Here is life as a member of the 2018-19 St. Louis Blues: fans went from offering to buy players a one-way ticket out of town to buying them beers. A Stanley Cup will do that, especially when it’s the first one in the franchise’s 52-year history.
The long-awaited celebration finally happened, as the Blues completed their worst-to-first story. After sitting in last place in the NHL standings in early January, they beat Boston in seven games in the Cup final. “This group of guys, we’re legends, we’re legends now,” said Ryan O’Reilly, who took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. “One of the boys said to me, ‘We’re heroes.’ We just brought a Cup to the city.”
After winning one Cup, can the Blues repeat? Only one team, Pittsburgh, has done so in the past 20 years, but the Blues will return with almost their entire roster intact. They do so, however, in the NHL’s most brutal division.
The Blues set a franchise record as 13 players finished with double-digits in goals last season: Vladimir Tarasenko (33), O’Reilly (28), David Perron (23), Brayden Schenn (17), Oskar Sundqvist and Ivan Barbashev (14), Alex Pietrangelo and Tyler Bozak (13), Vince Dunn (12), Jaden Schwartz (11), Colton Parayko, Patrick Maroon and Alexander Steen (10).
With Pietrangelo, Dunn and Parayko in that group, it marked the first time in team history the Blues had three defensemen score 10-plus goals, which is impressive for an organization that once had Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger on the same blueline.
The lone player in that group of 13 who was a UFA this summer was Maroon, so the Blues will still have a balanced offensive attack.
The Blues’ defense was atrocious the first half of 2018-19, allowing 3.30 goals per game through the first 37 contests. But ‘D’ was the team’s strength in the second half, as they surrendered just 2.18 goals per game in the final 45 outings.
Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester were an incredible shutdown pair, which was no more evident than in the playoffs against the top lines of Winnipeg, Dallas, San Jose and Boston. All seven defensemen are expected to return, including Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson, who were re-signed to inexpensive short-term deals.
Rookie Jordan Binnington began last season fourth on the depth chart and finished the year hoisting the Stanley Cup. The 2011 third-round pick had become a forgotten prospect around the league, but he elevated himself to a household name by posting five shutouts in his first 18 NHL starts. Binnington snatched the net from Jake Allen, giving the Blues the goaltending they needed. The tandem is expected to stay intact, and while Allen is an expensive backup ($4.35 million), he’s a supportive teammate and a solid 1B if needed.
The power play ranked No. 10 in the regular season, but it floundered in the playoffs and could have cost the Blues the Cup. St. Louis scored on only 13 of 80 opportunities and gave up a league-high four shorthanded goals in the post-season. The first unit lacked the assertiveness and the creativity to convert. The Blues were considering adding another assistant coach, and one with more power-play experience would be beneficial. At the other end, St. Louis iced a top-10 penalty-killing unit that benefited from Binnington’s brilliant play.
When Craig Berube took over as coach from fired Mike Yeo in November, he did two things: instilled much-needed accountability that cleared up lingering leadership issues and created a team-wide mentality in which players let the biggest of issues bounce off them like nothing. Without those personality differences – and without melting down after moments like San Jose’s game-winning goal on a “hand pass” in the conference final – the season never would’ve ended the way it did.
The lineup is fairly set, but center Jordan Kyrou could push for a roster spot. A second-round pick in 2016, Kyrou has the speed that the club covets. Defensemen Mitch Reinke and Niko Mikkola are close but would benefit from more AHL seasoning.
The only personnel change on the ice last season was Binnington, and he made a huge difference. It seems foolish to second-guess a goalie who just won the Stanley Cup, but Binnington has only made 56 career NHL starts. If he remains the real deal, the Blues are in solid shape.
On Jan. 2, with the Blues in last place, ownership listened to GM Doug Armstrong’s plan and was rewarded with a Cup. Berube was handed a three-year extension shortly after the title win.
– Jeremy Rutherford
Stanley Cup Odds: 22/1
Prediction: 5th in Central
The Stanley Cup champs still have help on the way with forwards Jordan Kyrou, Dominik Bokk and Klim Kostin, though there’s no rush. Defenseman Scott Perunovich has now won back-to-back NCAA titles with Minnesota-Duluth. Top 2019 pick Nikita Alexandrov is a sturdily built center who missed the 2018 draft cut-off by one day. Smart and skilled, Alexandrov works hard and has nice vision. Big winger Alexei Toropchenko dazzled in the OHL playoffs and is hard on pucks.
1. Jordan Kyrou, C
Age 21 Team San Antonio (AHL)
A creative two-way forward who scored just under a point per game as an AHL rookie.
Acquired 35th overall, 2016 NHL ’19-20
2. Dominik Bokk, RW
Age 19 Team Vaxjo (Swe.)
A skillful winger who performed admirably as an 18-year-old in top Swedish League. Joins Rogle.
Acquired 25th overall, 2018 NHL ’21-22
3. Klim Kostin, RW
Age 20 Team San Antonio (AHL)
Powerful skater with strong stickhandling abilities. Offense slow to come in two AHL seasons.
Acquired 31st overall, 2017 NHL ’20-21
4. Scott Perunovich, D
Age 21 Team Minn-Duluth (NCHC)
Undersized but great vision. Has 65 points in his two NCAA seasons. Sticking around for more.
Acquired 45th overall, 2018 NHL ’21-22
5. Joel Hofer, G
Age 19 Team Portland (WHL)
Tall, skinny stopper was a savior on poor Swift Current team before trade. Needs to add girth.
Acquired 107th overall, 2018 NHL ’24-25
6. Jake Walman, D
Age 23 Team San Antonio (AHL)
Inconsistent during two years in AHL. Breakthrough has to come on defensive side.
Acquired 82nd overall, 2014 NHL ’20-21
7. Ville Husso, G
Age 24 Team San Antonio (AHL)
Passed on AHL depth chart by Binnington. Huge drop-off from 2017-18 dominance a concern.
Acquired 94th overall, 2014 NHL ’21-22
8. Nikita Alexandrov, C
Age 19 Team Charlottetown (QMJHL)
German-born pivot on fast track to scoring zone. Speed is his calling card. Still getting stronger.
Acquired 62nd overall, 2019 NHL ’23-24
9. Alexei Toropchenko, RW
Age 20 Team Guelph (OHL)
Dynamic winger helped Guelph win title. Blossomed as a playoff finisher – 13 goals, 24 games.
Acquired 113th overall, 2017 NHL ’22-23
10. Niko Mikkola, D
Age 23 Team San Antonio (AHL)
The big defenseman doesn’t put up many points, but he makes his presence known in his own end.
Acquired 127th overall, 2015 NHL ’20-21