Thursday, June 24, 2021

Gunnarsson retires, ending 12-year run in NHL, including past seven with Blues

Defenseman had final season cut short with torn ACL, leaves game as Stanley 
Cup champion, exits steady career just like he came in, with little fanfare

ST. LOUIS -- Carl Gunnarsson made his exit from the NHL on Wednesday in a sort of manner in which he came into it and played throughout his 12-year career: without a lot of fanfare.

Gunnarsson, 34, announced that he is retiring from the NHL, ending his career, including the last seven seasons in St. Louis with the Blues.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson celebrated his day with the Stanley Cup in
his hometown of Orebro, Sweden.

It was simple, straight to the point, answer a few questions and done.

Simple, just like his steady career.

"It's just been growing in my mind for a little bit and I felt like this was the right time," the defenseman said via Zoom. "Proud and happy of my career and what I've done. I just felt like this is a good time right now. Body's been taking a beating a little bit too. I feel pretty confident and happy about the decision. ... Last year was not as we wanted or as I wanted, no fans. Kind of a weird season and the injury happened. I just felt like this was my time. I'm happy with the decision right now. Feels good right now, but might be different when the season starts. Right now, I feel pretty confident about it like it was the right move to do."

Gunnarsson, who will forever be famously known as the one who clinched the Blues' first-ever Stanley Cup Final win with his overtime goal in Game 2 of the 2019 final against the Boston Bruins and the one who had a conversation with coach Craig Berube at "the pisser" between the third and overtime, telling his coach he needs one more chance, saw his career end unceremoniously on Feb. 22 against the Los Angeles Kings when he tore the ACL in his right knee.

Gunnarsson, who could have been an unrestricted free agent July 28, has been rehabbing and said he's "on pace" for where his rehab should be in his schedule but is stepping away at a time he feels is right. He steps away having played in 629 regular-season games and 68 in the playoffs, finishing with a combined 31 goals and 114 assists.

"It's been good. I'm super happy," Gunnarsson said. "Twelve years in the league has been amazing, super proud of that. I never saw myself really getting into the league, but when I finally did, it's been crazy and to stick around for 12 years, it's something to be proud of and something no one can take away from me and to top it off with winning a Cup too, it feels pretty darn good."

Gunnarsson was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs along with a 2014 fourth round pick (Ville Husso) for defenseman Roman Polak on June 28, 2014 because at the time, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock wanted someone that could use the middle of the ice from the blue line, and a guy that could make quick, direct passes and get in on the attack.

"I didn't know what to expect when I got here," Gunnarsson said. "There was a different feel from Toronto to here team-wise. St. Louis was a top team in the West, had no issues going to the playoffs. It was kind of weird coming here with that mindset of the whole team, but that was great. It was great for me to come to a winning team and it's been nice to be part of that group to push it even further and took that last step too."

Gunnarsson, who spent five of his six playoff seasons in a Blues jersey, evened the series with the Bruins up when his shot from the blue line on a delayed penalty was a dart through traffic that beat Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. It came after he nearly won the game in regulation late in the third period but his shot hit the post. While he was using the men's room, Berube came in for a bathroom break of his own and Gunnarsson told him 'I just need one more chance.'

He got it, and boy, did he make the most of it and will be forever remembered by it, even though people in town don't ask him about it.

"I saw the refs had a hand up and had a delayed penalty," Gunnarsson recalled. "Don't get too many chances to stick around for that, power play's coming up. And that all mixes in with the videos and pics I've seen with it afterwards. It's kind of a blur. Coming into the locker room, long story with Berube. It's kind of a blur, but what you remember and what you've seen on video. It's just a good feeling.

"... No, people leave me alone. That's nice. I watched it. It snuck up on me on the anniversary, or whatever you want to call it, a couple weeks ago. I see people just post it online and I get tagged on Twitter and Instagram. That's always nice. I didn't once just sit down and watch it, but other than that, I just get tagged and you kind of take a peek at it. It's a nice, good feeling and throws you back to what it was like that whole run. It's a good memory to have, all those videos and clips. It's nice to have in the bank. In 10 years or whatever, show your kids and they'll know what dad did."

Gunnarsson had ample amount of time since his injury to ponder his future, and enlisted in fellow Swede Alexander Steen, who retired himself prior to last season, and his father, Bjorn, among others.

"I talked to Steener when he was going through it for a bit," Gunnarsson said. "With his injuries, tough for him to continue. For me, that process has been going on for a bit too. It's been nice chatting with him about it, going through what the next stage is, what the next step is. Just throwing ideas out there and just going back and forth, moving back to Sweden or not, all that kind of stuff. It's been great to have someone to talk to about it.

"We've been talking about it for a bit. Before I decided this was it, I've been talking with (his father) about maybe it's coming up in a couple years and all that, but yeah, it was kind of a natural process. He could kind of feel it too that it was coming. It wasn't like the final day where I was like, 'Yeah, this is it,' and then it was a big thing. We were chatting about it for a bit and eventually it was like ... he knew about it. Nothing crazy."

Nothing crazy ... just like Gunnarsson's career. Simple and effective. When he played simple, when you didn't notice him on the ice, looked at the stat sheet, Gunnarsson's name typically had solid stats to go along with it.

But as the off-season moved along and the thought of free agency loomed, with a wife and two young kids, the thought of relocating at the end of his career when the Blues would more than likely not renew his contract would be too much.

Or would it?

"Not really," Gunnarsson said. "I mean it's a little bit of a factor, but not a big one. I felt like if I could have played and had to move for a year or two, so be it. That's the game, that's what you sign up for. I don't think that would have been a problem. Everything goes through your mind once you kind of decide you're going to retire, if it's worth it. You want to stay in, is that worth it? That was not the tipping point or anything. I would have been fine with that, but I just decided that this is the time."

It's time to hang the skates up, and it's also time to decide where to live out the rest of one's life. Would it be here or a move back to the homeland in Sweden?

"I'm going to move back," Gunnarsson said. "Going to be here all summer, but I'm going to move back to Sweden. Once there, I'm not sure what the future holds. I'm sure I'll figure something out eventually. I'm going to take a little time off and chill for a little bit and then we'll see."

The Blues could perhaps some day have a use for Gunnarsson, maybe in a European scouting role or a player development role because there will come a time when he will want to get involved again in some fashion or form.

"I'm not going to drop hockey totally," Gunnarsson said. "Right now, I don't see myself getting back into the game any time soon. I want to take a little time off and just kind of hang back and see how that feels. It might be different too when the season starts. I might get that itch back and just want ti get back into it, but one way or another, I'll be connected to hockey. Whether it's going to be coaching or something else, I have no idea. We'll see."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson retired Wednesday from the NHL after
12 seasons, including the last seven in St. Louis.

What will Gunnarsson miss about St. Louis most, and what did he take pride in the most?

"The heat in July. I'm kidding," he said. "I don't know how to put it, but everyone that lives in St. Louis or comes here, it's a very generous city in a way that taking people in, welcoming everyone, helping out in the community that I hadn't seen anywhere else. I'm going to miss that, I'm going to miss coming down to the rink, the hockey part for sure, fans. A lot. I mean being here for seven years, this is our home. We're going to miss it a ton here.

"I'd say just being part of this group and making it better and being part of a winning group. I pride myself in having working hard, coming to the rink and putting the team first. That's been my mentality, not worrying about having personal success is what I'm the most proud of."

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Grading the 2020-21 St. Louis Blues

ST. LOUIS -- It was a continuation of transformation for the Blues in 2020-21 that was two years in the making.

The on-ice product continued to change following the 2019 Stanley Cup champion team, particularly on defense with the loss of veteran stalwart Jay Bouwmeester to retirement due to health reasons and the free agent departure of captain Alex Pietrangelo, who took his talents west to the Vegas Golden Knights.

But things were hardly normal for the Blues and the rest of the NHL in terms of the continued dealings of COVID-19, a shortened regular-season schedule to 56 games and a move to the West Division as part of a one-season realignment so that the league could make things work, especially for the Canadian teams.

The Blues were expected to slug it out with fellow division juggernauts Vegas and the Colorado Avalanche for the top three, then the remainder of the teams would vie for the fourth and final playoff spot.

But it was the Blues who had to fight for survival just to make it into the playoffs, and the Minnesota Wild surprised many by being part of 'The Big 3,' and the Blues had to scratch and claw for every inch just to get in at 27-20-9 with 63 points before finally pulling away from the Arizona Coyotes by nine points.

But it was a season unlike many for the Blues from an injury perspective. Only the Chicago Blackhawks (381) had more man-games lost than the Blues (379) according to Only David Perron, Ryan O'Reilly, Brayden Schenn and Justin Faulk played in all 56 regular-season games.

And when the Blues went into their first-round playoff series against the Avalanche, they showed up to a gun battle with knives, and when Perron was shut out of it because of a positive test from COVID-19, it had all the earmarks of a four-game sweep, which is what happened when the Blues were simply outmatched and outplayed, getting outscored 20-7 in the series.

So that makes two straight first-round exits from the postseason after winning the Cup, so where does general manager Doug Armstrong and the management team go from here trying to keep this group within a Stanley Cup window? Time will tell, but with the 2020-21 season now completed, let's grade the this season's Blues, the coaching staff and management:


Ivan Barbashev -- The 25-year-old was one of many players this season that had it disrupted due to a lengthy injury, thus hampering the potential of more progression over the previous two seasons. Barbashev was having a productive season that got derailed when he sustained a hairline fracture in his ankle getting hit with a shot from teammate Perron in front of the net that sidelined Barbashev for roughly six weeks and 18 games missed. He finished with just 12 points (five goals, seven assists) on the season while limited to 38 games, which would translate into a dip over an 82-game season after putting up back-to-back seasons of career-high 26 points. His plus-minus was plus-5, which matched his career best and in those 38 games, Barbashev exhibited more discipline with just six penalty minutes. Barbashev had one assist in the four-game playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche. When he played, Barbashev was effective in his usual forechecking, physical role for the most part and with guys going down left and right, he was thrust into many roles and even played effective minutes playing on the scoring line with Ryan O'Reilly and Perron. Sure, the point production dipped some, but for the body of work Barbashev gave, he's in a decent position heading into his restricted free agent off-season with arbitration rights, and I'm sure the Blues would love to keep him from the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, but do the Blues leave him exposed or not is a big question? It wasn't a knock-your-socks off season for Barbashev, but effective enough.
My grade: B

Sammy Blais -- The soon-to-be 25-year-old found himself on the outside looking in when training camp broke with a crowded and competitive forward group but soon was in the opening night lineup after a visa snafu for new forward Mike Hoffman. Blais would soon have to deal with a two-game suspension and more injuries, which has seemed to in a way, define his four-year career. It has to be frustrating for Blais, who actually surpassed his point total (15 on eight goals, seven assists) by two in 36 games this season, four fewer than he played last season. Blais was third on the team in hits (103), which has been part of his role as he's clearly become more of a bottom six forward rather than a top six guy, even though he was used on occasion up in the lineup due to the injuries. Between, at times, inconsistent play and injuries, Blais also played in just 36 of 56 games this season; Blais scored one goal in he playoff series against the Avalanche. There were games in which he really played well and contributed like the Blues needed him to, but there were also games in which there wasn't a real noticeable difference in what was needed, and for a player that's hitting his best years, these will be most important to him. I like Blais when he's on top of his game, and it's been proven that when he's at his best, or even playing adequately, he makes an impact in the game. The problem is he hasn't been around often enough to make a sustained push. Injuries are unfortunate and can't be helped, but Blais really needs some injury-free stretches in order to see where his game can go. As for this past season, I considered it up and down, better than average, and will have one season left before having arbitration right as a RFA to get himself a better contract. 
My grade: C+

Tyler Bozak -- If looking back on Bozak's three-year career with the Blues, which got off to a raucous start with winning a Stanley Cup and his famous words printed in the Player's Tribune of, "I want to win a Cup. So damn bad. That's why I signed in St. Louis. There's your headline. Print it,' as important as he was to the Blues' success in 2019, even though the journey to the playoffs didn't end well in 2021, you could make the argument that if the Blues didn't have the 35-year-old for the stretch run this season, they may not have even made the playoffs. When Bozak went down to the blindside hit of Mark Stone in a game against Vegas on Jan. 26 that sidelined him with a concussion for nearly two months, it as no coincidence that the team's play suffered in the process. From face-offs to penalty killing to solidifying the top nine forwards to just having that veteran presence and defensive responsibilities that Bozak brought on a nightly basis was sorely missed. Now, if we just look at what Bozak made ($4.25 million in base salary, $5 million cap hit), the offensive numbers were not there (five goals, 12 assists) for the what you would hope for out of the 31 games he played, but he established a career-high in face-off winning percentage at 56.81. But as we've said before, his best offensive days are likely in the rear view mirror, and his top dollar contracts are likely behind him as well. But when the Blues signed Bozak to a three-year, $15 million contract in the summer of 2018, it's hard to say they didn't get the bang for their buck. But this is 2020-21 we're talking about, and when I look at the 31 games Bozak played in, they were 16-11-4 with him, 11-9-5 without him. Bozak was used up and down the lineup with so many injuries and helped stabilize whichever one he was on, whether playing center or the wing. As for the potential of bringing him back now that Bozak can become an unrestricted free agent, my answer would be yes at a lower price. Will the Blues do that is yet to be determined. But I think this is still a serviceable player and one that can still help moving forward in the short term. 
My grade: B+

Kyle Clifford -- I'll be honest, when the Blues inked Clifford to a two-year, $2 million contract last summer, I liked the move. I've followed Clifford's career enough when the 30-year-old won two Cups with the Los Angeles Kings and he played the kind of role that would fit into a Craig Berube-coached team, one that would hit, forecheck, and most importantly, play the role of sheriff when the Blues needed the fists to be flying and patrolling needed to be had with the occasion to pop in a few goals and points in the process. Let's put the hits in perspective here, for a guy that averaged 145 hits per season in L.A. and had 43 hits in just 16 games (2.7 per game) with the Toronto Maple Leafs in an abbreviated stint last season, 63 hits in 50 games (1.26 per game) with the Blues just doesn't cut it. Clifford popped in seven points (four goals, three assists) but let's face it, he wasn't brought in here to reinvent the scoring wheel. He was brought in here to play the enforcer role, which there were few moments, but let me accentuate the word I used there -- few, as in far few, as in not nearly enough. Clifford had four fighting majors with the Blues, one of which was against former Blue Ryan Reaves, which takes mucho guts in itself, and is to be commended, but I'll need to see much more from Clifford moving forward, because for the few decent moments he had in his first full season in St. Louis, there were far too many not-so-decent moments. 
My grade: F

Jacob de la Rose -- It's hard to really give an extended outlook of de la Rose's season since he only played in 13 games, but in those 13 games, the Blues were 5-6-2 and for the most part, the 26-year-old did everything asked of him to do playing a fourth line role and anywhere from nine to 14 minutes per night of ice time. de la Rose had one assist on the season and 13 penalty minutes, and he did have 13 shots on goal but nine of those came in two games, and his face-off percentage wasn't the greatest (46.58 percent) but it wasn't the worst either. Bottom line, de la Rose simply got caught up in a numbers game here and even he sustained a lower-body injury that kept him out of the lineup for a month. With restricted free agency on the horizon with arbitration rights, it was easy to wonder if de la Rose's Blues tenure is in question, and at least for the time being, it is. He has signed a three-year contract to return to his native Sweden to play for Färjestad BK of the Swedish Hockey League and it's probably for the best. He'll get playing time, definitely more significant playing time, over there and should be return to the NHL some day, the Blues still own his rights as an RFA, similar to what they dealt with when Vladimir Sobotka bolted for the Kontinental Hockey League, but for the little playing time he got this season with the big club and working extensively with the taxi squad, de la Rose was a good soldier.
My grade: C

Mike Hoffman -- Here is another one that not only got Blues fans excited when it happened, but I thought this was a solid fit when announced. Hoffman signed a one-year, $4 million contract to join with a team he felt could win it all again, and considering the Blues needed a scoring winger that specialized on the power play, I felt like it was a match made in heaven. Well, there were certainly some bumpy roads along the way, and it started with Hoffman, 31, missing the first game of the season in Colorado due to working visa issues. Coming in off 59 points (29 goals, 30 assists) in 69 games with the Florida Panthers in 2019-20 and with Vladimir Tarasenko missing a good chunk of the season recovering from a third shoulder surgery, Hoffman seemed like the good fit to take up a lot of the goal scoring needs. I thought Hoffman would be a fit on one of the top two lines, and when the Blues used him early on with Robert Thomas and whoever would fit on that third line, I could understand it. What I didn't get was the lack of utilizing him right off the hop on the top power play. And I understand Berube's logic of the Blues' power play from a year ago was good and he wanted to re-establish that chemistry again, this was a weapon that needed to be thrust into that role immediately. Hoffman was used with different centermen throughout the season but never consistently with a particular one. It was clear he wasn't that 200-foot player Berube covets, but the Blues knew that, but still, there was a stretch where Hoffman surprising to many was a healthy scratch, something I never expected. He finished with respectable numbers (17 goals, 19 assists) in 52 games this season that included seven power-play goals and 17 PP points, which isn't bad and would translate better over an 82-game season; he had three-game winners, including two in overtime, but a stat that struck me was Hoffman had just 113 shots on goal this season, or 2.2 per game and that's a lower number than expected after having 214 with the Panthers the previous season in 17 more games. Some of that was due to lack of chances to shoot, but there were instances where Hoffman just wasn't getting his shot off when he needed to. Was Hoffman going to be that forechecking, grinding, bruising guy that plays Berube's system? No. But when he finally got the chances to thrive in what he does best (score), Hoffman made an impact for the Blues when they were winning. Was the marriage perfect? No. But as Hoffman heads into another UFA off-season, the general consensus is he'll he on another team next season. I'd certainly entertain bringing him back of both sides feel like they can bridge that gap that left some unpleasant feelings there. It wasn't a perfect season for Hoffman, but I thought his good moments outweighed the tough ones. 
My grade: B

Dakota Joshua -- Well, count me as one that didn't think the 25-year-old acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs for future considerations would find himself in the Blues lineup this season, but then again, as has been a theme throughout this report card, injuries warranted the Blues digging deep into their pool of players, and to my pleasant surprise, Joshua was one that certainly made a mark for the coaching staff in the limited games he played. He scored in his NHL debut in Los Angeles, albeit not the conventional way as the puck went off his body, but it happened while driving the net. He chipped pucks, made his presence felt with his forecheck and hitting style anchoring the fourth line in his 12 games, twice getting more than 11 minutes of playing time. What Joshua did in his limited role was put himself on the map moving forward, giving the coaching staff an option of developing someone who may very well play himself into more of a regular in that bottom six depending on what happens with this roster this off-season and moving forward. Joshua didn't come in and set the world on fire by any stretch, but he raised some eyebrows, including mine. I like his grit and determination. He did very well for himself.
My grade: B+

Jordan Kyrou -- Heading into the season, I felt that a final roster spot among the 12 regular forwards would come down to Kyrou and Blais. Well, Kyrou took care of that notion pretty quickly in camp and had himself a full season, for what it's worth in a 56-game schedule, and did nicely for himself. Kyrou got off to a hot start with 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in his first 18 games and was raising eyebrows all around the league as the next breakout player but would have some dips moving forward. After all, Kyrou had only 44 NHL games of experience under hie belt in two previous seasons, so the grind of playing at the highest level would eventually take its toll. Kyrou showed his speed and skill when he was on top of his game, and that's never been in question. But he still had his lapses of turning pucks over in the wrong areas and was inconsistent with his wall play. His 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists) in 55 games -- he had one goal against the Avalanche in the playoffs -- far surpassed any production he had during his two abbreviated seasons when given the chance but after that quick start with the 17 points in 18 games, he dipped to 18 points his final 37 games. Kyrou played some of his best hockey on a line with Schenn and Jaden Schwartz, allowing two puck workers to give him the time, space and freedom to work his magic. I liked the progression Kyrou took this past season, and now that he's 23, he will be counted on to take even greater leaps. He will have to continue to learn to be stronger along the walls, be steadier on the defensive side of the puck and protect pucks better to become a more complete player, but I think this season was a step in the right direction for him, because there's still more untapped potential there. Kyrou is a RFA and it will be interesting to see which direction management goes when giving him his next contract.
My grade: B 

Mackenzie MacEachern -- After establishing career highs in goals (seven), assists (three), points (10) and games played (51) last season, his second in the NHL, MacEachern took a dip in all categories, but the most important one (games played) was the major contributor. MacEachern was part of a numbers game, playing in just 21 games this season and also dealt with the injury bugaboo with an upper-body injury that limited his chance to play more; he also didn't suit up in any of the playoff games against Colorado. MacEachern had a goal and an assist and was a plus-3 on his season, and his lone goal was a shorthanded tally Feb. 27 at San Jose. Primarily used as a fourth-line checker and penalty killer, MacEachern is another that did what was asked when called upon. There was nothing special about his minutes or games played this season. When he played, he forechecked well and played pretty responsibly. Now that he's 27 and entering the final years of his two-year, $1.8 million contract signed last summer, it will be important for MacEachern to try and make inroads on more playing time in 2021-22, the final year of his contract before becoming a UFA. I don't think MacEachern really jumped off the charts with his play, but he also didn't really hurt the Blues either. He had, well, an average season.
My grade: C

Ryan O'Reilly -- Probably faced with the biggest challenge of anyone this season was O'Reilly, having to replace a captain (Alex Pietrangelo) that was a staple in the organization and one that raised the Stanley Cup. But O'Reilly, in his third season, didn't disappoint. He may not be (or maybe he is since we weren't allowed in a locker room this season) the rah-rah guy in the locker room that will get in anyone's face and show raw emotion, but he's always led by example and that never changed this season. The perfect example was April 24 when the Blues looked like a complete train wreck to start their game against the Avalanche, falling behind 2-0 in the game's first three minutes. And then O'Reilly happened. He scored three goals and assisted on another in a 5-3 win, literally willing his team to a win. O'Reilly doubled his goal total from a year ago, going from 12 to 24 in 56 games and leading the team, or 15 fewer games than 2019-20, and was second only to Perron (58) in points with 54. O'Reilly also was by far the leader in plus-minus at plus-26, which was his career-high and since joining the Blues three seasons ago, he is now a plus-59 after being a minus-53 in his career at Colorado and Buffalo. He did shoot the puck more this season (129 shots to 118 last season) and his face-off percentage (58.78 percent) was his highest in three seasons; he won 703 of them. The penalty minutes matched O'Reilly's career-high (18), which is unusual for him, and O'Reilly, like many of his teammates didn't have a good playoff series against Colorado. He did have three assists but was a minus-7 in the series and took flack for making the statement that the Blues were going to have some fun and beat the Avalanche, but he did what any captain would do trying to exude confidence out of his group. O'Reilly did have Perron as his sidekick for much of the season, but being able to put up those kind of numbers without a legit and consistent left wing is remarkably impressive. Was it a perfect season? No, there were a couple hiccups, but it was pretty darn close.
My grade: A+

David Perron -- Before I get into Perron's season, which by the way in my opinion I believe was his best in the NHL, let's get the end out of the way first. For him to have to miss out on that playoff series against Colorado was simply gut-wrenching and was terrible for him. I never imagined after he put up consecutive three-point games against the Minnesota Wild to wrap up the regular season that that would be the the final time we would see him suit up this season, and all due to a positive COVID-19 test. But that would be the last we'd see of Perron, who finished the season with 19 goals and 39 assists in 56 games. His team-leading 58 points were two fewer than he had the previous season in 15 fewer games, which would put him on track to best his career-high 66 points in 2017-18 during an 82-game season. His penalty minutes (22) were way down from the previous season (52); he simply cut down on taking some of those unnecessary minors he was accustomed to taking in the past. He had six power-play goals and 21 power-play points lining up with the top unit that got going as the season went along. What impressed me equally as much was Perron's willingness to defend as much as his production on the offensive side. Perron just turned 33 last month and doesn't seem to be slowing down one iota. He's a hockey lifer and going into the final year of a $4 million AAV contract, I'd say it's safe to assume he will be on the Blues' protected list for the Seattle expansion draft, unlike the summer of 2017 when Vegas had its draft and the Golden Knights plucked him off the Blues roster, and I'd even be willing to say the Blues will entertain contract extension talks with him in the process. He's definitely deserved it. Sure, maybe Perron's had a couple seasons where the point production and other stats were higher and more noticeable, but I find it hard to search for a better all-around season he's had. About as close to perfect as it could get. 
My grade: A+

Zach Sanford -- I recall calling Sanford's 2019-20 season a breakout season, and there was hope, especially going into a contract season, but it was anything but a building year for the 26-year-old. Sanford did play in 52 of 56 games this season and all four postseason games but had just 16 points (10 goals, six assists) playing anywhere from the left wing with O'Reilly and Perron to centering the fourth line at the end; his 0.8 points share combined (0.5 offensive and 0.3 defensive), which is the estimated points contributed by the player, was among the lowest on the team. Sanford may not have been among the league leaders in giveaways/turnovers simply because he didn't play the kind of minutes those top players did, but he had a penchant for some really poor ones, ones that led directly to goals at ill-advised times far too often. Two years ago, Sanford had 31 takeaways compared to 14 giveaways. In two years since, he's had 30 takeaways and 30 giveaways. I've been saying all along that for Sanford's size (6-foot-4, 207 pounds), he should be a puck hoard and be able to keep and protect it, particularly in the offensive zone. But he never seemed to play with much confidence this season despite the persistent confidence in giving him playing time by the coaching staff and defenders seemed to have a far too easy time getting pucks off his stick and moving up the ice in transition. Sanford continued to be a decent penalty killer and used there often, but that unit was 25th in the league this season at 77.8 percent. I've liked Sanford when he makes an impact and hs his fingerprints on a game, but it seemed far too often, those fingerprints were for the wrong reasons and at his age, it's safe to say that this is who he will be. He was given ample opportunities to put his stamp on that line with O'Reilly and Perron and just didn't consistently perform up to capabilities. I gave Sanford a B for his season last year, but this was a regression to say the least and for someone that's a RFA with arbitration rights, I think the Blues need to move on. He made $1.5 million a season the past two years and I just think the team is better suited to use that money elsewhere. 
My grade: F

Brayden Schenn -- The narrative with Schenn never changes, and that's a good thing for the Blues. He plays with skill, determination and guts. He'll never be questioned for his effort and willingness to play both ends of the ice, play physical, check and also be a contributor on the offensive side of the ice. It's a hard game to play, but one he's adept at doing. Schenn's versatility to play both center and the wing came into full disclosure again this past season due to the Blues' injury woes. And because moving him to the wing when needed provided a boost to a top scoring line. Schenn was second on the team in hits with 119, second behind O'Reilly in face-off wins with 318 but his 52.3 face-off percentage was the best in his career playing 19:09 average time on ice this season. Those attributes will always be there, but as has been the case with Schenn in now his four seasons, one year he has good offensive numbers, then follows it up with a dip in production. He had 58 points (25 goals, 33 assists) in 71 games last season and followed it up with 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists) in 56 games this season. Had he played 82 games, sure, those numbers would improve likely, but after getting off to a fire-hot start (six goals in his first nine games), the well ran dry for far too long for someone who made $8 million in salary ($6.5 million in AAV). Schenn went through a spell of 19 straight games without scoring, and it wasn't for lack of trying, but he did have ample chances to finish and just wasn't able to. The power-play chances took a bit of a hit too with six PP goals compared to 10 last season, but the difference in 15 games makes that comparable. However, going from 21 PP points to nine is a noticeable dip when he's a top-unit PP guy. On average, he shot the puck slightly more (2.02 compared to 1.94) last season. The bottom line is a guy that's among the top paid players on your team needs to be a difference maker on both ends of the ice, and while will never be questioned for his heart and soul, effort and laying it all on the line, he needs to be more in tune as a 25-goal, 60-70 point guy on this roster as a top six forward. He's flip-flopped on that end in each season, so the Blues hope to see more comparable numbers next season. 
My grade: B-

Jaden Schwartz -- This is hard to do just from the sense that here's a player that lost his sister Mandi 10 years ago, and before the season, tragically lost his father Rick, so the emotional side is one thing, but from a hockey perspective, the grading has to be done. There's no denying what Schwartz has meant to the Blues, sort of in the same mold as a Schenn, his partner in crime (AKA consistent linemate). But again, we're not judging on past contributions/lackthereof beyond this past season. And while Schwartz once again will never be questioned for his work ethic and commitment, for a guy that had a contract at $5.35 million AAV and now set to become a UFA this summer, the offense was quite frankly anemic even though he played in just 40 games due to an oblique injury. His eight goals were the fewest he scored since netting eight in 33 games in 2015-16 but he missed a significant portion of that season with a broken ankle, and his 21 points since he had 13 in his first season in 2012-13 playing 45 games. The points share, provided by, was a mere 1.8, which ranked him tied for 12th on the team. Bottom line, simply not good enough for a player averaging top-six line minutes (17:42 average ice time this season). His power play goals dipped from nine to one, his PP points fell from 20 to three and when in the lineup, he was a guy getting power play minutes regularly. Nothing changed from a coaching perspective in that they loved utilizing him in all facets of the game, and rightfully so, but the production has just been so erratic Schwartz has tallied 20-plus goals four times, going for a career-high 28 in 2014-15, but when you see seasons of 19 and 24 dip to 11, then back up to 22 last season to eight this year, you have to wonder what's the cause for such drastic dips. Perhaps it's a case like Schenn where he works so hard, the mind and energy spent in other situations doesn't compute to being able to contribute offensively consistently, but this is a player that's going to want a pay raise moving forward and like I said in this space last year, for Schwartz to do that, it would have been nice to see him get to a level where he was at least in the 15-20 goal range and around the 35-40 point mark. But missing 16 games obviously hurt and that's been an issue throughout his career. I'm not sure what the Blues are going to do. I know the coaching staff and management likes Schwartz, but they obviously need to retool this roster, and if you can't rely on him offensively, and you need him to do that if he's going to play in the top-six moving forward. But as I look back on Schwartz's season as a whole, it just needed to be better on a lot of different levels.
My grade: D

Oskar Sundqvist -- Remember two years ago when it was said that without the contributions of Sundqvist, Alexander Steen and Barbashev on that fourth line that the Blues wouldn't win the Stanley Cup? If it didn't convince you then, it sure was convincing in this year's playoffs and even down the stretch of the regular season how much the Blues missed Sundqvist's presence on the ice. Sundqvist played in just 28 games this season and unfortunately, was injured again, but the final fatal one was tearing his left ACL in a 2-1 shootout win at San Jose on March 19. He finished with nine points (four goals, five assists). Sundqvist is another Berube-type player who hunts pucks, can play anywhere in the lineup and in any situation, but the Blues sorely missed him on the PK and anchoring that fourth line, which was a challenge at times to keep a consistent lineup there together. The energy he brings on a nightly basis really seems to energize his teammates and when he went down, it hurt the lineup greatly. In the season-opener at Colorado on Jan. 13, when Hoffman couldn't play due to visa issues, Sundqvist was the guy moved up from the fourth line and paid dividends scoring twice in a 4-1 win. But that's who the 27-year-old has been since being acquired from Pittsburgh in 2017. He was a minus-6 on the season. Sundqvist was in usual form when it comes to the opposition, hounding pucks, playing with an edge and being fundamentally sound. Rounding out his numbers would have been close to being on par with his 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) he had two seasons ago, but I still think there's some more to give there on the offensive side. He has two years remaining on his four-year contract at $2.75 million AAV. The Blues have a decision there to make regarding his status whether to protect him or leave him exposed to the expansion draft. I'd like to think even coming off the ACL, which he's expected to recover from in time for training camp, the team will protect him, but he is one of those players in question that the Blues may have to take that risk on depending on who they keep. Otherwise, it was a decent fourth season for 'Sunny' in St. Louis.   
My grade: B

Vladimir Tarasenko -- I had to sit and think about what Tarasenko deserves and what he should get based on his recent injury history, which is rather lengthy and serious all things considered. But then I had to narrow my tunnel vision and just focus on the games he came back for and not take into full consideration the shoulder surgeries that have limited him to 34 regular-season and eight postseason games the past two seasons. Of course, you have to take into account that repairing a dislocated shoulder is serious stuff, but in the grand scheme of things, he was able to come back and in the 24 games played in the regular season and four postseason games, for what Tarasenko is known for, and that's offense, particularly goal scoring, it just wasn't nearly enough. He finished with four goals and 10 assists. Did he need time to get going again and find his hockey legs again? Sure. But after about the 10-15 game mark, I was waiting for at least glimpses of the pre-shoulder injuries Tarasenko to resurface and change games on a dime with that shot of his and it just didn't happened. Tarasenko missed games down the stretch but played in the playoffs with what he disclosed as a groin injury and groin injuries are no joke, no matter how mild or serious it was. But watching Tarasenko play this season, he seemed to wade in and our of games. When you see him playing both ends of the ice, he's noticeable out there and got involved offensively when he did it. When you didn't, you couldn't even tell he was on the ice, and that was more times than not. And what does Tarasenko do best? Shoot the puck, and he averaged 2.7 per game, but for me, too often you'd find, forget the lack of shots on goal, but there would be too many zeroes in shot attempts. And that's not his MO. I give the guy full marks for the grueling rehab to get back on the ice, not once, but twice in the past two years and from a mental standpoint, that couldn't have been easy. But as a 29-year-old now with multiple injuries, the Blues have to be asking if he can ever come close to the guy that averaged 36.4 goals and 71.2 points per season from 2014-2019. Even though it was a small sample size, the Blues have to hope Tarasenko is better moving forward. 
My grade: D 

Robert Thomas -- I have to keep reminding myself that Thomas is only 21 who turns 22 July 2. And you just sit back and wait for Thomas to break out into that player that can take your breath away on some of those dazzling passes and plays he makes to set up goals. But he was also the victim to injury this season, limiting Thomas to 33 games and roughly six weeks time missed. It just wasn't a solid season for Thomas. Watching the season opener when he had two helpers, you thought he might turn into that guy that was such an influence for the Blues during their Cup run. But he finished with 12 points (three goals, nine assists) a year after he had 42 points (10 goals, 32 assists) in 66 games, so he fell way off the pace of matching those numbers. Thomas had no power play points and his face-off numbers just aren't there yet, finishing at 42.6 percent efficiency. Not good. And a common theme when discussing Thomas with the coaching staff, particularly Berube, is his unwillingness to shoot pucks still (22 shots on goal after a career-high 87 the previous season) and those times where he just doesn't protect the pucks well enough, leaving him and his teammates in vulnerable positions. I found it really telling when in his season-ending interview, Berube said Thomas needs to come into camp in good condition, to work extremely hard to get in tremendous shape. That's not something Berube normally does but maybe it's the wakeup call Thomas needs heading into his fourth NHL season. I really like the the player. I think he has the tools to be a really solid NHL center iceman moving forward, but by now, he needs to really improve a number of parts to his game from shooting pucks to neutral zone awareness to being responsible defensively to being better on the dot. Thomas is a RFA with no arbitration rights and this next contract of his will be a setup for perhaps the big one but he still has lots to prove to earn the bigger dollars. Even in a season where injuries halted some of his maturation and progress, he didn't help himself much.
My grade: D

The following forwards all get incomplete grades simply for lack of games played: Klim Kostin, Austin Poganski and Nathan Walker.


Robert Bortuzzo -- It feels like a broken record but here we are again, talking about another player that had his season cut shorter than it already was due to injury, and for Bortuzzo, it wasn't just the regular season, it was in the playoffs too. He was limited to 40 regular-season games and two playoff games due to a concussion sustained in the season-opener against the Avalanche and then a fractured orbital bone from an elbow to the head in Game 2. Bortuzzo, not known for his offense, had similar numbers there as a season ago, a goal and four assists after having two goals and four assists in 42 games the previous season, so no surprise there. What he normally brings as a third-pairing defenseman is grit, physicality, shot-blocking abilities and being a solid penalty killer. It was a mixed bag for all areas. Some games, he was really good, some games, he was not. I wouldn't say the ability to block shots, particularly on the PK, was something Bortuzzo didn't do well at. It takes a special mindset to be willing to get in front of those howitzers, which he was not. But he was part of a PK unit that wasn't particularly great this season, as noted earlier. The plus-minus took a dip to minus-3 after a career-best plus-12 last season. Bortuzzo did have 49 blocked shots and 85 hits, which again, isn't poor, but it isn't eye-opening either. Bortuzzo was in the lineup against the Avalanche but left midway through Game 2 after he was popped along the center ice line by Tyson Jost and would not finish the series, this ending his season. With one more year on his contract at a $1.375 million cap hit, the 32-year-old will be looking for a more well-rounded season to line himself up for another contract if he chooses to go to unrestricted free agency or if the Blues decide to keep him. But by this season's standards, again, nothing flashy but nothing really poor either. 
My grade: C

Vince Dunn -- Things were going so well for Vince Dunn pre-COVID. He was a Stanley Cup champ, his play was on the rise, quickly rising up the Blues' defensive ranks and firmly entrenching himself as a mainstay on a very talented blue line. He put up career numbers in goals (12), assists (23) and points (35). He also had four game-winners. But since COVID-19, Dunn has 15 goals, 28 assists and 43 points -- over two seasons spanning 114 regular-season games, including 20 points (six goals 14 assists) in jusr 43 games this season as Dunn also missed the final 11 regular-season games and playoffs due to a concussion. I was going to give Dunn the benefit of the doubt post-COVID because quite frankly, the entire Blues roster wasn't the same post-COVID. Quite frankly for the most part, it stunk, and Dunn was right on par with that. Dunn entered the season signing late. He was an RFA and signed a one-year, $1.875 million contract, probably thinking he should have been paid more but his post-COVID play and entire season last year as an offensive defenseman dictated what he would get with the Blues up against the salary cap, so he wasn't happy about that, and instead of proving to the Blues he deserves more and should be considered a mainstay in this lineup as a 24-year-old on the rise, Dunn's season wasn't good enough. I'll admit, the points per game (0.47) this season were better per game to 2018-19 (0.45), but Dunn didn't have as much power-play time two seasons ago and wasn't playing as much per game (17:32 to 19:15) then as he did this season, so given more opportunities, Dunn should be producing more. I won't question his offensive contributions, even though I thought there was more to give there, but it's Dunn's defensive play that really has me focused on this grade. His takeaway-giveaway splits haven't been good since he joined the league four seasons ago, but when you're a minus-16 (10-26) in that category on the season, including minus-18 (8-26) at even strength playing over 19 minutes of the time and in the top four relied on as a puck-moving defenseman, you can't afford to have such paltry numbers, especially when the giveaways directly led to goals against and there were a number of them. Dunn has always been sort of a risk-reward type of player, and the Blues have known this since he came on board, but that's the chance you take with a guy expected to produce from the blue line, and if you're not getting that production to match and/or offset the mistakes you make with the puck, or simply with incorrect positions on the ice that lead to goals against, something has to give. And for me this season, Dunn just wasn't good enough. He's an RFA again this summer but this time, with arbitration rights, and it is quite possible that the Blues could move him or leave him exposed for the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft. Or they can sign him and keep him, which is possible, but I would think after the way things went down last summer, the marriage may be on the rocks and a split may be the best for both sides, and it won't be considered amicable.
My grade: D-

Justin Faulk -- Now that Pietrangelo was out of the way, if there ever was a guy that had something to prove, Faulk was the guy. Look, let's be quite honest here, if the Blues were going to allow Pietrangelo, their captain walk, this was the insurance policy they had in place if he did, and I must say, Faulk delivered quite nicely. We all know the trade from Carolina and the ensuing contract extension forthcoming afterwards. Did Faulk deliver the kind of numbers he was putting up in Carolina? No, but he did finish with 25 points (seven goals, 18 assists) and a plus-11 in 56 games this season after just 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 71 games a year ago. Faulk took on the role as top-pairing defenseman and did it with style this season. His 24:16 average ice time was the most he's had since 24:26 with the Hurricanes in 2014-15. He was a top PK'er but we've outlined that wasn't one of the Blues' strengths. However, Faulk's expected plus-minus of -12.8 to an actual plus-11 tells you how he was able to persevere. He blocked 87 shots this season, 11 more than last season in 13 fewer games, and he led the Blues with 127 hits, or 45 more than a season ago. I simply think you noticed Faulk on the ice this season for all the right reasons. Last season, it just didn't feel that way. Faulk was a defense-first type player this season, and his 52.7 percent d-zone starts at even strength is the second highest of his career. His PDO at even strength (shooting percentage+save percentage) was 101.9, the highest of his NHL career. Enough with the stats stuff, which back up the play, but the bottom line is Faulk played well, and he played head and shoulders better than he did compared to last season. He owned up to it and did something about it. Too bad he couldn't finish the playoff series against Colorado after the head-shot he took from Nazem Kadri in Game 2 against the Avalanche. I honestly felt Faulk could have easily been left unprotected for the Seattle expansion draft heading into this season with seven years andfd $45.5 million on a contract on the table. Not so much now. He'll be one of the defensemen the Blues protect and he's earned it. They'll need Faulk to keep at this pace with six years left.
My grade: A

Carl Gunnarsson -- There will always be 'The Pisser.' That's the lasting image and golden comment to come from Gunnarsson, whose tenure with the Blues is likely to come to an end with the veteran heading into UFA territory. And it's a shame for Gunnarsson's season to end like that with a torn ACL, limiting the 34-year-old to just 12 games this season. But I'll say what I always say about the man called Boom-Boom, or Gunny. The small sample window of Gunnarsson's season describes his 12-year career: he is what he is. And for the Blues, he was what he was. Nothing flashy. Nothing noteworthy, just do a job asked of you. What I did notice about Gunnarsson this season, unfortunately, was his skating ability looks like it's declining, and his ability to play with some speed was lacking. Other than that, he had two assists on the season and was a minus-2. It's almost as if he was lost without his sidekick, and partner in crime: Pietrangelo. I'm not going to say Gunnarsson's career is over, but it's going to be hard to see a team give him a contract, albeit a relatively cheap one, unless he takes another pay cut and a limited role elsewhere, or even a two-way contract. Regardless, I wish him the best of luck. One of the more funny, wittier quotes in the locker room will be sorely missed:
My grade: B-

Torey Krug -- Let's cut to the chase right now. Krug wasn't signed to replace Alex Pietrangelo. They're not the same players, never have been, never will be. So let's quit making those comparisons, OK? OK! Now that that's out of the way, as far as Krug's first season with the Blues. Eh, it wasn't knock your socks off splashy but it was solid nonetheless. Krug played in 51 games this season, his first with the Blues after signing a seven-year, $45.5 million contract. He finished with 32 points (two goals, 30 assists), which isn't bad, but I was expecting better, since he was going to be a top-four guy and one that quarterbacks the top power play unit like he did in Boston before that. Krug had 49 points (nine goals, 40 assists) in 61 games for Boston the previous season, so the 17-point dropoff from a year ago is a little alarming. Krug's 22:33 ice time this season was his best in the NHL, and he was utilized in more defensive situations than in the past. Krug did block more shots (57 to 48) than he did last season in 10 fewer games and had more hits (51) than he had last season (36). He drastically cut down his giveaways (25) than the previous season (48), which were the fewest he's had in a season, but only seven takeaways is not nearly enough for a player on the ice for more than 22 1/2 minutes. Perhaps he had a bit of the Justin Faulk Year One with a new team syndrome at times, but I still think there were enough serviceable things the Livonia, Mich. skater did. Moving forward, I'd like to see the offensive numbers increase, and they will given a fuller season, but for a first season with the Blues, it was decent but could have been better.
My grade: C+

Niko Mikkola -- Perhaps we've seen the rise of Jay Bouwmeester again, or at least a version of his clone. Nobody can skate -- or in his case, glide -- like Bouwmeester did, but a tall, lanky lefty defenseman with some bite to his game, the 2015 fifth round pick out of Finland began to carve a nice place out of his Blues career this past season. Sure, there were some learning moments for the 6-4, 185-pound Mikkola, but to me, the positives outweighed the negatives. Mikkola played in 30 games this season and had a goal and two assists and had chances more often to get on the scoresheet. He was a minus-11, which can be deceiving, but I just liked his overall awareness when he's on the ice. For a younger guy with such little experience at this level, I didn't find myself often saying he looked out of place, lacked in d-zone coverage or turned pucks over at inopportune times. Mikkola averaged 14:31 ice time per game and had 18 giveaways to only three takeaways so moving forward, it would be nice to see the disparity shrink, but he blocked 35 shots and had 49 hits, so he's not afraid to play a physical style, which will be needed moving forward. The Blues trusted Mikkola with 57.8 percent of defensive zone starts and that's his game. So without a big soliloquy here on him, let's just say Mikkola's first season, which included playing in all four games against Colorado in the playoffs (one assist) was a good steppingstone for him. He'll need to build on it moving forward.
My grade: B

Colton Parayko -- THIS is who was supposed to replace Pietrangelo. When you lose a player of that caliber, there has to be a capable member on the roster to replace such talent. The 28-year-old Parayko had all the tools coming in, but unfortunately, a back injury this season derailed those chances and limited Parayko to just 32 games this season. When he was on the ice and feeling as close to healthy as can be, the Blues were a better group on the blue line. When he wasn't, well, it was obvious. Statistics-wise, Parayko had his best year last year when he tallied 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists) in 64 games, the exact same numbers as he posted in the Stanley Cup season but in 16 fewer games. This season, those numbers slipped to 12 points (two goals, 10 assists); he had one assist and was a minus-5 in the playoffs against the Avalanche. Parayko and Krug were first paired together as the season started but that didn't last too long. He went back to a familiar foe in Marco Scandella. He also played with Mikkola and others when the Blues were mixing and matching. Having taken into consideration the injury that the 28-year-old was dealing with for much of the season, I still am grading him on his overall performance, and you could tell it just wasn't the same player we've been accustomed to seeing. I've watched that guy skate his way out of a phone booth with little to no issues in the past, and maybe I shouldn't judge him on those merits alone, but I saw puck mistakes and coverage issues at times I haven't been used to seeing during Parayko's six-year career. His average ice time dipped to 21:20 as a result, his lowest since his second season (21:12) and the plus-minus (minus-2) is a dip over the past two seasons (plus-28 combined). Parayko did block 64 shots, which would have been better than a season ago on average but his hits (35) were obviously way down as a result of not wanting to complicate what was ailing him. The 23 giveaways (0.72) per game were his worst in six seasons and you could just tell that he wasn't 100 percent. On the offensive side, you just keep waiting for Parayko to continue to unleash that hard and heavy shot of his from the blue line/point on a consistent basis because when he does, the puck gets to the net or makes a would-be shot blocker feel it. If Parayko were healthy and his season turned out in such a way, I'd be concerned and graded differently, but I'll chalk this one up to not being physically and mentally to a certain degree 100 percent and expect much better moving forward. With one year and a $5.5 million cap hit remaining on his contract, Parayko will want to set himself up nicely with a big year and a greater payday.
My grade: C

Marco Scandella -- I've gone over the numbers for Scandella this season and they all point in the right direction. Points aside (three goals, six assists in 49 games) because he's simply not an offensive-type defenseman, but the blocks (64) would equate to a good number over a full season and the hits (60) would also equal to a solid number over a full season. But there just seemed to be something missing, so I looked at other numbers, and I look at the giveaways and although they're not really poor (29 in 49 games, or 0.59 per game), I look at his last full season (2017-18 with Buffalo) and Scandella had just 41 that season (0.5) and looking at the corsi and fenwick numbers, he had a corsi-for at even strength worst minus-11.5 percent and a relative fenwick worst of minus-12.2 percent in all situations this season, his 11th in the NHL. It's not so much the shorthanded time that bring those numbers down, it's the 5-on-5 overall and 5-on-5 time when games are tied that do, and those are the big issues. When Scandella first arrived on the scene in 2020, the immediate impact he and partner Parayko made was impeccable. There were games Scandella had his positive handprints on, but too often, I just didn't get that same feel. Scandella is a top-4 defensive pair and is counted on to be that shutdown guy that can help close a game out and/or keep games in the balance when they're close. He seemed to be on the ice plenty when that didn't happen. I still think the player is a nice fit here and can play the style that Berube wants and needs, but an upgrade from this season will be necessary to help justify that four-year, $13.1 million contract that kicked in this past season.
My grade: D+

Jake Walman -- I have to admit, I didn't think Walman was going to even be in the mix. A third-round pick in 2014, I thought Walman was one of those blue-chippers that the Blues would love having for years coming out of Providence College, where Walman was heaping all sorts of praise. But it just wasn't happening for him and I figured he'd be lost in the shuffle as a 24-year-old coming in (25 now). There just didn't seem to be much happening for Walman at the AHL level in Chicago, Binghamton or initially, San Antonio. But he had a nice 2019-20 season with the Rampage (nine goals, 27 assists in 57 games) and came in and played in 24 games this season with the Blues taking advantage of COVID life and did OK for himself (one goal, one assist). The points will eventually come, but what I noticed about Walman more so than anything was his speed game. The guy can skate and can move the puck from D to O in a flash. There were moments when he could have and should have made better plays with the puck (16 giveaways in 24 games), particularly with his neutral zone play that will come with time and reps in the NHL, but I'd say overall, he handled himself nicely for a first full season.  Once he gets a handle on zone coverage, at times it wasn't where it needed to be, there seems to be the making of a guy that can be that five-six defenseman in this league. 
My grade: B

Defenseman Steven Santini gets an incomplete grade simply for lack of games played.


Jordan Binnington -- Binnington came to camp with a swagger despite having a poor showing in the post-COVID Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Vancouver Canucks. When I asked him about that and being motivated moving forward despite the success and wins, he reminded me that if he was going to look back, he'd look back at winning the Stanley Cup, being an All-Star, etc, etc. Fair enough. So let's get to the numbers: 18-14-8 (not great), 2.65 goals-against average (average) and a .910 save percentage (average). He went 0-4 with a 3.59 GAA and .899 save percentage against the Avalanche in the playoffs (also not great, aside from Game 1 when he stood on his head). So let's look at some other metrics, courtesy of Binnington allowed 108 goals and his expected goals against was 108.08, so right on par, and goals saved above expected was 0.1, which is nowhere close to the elite guys like Andrei Vasilevskiy (18.2), Connor Hellebuyck (19.3), Marc-Andre Fleury (17.9) for example. Binnington's goals saved above expected was 0.002, again, not anywhere near the elite guys. His save percentage on unblocked shots was superior at .951 but that was his expected percentage. The GAA was also the expected GAA. The wins above replacement was 0.01; the top guys were 3.21, 3.04 and 2.99. His low danger unblocked shot attempt save percentage was .971, which is exceptional, but his expected low danger unblocked shot attempt save percentage is .972, so close to being right where he should be. The medium danger unblocked shot attempt save percentage was .870 and the expected was .879, and is right there with the top guys. The big one here, the high danger unblocked shot attempt save percentage was .697 and his expected high danger unblocked shot attempt save percentage was .662, which was 0.036 above expected, which is good, but far below the top guys' actual save percentage in the upper .700's. Enough with the mind-boggling numbers here, which are a mixed bag for Binnington, who finished out the second of his two-year, $8.8 million bridge contract he signed after helping the Blues win the Cup in 2019. Yes, he still carries a swagger with him, an attitude, if you will, onto the ice, which you want from your No. 1. But now that Binnington's extension kicks in for the upcoming season at $6 million per for the next six seasons, it's time to play like one of the elites again. Since winning the Cup, Binnington is 0-9 in the playoffs (ouch!), a .915 save percentage in the two seasons since having a .927 in the Cup season and a 2.60 GAA after putting up a 1.89 his rookie year. This is his cage. The Blues made the commitment. There's nobody (right now) behind him to push for No. 1 minutes, and I've seen Binnington play at times like one of the best. Look at the game he stole against Vegas when he made 50 saves in a 3-1 win April 7. But he had no shutouts this season and more average/below average games than expected. His performance in Game 1 against the Avalanche was terrific and the only reason the Blues were within striking distance of stealing one and in a 1-1 game in the third period of a 4-1 loss. Do the Blues want their goalies standing on their heads more often than not? No, because that means they're getting bombarded in the defensive zone. But there are nights where your goalie needs to steal games when the team wasn't at its best. I saw good. I didn't see good enough. It boils down to ... 
My grade: C+

Ville Husso -- At first, it was a running joke for those covering the Blues, waiting for Husso to give up the first goal on the first, second or third shot he'd see, only to settle in and have either a good performance as Binnington's backup, or have a real stinker. Well, those types of games where a shot would go in early happened more often than not at first, and the joke was not a joke anymore. It was a very strange season for the 26-year-old, who was 9-6-1 with a 3.21 GAA and .893 save percentage on the season, his first full year in the NHL after four years in the AHL. His home-road splits are something else. Husso was 2-4-0 with a 3.32 GAA and .885 save percentage with one shutout (in the second to last game of the regular season) at home and 7-2-1 with a 3.14 GAA and .898 save percentage on the road, and one might wonder how was he able to win seven of 10 and earn points in eight of 10 away from Enterprise Center with those bulging numbers but he did receive great goal support away from home too. But when Husso was good, he was really good. When he was bad, he was really bad. In his wins, he carried a 2.43 GAA and .922 save percentage, but in his losses, he had a 4.42 GAA and .855 save percentage (ouch!). Against the Ducks, Wild and Sharks, Husso was 7-0-1; against the Golden Knights, Kings, Avalanche and Coyotes, he was 2-6-0. That's pretty much how Husso's season went. The good, the bad and sometimes ugly. I still think the jury is out on Husso, who has one year at $750,000 left on his contract before becoming a UFA. I think he can be a decent, maybe better, spot starter in this league. As for a regular starter, I'm not thinking that just yet. But you never know with goalies. I've seen late bloomers become real viable starters in this league in the past. But this was one of the easiest grades for me to deal because the easiest way to grade someone who was really good and really bad? Well, right smack in the middle! 
My grade: C


Doug Armstrong -- When things go right for an architect and you make it to the pinnacle, you rightfully deserve the credit for putting the pieces together to make it happen. Well, since that 2019 run for Armstrong and the Blues, the complexion of the roster has changed, and the results have not been for the better. Some of those changes are as a result of retirements (Jay Bouwmeester, Alexander Steen) and some have been due to free agent departures and trades (Pietrangelo, Pat Maroon, Joel Edmundson, Jake Allen, Robby Fabbri). This happens with teams all the time. When you win it all and it so happens guys are due up for new contracts and want more money (rightfully so) and/or you have to manage the salary cap, adjustments need to be made. But let's not look at the past, let's look at this season, and to be quite honest, it was a difficult one for the Blues to go through knowing their captain (Pietrangelo) wanted/needed a new contract and more money/intangibles that go with it. Armstrong made the decision in the end to allow Pietrangelo to walk, and he signed with Vegas, getting the AAV ($8.8 million) and no-movement clause, which was the sticking point that Armstrong wouldn't budge off of. He never gives those to any players, never has and was not going to make an exception in this case, even though it was your captain we're talking about. OK, that was his decision to make, and it was his decision to not give out an eight-year contract knowing the end of it would probably be an albatross. I get points to both sides of this, but I'm of the belief that with Pietrangelo here, the Blues would not have suffered, at least for the meat of that contract. You're still in a championship window with guys in their prime, some fine-tuning here and there keeps the Blues up near the top. But instead, after letting Pietrangelo walk, Armstrong used a lot of that money to sign Torey Krug away from the Boston Bruins. Two different players but Armstrong couldn't afford not to do something in this case, so he took one of the other top remaining defensemen available via free agency, which was fine. He traded Allen to Montreal because he couldn't afford two goalies making so much money knowing Binnington was due for a raise should the Blues make the commitment, which they did. I loved the signing of Hoffman at the time, thinking it would help alleviate some of the scoring holes vacated by the injured Tarasenko at the time. Signing Clifford as a free agent looked good at the time, but so far, that move has not panned out. Nobody has replaced what Maroon brought to the team. I just keep circling back to the Pietrangelo negotiations. I just feel it should have never come to that, and you have to find a way to keep a piece of your heart and soul on board. The Krug signing will be determined yet, like trading for Faulk, which looks good now, and taking the chance on Hoffman was a good move, but you live and die by the moves you make and the results that ensue, and adding Hoffman/Krug/Clifford doesn't account for losing Pietrangelo, who is still in the playoffs. Not while you're out in the first round. I'll be interested to see how Armstrong retools this roster. He isn't shy about being bold and making things happen. He has to because this season didn't work according to plan.
My grade: D

Craig Berube -- Berube was handed a different set of keys. And I can tell you right off the hop, he didn't like losing Pietrangelo, who was a righthand man for the coach, one he could rely on both on and off the ice. So now what? How does Berube handle a defense without his captain and trying to incorporate a smaller group that has taken on a different look than the one that was big, burly and strong just a year ago? The Blues still had a lineup that was expected to compete for not only the playoffs, but one of the top spots in the league. Berube added a reliable, respected assistant coach (former Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery) to his staff to replace Marc Savard. He was given a goal scorer to his arsenal (Hoffman) to utilize at his disposal. Instead of the big, bruising, more powerful lineup that more fits Berube's style, he had weapons (Kyrou, Thomas, Hoffman) at his disposal for more of a rush, up-and-down lineup. The Blues did have success with their rush game, but trying to mix the two together just didn't bring the right results. It was supposed to be the 'Big Three' in the West Division with Colorado and Vegas for the top spot but the Blues had to fight their way in just to make the playoffs. They underachieved at 27-20-9 on the season. Berube didn't have Tarasenko for much of the season either, and in the past, he was able to push all the right buttons in making lineup changes/adjustments, but it seemed to get to be too much, especially with all the injuries to deal with. But Berube had his top players (O'Reilly, Faulk, Schenn and Perron) for the entire season, and that is sufficient enough to build a game night roster around with other key components. The Hoffman thing was something I thought could have been handled differently. As I mentioned in Hoffman's grade, he wasn't going to be the 200-foot player the coaching staff could rely on, but I thought Berube could have implemented him into situations that were best suited for the player to make the team better a lot sooner than he did, especially on the power play. Getting Hoffman on the top unit should have been a priority right from the get-go even though last year's PP units were solid. The Blues allowed 3.04 goals per game and allowed more goals than scored (169-170) for the first time since 2007-08. They were 13th in goals for and 13th in goals against. The PP came on strong at the end to finish sixth in the league (23.2 percent), the PK was not good, 25th at 77.8 percent. I understand ultimately the coach doesn't make personnel decisions; that's Armstrong's job, but Berube does get input and is consulted with prior to these decisions being made. Of course it was tough dealing with 379 man-games lost to injury, and dealing with a season during a pandemic was not easy for anyone. But the expectations were high for this team this season. Getting dusted aside in a sweep after losing in the first round last season was not how I envisioned this to go.
My grade: D+


These folks all deserve an A+. From head athletic trainer Ray Barile, assistant athletic trainer Dustin Flynn, director of performance Ryan Podell, massage therapist Steve Squier, sport performance assistant James Lomax, head equipment manager Rich Matthews, assistant equipment manager Andrew Dvorak and equipment assistant Jack Markwardt, I can only imagine was an entire COVID-like season was like to try and deal with. From protocols to quarantines to vaccinations, to actual treatments, etc etc, I can only imagine these guys are more than ready for things to get back to normal!