The Blues are on break until returning to game action on Feb. 11. They’re having a good rest, which kind of describes the intensity of their effort in recent weeks.
The Note is 23-25-3 for a points percentage (.480) that ranks 25th among the 32 NHL teams. They swerved into the annual NHL All-Star fair with five consecutive losses, a 2-7 record in their last nine, and a 13-17-3 mark since Nov. 23.
The team’s dopamine level is running low.
So is the probability of the Blues making the playoffs – currently listed at 2.4 percent at Money Puck, and 6% at FiveThirtyEight.
Coming soon: The End Of An Era.
It was wonderful while it lasted.
The only suspense worth mentioning concerns the NHL trade deadline, set for March 3. It’s a matter of time before GM Doug Armstrong trades pending unrestricted free agents Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko, so let the countdown begin … and please speed it up if you can, Army.
The Blues have to get going on a fresh start.
I’ve had some extra time to reset my mind on the Blues, and here are some of the thoughts that came out of the process:
1. Every decision that Armstrong makes should be geared to the future. He knows this. But it would be irresponsible to stay the course with O’Reilly and Tarasenko instead of swapping them for draft picks and an influx of young talent. O’Reilly is having a dreadful season; the metrics at Evolving Hockey rate him below the replacement level in value and performance. Tarasenko has 10 goals on the season. He’s checked out. It’s an embarrassment to have him representing the Blues in the All-Star funhouse.
Strip the sentimentality from this equation and move on. Because of the disastrous long-term investments in defensemen who don’t defend, this team already has enough payroll headaches without burning more resources on two down-side players.
2. The Blues have poor leadership. That should be obvious to everyone right now. This default is a huge factor in the team’s lack of focus, attention to detail, the willingness to correct their most damaging mistakes and bad habits, and the overall lethargy that has knackered their motivation. The messages are sent – but not received. Captain O’Reilly can’t get through to the boys. Coach Craig Berube’s instructions and demands have been tuned out. Other players that have the status to lead aren’t effective. There’s no accountability, very little pride, and an unhappy locker room festers on. Between now and the start of next season, Armstrong must put on a hazmat suit, remove hazardous elements, and do the best he can to purify the locker room.
3. The Blues were loaded with leadership when they won the Stanley Cup in 2019. Sure, that team started slowly, but the coaching change that made Berube the boss recharged the commitment and revised the style of play. The Blues became a sturdy and relentless 5-on-5 tank of a team, and a no-name goaltender (JB) took care of the rest.
Now, let’s pause to think about all of the players that had leadership qualities for the Blues in 2019. Players that are no longer here: Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Steen, Tyler Bozak, Pat Maroon, David Perron, Jaden Schwartz, and Carl Gunnarsson. Ryan O’Reilly was a new and massively important link in the leadership chain. O’Reilly is still a Blue, but the paradigm has shifted, and he won’t be around for much longer.
4. So who are the leaders now? Many of you will offer Brayden Schenn as an answer, but I respectfully disagree. He hasn’t been part of the solution. He’s tried, but hasn’t had much impact. This team collectively has drifted away. Schenn is barely above the replacement level this season with 0.3 WAR. And his on-ice goal differential – minus 12 – is third-worst to Noel Acciari (minus 18) and O’Reilly (minus 35) among Blues forwards. None of the Blues defensemen have leadership juice – the personalities that can get teammates going, even if it means calling them out behind closed doors. Three potential next-phase leaders are Robert Thomas, Pavel Buchnevich, and Ivan Barbashev. But Barbashev can leave as a free agent after the season. He’s worth keeping.
5. Since we’re talking about leadership: has Berube lost his effectiveness as coach? Why don’t the players respond to his messaging, and his urgings? Why do the Blues come out with such little energy in so many games? Armstrong needs to get some answers after the season. Or we can ignore it and pretend that the coach and the players are connected and communicating in a way that leads to improvement. I believe that personnel is the overwhelming problem here, but it’s an awful look when the players pay no mind to the coach.
6. The Blues are spending $31 million on salaries for their defensemen this season. Here’s the on-ice goal differential for each defenseman:
Colton Parayko, minus 28
Nick Leddy, minus 21
Niko Mikkola, minus 13
Torey Krug, minus 9
Robert Bortuzzo, minus 8
Justin Faulk, minus 7
Calle Rosen, +13
When you’ve spent $31 million on bigger-name veterans only to have Calle Rosen step up to become your most effective defensemen … well, that’s your basic Epic Fail.
Parayko’s minus 5.7 Goals Above Replacement is among the worst by an NHL defenseman this season. Here’s where the highest-paid Blues defensemen rank among all NHL defensemen in contract value based on performance in 2022-2023:
Krug, No. 125
Faulk, No. 126
Leddy, No. 145
Bortuzzo, No. 149
Parayko, No. 153.
7. To restate the indisputable, the Blues have collapsed in the area of goal prevention, goal suppression, etc. Sure, the St. Louis offense could be scoring more goals, but a regression was inevitable after last season’s unusually high shooting-percentage aberration. The Blues are being peppered for an average of 3.57 goals per 60 minutes which ranks 26th among 32 teams. Last season the Blues allowed 2.89 goals per 60, which ranked 11th in the NHL.
8. In the raw goals-against per game average, the Blues’ current rate of 3.61 GA/G would be the 10th worst in the team’s 55 seasons of existence. Until this season the nine highest goals-against averages yielded by the Blues occurred in the 1970s and 1980s.
9. Mistakes, mistakes … and a lack of competitiveness. This season, when the Blues are charged with a giveaway of the puck, 59.12% of those giveaways have happened in the defensive zone. Brutal. That ranks 28th in the NHL. And when we count all of the takeaways in the Blues’ game this season, their opponents have come up with a 55.4 percent share of the takeaways. Terrible.
10. Goaltending, factually speaking: This season the Blues rank 28th in save percentage (.904) at 5-on-5, 31st in save percentage (.893) at even strength, and 28th in save percentage (.887) in all situations. They have the poorest save percentage (.775) of any team on high-danger shots at all strengths.
10a. In order, here is goaltender Jordan Binnington’s Quality Start percentage in each of his five seasons with the Blues:
After this season Binnington has four more seasons remaining on his six-year, $36 million deal. Over the final four seasons Binnington’s contract has a $6 million cap hit in each season.
Thanks for reading …
Hope you have a swell weekend …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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All stats used here were sourced fromHockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick, Evolving Hockey, Money Puck and Puck IQ