Thursday, September 17, 2020

Doug Armstrong found right fit with Montgomery

Former Stars coach, fired by Dallas in December, gets second chance to coach 
in NHL; Blues lose Bill Armstrong to Arizona; Tarasenko surgery went well

ST. LOUIS -- Doug Armstrong crossed all the T's and dotted all the I's.

And it didn't take long for the Blues' general manager to know that Jim Montgomery was a fit to be added as an assistant coach to Craig Berube's staff.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues assistant coach Jim Montgomery was hired on 
The 51-year-old Montgomery was hired on Wednesday to join Craig Berube's staff and replace Marc Savard, who stepped down in his role as assistant coach to be with his family.

Montgomery was fired as coach of the Dallas Stars on Dec. 10 for what was termed unprofessional conduct and he later admitted he checked into rehab for alcohol abuse. Montgomery, who guided the Stars last postseason to a seven-game series loss to the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Blues in the second round, is nine months sober.

"I think it was openness to his whole career, not just how it ended but how it began," Armstrong said of Montgomery. "We obviously got into how it ended in Dallas. He was very forthright, gave me contacts of support people that he's using, doctors that I could contact. Everyone deserves a second chance. Everybody on this call has made mistakes. It's how your respond from those mistakes and I wanted to make sure that first and foremost, it doesn't matter how good of a coach you are if you're not coming from an environment that's healthy and he's got everything in order that way. His family was supportive of his decision. From a hockey perspective, it was an easy sell because of all the experiences.

"We started out and we were looking for qualified individuals. That was first and foremost. We were looking to hire the best coach for our team and every coach has different things and reasons they're available. Jim's reason he was available was for something that happened away from the rink. So I just said to him, 'We all make mistakes. If we can afford you the opportunity to get back into something that you love, then we can do that and understand that our goal is to make sure that mistake never happens again.' At the rink is so secondary to all of our lives away from the rink and away from the media outlets that you work for. It wasn't only that we were looking to give the guy a second chance, it's just basically one of the things that the reason Jim was available, we had to address."

Armstrong and Montgomery spoke multiple times and continued to move towards a fit in trying to help resurrect Montgomery's name back into the coaching ranks. Montgomery, whose wife Emily is in St. Louis and the couple had already moved here with their four kids, began his playing career with the Blues in 1993-94 when he signed as a free agent out of the University of Maine.

"Jimmy has a long history in the NHL as a player, had him in the coaching ranks in the USHL, went to college and won a national championship in Denver and back to the NHL with Dallas as a head coach," Armstrong said. "He's got a really good reputation as a strong and powerful coach. He had some personal issues he had to take care of, left the game last year. I talked to Jimmy, I talked to his wife, talked to people surrounding his support staff. It was an extensive background check and an extensive process to make sure that away from the rink, Jim was ready to handle the demands that go into coaching and everything came back very positive. Had an opportunity to take to people that I know from my days in Dallas about him as a coach and everything came back very positive, so I think he's a very good addition to our staff. I know Craig's excited to have someone with his experience down there and it's only going to enhance the coaching of MIke Van Ryn and Steve Ott, two coaches that I think have certainly NHL coaching abilities down the road. It just gives those guys an opportunity to work with a former head coach and someone that can help our team out with Sean Ferrell and David Alexander. I think our coaching staff is very strong and in very good hands."

Montgomery, who ironed out the details of his hiring rather quickly, is expected to fill the role vacared by Savard, who handled the Blues' third-ranked power play this past season.

"I would say over a couple weeks. I had a chance to talk to Jim on a few different occasions," Armstrong said. "The Marc Savard thing, when Marc left, we had an option, we extended our option, we were certainly hoping to have him back, but he decided for his own reasons that he needed to step back from coaching in the NHL. That obviously created an opening and at that point, Bill and I decided that the process that you use, you put out a checklist, not names, but what we want to see in a coach and then you put initials of people's names that fit that and Jimmy's name kept fitting a number of the boxes as far as experience at the NHL level, understanding of the things Craig will want on a day to day basis and being able to talk that same talk because he's been there.

"Initially I think that (filling Savard's role) was the thought going in. I'll let Craig make those decisions of who's on the bench, what areas, how he wants to distribute the responsibilities. At the end of the day from my perspective, Craig is the person we all hold accountable for the goaltending, power play, penalty kill, defense, offense. He's the head coach. How he wants to delegate those roles for his staff, that's up to him."

As one member comes on board, another departs.

Bill Armstrong, who has served as the assistant general manager and director of amateur scouting with the Blues, officially was hired Thursday as the general manager of the Arizona Coyotes.

Bill Armstrong has been instrumental in a role once held by Jarmo Kekalainen, who moved on to become the GM of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Bill Armstrong

"I'd like to congratulate Bill Armstrong taking the position of general manager of the Arizona Coyotes," Doug Armstrong said. "It's a great opportunity for Billy. He worked here before I got here, he became our director of amateur scouting when Jarmo Kekalainen left, added the assistant general manager duties over the last couple of years, has really had his fingerprints all over the success that we've had the last decade. He's earned the opportunity to manage in this league. I look forward to working with him in a different avenue as manager with manager, but I want to congratulate Bill and thank him and wish him nothing but the best. 

"With that information, Tony Feltrin, who's on our amateur scouting staff, has a long history in the NHL running drafts with the New York Islanders and New York Rangers, he'll take both hands on the wheel on this year's entry draft. We'll have Danny Ginnell riding shotgun with him to get us through this draft and after that, we'll sit down and turn to a new course moving forward for next season. Obviously with the uncertainty of the 2020-21 season, not only in the NHL but in all youth hockey starting there, there's no rush to make a decision there. Tony Feltrin will lead our drafts in two weeks and the rest of our staff and we're looking forward to having a very successful draft."

Bill Armstrong said in a statement he's looking forward to the opportunity.

"I am extremely grateful to [Coyotes owner, chairman and governor Alex] Meruelo, Alex Meruelo Jr., and Xavier Gutierrez for this opportunity," Bill Armstrong said. "We have great ownership that is committed to winning, a very good core group of young, talented players, and a passionate fan base. I'm excited about our future and the opportunity to build this team into a perennial playoff contender."

This year's NHL Draft will be done virtually Oct. 6-7. Feltrin, for the time being, will be in charge of handling draft decisions until the Blues sit down after this year's draft to reaccess things.

"Our list is done," Doug Armstrong said. "We did make an agreement with Arizona and with Bill that he won't participate in any fashion with this year's draft with Arizona. All the work that he's done is basically information for the St. Louis Blues, so he won't be able to assist in any draft selections for Arizona for this year. I'm very comfortable with Arizona's excellent understanding  the importance of a draft and understanding why we couldn't allow Bill to participate. He will have the ability to make trades obviously and do all the other general manager duties, but he won't have any access to when they call a name, it's going to be on a list they've prepared before Bill got there.

"Tony Feltrin has been on our staff for a while. He's running the draft and he's had the same title with the Rangers and a big part of drafts with the New York Islanders. He's going to grab the wheel at this year's draft. Danny Ginnell, someone that's been here for a long time, is going to ride shotgun. We have an experienced staff. It'll be seamless for this year's draft in a sense that our list is done. Any trades that we want to make, moving up, moving back, or we tweak our list a little bit, and then after the draft, I'm going to sit down and talk to our group. ... Quite honestly, it's very difficult to be in this new world. I'm not looking forward to rush into anything over this next month or so. This is Tony Feltrin's job moving forward and once we get to the draft, we're going to see if we're playing, when we're playing, what leagues are playing. There's a whole host of things that's going to go into making our next decision. Nothing's right around the corner."

* NOTES -- Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko had successful surgery to repair a recurring dislocated shoulder injury, according to Doug Armstrong.

The initial prognosis is that Tarasenko, who missed all but 10 regular-season games this season and played in four postseason games before being sent back to St. Louis for further tests, is still on a five-month timeline to be reevaluated.

"Talking to the trainer two days ago, he said that it went well and he's on the road to recovery," Doug Armstrong said of Tarasenko. "The first month on this process is relatively slow. I haven't seen him since he's been back. I know I'll be running into him here soon and Vladi is a tireless worker when it comes to rehab. Everything went well in the surgery.

"That is the timeline the doctors felt will be a good time to re-eveluate will be five months. That made me feel that it was a successful surgery because they didn't find anything extensive when they went into it."

Doug Armstrong also said the Blues "had a couple guys that needed to get cleaned up a little bit. I don't really want to mention their names in talking to them about doing it, but everyone will be ready for training camp when it's up and ready."

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Blues hire Montgomery to assistant coach role

Former Stars coach, who began NHL playing career in 
St. Louis, to replace Marc Savard with two-year contract

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues dipped into the pool of familiar coaches to fill a need for an assistant's role.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jim Montgomery has been hired as an assistant coach for the Blues.

The team announced on Wednesday they hired former Dallas Stars coach Jim Montgomery to Craig Berube's coaching staff as an assistant coach.

Montgomery, who began his NHL career with the Blues and whose wife Emily is from St. Louis, agreed to a two-year contract.

Montgomery was fired as coach of the Stars on Dec. 10 for unprofessional conduct and later admitted he checked into rehab for alcohol abuse. He said in a oom interview on the Blues' website he's been sober for nine months now.

"We are excited to add Jim to our team and to Craig’s staff," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said in a statement. "Jim has won at every level he has coached at and we look forward to him being a valuable addition to our team."

Montgomery replaces Marc Savard, who left the team recently to return to Canada and spend more time with his family.

Montgomery will join Berube’s staff that includes Steve Ott, Mike Van Ryn, David Alexander and Sean Ferrell.

"My family and I are very grateful to Mr. (Tom) Stillman, Doug and Craig for this opportunity to be part of the Blues organization," Montgomery said in a statement. "This is an extremely talented group of players and staff and I am looking forward to assisting in any way to help the Blues regain the Stanley Cup."

Montgomery was 60-43-10 in two seasons as Stars coach. Dallas reached the Western Conference Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season and were knocked out in a seven-game series to the eventual Cup champion Blues. The Stars, who were 20-13-5 when Montgomery was fired eventually replaced by Rick Bowness, have reached the Stanley Cup Final this season.

"Losing my job as head coach of the Dallas Stars was a wake-up call," Montgomery said in a statement on Jan. 3. "It was also the appropriate call. I let the team's front office, staff and players down. More importantly, I let my wife and family down. The team's decision to end my role forced me to look into the mirror and decide whether I wanted to continue living a damaging lifestyle or get help. I decided to get help."

This is Montgomery's first NHL assistant coaching job. He won two championships with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League and a national title at the University of Denver, where he spent five seasons, before the Stars hired him.

The 51-year-old signed as a college free agent by the Blues in 1993 after four seasons at the University of Maine. He had six goals and 14 assists in 67 games for the Blues in 1993-94 and ended his playing career by playing for the Missouri River Otters  of the United Hockey League in 2004-05, finishing with 20 goals and 27 assists in 42 games.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Grading the 2019-20 St. Louis Blues

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues had all the right pieces in place.

This was supposed to be one of those rare occasions where an NHL team was equipped to repeat as Stanley Cup champions, and the Blues were on the right path when they were leading the Western Conference after 71 games (42-19-10) with 94 points, but when COVID-19 shut down not only the NHL but the sporting world for months (it shut the NHL down for four months), it derailed the Blues' momentum.

It showed when the team returned to play in the Edmonton bubble.

The Blues lost their exhibition game, 4-0 to the Chicago Blackhawks, then went on to lose all three of their round-robin games going 0-2-1, then falling to the Vancouver Canucks in six games in the first round of the playoffs.

The Blues made some changes, as is usually the case whether a team wins or loses the previous season, but had the majority of their Cup-winning team back ready to make another run at it, but it just seemed like their hearts and minds weren't into being inside the bubble. 

Excuse or not, the Blues just were not the same team as the one pre-pandemic. They made all sorts of uncharacteristic mistakes, they had injuries that impacted the lineup one way or another, and as the team went, so did goalie Jordan Binnington, who despite the numbers was very solid in the round-robin games but did not perform well in the series against the Canucks.

With the 2019-20 season now completed -- in late August for the Blues, mind you -- here are my grades for the season on players, coaches, management and most importantly, those that prepared the players for this longer than usual season:


Ivan Barbashev -- The 24-year-old recently became a first-time father, and he had to leave the bubble to return to St. Louis for the delivery of his son. Barbashev matched his career-high in points with 26 (11 goals, 15 assists) established last season when he had a career-high 14 goals to go with 12 assists but did so in 11 fewer games (69) this season. Barbashev, who the Blues signed to a two-year, $2.95 million contract on Sept. 1, 2019, showed his value as a fourth-line winger throughout the season and was really missed during the playoff series against the Canucks, although he returned for Games 5-6. The Blues found his calling card last season and during the Cup run, he showed what he truly can be on this team, a hard-checking, scrappy forward with the ability to pounce on offensive opportunities; he was second on the Blues with 144 hits. Along with Oskar Sundqvist and Alexander Steen, that line solidified the Blues' lineup throughout the season. Barbashev's penalty minutes did increase slightly this season from last (23 from 17), and at times, can be a bit over-aggressive but not anything that is of concern. That's still a low number considering the role he plays. I still maintain that he has the ability to get to the 15-20 goal mark and in the neighborhood of 30-35 points but playing 11 fewer games this season didn't help his cause. Let's not forget that Barbashev is a second-round pick that came into the league with offensive upside. But it's really good to see how he's settled into a comfort zone and found what makes him successful in the NHL. He was limited to three postseason games because of the birth of his child and quarantine guidelines. Barbashev will be a restricted free agent again following next season and will be motivated to reach even loftier goals.
My grade: B+

Sammy Blais -- Despite putting up career-highs in goals (six), assists (seven) and points (13), it was an injury-plagued season for the 24-year-old Blais in his first full season in the NHL, his third overall. Blais, who played 32 games the previous season before making himself known from Game 6 of the second round of the playoffs to the end winning a Stanley Cup, got off to a solid start to the season after having a great training camp. He had eight points, including five goals, in his first 20 games but sustained a wrist injury Nov. 19 against Tampa Bay and missed the ensuing seven weeks. It set Blais back as far as being able to put up some offensive numbers and he finished with just 40 games this season, but that's eight more than he played last season as a frequent call-up from San Antonio. The Blues have continued to use Blais in various roles, but he's at his best when he's at the top or near the top on a game by game basis in the hitting department and led the Blues with 155. Blais continued to adapt nicely. When he was physical, he was effective and it led to more offensive productivity. Blais was used in a variety lines, most frequently on the third line but also got second-line minutes when his play warranted it. When the Blues had him at their disposal, he had a solid regular season, and Blais put up four points (three assists) in eight postseason games; he was one of the few guys that didn't have a below average postseason. With 13 points in 40 games, that would equate to 26-27 points during a full regular season, the last of his entry-level contract. Blais signed a two-year, $3 million contract July 1, 2019 and will begin his new contract with the 2020-21 season. He had himself a solid campaign but there's still another level he can reach offensively. 
My grade: B 

Tyler Bozak -- The 34-year-old is another that became a father during the pandemic, only this was Bozak's third child when a son was born days after the league paused the regular season. It was the second season of a three-year, $15 million contract Bozak signed prior to the 2019-20 season. My thoughts on Bozak's season are he did everything asked of him, which included more often than not, play the wing position as the Blues continued to make the transition of playing Robert Thomas at his natural center position, which is also Bozak's natural position. He was a solid third-line player and strong penalty killer, although that unit did in the Blues more often than not during the regular season and playoffs. Bozak had 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists) in 67 games, and he had just two assists in eight playoff games. The goals matched last season's total, but the assists were down nine and five fewer games played. Yes, Bozak's best days are behind him and he's getting into the twilight of his career, but he has been a solid leader in the locker room and has groomed the likes of Thomas and Blais, frequent linemates this season, and made them better players. From an intangibles standpoint, there are no complaints. But he is a $5 million player, and $5 million players need to produce more offensively. The 29 points were the fewest Bozak has had since he had 28 in 46 games with Toronto in 2012-13. Bozak was solid in the face-off circle at 55 percent, he was solid and responsible defensively, but the offensive production held him back from a higher grade, especially a guy used on on the second unit of the league's third-ranked power-play. Bozak's power-play points have gone from 18 to 13 to eight last season and just four this season. Not a bad season but one that could have been better from an offensive standpoint.
My grade: B-

Troy Brouwer -- The veteran 35-year-old veteran was signed to a one-year, $750,000 contract two days after Blais went down to injury to add depth and veteran experience. It was Brouwer's second stint with the Blues after playing one season with them in 2015-16, acquired from Washington as part of the T.J. Oshie trade. Brouwer played in just 13 games during the regular season and scored one goal. He spent more than his fair share of practice time on the ice and worked plenty after most the other guys were off the ice. Brouwer did get used in four of eight playoff games and scored against Vegas in the round-robin, playing third- and fourth-line minutes. Brouwer was a good soldier for the Blues and was there in those situations when needed, but not really enough of a body of work to fully analyze a player's season who played sparringly. Don't expect the Blues to bring him back moving forward since they are trying to save every nickel and dime they can being up against the salary cap.
My grade: incomplete

Jacob de la Rose -- The 25-year-old Swedish center was acquired from the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 8 for forward Robby Fabbri. De la Rose played in 34 games for the Blues during the regular season and in five postseason games, all in the series against the Canucks. He had two goals and seven assists (one goal, five assists with the Blues) in 50 combined regular-season games with the Blues and Red Wings. The Blues used de la Rose primarily as a fourth-line center iceman and penalty killer, which he did well at. He had a bit of a physical edge to him, nothing earth shattering but effective. Was OK in the face-off circle, not great at 44.06 percent. The one goal he did score was a beauty against Chicago on Dec. 14, helping the Blues rally from a 3-0 third-period deficit to win 4-3. De la Rose played normally in the 10-minute range, give or take. He didn't hurt the Blues but didn't jump off the charts either. Just another reliable piece to the forward crop that was plugged in when needed. He was set to be a restricted free agent, but the Blues signed him to a one-year, one-way contract worth $700,000 for depth at the center position and for the purpose of being a reliable penalty killer. 
My grade: C+

Jordan Kyrou -- Kyrou followed up his first season in the NHL in which he played 16 regular-season games and had nine points (four goals, five assists) in 28 games this season. The 22-year-old second round pick in 2016 dressed in and played in his first five postseason games as well and had no points. We all know what the word on Kyrou is: a fast, skilled offensive threat, and the goal he scored Dec. 16 against Colorado was all the proof one needs to see just how gifted he can be, and another scored Feb. 21 at Dallas was also a thing of beauty. I don't doubt Kyrou can be an offensive asset for the Blues the more time and ice he gets in the NHL. But as any young player will learn, in order to survive and have a good NHL career, one has to be mindful away from the puck and be defensively responsible, which are areas the Blues still haven't had the full trust to insert Kyrou into the lineup more often. In order to play in the Blues' system, Kyrou has to not only show his offensive capabilities but put pucks in the right places, work to retrieve it back, make smart, sensible plays with the puck and not turn it over or be caught on the wrong end of it. Ask Blais, who was also on this end of the spectrum before he got what the Blues were asking of him, and I get that playing him with skill players would help in that regard. Playing Kyrou on the fourth line won't be a benefit to him or the team, but ice time and playing with skill players comes from trust, and the Blues haven't completely committed in that area. Kyrou is still young and will get it but will be counted on moving forward to take a step forward, especially with Vladimir Tarasenko likely missing the start of the 2020-21 season.
My grade: C 

Mackenzie MacEachern -- MacEachern established career highs in goals (seven), assists (three), points (10) and games played (51) in his second NHL season, surpassing the three goals and two assists he had in 29 games in 2018-19. The 26-year-old also played in his first five playoff games this season, including four of the six games against the Canucks. Used as a fourth-line forechecker, when MacEachern was used, he was effective being a physical presence in limited the limited minutes he played and at times, had a scoring touch around the net and would be a net-front presence. He was given the chance when the Blues returned to get ready for the playoffs to be the fourth-line guy with the Blues knowing Barbashev would depart the bubble for the birth of his child. I just didn't think he took advantage of the situation, and not necessarily his fault completely because the Blues as a team just didn't perform up to standards, but in order for MacEachern to make his living, he has to play responsible with and away from the puck but took penalties in each game of the Canucks series that led to goals. MacEachern will begin a two-year, $1.8 million contract he signed April 17 and more will be expected of him so look for him to remain a part if the Blues' plans moving forward as a depth forward playing fourth-line minutes.
My grade: C+  

Ryan O'Reilly -- What a tough spot to be in? How does one return for an encore after the kind of first season O'Reilly had that culminated with a Cup and Selke Trophy? How do I even offer one ounce of criticism to a guy that bag skates himself, stays on the ice long after most of the players are gone and is either working on drills himself to make him a better player or working with younger players? How do I criticize someone that has given everything he has since he was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres July 1, 2018 in what has been one of, if not the top heist Blues general manager Doug Armstrong has pulled off? Well, I'll start there and be brief. The only downside to O'Reilly's season is the goal production, which took a significant dip from 28 a year ago to 12 this season. And he even admitted in a couple different occasions that O'Reilly didn't shoot the puck enough in games, going from 234 shots in 82 games last season to just 118 in 71 games this season. And that's the end of the Ryan O'Reilly criticism segment. What O'Reilly did was lead the Blues in assists (49), matching his total of last season, and points (61). He's made linemate David Perron, by his own admission, a better player, and made Zach Sanford a much better player. O'Reilly had 18 power-play points to follow up on the 22 he had the previous season, which is good. He excelled again at both ends of the ice, won 55.56 percent of his face-offs and was No. 1 in the league with 880 face-off wins. O'Reilly had the Blues in a good position when the regular season concluded and he continued his fine regular season into the playoffs with 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in nine games. When the Blues won Games 3-4 against the Canucks to even the best-of-7 series 2-2, O'Reilly was front and center as one of the reasons why. His line dominated puck possession, were superior with Corsi numbers and limited Vancouver's top players as well. And once again, O'Reilly has been nominated for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy and Lady Byng Memorial Trophy along with the Selke Trophy, for which he finished third this season after winning it in 2019. I thought long and hard about downgrading this slightly because of the dip in goals, and I probably should, but too many other intangibles that O'Reilly provides served as my better judgment. This guy has leader written all over him.
My grade: A+

David Perron -- David Perron didn't want to be seen as a one-hit wonder. Of course he's proven over his career that he can produce, but upon his return to St. Louis a year ago for his third stint, he was determined to stay consistent and be exactly what the Blues were looking for when they signed him to a four-year, $16 million contract July 1, 2018. Not only did Perron follow up on a Cup-winning season, he bested it with 60 points, which is second in his career only to the 66 he had with Vegas in 2017-18. His 25 goals were the most since he had a career-high 28 with Edmonton in 2013-14 and the 35 assists matched his Blues high and second-most of his career (50 with Vegas in 2017-18). Perron was given more responsibilities offensively and someone needed to step up with the absence of Tarasenko, and Perron didn't disappoint with a career-best nine power-play goals and career-best 27 power-play points. He also had a career-high nine game-winning goals, including four in overtime. Perron seems to get better and better as he gets older, but having a center iceman like O'Reilly enables him to take advantage of situations to be a go-to scorer, and he has done that, and did so again this season. He also had a solid playoff season with nine points (four goals, five assists) being part of O'Reilly's line that excelled and performed well throughout. If there was a blemish to Perron's game this season, he still had the penchant for taking the unnecessary penalty; he had 52 penalty minutes, although it was down per game over last season when he had 46 in 57 games. I think it could be classified as a very good season for Perron, who still has two years remaining on his contract with no signs of slowing down any time soon. The Blues will need his production moving forward with Tarasenko sidelined again.  
My grade: A

Zach Sanford -- It was a breakout season for the 25-year-old Sanford. In his third NHL season, Sanford set career night in goals (16), assists (14) and points (30) while playing in two fewer games (58) than he did last season. Sanford's season was highlighted by his first career four-goal game Feb. 13 at Vegas. Sanford showed he can manage playing with the big boys, getting most of his minutes playing with O'Reilly and Perron and performed well. The offensive numbers show and should get better with more experience. Where he's going to have to continue to get better is with his puck battles along the walls and protecting it, which has been an inconsistent throughout his young career. For a player that's 6-foot-4, 207 pounds, Sanford should be able to consistently hoard pucks in the offensive zone, but those small battles are what coaches continue to try and preach to him and being on the right side of the puck. Sanford is a good penalty killer, and the coaches have trusted him in those situations, and he gets the occasional power-play time and will do so moving forward. He was able to get into some of those situations this season. I know fans get down on Sanford easily but I thought he did take strides this season, big strides. He's still got a way to go, but when you have hard workers like O'Reilly and Perron in your ear all the time like Sanford had this season, good things will happen as long as he continues to work. And Sanford was one of those younger guys that stayed on ice after practice with O'Reilly to put in the work. I like Sanford's game moving forward, and he'll have motivation heading into the final year of a two-year, $3 million contract he signed before July 8, 2019 and before he becomes a restricted free agent again.
My grade: B

Brayden Schenn -- Last year, I called Schenn's season skill and guts. The guy has played like a warrior since donning the Blues jersey. Sure, there have been some downs and stretches where scoring was hard to come by, but this season, Schenn nearly got back to the numbers (25 goals, 33 assists in 71 games) that he put up in his first season in St. Louis in 2017-18 (28 goals, 42 assists in 82 games); his 25 goals equaled Perron's for the team lead. Schenn, who doesn't mind throwing his body around to add that physical element to the Blues' game, had nearly as many power-play goals (10) this season than he had in his first two in St. Louis (12) and put up 21 man-advantage points. Jaden Schwartz was one of his linemates throughout the season, but to put up those kind of points missing Tarasenko for all but 10 games was impressive. It was a nice reward to the Blues, who invested in the long-term future of Schenn when they signed him to an eight-year, $52 million contract on Oct. 4. Schenn had five points (two goals, three assists) in nine games during the postseason, including the OT game-winner of Game 3 against Vancouver. I truly think when Schenn is engaged physically, that brings out his offensive game, and his ability to produce as a center or winger gave the Blues, and will continue to do so, great versatility. His chemistry with Schwartz continued this season and helped give the Blues two strong scoring lines. I said in this space Schenn can't produce offensively because he can't exert himself so much physically, but I think it really motivates him to do so and he did this season. His 119 hits were third on the team. Schenn is a career 46.7 percent efficiency on the face-off dot, which isn't great, but he improved that this season at 49.02 percent. You'd like to see that above 50 percent for someone who takes a number of draws. But the Blues made a long investment in the 29-year-old, and if he can give them 25-plus goals and 60-plus points moving forward, they have themselves a top-tiered forward for the long haul. 
My grade: A

Jaden Schwartz -- To say Schwartz improved his numbers from the previous regular season is an understatement. A year ago when Schwartz couldn't buy a goal, having only 11 in 69 games as part of his 36 points and a minus-6 rating, Schwartz doubled his goal production to 22 and was one off his career-high in assists (36 in 2018-19) with 35. Another guy who took advantage of the power play time, as Schwartz scored a career-high nine goals and his 20 points were also a career-high previously held in 2014-15 (16); he also matched his career high with four game-winning goals. He had four goals in nine playoff games. Tell me if you haven't heard this before: Schwartz will never be questioned for his work ethic, and such was the case this season. An all-around player used in all special teams situations, hounds pucks, plays well defensively and is beloved by his teammates. And coaches do not hesitate to utilize the 28-year-old, who stands at 5-10 and 190 pounds, in all situations. And it was no wonder that coach Craig Berube put Schwartz on the O'Reilly-Perron line and look at what kind of numbers it generated. I've said it before and I'll continue to say that Schwartz is an engine to any line, and he was throughout this season. And low and behold, he enters the new season with one year remaining on his contract at a $5.35 million cap hit. I still would like to see Schwartz get into the 25-goal, 60-point range if he wants to get a pay raise, which he will from someone. Whether it's the Blues or someone else remains to be seen, but judging by the season he had, he still has plenty to offer.   
My grade: A-

Alexander Steen -- The 36-year-old Steen certainly had an interesting season. Someone who was relied on offensive production much of his career, saw his numbers slip even more this season. But with his duties changing to more of a checking role playing that fourth line with spot duty moving up in case of injury, those numbers were expected to slip. But the 17 points, seven goals and 10 assists are the fewest in any of his 15 seasons. That's what he had in 55 games, a season that included injury that forced Steen to miss 16 games. Steen continues to be a solid defensive forward, one that formed a solid line with Sundqvist and Barbashev, but as has been stated in this space before, he's got a $5.75 million cap hit, and that kind of money should yield higher offensive numbers. It's no fault of Steen's considering the role he's given as a checking forward, one that kills penalties, but since putting up a career-high 33 goals in 2013-14, Steen's goal production has fallen from 33 to 24 to 17 to 16 to 15 and to 10 and now seven, and point production has fallen from a career-high 64 in 2014-15 to 52, 51, 46, 27 and 17. Steen is a terrific leader in the room, one who has a voice that's heard and one who wears an 'A,' but he was dealing with an undisclosed injury and was only available for four playoff games, including just one during the series against Vancouver. Injuries have been problematic for Steen, and this season was no exception. Heading into the final season of a four-year, $23 million contract signed Sept. 23, 2016, one has to wonder how much Steen will be utilized with the Blues' cupboard filled with younger fourth-line type skaters. Steen gave no indication of how much he still has left in the tank, but his cap hit is something that is noticeable for the Blues as they head into the 2020-21 season. His 2019-20 season was nothing more than average.
My grade: C

Oskar Sundqvist -- Sundqvist's coming out party last season earned him a justifiable four-year, $11 million contract on July 21, 2019. He helped anchor that fourth line that the Blues used in all situations en route to their first Cup. Sundqvist's follow-up season this year didn't disappoint, although he was hampered by injury and missed 14 games, and the Blues were affected by it. He finished with 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) in 57 games after a career-high in goals (14), assists (17) and points (31) the previous season. Sundqvist is a motor for the Blues that doesn't stop. He's much like Schwartz in always hounding pucks, defensively responsible and positions himself when necessary to provide offense at key moments. His penalty killing abilities were solid for a unit that didn't fare all too well this season. Sundqvist, who had one assist in nine playoff games, didn't have the greatest of playoffs for the Blues. Usually he's fundamentally sound with the puck but made some glaring errors that were punished by the opposition. His regular season didn't seem to translate over to the playoffs. I'd like to call Sundqvist's playoff a one-off, because I like his game and I'm sure he will bounce back and perform well. He's been quite the find for the Blues and the work he's put in to be a key, effective player on this squad is too important. Moving forward, the Blues are going to need him to be more effective in the face-off circle too. He was 44.3 percent effective this past season, but the Blues would like better results than that even though it's higher than his 43.3 percent for his career.
My grade: B

Vladimir Tarasenko -- Tarasenko was off to a flying start in 2019-20. He had 10 points in 10 games (three goals, seven assists) despite the goals coming at a bit of a slower pace, but he was in on the offense one way or another. It all came to a crashing halt on Oct. 24, 2019 when a seemingly innocent play derailed Tarasenko's regular season. He dislocated his left shoulder for the second time when he came together with Los Angeles defenseman Sean Walker and would miss the final 61 games. The Blues performed admirably without their top goal-scoring threat, and they would get Tarasenko back for the restart to the season when the Blues resumed skating in July. Tarasenko looked good in training camp and played in two round-robin games and the first two games of the first round series against the Canucks, but it was evident Tarasenko just wasn't the same player pre-injury. And when the Blues sent him home to get looked at again, it was disclosed he would need surgery again and and get re-evaluated in five months in what has to be a frustrating time for the 28-year-old. Tarasenko does have that going for him, that he's entering the prime years of his career and isn't on the downside, but one has to be concerned that this will be the third time he's having surgery on that left shoulder. He's faced with another long, arduous road back, but with the way he worked to get back for this season, there's no doubt but to believe he can get there again. However, based on the small body of work of games, it's not fair to give a grade for his performance.
My grade: incomplete  

Robert Thomas -- It must be nice to be a 21-year-old these days playing for the Blues. Thomas already has a Stanley Cup under his belt, and with an entire career ahead of him, Thomas can focus on improving his NHL game, which he did in 2019-20. After getting 33 points (nine goals, 24 assists) his rookie season in 70 games, Thomas followed it up with 42 points (10 goals, 32 assists) this season in 66 games. He would miss five games early in the season because of injury. And watching Thomas this year, he played more confidently with the puck on his stick, at times looking like the game is slowing down for him and enabling him to make accurate plays in tight spaces. He probably was a victim of guys not finishing some of the chances he created, but that will come with more chances. Thomas got better with his defensive game and made much better decisions with the puck, and that's natural for a player who continues to get more ice in the league. After playing majority of his time on the wing as a rookie, Thomas transitioned to play more his natural center position that allowed him to make some of those plays. Thomas and Bozak, along with Blais, was a consistent line throughout the season, and one has to wonder how long it takes for Thomas to perhaps jump into that top six. If he does, it likely means moving Schenn to a wing. What Thomas has to start to shake is passing up shots. At times, it's hesitancy, at times, it's trying to make an extra play or pass when a shot is there. There were instances where Thomas wouldn't shoot pucks and it passed up scoring chances. It's understandable as a young player to defer because it happens, but moving forward, that's something he'll look to clean up and become more unpredictable. And if Thomas is going to play center and take draws, he's going to have to improve his face-off percentage, which dipped to 42.9 percent from 44.09 percent as a rookie. I like Thomas' progression, and I look for him to continue to build moving forward.
My grade: B+


Robert Bortuzzo --
It was a life-altering year for Bortuzzo, whose NHL career continued here in St. Louis with the Blues, but he got engaged during the pandemic. As for Bortuzzo's season, it was everything one would expect. Forget the offense, which isn't what Bortuzzo is known for, but when he was called upon to play as the team's seventh defenseman, he did it well. Bortuzzo, who played 42 games this season, finished with two goals and four assists, and his plus-12 was a career-high and the fifth straight season he's finished on the plus side of the plus-minus. Bortuzzo's penalty killing skills improved and his physicality was up to par. He doesn't hurt you with glaring mistakes, just makes plays when there and doesn't play out of character. He's not a chance-taker, but in the Blues' system of enabling defensemen to filter into the offensive zone, Bortuzzo knew when to pinch and when not to being a stay-at-home defenseman. Bortuzzo played in just three postseason games, two in the series against the Canucks and had no points. He's a shot-blocking extraordinaire who wasn't afraid to sacrifice his body in front of the best of them, most noticeably Alex Ovechkin in the season-opener, something I can't get out of my mind. But guys are paid to get a job done, and that was part of Bortuzzo's. Under contract for two more seasons at a $1.375 million cap hit, he's reliable, dependable and gives the Blues the kind of depth they'll need moving forward. He just finished his sixth season in St. Louis.
My grade: B

Jay Bouwmeester -- Bouwmeester was playing in his 56th game of his 17th NHL season and having another solid campaign as Colton Parayko's partner, a shutdown pair the Blues used throughout last year's playoff run. Bouwmeester was healthy again, with that hip ailment that bothered him early in the 2018-19 season behind him. He was skating fluidly again and showing no signs of slowing down. But that one moment, that one life-changing incident changed it all when Bouwmeester suddenly collapsed on the Blues' bench during a road game in Anaheim where medical personnel were needed to save his life after suffering a cardiac event. Bouwmeester's life, thankfully, was saved, but his NHL season, and likely his career, ended. Bouwmeester hasn't made any official decision yet, and if this is the end of it, what a career it was. He finally became a Stanley Cup champion in his 16th season, and everything he accomplished on the international level playing for Team Canada caps off what will be considered a tremendous career. And Bouwmeester, should be go out, can be happy with how his final season went, which included a goal, eight assists and a plus-6 rating in 56 games. I don't recall many times, if at all, where Bouwmeester was a detriment to the team this season, and for everything he went through on what could have been a near-fateful night, it's hard not to commend the season.
My grade: A

Vince Dunn -- More known as an offensive defenseman, Dunn took a step down in his production in his third full NHL season. After posting career highs in goals (12), assists (23) and points (35) in 78 games in 2018-19, Dunn dipped to nine goals and 14 assists (23 points) in 71 games this season. He also had three assists in nine playoff games and was a minus-2. We all know who Dunn is and what he's all about, an offensive-minded defenseman that loves to join the rush and pinch in the offensive zone when opportunities present themselves, and he did that well at times. There were a lot of inconsistencies in his game this season, however, and a lot of it revolved on the defensive end of the game. What Dunn did improve on was reduce his penalty minutes down to 27 this season from 45 last season, and his season plus-minus went from plus-14 to plus-15. What Dunn has to continue to improve on moving forward are getting more consistent clean exits out of the d-zone. There were some glaring turnovers just because of Dunn's daring play at times, and that really showed its true colors during these playoffs, which were not up to standard for Dunn's play. Dunn missed most of the Return to Play training camp for what is presumed to be a positive COVID-19 test and that really set him back as far as getting back to par with his play. The time missed really affected his game. But again, not solely on the individual, as a team, the Blues were just not good enough, and Dunn's individual game is on par with this. Dunn is a restricted free agent with no arbitration rights, and it'll be interesting how the Blues approach this and what they could possibly give him, but he is still only 23 years old and that upside is still there. I would just liked to have seen a jump over last season's play and I just didn't. I can understand if the Blues don't give up on him, but if they do extend his contract, which they will unless they decide to move him, he will need to make strides moving forward. Not dumping on Dunn's game, there were games this season where you really liked what you saw, but as a whole, could have been a lot better.
My grade: C+

Justin Faulk -- When the Blues made this trade, sending Joel Edmundson, prospect Dominik Bokk and a seventh-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft for Faulk and a fifth-round pick in this year's draft, it sent shock waves not only in St. Louis but throughout the league. I immediately thought to myself Armstrong made this trade as an insurance policy in case Alex Pietrangelo leaves as an unrestricted free agent this summer. And not only did Armstrong make this brazen move, he doubled up by giving Faulk, who had one year remaining on his contract, a seven-year extension for $45.5 million ($6.5 million AAV). Wow! It was not met with a what-are-you-doing type of message, because the Blues were getting a three-time all-star who was coming off a 35-point season (11 goals, 24 assists) and helped the Hurricanes reach the Eastern Conference Final. But the regular season was not what the Blues nor Faulk hoped it would be or expected. In 69 games, Faulk scored five goals, his lowest number since 2013-14 and matched the fewest he's had in a season; he had 11 assists, which was the second-lowest of his career (10 in 2012-13) and the 16 points were also the second-fewest of his career (15 in 2012-13). Not exactly the numbers the Blues were looking for from a guy known to add offense from the blue line. But in saying that, I'll piggyback off something Armstrong said during his end-of-season media session in which he said Faulk didn't really have a defined role with the Blues this season, and I said that all year long, and that's why when Faulk made mistakes, they were more glaring because of the lack of production and said defined role even though he went from 66 giveaways in each of the previous two seasons to 39 this season. In Carolina, he was getting top D-pair minutes averaging 23:16 in eight seasons compared to a career-low 20:34 this season, and he was getting top-unit power play time. This season, he was playing behind Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko on that right side, and the transition was tougher than one expected. Now in the playoffs, Faulk only scored one goal in nine games, but I thought his game really excelled. His play throughout the postseason was his best since his arrival. I'm still a believer in this player, despite the down season. Even by his own admission, Faulk didn't think he performed up to capabilities and made no excuses for it. That's our job in the media to do so if we choose. He's only 28 years old and I think some of his best hockey is still ahead of him, but I have to grade him based on this season, and excuses aside, it wasn't nowhere near where he could be and should be, playoffs aside. I think the Blues will figure out a more defined role for Faulk, who was moved from right to left side D just to get him more involved, moving forward but as far as this season as a whole ... 
My grade: D

Carl Gunnarsson -- Gunnarsson's season, to me, can be best described as reliable ... when he played. Gunnarsson seemed to be the complementary partner for Pietrangelo, and that usually meant getting top d-pair minutes playing with the captain. The problem for Gunnarsson once again was he was injury-prone and played in just 36 of 71 games this season, finishing with two goals and five assists and a plus-8 rating. Because of injury, Gunnarsson has managed to play in just 61 regular-season games the past two seasons. The 33-year-old is at his best when he's not noticeable, and that's not criticizing him, that's a good thing for a defenseman. Of course there are mistakes in everyone's game, but Gunnarsson is just that: reliable with the puck and defensively sound who has the knack on occasion to step into the offense when needed. His puck transition was smooth as usual, and he wasn't afraid to muck and grind in the corners when a wall battle was needed to be won. And Pietrangelo was usually at his best paired with No. 4. Injuries are not one's fault. They happen, but unfortunately for Gunnarsson, they happen more often than not, and he was unavailable for the team in the final two games of the Canucks series and played in six of the nine postseason games. With one year remaining on his contract at a modest $1.75 million, will we be seeing the last of Gunnarsson, who scored the first game-winner for the Blues in Stanley Cup Final history? 
My grade: B-

Colton Parayko -- If there was any one specific player that really was hurt by the timing of the NHL pause, Parayko was the one. His game, particularly on the offensive side, was really soaring in an upward trajectory, but the pandemic was the only thing that halted his progress and he finished with 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists) in 64 games, his exact numbers from a year ago accomplished in 81 games. The plus-minus was down from plus-20 to plus-8 and the power-play points were slightly lower (four goals, eight assists in 2018-19 to three goals, five assists this season), but all-in-all, Parayko really performed well with first, Jay Bouwmeester, and then with Marco Scandella after Scandella was acquired from Montreal. Parayko was his usual self, puck handling inside a phone booth, as smooth as can be, transitioning it through all zones, positioning himself well in the d-zone and getting time on the second-unit power play later in the season. Parayko averaged a career-best 23 minutes of ice time this season and it was warranted. However, that game, for whatever reason or not, didn't translate to the bubble. I don't necessarily put a ton of credence in the the plus-minus category because it can be skewed, but for a player that is plus-56 for his regular-season career, was a minus-4 in nine playoff games, and Parayko made uncharacteristic mistakes when the Blues got to Edmonton. He had two goals in nine games, and his minutes up there were reflective, especially the last three games when he played 19:23, 21:26 and 20:34. Again, Parayko was a product of the lack of team success and strong play. And for whatever reason, when Parayko is on the wring side of the plus-minus, the Blues are on the wrong side of the scoreboard. I'll chalk Parayko's not so good playoff to a one-off and focus more on the body of work from the regular season, which was good, but we all know the playoffs is where you enhance a legacy, and his playoff performance brought his grade down a peg.
My grade: B

Alex Pietrangelo -- It's a picture that's hard to forget, one with a friend's arm around him perhaps as a signal of what's to come? Nobody knows at this point, but for Pietrangelo, the 30-year-old certainly has set himself up for a nice contract heading into UFA status. Whether it's in St. Louis or not remains to be seen, but the season as a whole was as good as it can get for the No. 4 overall pick in 2008. He followed up helping the Blues to their first Cup in franchise history by scoring a career-high 16 goals and adding 36 assists. The 52 points in 70 games are the second-most in his career (he had 54 in 78 games in 2017-18). Pietrangelo, who averaged 24:11 ice time this season, was much more aggressive on the offensive side, taking a career-high 225 shots on goal, but it never seemed to weigh in on his defensive responsibilities. Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman, Washington's John Carlson and Nashville's Roman Josi are finalists for the Norris Trophy, but I'll make the argument that Pietrangelo should be in this conversation, at the very least, if not a finalist himself. Who out of these guys was given the task of shutting down the opposition's top forwards, plays top d-pair minutes, gets top power-play billing and is part of the top PK unit all together? Not all of them, I can tell you, but Pietrangelo does. His Corsi-for rating was the second-best of his career at 55.5 percent (56.5 percent in his first full NHL season in 2010-11), and his Fenwick rating was also a solid 55 percent, which is also his second-highest in his career (56.7 percent in 2010-11). As for Pietrangelo's playoff, six points (one goal, five assists) in nine games wasn't bad, but -- I must sound like a broken record at this point -- it probably wasn't up to his standard of play either. He had some inconsistent moments himself, but as a whole, I don't think his playoff performance was poor like some others. I actually thought he was pretty decent, but decent for Pietrangelo isn't good enough. He could have taken this whole Faulk situation and considered it a slap in the face, and maybe he has, but you wouldn't know it by the professionalism he displayed throughout and the kind of season he had all while leading this team to a chance at repeating with the terrific regular season it had. I've gone out on a limb and said I think the Blues bring him back and I'll stick with it. I still think there are a lot of elite years remaining in a player that has logged a lot of miles, but at what cost will it come to the Blues? That's the great mystery. But Pietrangelo's 10th full season may have been his best yet.
My grade: A

Marco Scandella -- When Bouwmeester was lost to the Blues, it created a huge void, one that could have sunk a team. Armstrong traded a 2020 second-round pick and a 2021 fourth-round pick to get the 30-year-old veteran, who was joining his third team this season after starting the 2019-20 campaign in Buffalo. It turned out to be like a match made in heaven. Scandella, who spent his first seven seasons in Minnesota, fit the Blues' system like a glove, and better yet, he filled the void left by Bouwmeester as Parayko's partner and the two hit it off well in the 11 regular-season games they played together. Scandella, who signed a four-year, $13.1 million extension ($3.275 million AAV) on April 16, also had his uncharacteristic moments in the postseason, but he made an immediate impact as a solid defensive-minded defenseman upon his arrival. The Blues promptly won their first seven games when Scandella made his debut and were 9-2-0 in the 11 games he played. Scandella, who had one assist in 11 regular-season games and no points in nine postseason games, wouldn't normally get a grade in this situation based on the still small body of work with the Blues, but I thought his impact was important for a number of reasons, namely filling a void vacated by Bouwmeester's important contributions. I still would have liked to see a sprinkling of offensive output based on Scandella's history of it, but that will come in time and familiarity in the system. Great start to the regular-season, and a so-so postseason but promising future for Scandella in a Blues jersey. 
My grade: B+


Jordan Binnington --
It couldn't have been a better scripted rookie season for the guy who asked if he was nervous and responded, "Do I look nervous?" Being the first rookie to win all 16 postseason games and first goalie for the Blues to win the Stanley Cup, Binnington put lofty expectations on his shoulders moving into his sophomore season. And it was strong. He was rewarded with a nice pay raise (two-year, $8.8 million contract) and gave the Blues a good bang for their buck in the first season. Binnington became a Central Division All-Star for the first time, won 30 games (30-13-7) and finished with a respectable 2.56 goals-against average and .912 save percentage. Could the GAA been better? Perhaps. How about the save percentage? Definitely. To be considered in the upper echelon or elite status of goalies, anything at .920 or better gets you there, and something closer to the 2.00 GAA will do it too. But Binnington helped put the Blues in position to defend the Cup during the regular-season and had them atop the Western Conference. And Binnington carried that play over into the playoffs and was, despite what the numbers said, really good in the round-robin games he played in against Colorado and Vegas. He gave the Blues every chance to win both games with quality saves throughout, but that bubble burst for him inside the bubble against the Canucks. Binnington was not particularly good, allowing nine goals on 47 shots in the first two games and got replaced by Jake Allen for Games 2-5 before returning for Game 6 and was pulled after allowing four goals on 18 shots. A good number of the goals Binnington allowed against Vancouver were ones he'll admit he should have stopped, and the Canucks stuck to a scouting report of shooting high blocker. Binnington showed he isn't perfect, and there comes a time when one gets humbled, it's time to get back on the saddle and work to get back to the top. The Blues believe this was a one-off, he believes this was just a bad time for him and the team, and when looking at the whole body of work, one would have to go with the fact that Binnington played well during the regular season shows the faith they have in him moving forward. Oh, and he'll be the unequivocal No. 1 after the team traded Jake Allen last week and Binnington going into a contract year. As he said, "Let the money follow you." That tells me he'll be as motivated as he was just to make it into the NHL moving forward.  
My grade: B

Jake Allen -- We can write a book about the ups and downs of Allen's career with the Blues, which spanned over seven seasons, but we're looking at 2019-20, and it was arguably one of Allen's best. He played in the fewest amount of games in a season (24, started 21) since his rookie season of 2012-13 when he played in 15, but being Binnington's 1B, Allen quietly was 12-6-3 with a career-best in GAA (2.15) and save percentage (.927) with two shutouts. When Allen was given the cage, he simply gave the Blues a shot to win, which is all one could ask. There weren't many of the questionable goals allowed of the past. There were a few hiccups, but mostly, just solid netminding, and he came on in a tough situation and backstopped the Blues to wins in Games 3-4 of the Canucks series to get them back on level ground at 2-2 before losing Game 5. Allen was also terrific in the one round-robin game he played, making 38 saves in a 2-1 shootout loss to Dallas. But Allen's tenure with the Blues came to an end when they traded him and a 2022 seventh-round pick to Montreal for this year's third-round and seventh-round picks. The Blues need to shed cap space if they are to sign Pietrangelo and with Ville Husso signed to a one-way contract in January, Allen taking up $4.35 million in cap space and entering the final year of his contract, something had to give. But Allen went out on a high note with the Blues. He's a Cup winner and partnered with Binnington to put the Blues atop the Western Conference before the pandemic hit. It was a solid pairing and one that thrived for the team.
My grade: A-

Other players to receive incomplete grades include Klim Kostin, Austin Poganski, Niko Mikkola, Derrick Pouliot, Jake Walman, Ville Husso.


Doug Armstrong --
Armstrong's job got a little bit easier coming off a Stanley Cup win. After all, who would gut a roster, or even change it drastically coming off a championship? Of course there's almost always some sort of turnover, whether it be a player leaving for greener pastures or trying to stay cap compliant, but the Blues didn't make a ton of changes off a Cup-winning team other than losing hometown native Pat Maroon to free agency as well as Michael Del Zotto to free agency and trading Edmundson to Carolina and Robby Fabbri during the season. Armstrong added Faulk and de la Rose in those deals, then acquired Scandella to bolster the defense in light of Bouwmeester's loss, and he was able to sign his young RFA's (Blais, Barbashev, Sundqvist, MacEachern) and added Brouwer on the cheap for depth due to injuries. He also rewarded Berube with a well-deserved three-year contract. The Faulk trade and subsequent contract extension could pay off in the long run, or for however long the Blues keep him without perhaps trading him in the future, but as of this season, it didn't pan out the way Armstrong or the Blues would have hoped. Being a cap ceiling team leaves the Blues vulnerable in certain areas, particularly signing some of their own players, which Armstrong will have to do with Dunn and Pietrangelo, who he has maintained he'd like to keep. He traded Allen to the Canadiens for picks, which doesn't sound like much but was pretty much backed into a corner needing to shed salary, but based on what the Blues were able to accomplish in the regular season being atop the conference standings and in prime position to perhaps defend their title, Armstrong did whatever was necessary to give the team a chance to repeat. A GM can't battle against a pandemic.
My grade: B+

Craig Berube -- It's never an easy task of gathering a squad coming off a championship run and getting it to buy into the same mantra again, especially when even the slightest of personnel changes. But after Berube guided the Blues to the Cup in 2019, he and his coaches (assistants Steve Ott, Mike Van Ryn, Marc Savard, David Alexander and Sean Ferrell) got this group to buy in after a short off-seasonand had it poised to repeat with a 42-19-10 record, good for 94 points. Berube's message never ran dry. Players respond to him, he relates to them being a former player and young players were given the chance to thrive on a championship-caliber team. And how many coaches could get his players to buy into the team philosophy after losing arguably your biggest offensive threat? Losing a 35-40 goal scorer is never easy, but when the Blues lost Tarasenko, Berube pushed all the right buttons and played players in good positions to thrive. As for the playoffs, challenging and/or unpredecented situation or not, it's up to the coaches to get the players on the right path to success, and Berube wasn't able to get this group back to pre-pandemic. I'm never a big fan of waffling between goalies, and although Berube has pushed so many right buttons when an important decision was to be made with roster personnel, I thought once he went to Allen in the series against the Canucks, it was his series to win or lose. He went back to Binnington and the decision backfired. So just like the team, it's a mixed result for the coach: terrific regular season, bad playoff, but the regular season, to me, outweighs the playoffs here but still downgrades the final tally a bit.
My grade: B

The guys that always get A+ grades include the behind the scenes guys, including strength and conditioning coach Eric Renaghan and the equipment staff (Joel Farnsworth, Rich Matthews and Andrew Dvorak; head athletic trainer Ray Barile and assistant Dustin Flynn, massage therapist Steve Squier and sport performance assistant James Lomax. Congratulations are in order to Matthews, who went from assistant equipment manager to head equipment manager. Matthews replaced Farnsworth, who left the team before the Return to Play to pursue a career in engineering. Best of luck to Farnsworth after 18 years in the organization!

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Blues deal Allen, pick to Montreal for 2020 third-, seventh-round picks

Move clears $4.35 million in cap space in effort to try and 
re-sign Pietrangelo; Husso to be Binnington's backup next season

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues have begun the initial process of clearing cap space for perhaps signing captain Alex Pietrangelo by trading goalie Jake Allen to the Montreal Canadiens along with a seventh-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft for a third-round pick and seventh-round pick in the 2020 draft.

The Blues have made it known that they'd like to re-sign Pietrangelo, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this off-season after playing out the last of a seven-year, $45.5 million contract this year.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) makes a save against the Vancouver Canucks
in the playoffs last week. Allen was traded to Montreal on Wednesday. 

The goaltending position was an area the Blues were going to have to explore to shed salary if they were going to gain space in getting a new contract for Pietrangelo, and with Jordan Binnington, Allen and Ville Husso, who signed a two-year, $1.5 million one-way contract on Jan. 30, all locked into one-way contracts for next season, someone had to go.

"Obviously with the flat cap next year ($81.5 million) and probably moving forward, we wanted to create some space for this summer," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "Jointly with that is trying to incorporate younger players into our group. Ville Husso is a player we've had high hopes for and believe has earned his right to compete for an NHL job and to do that, you have to create opportunity.

"... We need to create space for younger players. I think Craig (Berube's) done a great job of implementing (Sammy) Blais and (Robert) Thomas, (Zach) Sanford, relatively young. We have young defensemen we need to get in here and a young goalie. To do that, you have to give them the opportunity and to create the space for them."

Allen, 30, has one year remaining on a four-year, $17.4 million contract he signed July 1, 2016, and with the trade, the Blues save $4.35 million in cap space moving forward.

"I sort of had an idea I was going to get traded," Allen said. "I sort of prepped myself a little bit, but no question, (St. Louis) was a big part of my life. My kids were born there, I won a Stanley Cup, I have a lot of great years, a lot of great friends off the ice that I've created relationships with. St. Louis was great to me and I'm very thankful for that it brought. Now I have a new opportunity in front of me. There's definitely going to be a lot of things I'll miss. There's a lot of things that changed my life personally on and off the ice, but now I get a new chance in front of me back in Canada to be able to play for the Canadiens is pretty special.

"... I understand the business side very well. I knew coming into this off-season after we were eliminated that there was a chance I would get traded. I didn't really have an idea on where or when. For me, I was just going up to my house and I saw I had a phone call and found out the news right then. It sort of came out of the blue for me. Obviously there's a lot of goalies on the market this year. I think with the cap and the era that we're in with the pandemic, there's going to be a lot of changes. I definitely knew that I was potentially going to be dealt. I had no idea where, for me. All the other teams in the league were options, the way I saw it. Now I'm a Montreal Canadien."

The goalie market is going to be flooded this season for more reasons than expected, with Pittsburgh's Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry potentially up for grabs, and Washington's Braden Holtby becoming a UFA, among the headliners. Armstrong tried to pique the interest of potential suitors for Allen and was comfortable with what the Canadiens offered in the end.

"You're sort of as good as your last game and Jake had a very good year. The timing was difficult," Armstrong said. "There were a number of teams that had reached out to that I thought might have interest in Jake. Part of a manager's job if to try to read what other teams are trying to accomplish and make those phone calls. Some of the teams that I saw as a good fit for Jake didn't feel the same way. I think part of it is that their perception is it's going to be a flooded goalie market this summer with either teams trying to create salary cap space or create space for young goaltenders or a combination of both and unrestricted free agency. Some of the teams that I talked to liked Jake as a goaltender but didn't want to give any assets at this time for that. For us, one in a hand was better than two in the bush."

Allen had arguably one of his best seasons as a pro this past season; he was 12-6-3 with a career-best 2.15 goals-against average and .927 goals-against average with two shutouts in the regular season. He was 2-1-1 with a 1.89 GAA and .935 save percentage in five games this postseason for the Blues, who lost to the Vancouver Canucks in six games in the Western Conference First Round.

"My initial statement would have been to thank Jake and his family for their years of service here in St. Louis," Armstrong said. "We obviously climbed the top of the mountain a year ago together and had a lot of great success. When you look back and Jake got drafted here and since he's been in the league, I think we've been one of the top one, two or three teams in the NHL over that time frame and Jake was a big part of that success. He was able to partner with different players over that time and be a very good component for our group."

Allen was drafted by the Blues in the second round (34th overall) in the 2008 draft and has posted a 148-94-26 record, a 2.50 GAA, and a .913 save percentage in 289 regular-season games.

Allen ranks second all-time in franchise history in shutouts (21) behind Brian Elliott (25).

But Allen's best hockey with the Blues, even though he had a tremendous playoff run and single-handedly eliminated the Minnesota Wild in the first round of 2017 with ridiculous numbers allowing just eight goals in five games on 182 shots, came the past couple seasons as Binnington's backup.

It culminated with a Stanley Cup last season.

"It's something that I'll never forget," Allen said. "It's the highlight of my hockey career, no question. A special group of guys for me to really do it with. That group was a special group. I know every group's never the same, but that group of boys to win it with was really special. To be able to have quite a bit of success in one team, one organization, a lot of highs, a lot of lows, I'm really proud of that and proud of the Blues. It's definitely special to me no question, a lot of great memories on and off the ice. To be able to have success and hoist the Cup one way or another with an organization for that long, I'll credit to the success."

And to think, how many people were ready to run Allen out of town when the downs were really down, but the veteran managed to pull himself back up and become a fan favorite again.

"Everyone's emotional, everyone's attached to the game and that's completely fine. That's the way it is," Allen said. "There's ups and downs, no question, but I think the last couple years, I've played some really good hockey and really just tried to be a good teammate and good person. I've always tried to be a better person than hockey player. Those things I think really started to add up for me the last couple years and I really started to play some really good hockey for the Blues. Not that I didn't before, but I think my last couple years were probably the best couple years I've played. I definitely won't ever forget them and will take everything that the Blues gave me and the options that I had from them since I was drafted."

As for Pietrangelo, Armstrong kept it, as usual, close to the vest when pressed on what it would take to get the 30-year-old four-year captain locked up.

"It's 81.5 million divided by 23," Armstrong said, referring to the roster limit. "... Obviously I don't think we've made any secret that we'd love to get Alex signed, and I think Alex has made it know that he would like to sign here, so we're going to have to work through that. At the end of the day, it's a math equation."

And at the end of the day, the Blues are comfortable going with Binnington, who is also in the final year of his contract, and they're giving Husso his chance to be an every day NHL player. It also gives the Canadiens the 1-2 punch the Blues have had the luxury of having for years.

"I think that Montreal obviously would be counter to what the first part of the question is. As it situates today, they have a lot of money wrapped up into goaltending," Armstrong said. "I think it's a reflection of your salary cap space as a whole. A flat cap was going to make teams alter how they think. It was a combination for the St. Louis Blues of creating some potential cap space to either sign our own current players or get into the market at a different time, plus allowing young players to get their opportunity in the league. I think that's a combination of every team on what they're looking to do. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jake Allen (34) spent his entire career with the Blues, who drafted the goalie
in the second round in 2008. 

"Having two quality goaltenders like we did this year I thought was very important for us. It gave Jordan Binnington some comfort knowing that his partner had a lot of experience, and he had a good regular season and not the playoffs that he wanted. I think this does show that our faith is that we're going to take Jordan Binnington's NHL career going back to January of '19 through today and say there was a lot more positives than negatives and we believe he could be the man.

"We think that (Husso) needs to get those 25-30 starts. We need to find out if our scouting information and our goalie coaches, they've given him a thumbs up. We had a conference call last night or text with all of them as this came to fruition late last night where we were getting near decisions time. We had a conference call again today. I talked to the minor league American Hockey League general manager, development coaches. Everyone feels that he's ready for the opportunity, and we need this organization to provide opportunity for younger players. All these questions and I don't say this trying to be a smart aleck (but) it's really irrelevant what I think or what I hope. It's going to be what he does. I'm hoping that he can get in there and do the job that we believe he can do."