Winslow Townson, USA TODAY Sports
In this second installment of the Blues Season review, I will focus on the defensemen and the goalies that helped carry the Blues to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. I already covered the forwards in part one, which you can find here. Give that a read if you haven’t already.
The Blues defense has had its share of ups and downs this year. Going into the season, I said they were probably one of, if not the most robust defense in the league. Then October and November happened, and I was starting to think that maybe I had vastly overrated them. However, this is a resilient group, and they bounced back remarkably well. They came together as a unit and improved individually as players, to provide a solid core upon which this championship was ultimately built. Now let’s take a look.
I’m not sure what I can say about the Blues captain this season. He didn’t have a great season. However, it wasn’t as bad as some of his critics have made it out to be. I will admit that I floated the idea of trading him back in those dark days of January before this team suddenly emerged from the darkness and started tearing their way through the entire league. All I can go on here is to state facts. Pietrangelo is a top 20 NHL Defenseman, with the ability to be top 10 when he’s on his game.
This year was not one of those years. He played only 71 games, owing partially to an injury he suffered that kept him out much of December. In those 71 games, he posted 13 goals and 28 assists for 41 points. He also laid out 62 hits which are the most physical he’s been in 5 years and racked up a solid 139 blocks. On the bad side, however, he only averaged 24 mins a game. That is more than a minute less than what he’s been averaging recently. He also had 50 giveaways, way too many for a top-line defenseman, especially when he only registered 55 takeaways. Some of that decline in minutes may be due to good seasons from other Defensemen. Vince Dunn and Colton Parayko both siphoned off some of his minutes. That doesn’t excuse his lowered stats in other areas though.
His biggest problem this year is probably his plus/minus, which sits at a +2 for the season. In his top years, when Petro was a top 5 finalist for the Norris, those numbers were in double digits. There is one other bright spot to this year, and that is Petro’s possession numbers. He had a CF% rel of 2.8, his highest since 2010-11.
In the Playoffs, Petro was able to show off his abilities more than he was in the regular season. He played all 26 games and was a vocal leader on and off the ice. Petro scored 19 points, including 16 assists, tied for the league high in assists and a franchise record for the Blues. He had a +5 rating and blocked 48 shots. The Blues Captain did only average 25:45 mins, due most likely to the improvement in other players, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 25 mins per game in the playoffs is still top pair minutes. It’s good that the Blues feel confident enough in their other guys that they can split the time more evenly. That is a good sign for the overall health, and depth, of the team.
Most importantly, though for both Petro and Blues fans everywhere, we got the cup. Alex Pietrangelo did what David Backes, Chis Pronger, Brett Hull, Bernie Federko, Brian Sutter, Barclay Plager and Al Arbour all failed to do. He got to lift the Stanley Cup. Alex Pietrangelo is the first Blues player ever to touch the Stanley Cup. That is something that will not only go down in history but will stay with Alex for the rest of his life.
Regardless of the stats, or where you rank him amongst NHL defensemen, Petro was and is our Captain. He seemed to struggle in that role last year. Coming out of January, however, it looks as though the team may have finally bought into his leadership. He compliments Coach Berube’s style, providing a soft hand to Berube’s toughness. That leadership combination was integral in leading this team to the Cup Final.
Currently, Petro has one year left on his contract. He will be a Blue next year, and he will have the “C” on his chest. Based on his interviews and attitudes over the last few years, I think he would love nothing more than to extend his time in St. Louis and hopefully keep that “C.” Based on this year’s performance, the team we currently have, and the guys we might have coming up the pipe, I would be surprised if that doesn’t happen, possibly this summer instead of next.
Parayko showed us something this year we haven’t seen much from him, good solid defense. He played 80 games, about average for him, his career low so far is 79. In those games, he played 22:47 min on average and managed a +20. That is second highest on the team behind only O’Reilly and highest for Blues Defensemen. He also set new career highs for Blocks and Hits at 157 and 127 respectively. However, in doing that his offense struggled a little.
Parayko did manage to set a new career high for goals, 10. However, he paired it with a career-low Assists at 18 and a career low of Points at 28. He also only beat his career low for Shot Attempts by 2. Colton had 352 this year; his low is 350 set in 2015-16. However, 176 of those shot attempts got on target, and he also posted a career high in shooting percentage at 5.7%. So, he’s taking fewer shots, but what he does shoot is more accurate.
On the downside, he had 43 giveaways and only 33 takeaways. That’s tied for a career low in the latter and a career-high in the former. It’s also the first year in his career that his giveaway/takeaway ratio was negative. The scariest thing about Parayko’s stats this year though to me, at least, was his Corsi number. He posted a CF% rel of -2.4. That is not only a career worst, but it’s also the first time in his short career he’s been negative in that stat.
In the playoffs, Parayko played a much better style than in the regular season. I would even go so far as to say he was our best Defenseman in the playoffs. He posted 12 points, two goals, and ten assists. Finished with a +6 rating and probably most importantly, registered an ATOI of over 25 mins a game. That is first pair minutes, and that is ultimately what Parayko strives to be, a first pair Defenseman. He spent the playoffs splitting that duty with Pietrangelo, and it worked beautifully. If that work level can be translated into the regular season, then we could be seeing the future of the Blues defensive system right there.
Numbers aside though, Parayko is in a bit of a rough spot. He is a Right Defenseman, and that leaves him blocked on the depth chart by Pietrangelo. When Petro got hurt, Parayko stepped into his role and did an excellent job. The team wasn’t playing great at that point, but Parayko did his part. It also appeared that he could handle the pressure of the first pairing defense. Had the Blues failed to turn the season around, I would have said that they trade Petro and hand his spot over to Parayko. However, with them winning the cup, that seems unlikely to happen.
Parayko is currently under contract through 2021-22 and will be a UFA after that. Therefore, Petro and Parayko will have to settle into some system to share the top pair minutes. If not, one of them is going to take the position and not give it back. Honestly, either of those could happen. If it’s the former, then I would suggest we might see both of them spend a long time with the Blues. If it’s the latter, then one of them will likely get traded probably in the 2021-22 season. For now, though, we should enjoy having two top pair right Defensemen on the roster for as long as we can.
Dunn had a bit of a weird season. Like most of the team, he didn’t look good at the beginning and then he started to look great near the end. Overall, his sophomore NHL campaign was good but not great. He set new career highs in pretty much every category. He played 78 games, averaged 17:32 mins, which is substantial second pairing time. Dunn also managed to score 12 goals and 23 assists for 35 points. All of those numbers are career highs as were his shot numbers. He had 150 shots, 308 shot attempts, and shot at 8%.
Dunn also managed a +14, had a solid CF% rel of 4.9 and set career highs in Blocks and Hits at 68 and 48 respectively. On the bad side, however, he had 49 giveaways and only 18 takeaways, a career high and low respectively. He also took 45 Penalty Minutes, which is way too much for a top 4 Defenseman like him.
In the Playoffs, he chalked up 8 pts, two goals, and six assists and had 14 hits and 17 blocks. He did that in only 20 games, he missed a few games with a broken jaw, and averaged 15:10 mins. He was playing 2nd pair time in the playoffs, and he was putting up decent offensive numbers. However, he also had a -5 +/- rating and 13 giveaways, neither of which is good.
Dunn is still young. He’s only 22, and his game needs to be refined and worked out. He should have plenty of time to do that playing with veteran guys like Petro, Bouwmeester, and Bortuzzo for the next few years. He is a great skater and a great puck mover, especially in the offensive zone and especially for a Defenseman. I would even hazard to say that many of those giveaways he had were simply the product of trying to move the puck too far or too fast. He also can quarterback the power play and move like a forward when he has the puck.
This year he made a few too many rookie mistakes and at times played very undisciplined. That being said, the good side of Dunn is far more valuable than the mistakes are costly. If he can clean up his game a little, Dunn has the potential to be a top pair Defenseman, especially if he can be paired with the right partner. He will be an RFA after next year, and the Blues will re-sign him.
Joel Edmundson didn’t have the great year I was expecting from him. He had a good year last year, and I was expecting him to step up and claim the left side of the top pair. Instead, he had a fairly average year. He only played 64 games, mostly due to injuries. He missed the beginning of the year recovering from an offseason surgery. Then he missed the whole of late March with another injury.
When he was playing Edmundson averaged 19:23 mins a night, which is between first and second pair minutes. His +/- was solid at +8, but his scoring, which was already not a mainstay of his game, was down. He logged only two goals and nine assists for 11 total points. The worst numbers he had though, were in giveaways. He had 41 giveaways, including ones at crucial moments. Add in that he only registered nine takeaways, and his ratio starts to look even worse.
He did manage 106 blocks and 128 hits. Neither a career high or low, but for a player like Edmundson, both need to be higher. He also had 68 PIMs, which is in all honesty way too high. I understand that Edmundson is a physical Defenseman and plays with a bit of an edge. However, those numbers suggest that he needs to retrain that edge somewhat. The Blues cannot afford that kind of sin bin time for a top 4 Defenseman.
Joel’s playoff stats didn’t look all that good either. He played 22 games, only registered 7 points, had a -2 +/- and 24 giveaways to only four takeaways. You cannot afford all of those giveaways from a Defenseman, especially in crucial games in the playoffs. All in all, Edmundson didn’t have a great year, but he didn’t have an outright lousy year either. There were times when guys like Bortuzzo outplayed him. However, for the most part, he was a solid 3rd pair Defenseman.
Edmundson has likely been surpassed on the depth chart by Dunn at this point. I’m also starting to think that the second pair may be the best we can expect from him. Edmundson is currently 25 years old and is an RFA with arbitration this year. The Blues will re-sign him this year because he will be cheaper than anything comparable they can get on the market. If he’s paired with the right guys, he can be an asset to the team going forward. Keep your expectations restrained though.
Bouwmeester had a much better year this year than I was honestly expecting. After last year’s injury-riddled campaign where he only played 35 games and was at times looking more like 44 than 34, Bouwmeester bounced back this year. He played 78 games and put up 17 points, three goals, and 14 assists. While averaging just slightly over 20 mins a game. His numbers returned to normal for his time in St. Louis. He then capped it off with a great playoff run.
Bouw played all 26 games and averaged 23:30 mins. In that time he notched seven assists, including the initial shot on the first goal of game 7. He even laid out 32 hits and blocked plenty of shots. Part of that playoff performance may have been a drive from Bouwmeester to finally cap off a long career with the trophy he has dreamt of for so long. A prize he was kept away from by the disaster that is the Edmonton Oilers. Bouwmeester is the oldest player on the Blues roster by age and the most experienced in terms of games played. As such, it was only fitting, honestly, that he was the first to take the cup after Petro.
Bouwmeester is 35 years old, and he was slated to be a UFA after this season. However, late in the season, the Blues inked him to an extension for next season worth $3.5 million. The part of me that wants the Blues to keep getting younger and better doesn’t like this deal. However, the practical side of me understands it. Bouwmeester is not the top pair Defenseman that could shut down elite forwards like he was in his prime. He is a known quantity, however.
Bouwmeester is going to give you 20 mins a night. He is solid defensively, although a little slow. Most importantly though he is going to provide you with the benefit of a reliable veteran with a mountain of experience to share. Also for that money, he is not a bad option for a 2nd pair guy that can step up and play top pair in a pinch. Add in the fact that the Blues defensive prospect pool is woefully understaffed, and Bouwmeester starts to make more sense. Keeping an aging Bouwmeester around for another year or two might not be ideal. However, it is much more appealing than taking your chances with the trade or FA market, especially for a critical position.
Bortuzzo started this season as a 7th defenseman on the depth chart. However, the combination of injuries to Gunnarsson and Edmundson and a pathetic early display from Jordan Schmaltz handed him a starting spot for most of the early season. He finished the year with 59 games played, two goals, eight assists, 10 points, and 95 hits. Borts also managed to log a +9 rating which is pretty good considering the Blues’ early record. He also basically matched his career high in ATOI with 15:28 mins per game.
Borts is a fringe 3rd pair guy. At times this year, he was asked to play as high as the 2nd pair for multiple games. He didn’t exactly excel at that role, or step up and claim a higher spot. All things considered; however, he performed the job admirably, and then gracefully bowed out and resumed his usual place, once the person he was replacing returned.
Bortuzzo plays with an old school grit and physicality that isn’t always appreciated in today’s game. However, that’s a style which the Blues have in spades. Much like Patrick Maroon or Sammy Blais, that aspect of his game came to better use in the playoffs. There Bortuzzo played 17 games and registered 27 hits and a decent 12 mins on ice average. He also managed to score two goals and finished the playoffs +3 — both great stats for a Defenseman that doesn’t score all that much.
The Blues signed him to an extension earlier in the year which runs through 2021-22 at $1.375 mil. That move is honestly more an attempt to shore up a weak prospect pool than anything else. It does ensure that at the very least, they will always have a competent Defenseman to stick on the bottom pair should they need him. As well as a replacement if the unproven prospects don’t pan out. Unless the Blues suddenly get two or three NHL Defensemen out of their farm system in the next couple of years, expect Borts to be in a Blues jersey for the foreseeable future.
Staff Photo By Christopher Evans/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)Carl did not have a year worth writing home about. He only managed 25 regular season games due to multiple injury stints. He missed the entire months of October and December and virtually all of February and March. When Gunnarsson did play he logged just shy of 16 mins per game, and managed to score three goals and get four assists. He also posted a +8 rating this season to go along with those limited but respectable numbers. Gunnar did manage to shake off the injury bug to an extent come playoff time. He played in 19 of the Blues 26 playoff games. Including the entire Dallas series and the whole Stanley Cup Final series. He tacked on an additional 3 points, one goal and two assists in the playoffs. All while averaging just shy of 15 mins a game.
This was not the season Gunnarsson wanted to lose to injury, as he is now a UFA. However, that was the reality of his season. The Blues could do worse than re-signing Gunnarsson, and at 32, he’s not exactly all that old. This decision might come down to what terms Gunnarsson is asking and whether the Blues feel they have a replacement. If the money works out and there aren’t any better prospects or free agent options, then I would have no problem having Gunnarsson back in a Blues jersey next year. Hopefully, a healthier Gunnarsson, though.
I honestly seesawed about whether even to put Schmaltz in this article. Sure he played 20 games with the Blues this year, but he didn’t do anything. In those 20 games, he averaged 11 mins and had two measly assists. Currently, he has played 42 NHL games and has yet to notch an NHL goal. At this point, I’m done experimenting with him. He’s a draft bust. You don’t get it right all the time, and the Blues got it wrong with this one. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with him for at least one more year at $700,000. I would say see if you can get anything for him on the trade market. If not, then send him to San Antonio and then wave goodbye after next year. He had his chance, and he couldn’t cut the mustard.
Del Zotto didn’t do much either. Armstrong brought him in at the trade deadline to shore up an injury-riddled defensive core. Almost as soon as he got here, though, they mostly got healthy. Del Zotto played seven games with the Blues and scored 3 points. He’s 28, he’s a UFA, and he’s a less skilled and less physical version of Bortuzzo. I’d rather have Bortuzzo than Del Zotto, and Armstrong feels the same way, since he signed Bortuzzo to an extension. The Blues might resign him if they don’t get Gunnarsson back or find a suitable replacement for Gunnarsson. Mostly to shore up the defense. My guess, however, is that he will hit the free agent market with a new ring and some fantastic memories of a Stanley Cup Championship and a hell of a party.
Chad Johnson is a career backup. He was brought in to be the cover for intended number 1 starter Jake Allen in the wake of Carter Hutton‘s departure. He only played ten games for the Blues though. Johnson had seven starts and went 2 and 6 with a .884 save percentage and a 3.55 GAA. Those kind of numbers are acceptable from your backup when you have Carey Price or Pekka Rinne starting. The Blues didn’t have them. In the end, the Blues needed more than Chad Johnson was capable of giving them. As such, the two parted ways. He went on to play a few games for Anaheim, but that is an article for a Ducks blogger to write.
Now we get to the man that everybody loves to rag on, Jake Allen. I am going to say this right now; Jake Allen is not a top-level NHL starter. At the same time, he is not as bad as he is made out to be.
Jake played 46 games this year with 45 starts and finished the season 19-17-8. He also had an acceptable but not good .905 save percentage and a 2.83 GAA and three shut outs. Those stats aren’t exactly bad. They aren’t eye-popping good, but they aren’t necessarily bad. Digging a little deeper into the stats. Allen had 25 quality starts for a Quality Start % (QS%) of .556. League average in that stat is .53, so Allen was slightly above average there. There is another higher level stat called Goals Allowed % Relative (GA%-). That is a Goalies Goal Allowed % relative to the rest of the league, 100 is dead average in this stat, Allen had a 105 this year.
Put all of those stats into perspective, and you get that Jake Allen is an Average NHL goalie. Nothing more, nothing less. A few years ago he showed flashes of being much better than that. The Blues reacted to those flashes and signed him to a fairly sizable contract for a reasonably long term. Doing things like that, unfortunately, seems to be Doug Armstrong’s one real shortcoming as a GM. Regardless when the heat fell on Jake Allen this year, he couldn’t take it, and he regressed to average. The Blues called up Jordan Binnington, and unless you’ve been living under a rock the past six months, you know the rest.
Now, Jake Allen has caught a lot of crap from the Blues fan base. Some of it deserved and some not. However, regardless of your opinion on him, you have to admit two things: First, that he never gave it back. There are a lot of pro athletes that would have lashed out at the fans for booing them off the ice and for criticizing them in public. Jake didn’t. He bowed his head and took it. He admitted that he wasn’t playing up to the expectations of the fans or that he had set for himself.
Second, once Jake lost his net to Binnington, he didn’t complain about it. He didn’t sulk; he didn’t fight it, he just accepted that Binnington was doing great things. Instead of trying to stand in the way, he stepped back and helped the kid out. Jake gave him advice when needed and accepted his spot on the bench with a smile. He even went so far as to study opposing goaltenders in the playoffs and then mimic them to help the team prepare. Jake scored a lot of points with many fans for both of these things. Ultimately, we won the cup, so all things should be forgiven and forgotten.
Looking forward, Jake Allen is under contract for two more years at $4.35 million. That is a hefty fee for a backup goaltender, especially with Jordan Binnington being an RFA this year and the assumed number 1 next year. I would expect the Blues to look into trading Allen this offseason. They will need a little more cap room to keep the current roster together. Which I would assume is their ultimate goal this offseason. That said, there are plenty of teams in this league that would love to have a dependable average goaltender on their roster. Also, there is still a slightly sour relationship between Allen and at least a portion of the Blues’ fan base. A fresh start might be just what he needs to reclaim the flashes of greatness we saw before.
What can I say about Binnington? The kid came out of nowhere and shocked us all! When this season started Binnington was 4th on the depth chart behind Allen, Johnson, and prospect Ville Husso. He is the guy that has been around the Blues organization for a while but never really got a shot at the NHL. He never really even looked like he was going to be that good during his time in the minors. When the Blues parted company with Chad Johnson in December amid what was starting to look like a lost season, they called up Binnington to replace him.
Binny had never made an NHL start before coming up. His only NHL experience amounted to 13 minutes in relief in 1 game back in 2015-16. He only faced four shots in that game. When he was called up, my initial thought was that Doug was taking stock of his roster. He knew that Binnington was there and that he had never really seen any NHL time. So he called Binny up to see what he was capable of. It was merely a chance to see if Binnington would amount to anything. Maybe to see if he was worth keeping as a backup for later on.
Binnington’s initial month in the NHL seemed to confirm that theory. He was called up in early December and didn’t see much of any action in December. He took over from Allen in 2 games in December. In those games, he played about half the game and didn’t look particularly exciting. Then on January 7th he finally got his first ever NHL start. He took the opportunity to blank the Philadelphia Flyers in what has become widely known as the game that gave birth to Gloria. Neither Binnington nor the Blues ever looked back from then on.
As the regular season drew to a close, Binnington had registered 32 games and 30 starts. He had a record of 24-5-1. A .927 save percentage and a 1.89 GAA. That GAA was the best in the NHL with at least 30 starts. He also notched five shut outs. Binnington registered 20 Quality Starts, for a .667 QS% and finished with an 81 in GA%-. For those not familiar with that stat, 100 is average and lower is better. The league leader in GA%- was Ben Bishop at 73. Those stats are suitable for an elite goalie. For a 25-year-old rookie that has bounced around the AHL for years, they are incredible. The league seemed to agree as Binnington was named a finalist for the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year.
Then the playoffs started. Most of us would have been happy with a decent postseason from the rookie. All Binnington did was make history. He started all 26 games, went 16-10 becoming the first rookie goalie to win 16 playoff games. (Note that in previous years the first round of the playoffs was best 3 out of 5 instead of best 4 out of 7, so guys like Patrick Roy didn’t have the opportunity to get 16 wins). He did that with a .914 save percentage a 2.46 GAA and one shutout.
None of those numbers is world-beating. Binnington finished tied for 10th in the playoffs in Save Percentage and 7th in GAA. However, this is the playoffs, and in the playoffs, all that matters is winning, and Binnington won every game. He also played every minute of every playoff game save 1. He was pulled after 32 mins in game 3 of the Cup Final. For a rookie that was not touted as a future elite, who was passed over and ignored in favor of other prospects, those numbers are fantastic.
On their own, those numbers would be stunning, but when you add in Binnington’s temperament, they get even more impressive. Binnington is a quiet, reasonably stoic guy. He doesn’t say much, and more importantly, he doesn’t let anything get to him. When he lets in a goal, he recognizes it and very quickly refocuses. When he has a bad game, he refocuses again and comes back even better the next game. Binnington never lost consecutive games in the regular season. When he did have a bad game or a bad loss, he generally came back the next game with a huge performance.
That trend continued in the playoffs. He had only 1 case of consecutive regulation losses in the playoffs. The second game of that pair was a 2-1 game with Dallas in which Binnington posted a .926 save percentage. Binnington also surged at the end and in the ultimate game, the Stanley Cup Final game 7. When everything was on the line, he posted a .970 save percentage and allowed only one goal. That is a sign of a clutch performer who is more than capable of handling the pressure.
Toss in Binnington’s rock solid handling of the press, including the memorable lines like “Do I look Nervous?”, “Did it bounce?”, and “Good Eye.” and you have the complete package in a goalie. He has the skills to do the job. He doesn’t let the bad performances get to him. He practically seems to feed off them. He also can handle the press with the grace and style of Greg Popovich or Bill Belichick, while not alienating his fans in the process. NHL goalies are notoriously odd. They are a different breed and with good reason. These guys are signing up to put themselves in front of 6-ounce frozen pieces of rubber going 100 mph. Binnington has all of the odd quirks that NHL goalies usually have and he backs them up with stellar performances.
Now I will give one piece of pause here. There are plenty of goalies that had 1 or 2 good years before getting signed to huge contracts and then collapsing. Binnington doesn’t seem like that kind of player to me, but one can never really tell. I hope that he is the number 1 goalie the Blues have been searching for for years. However, I want to see him repeat his performance from this year and extend it for the whole season next year, before I make a final judgment on him. The Blues don’t have that luxury though.
Binnington is currently an RFA, and the Blues need to get him signed. I expect the Blues to give him a bridge contract, probably 2-3 years at about $3.5-5.5 million. I expect a three year $4.5 or $5 million. There could be a lot of difference in that though, depending on what Binnington wants. Right now he holds a lot of cards on the Blues, considering he brought them their first ever Stanley Cup. More or less stealing the winner take all game 7 of the final on the road in the process. Doug Armstrong is smart though, and he will not let Binnington slip away. This deal will get done, and Jordon Binnington will be the Blues starter come October.
Going into the season, the Blues defense wasn’t supposed to have any question marks. As the season progressed, those questions started to come up with the defense. Some of the key defensive cogs are beginning to get old. The Blues have asked guys to overachieve and, at least this year, have gotten away with it. At the end of the year, the captain got control of his troops. However, we are still expecting a lot from older and injury-riddled guys like Bouwmeester and Gunnarsson, and this team is currently lacking in high-value defensive prospects. For now, the defense is solid. The cracks are starting to appear, though. For an organization that relies heavily on defense, as the Blues do, those cracks need to be shored up. Hopefully next year the Blues can accomplish that through prospects like Mitch Reinke, Nikko Mikkola or Jake Walman next season.
The Goaltending situation was nothing but question marks at the start of the season. By the end, those questions were answered. Jake Allen is Average, and Jordan Binnington might be the real deal. The Blues may very well have found the answer to their goaltending question in Binnington. If so, the only thing that could be holding this team back from another cup next year might be injuries and a lack of Defensive depth. Ultimately though, this season may have just solved the longest running problem on this Blues team. We now have consistent, good goaltending and if the Blues have that, I’m not sure what can stop them.