Are you ready? We’re back to the 82-game regular season format, which means more joy and also more pain. It’s a roller coaster of emotions every season because there are always surprises, and the good ones can make us feel like geniuses while the bad ones feel like belly flopping into an empty pool.
But we’re all gluttons for punishment, so we might as well stay as informed as we can to later rationalize why the fantasy hockey gods hate you. Yes, they specifically hate you.
2021-22 Fantasy Outlook: St. Louis Blues
Last season: Was it just an extended post-Cup hangover exacerbated by COVID-19 or was there some complacency and rot that had set in? Following their win in 2019, the Blues were upset by the Canucks in the first round in 2020 and outscored 20-7 in a sweep by the Avalanche in 2021. There were bound to be some bumps following a significant turnover on the blueline, which included the retirement of Jay Bouwmeester, the departure of captain Alex Pietrangelo and the addition of Torey Krug, and combined with inconsistent goaltending, the normally dependable and predictable Blues were suddenly all over the map.
They had a blistering start in January going 6-2-1, but over the next two months won just two games at home. Their offense had dried up and their normally stalwart defense looked particularly vulnerable, with no thanks to a very pool penalty kill that ranked 25th. A standout season from David Perron was negated by a down season from Jaden Schwartz and limited appearances from Vladimir Tarasenko, and among their next wave of young players, only Jordan Kyrou really took a step forward. The good karma from “Gloria” had vanished, and the Blues’ nondescript season led to another offseason of significant changes.
Best option: Ryan O’Reilly, C
O’Reilly has been a model of consistency and on average has scored at a 65-point pace over the past decade, ranking 33rd with 0.80 points per game (min. 500 GP). There may be better options when it comes to scoring, but O’Reilly really shines in leagues that count faceoffs; over the past five seasons, O’Reilly leads the league with 4,982 wins, one of just five centers with over 4,000 wins and over 600 wins ahead of second-place Anze Kopitar, and trails only Patrice Bergeron in winning percentage (min. 250 GP). In roto leagues where winning the goals category is equally valuable to winning the faceoffs category, O’Reilly is like the McDavid of faceoffs, and there tends to be more predictability and less variance in faceoff wins than scoring, which can sometimes be a by-product of better shooting luck. That’s probably the only red flag for O’Reilly this fantasy season; his 18.6 S% last season is an elite mark and much higher than his career average, but a drop in goals scored could be offset by an increase in assists with new potential wingers Pavel Buchnevich and Brandon Saad.
Hidden gem: Torey Krug, D
It really feels like Krug is often the top-10 defensemen everyone in the league seems to forget. Since his rookie season, his 367 points is ninth-best among defensemen, and his 172 power-play points ranks fourth, one behind Erik Karlsson and two behind John Carlson. He’s not an imposing defenseman and there’s nothing particularly flashy about his game, but he’s about as consistent as they come and good for roughly 50 points every season. His 1.8 shooting percentage from last season should improve, if only because it should regress to the mean, and he returns to quarterback a power play that ranked sixth in the league. Yet, he’s the 19th defenseman off the board based on his Yahoo average draft position of 94.9, meaning that there are plenty of managers who have already found a fantastic value pick. Maybe Krug doesn’t have the same upside as a player such as Miro Heiskanen (ADP: 80.6), but based on opportunity and past history, Krug is the much better choice.
This is perhaps the Blues’ biggest area of concern. If Jordan Binnington can’t stop pucks, it won’t matter how good they are defensively. His big six-year extension worth $36 million kicks in this season and we’ve seen plenty of goalies coming off Cup wins early in their careers and never manage to reach the same peak again. There’s a strong bearish sentiment to Binnington’s fantasy value akin to a decline seen in Carey Price, Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry, but it also seems to have gone too far. Binnington’s 85.8 ADP in Yahoo leagues trails that of Price (61.8), who plays on a potentially worse team; Spencer Knight (85.0), whom Joel Quenneville just announced will certainly be the backup; and even Frederik Andersen (44.0), who is looking at a timeshare in Carolina.
The Blues’ massive financial investment in him also means they’re stuck with him for at least a little while, and based on last season’s performance, it doesn’t see like Ville Husso is a threat to take the job, either. Binnington’s fantasy value will mostly be derived from playing time, rendering him a mid-tier goalie with upside if the Blues collectively improve and become a top-5 team in the Western Conference. There’s certainly a risk and Binnington is prone to the occasional bad start, but if you can live through the ups and downs and be smart with the matchups, the overall results over the course of the entire season should be positive.