Final grades are in!
Remember back in school – whether it was elementary school, high school, or college – the butterflies you felt the day grades were released. It was like your entire worth as a human being banked on your knowledge of 8th-grade plant biology.
Then you had to psycho-analyze the teacher. Was he/she a monster whose sole reason for being was to wreck your wretched life? Or, would this be one of those unlikely heroes – that remarkably cool teacher who gave more wink-winks than Fs?
For the St. Louis Blues, the question is not just how poor were the grades were in the 2020-21 season. No. The question is why did they fall so far from their precipice atop the NHL just two years before?
Not the Report Card We Hoped For
OFFENSE – Grade “D”
As much as I want to turn a blind eye to their offensive (lack of) performance this year, it is a black eye that is too messy to hide. There is no reason this group of snipers, shooters, grinders, and ballers should have 1) barely eked into the playoffs and 2) get swept convincingly in four games. Convincingly.
The names sound like a Who’ Who Among Hockey Players with Vladimir Tarasenko, David Perron, Ryan O’Reilly, Robert Thomas, Kyle Clifford, Tyler Bozak, and Ivan Barbashev lining the roster. The Blues added top-shelf sniper Mike Hoffman in the off-season, and offensive-minded defensemen Torey Krug to quarterback the power play.
The power play was certainly better than it finished in 2019. The penalty kill presented big problems for Craig Berube‘s staff.
To be fair, you have to take into account the flurry of injuries that players like Tarasenko, Thomas, Bozak and Barbashev all suffered this season. They just weren’t on the ice nearly enough to make an impact on this sputtering team.
If I were Perron and O’Reilly, I’d be pissed with the grade of D and start blaming the other deadbeats assigned to the group project. You know, there’s always one or two freeloaders who get the grade YOU earned. That’s life, and this year for this dynamic duo, that’s hockey.
We will save individual scorecards for the offseason, but in all, you would have expected much better production from this group than what they got.
DEFENSE – Grade “C”
It’s easy to rag on the beleaguered defense. They were not great, and at times, they were downright bad.
They should have been better. GM Doug Armstrong brought in Krug from the Boston Bruins to replace the outgoing Alex Pietrangelo. He signed a long-term deal with the Vegas Golden Knights, who are still battling the Minnesota Wild in that series.
Krug was brought in to help the Blues’ anemic power play, as referenced earlier. He did do that, so the grade is slightly better than the D many others may give this Defense.
Saving these guys from a total failure were veterans Justin Faulk, Marco Scandella, Colton Parayko, with youngsters Nikko Mikkola, Jake Walman, and Steven Santini also seeing effective minutes in the postseason.
Vince Dunn seemingly disappeared from the roster late in the season, and there have been rumors whether or not he could have played or not. He opted not to play in the playoffs. Carl Gunnarsson, a Cup champion, did not play either due to a season-ending injury he suffered early in the year. His loss, plus the losses of Alex Steen and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, wreaked havoc on this team.
Robert Bortuzzo, who missed the early part of the season with injury, rounds out the defense. He is serviceable, often comes up with a random big goal, but is basically “just a guy” … You do not expect big moments from him – so when you get them, you sure do appreciate them that much more. Still, he is not one to build any kind of defense around.
The defense may have fared better here had Berube been far more serious than he was about developing young talent like Nikko Mikkola. The young Finn was plugged into the lineup after the injury to Gunnarsson and did pretty well. Then, inexplicably, Berube banished him to the press box where he joined the other healthy scratches. Then, in the ill-fated playoff run of 2021, Mikkola played solidly against the Avs in those four games.
GOALIES – Grade “B+”
Jordan Binnington showed why he is worth the $36 million contract extension, Armstrong and he struck in February. He had a mediocre regular season, but got hot at the end of the year in big series against Vegas and the Colorado Avs, and then in the playoff round against the Avs – the 4-0 sweep. Despite coming up empty-handed in the four games, it was Binnington who stood on his head.
He made an entire season’s worth of highlight-reel saves in those four games. He clearly outmatched Phillip Grubauer, who promised to take Binnington out if he ever challenges him again as Binnington did following Game 1.
Vile Husso was admirable as a backup and provided to be reliable – which is the most you can expect from a backup goalie. He ate valuable minutes for Binnington, but his bugaboo – allowing early goals in games he started – was a difficult one for him to shake. He has improved on his steadiness in the crease and helped the Blues earn some key wins down the stretch.
COACHING – Grade “C”
My beef with Berube is that he seemed to lose command of his team at times this season. This was never more evident than the night he told Mike Hoffman he was a healthy scratch. Hoffman? The million-dollar sniper? Yeah, he watched a few big games from the press box. Berube did an average job, although average to me is not good enough. There is clearly another level this team could not reach, and you have to start asking questions about the coaching when that happens.
The Zach Sanford question is one that will likely haunt Berube should he last another two years here. Berube has counted on Sanford, who came up empty-handed more than once and provided little offensive spark – his sole reason for making the roster. While everyone was complaining about Sanford on the fan boards, Berube stood by his man.
Colorado beat the Blues with physical, brute strength. The Blues had retooled last season to provide more emphasis on the offensive side of things and not the defense. The division became a “heavy” division with Colorado and Vegas gaining reputations as hurting other players needlessly.
So, do you blame Berube or Armstrong for not finding the defensive death the team so sorely needed? Injuries decimated the lineup and the “next man up” just wasn’t very good in most instances. But, the Blues did not seem to be able to manage the talent they did have – the ones who weren’t bandaged up.
Overall, this team will be remembered as one of the more forgettable Blues campaigns. Obviously, the pandemic shifted things and shook up the divisions, which did not favor the Blues at all.
These are not the Grades we had hope for at the beginning of the season. but these are the grades that were earned.
It is a shame because in these forgettable seasons some tremendous performances will be lost to the ages. David Perron’s point-per-game streak was amazing. Justin Faulk playing 25 minutes a night. Wow.
What a season.
Thanks for reading!
Now, back to full strength …
A St. Louis Blues blogger, NHL podcaster, and writer, and contributor for the STL Fan Report.