St. Louis Blues preview: three keys for 2021-2022

St. Louis Blues

St. Louis Blues center Brayden Schenn (10) celebrates with left wing Pavel Buchnevich, second from left, defenseman Jake Walman, third from left, and defenseman Justin Faulk after scoring a goal as Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Seth Jones, left, reacts during the second period of an NHL preseason hockey game in Chicago, Friday, Oct.1, 2021. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

ST. LOUIS–The Blues open the 2021-2022 season Saturday, October 16 in Colorado against the Avalanche. While Doug Armstrong and Craig Berube put the finishing touches on the 23-man roster, we’re here with a look at the storylines which look to unfold this season.

VLADDY’S STATUS: Everyone’s saying the right things for now, but Vladimir Tarasenko’s offseason trade request and the team’s inability to find a deal before training camp are proverbial elephants in the (dressing) room. It’s in everyone’s best interest for the forward to prove he’s healthy on the ice and not a chemistry killer off of it. In the meantime, Tarasenko carries a $7.5 million cap hit, which has already forced at least one trade to seek out some salary cap space (Zach Sanford). Mark your calendars, the NHL trade deadline is March 21, 2022.

DEFENSE: Will Colton Parayko be the player we saw before an apparent back injury sapped him in 2021? The club is betting on it, having given him an 8-year contract extension. As The Athletic‘s Dom Luszczyszyn  put it, can Justin Faulk and Torey Krug, players brought to St. Louis in part to help replace Alex Pietrangelo, improve on 2021?

“Pietrangelo was an elite number one, and neither Krug nor Faulk were on that level. A lot of their value came from good fortune, too, with Krug posting a goals percentage that was seven points higher than expected and Faulk nearly 10 points higher. That latter mark may lead to some being optimistic about Faulk’s ability going forward, but it’s something that’s prone to regression, Only 111 defenders have had a difference that high since 2007-08, and the following season, on average, they were at 0.5 points higher. Though 20 stayed above five percent, 17 were below minus- percent. It’s something that’s mostly random. It’s especially hard to believe for Faulk, who has been below expected for most of his career. I’m skeptical he’s much more than a second pairing guy, going forward.”

The defense in front will go a long way toward helping Jordan Binnington in goal or setting him up for a rough time between the pipes. It may be unfair to expect Binnington to be the goalie he was during the Stanley Cup run in 2019, but the team invested six years and a $36 million deal with him last spring so they’ll need more than they saw from him last season.

NEWCOMERS: How will forwards Brandon Saad and Pavel Buchnevich fit in? How will they help fill the void left by Jaden Schwartz’s departure? NHL.com’s Lou Korac described Saad as the team’s most intriguing acquisition and Buchnevich as the biggest potential surprise. How they perform could speak to how the team evaluates the parameters and a timeline for a Tarasenko deal.

So where does this all leave them at the end of the season? Nationally, there appears to be a divide. Some believe there are just too many pieces from the Stanley Cup team gone, or to paraphrase Rick Pitino, “Pat Maroon and Alex Pietrangelo aren’t walking through that door.”

Here’s more analysis from a pair of NHL.com reporters. Dan Rosen doesn’t see St. Louis making the playoffs, while Tracey Myers thinks they’ll “squeak in.”

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