Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2019-20, where Last Word On Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2019-20 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2019-20 St. Louis Blues.
2019-2020 St. Louis Blues Preview
2018-19 Season Recap
The Blues completely turned their season around in January, going from last place in the league to third place in the Central Division with 99 points. The Blues beat the Winnipeg Jets in six games, then the Dallas Stars in seven, the San Jose Sharks in six and finally, the Blues got their storybook ending when they beat the Boston Bruins in seven games to win the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup. January to June felt like an alternate universe. Every single win, Blues fans asked themselves, “Is this really happening?” It really was and it really did. The Blues went from last place in the league to Stanley Cup champions in five months. It’s hard to believe anything could ever top that (except maybe repeating).
2019 Off-season Moves
Following their celebration, the Blues had one clear goal: bringing back the same roster that won them the Cup. They had a lot of expiring deals but managed to bring back all of them. This included star goalie Jordan Binnington and hot-topic youngsters Oskar Sundqvist and Ivan Barbashev. Overall, the 2019-20 St. Louis Blues will look next to identical to their Cup-winning selves. This is save for one key name, Pat Maroon. The hometown-hero, who last year finally signed with the team he cheered for growing up, left for the Tampa Bay Lightning this summer. The move was a blow to the stomach of many Blues fans and Maroon himself.
The Blues also significantly bolstered their AHL affiliate, signing players like Derrick Pouliot, Jake Dotchin, and 2019 second-round draft pick Nikita Alexandrov. Overall, the team managed to re-sign almost all of their free agents, meaning they have the opportunity to bring back a next-to-identical lineup to the one that won them the Cup.
Alex Steen – Ivan Barbashev – Oskar Sundqvist
With the exception of Blais, these top-six forwards for the 2019-20 St. Louis Blues should come as no surprise. They steamrolled over their opponents in the latter half of last season and in the playoffs. The top line had 158 points in the regular season (even with all three being injured for parts of the season) and 49 points in the playoffs.
The second line, including Blais, had 127 points in the regular season and 42 points in the playoffs. This was in large part thanks to Conn Smythe winner O’Reilly, who is coming off the best season of his career both in the regular season and the playoffs. He had 77 points in 82 regular-season games. If he can keep up the pace or even do better, this line will remain as good or almost as good as the first line.
Sanford had a sort-of breakout season last year, finally establishing himself as an NHL player. He netted 20 points in 60 regular-season games, adding four more in eight post-season games. To say he’s earned a spot in the lineup is an understatement. The mix of a strong presence with great shooting and hockey IQ makes Sanford an easy pick for the third-line, left-wing role.
The third line was pretty impressive offencively last season. With Sanford, they totaled for 91 points in the regular season and 23 in the playoffs. Thomas had a standout rookie season with 33 points in 70 games and has the potential to be even better this season, maybe even earn a spot higher in the lineup. Bozak had a decent season considering he missed 10 games. He had 38 points. In the playoffs, he put up 13 points in 26 games which is great for a third-line player.
Shockingly enough, the breakout player on the fourth line was Sundqvist. His 31 points in 74 regular-season games and nine points in 25 playoff games were the best out of his line. Steen and Barbashev were close behind him. Steen is quickly approaching retirement, but Barbashev should only get better with time. With Barbashev and Sundqvist both improving, the Blues have a lot of talent on their fourth line.
Carl Gunnarsson – Alex Pietrangelo
These two make an interesting duo. Putting the best defencemen on the roster with a declining Gunnarsson was an interesting move throughout the year, but it worked so it’s very possible the Blues will do it again. Gunnarsson benefits from playing with a defencemen as well-rounded as Pietrangelo.
Parayko is one of those players that is good, but fans always somehow seem to expect more from him. He’s not Al MacInnis — not yet anyway. Bouwmeester is very quickly approaching the end of his career and is not as good as he used to be. Pairing him with Parayko makes him better and gives Parayko someone to learn from.
The Blues third pairing will be interesting this season. Dunn has the potential to become a great defenceman and if this season is somehow better then last season, he is sure to have a great year. Bortuzzo also had a good season last season and while he is getting older, his best years might not yet be behind him. Playing with a defenceman as talented as Dunn could help Bortuzzo become even better as well. The Blues have three well-rounded defensive pairings, which will really help if the goaltending falters.
It’s Binnington’s time to shine. He’s earned it. He was called up in January and rarely came out of the net after that. There is absolutely no way the Blues could have even made the playoffs without him, let alone won the Stanley Cup. He earned himself a big contract, the starting goaltender position and the support of a whole city.
Of course, there is always a chance Binnington could falter. In case that does happen, the Blues are still paying backup goaltender Jake Allen the big bucks, so the hope is that he can come in and play well if needed. He is a solid goaltender but has a tendency to fail under too much pressure. Coming in when Binnington needs a break could be the perfect role for him.
2019-20 St. Louis Blues Players to Watch
Non-fans say that Bennington is just a one-hit-wonder and that he could never be as good as he was last year. Maybe that’s true but Binnington did just set the record for most playoff wins in one season by a rookie goaltender with 16, while stars like Patrick Roy only had 15. What he did does not deserve to be diminished. Realistically, you can’t expect any goaltender to single-handedly get a team to the playoffs, but Binnington did. In fact, that’s all he’s ever done considering last season was his rookie season.
Where’s the proof that he can’t do it again? That’s right, there isn’t any. What he did for the Blues was straight out of a fairytale and while he helped the Blues have a fairytale ending to the season, that doesn’t mean it was the end of his reign. We’ll all just have to wait and see.
Dunn has the potential to become the future of the Blues defence. Offencively, he had 35 points in 78 regular-season games, which was second on the team for defencemen, right behind Pietrangelo, and eight points in 20 playoff games, which was third on the team for defencemen. Defensively, he had a Corsi of 55.3 and a relative Corsi of 4.9.
Overall, Vince Dunn has one of the highest upsides of any Blues player. While he’ll undeniably start next season where he finished last season, alongside Bortuzzo, a faltering Gunnarsson could be the fuel to spark a breakout by Dunn. He will surely hop up into the top-line role and will surely shine.
2019-2020 St. Louis Blues Prediction
The 2019-20 St. Louis Blues will have to work even harder this year. Every team in the Central Division has gotten better over the off-season. While the Blues are bringing back a virtually identical roster, they’ll face much more of a challenge next season.
It’s going to be a close division battle all year. The Blues have shown their division opponents how good they can be, they just need to keep showing them. That hinged on Binnington being able to duplicate the success he had last season. If he can help the Blues win against their division opponents, there is a good chance the Blues could make another deep playoff run and maybe even repeat.