymnastics and substantial compensation to fit him, but a 30+ goal-scoring winger to replace Tarasenko would help juice up some immediate offense. A plus with Toronto, however: The Blues have valuable draft capital where the Leafs don’t. A minus: Armstrong’s frequent trade partner in Kyle Dubas is no longer with the franchise, and Brad Treliving is certainly no patsy.
Galaxy-Brain Trade – Clayton Keller
Come home, Clayton.
While Keller’s father set Twitter ablaze a few weeks ago with tweets that he is dissatisfied with the Arizona Coyotes, and Elliotte Friedman reported Keller’s representatives met with club ownership to discuss the future of the team, Clayton Keller may likely stay in Arizona for the forseeable future. However, the St. Louis native – coming off a career-high, franchise-high 86 points with the ‘Yotes this season, could hear out what the Blues have to offer about bringing him back to his own backyard.
The pros of his talent and the praise he would receive as a hometown superstar would be evident, but with a contract lasting until 27-28 with a 7.2 million AAV, he wouldn’t be easy to pry away. However, the Coyote’s relocation bid failing spectacularly throws some extra fuel to the fire, not to mention the no-trade clause of his contract doesn’t take effect until 2024-25.
Rational Move – Loosen the Cap
The biggest enemy of the Blues going into 2023 may not be the Central Division teams but the salary cap as a whole. This will make bringing in any superstars difficult, especially with notable contracts like Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas kicking in this season, and Scott Perunovich’s contract in RFA flux. Not many other notable contracts are expiring, so with the small cap increment next season, Armstrong may need to scrape the bargain bin or explore trading away other major pieces.
Bold Move – Strip down the Left D
Most Blues fans primary source of outrage was focused on the left side of the Blues’ defense this season, and for good reason. Torey Krug certainly regressed defensively, Nick Leddy can’t seem to find himself a dance partner on the right side, and Scandella’s injuries have made him almost unusable. Even Colton Parayko has been the blue chip of trade talks, as it feels like most of St. Louis’ D-core are a collective of 2nd-liners trying desperately to punch above their own weight. Sure, the young kids in Matt Kessel, Scotty P and Tyler Tucker could fill in and perform above expected, but with Scott Wheeler of The Athletic ranking the Blues’ prospect pool at 19th in the league back in January, maybe we shouldn’t be holding our breath.
Galaxy-Brain Move – Trade Jordan Binnington?!
I may become ostracized for even manifesting this thought to text, but the honeymoon phase with Jordan Binnington may also be quickly fading. After dominating the league all the way to Lord Stanley in 2019, Binnington’s numbers have waned precipitously. In 60 starts, Binner went 27-27-6 with a .894 save percentage and a 3.31 GAA. While those numbers would suggest that the defense have also done little to assist him, the numbers aren’t the only reason Binnington’s upset some of the fanbase (and yes, this writer included). Binnington’s antics reached a fever pitch this year, even earning himself a suspension after getting in a scuffle with Ryan Hartman.
Was his 6×6 a reasonable deal? Can he rebound this coming season with a better defensive structure in front of him? If the answer to both those questions is “no”, Doug Armstrong may need to do the unthinkable and trade away St. Louis’ golden goose who won them their only Cup not four years ago.