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Are the St. Louis Blues Still Cup Contenders?

The St. Louis Blues spent the off-season locking in their two franchise forwards to terrific deals. But have they done enough to remain a contender for next season?
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Much of the 2022 off-season for the St. Louis Blues has been focused on the future. 

Aside from some slight tinkering in re-signing Nick Leddy and swapping out Ville Husso for Thomas Greiss, the bulk of the Blues' efforts this summer centered around the organization's path ahead, with the club wasting no time in securing their two offensive pillars by signing both Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas to identical eight-year deals just a few weeks apart. 

If both players continue along their current trajectories, these deals will become bargains sooner rather than later. Kyrou and Thomas are among the most tantalizing young forwards in the game, with each bringing their own relatively unique strengths to the table that should give the Blues a solid base upon which to build in the years to come.  

But this isn't exactly a rebuilding team, either. 

With less than $700,000 in cap space heading into 2022-23 and a roster filled with veterans, the Blues are very much in "win-now" mode, hoping to eke out one final Stanley Cup banner before the core that helped capture the franchise's first title back in 2019 leaves completely. Ryan O'Reilly is a free agent following this season. The clock is ticking. 

Can they do it? Well, it might be tough. 

Given how three of the Blues' four major moves this offseason involved keeping players on the roster that were already there, it's tough to imagine this year's version being better than the last. 

There are still glimmers of hope, though. Kyrou and Thomas will likely take respective steps forward, improving upon their point-per-game outputs from 2021-22 and therefore elevating their team's offensive attack that surprisingly ranked fourth in the NHL in goals-for. 

As for the rest of the roster? Well, the crease might be a problem. A big one. 

Gone is the goaltender who more or less saved the Blues' season last year, effectively leaving Jordan Binnington, who lost his job to Husso and also hasn't posted a save percentage above .910 since 2019-20, as the club's primary hope. That's not ideal. And instead of a 26-year-old who nearly posted a .920 save percentage after being thrust into action while leading the Blues to a 109-point season, the safety net behind Binnington is now a 36-year-old who barely cracked .890 last year while allowing close to 14 goals above average in just 28 starts. 

If Binnington returns to the form that earned him his lucrative contract that has recently inched towards the precipice of disaster, great! But Binnington's ceiling, even during that magical 2019 Cup run, looks less impressive in the harsh glare of hindsight, with the former journeyman posting an albeit respectable .914 save percentage in those 26 postseason games to go with a dicey -2.0 GSAA. 

The Blues of 2021-22 were a fine hockey team, one that finished third in their division and punched a ticket to the second round of the playoffs before being dusted by the eventual Stanley Cup champions. That group has since lost franchise staple David Perron for nothing and replaced him with a collection of journeymen and AHLers in Noel Acciari, Josh Leivo, Logan Brown, and Nathan Walker. 

Even when factoring in the aforementioned improvements from Kyrou and Thomas, it's hard to imagine the Blues improving upon their output from last season -- which, as has been established, was only good enough to net them a single series win. 

It's not as if the rest of their division has taken a massive step back, either. 

The Colorado Avalanche re-signed nearly their entire championship roster while replacing the departed Nazem Kadri with Evan Rodrigues at a fraction of the price. The Minnesota Wild kept Marc-Andre Fleury around, swapped out his aging and unhappy understudy with an intriguing 24-year-old, and will benefit from another huge season from their own star forward. The Nashville Predators perhaps improved the most of the bunch, adding Ryan McDonagh to an already effective blueline for free and signing Nino Niederreiter as phenomenal scoring depth. 

Even in the most generous of outlooks, the Blues stayed stagnant while their closest competitors either did the same or improved upon their previous iterations. 

That won't cut it in today's NHL. The Blues will undoubtedly challenge for a Western Conference playoff spot once again, likely even repeating their third-place divisional finish from the year before. But when it comes to extending their contention window in the hopes of one last magical run, the odds are not in St. Louis' favor. 

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