What is my Line?
Although it seems like the dust has just settled on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s second straight Stanley Cup Championship, the NHL’s 2021-22 regular season begins in less than 65 days. On Tuesday, Oct. 12, the Tampa Bay Lightning will raise their third Stanley Cup championship banner before facing the Pittsburgh Penguins in an opening night doubleheader.
The second game of that evening will feature the NHL’s 32nd franchise, the Seattle Kraken debuting against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena. Meanwhile, a mere four days later, the St. Louis Blues will begin their season against the team that swept them in the first round of last year’s playoffs, the Colorado Avalanche.
Although there are still moves that could happen, including the swirling rumors of a Vladimir Tarasenko trade, the Blues roster will look much different compared to last year’s team.
The Blues will be moving forward without several key contributors from last year’s squad. Forward Jaden Schwartz signed a 5-year deal with the Seattle Kraken that will pay him $5.5 million a year. The Kraken also selected 24-year-old Defenseman Vince Dunn several days prior in the NHL Expansion Draft.
Lethal PP sniper Mike Hoffman signed a three-year, $13.5 million contract with the Montreal Canadiens. Veteran defenseman Carl Gunnarsson announced his retirement shortly after the season ended.
Boom Boom as he is affectionately known, is most famous for scoring the first game winning goal in a Stanley Cup final’s game in franchise history. The Blues of course, went on to win the 2019 Stanley Cup in 7 games over the Boston Bruins. Also, gritty forward Sammy Blais will not be returning, more on that in a moment.
Up in the air—
Although there is rumored mutual interest between the two sides, the Blues and veteran center Tyler Bozak have yet to agree on a contract. There have been reports that a one-year deal is on the table, leaving the 35-year-old’s future with the Blues uncertain.
The elephant in the room is the Vladimir Tarasenko situation. He asked the team for a trade several weeks back; however, he remains on the roster. GM Doug Armstrong has indicated to the Tarasenko’s camp that he should prepare to return to St. Louis next season unless a deal that makes sense for the team comes to fruition.
The talented RW carries a hefty $7.5 million cap hit for next season, and it’s unknown if Armstrong will want to absorb any of that money to facilitate a trade. The Islanders, Devils, Hurricanes and Rangers have all been recently mentioned as potential destinations for the 29-year-old Russian.
The Islanders and Devils have made signings that would rule them out of the sweepstakes. The biggest question is, should they trade Tarasenko?
The Blues acquired forward Pavel Buchnevich from the New York Rangers in exchange for Sammy Blais and the Blues 2022 second-round pick. Within a matter of days, the two parties came to terms on a four-year deal worth $5.8 million per year.
This past season, Buchnevich put up 20 goals to go along with 28 assists for 48 points in 54 games. For those interested in the math, that’s a very impressive .89 points per game clip. The Blues also added forward Brandon Saad who signed a five-year, $22.5 million contract with St. Louis on Thursday. The deal carries an AAV of $4.5 million, which is a bargain for a two-time Stanley Cup Champion player coming off a deal averaging $6 AAV.
With that being said, it’s never too early to speculate on what the Blues lineup will look like next season. I’ll only include players that are on the Blues roster at the time of this writing. Let’s start with the offense:
Guy Bensing, the Owner of the Fan Report Media Group, told me he likes my lines but would make a change or two.
1st Line “The Artillery Line,”
2ND Line “The Spetsnaz Line,”
3rd Line “The Young Guns,”
4th Line “Put up or shut up,”
If they could make a trade for Thomas, I would bring Walker up.
Hold the Line
What does the phrase “Hold the Line” mean? To maintain the existing position or situation? Or is it referring to the 1978 smash hit, off rock group Toto’s debut album? Neither in this case, it is the Blues’ ability to protect the Blueline, and force opposing teams to give up puck possession. The goal is making life much easier on goaltender Jordan Binnington.
We have heavily scrutinized ever the Blues defense since the Vegas Golden Knights signed former Blues Captain Alex Pietrangelo to a $61.6 million, seven-year contract, which equates to an AAV of a whopping $8.8 million in October 2020.
After a rough first season after coming over in a trade from Carolina, Justin Faulk stepped up in a big way in the 2020-21 season, pairing with newly signed Torey Krug. The duo each finished the season with an impressive +11.
Marco Scandella provided much-needed stability on the blue line, finishing at +14 for the year. Colton Parayko had an injury-marred campaign playing in only 32 games, finishing as a -2 for the season.
Parayko will look to rebound as he enters the final year of his contract. The towering duo of 6’4” defenders Robert Bortuzzo and Niko Mikkola should expect to see an increase in total ice time with Vince Dunn no longer in the picture. Waiting in the wings are promising youngsters Jake Walman, Scott Perunovich, and Tyler Tucker.
After Head Coach Craig Berube questioned if Jordan Binnington had lost some of his swagger, #50 responded with a 50 save performance against the Golden Knights in an early April contest.
After the game, he uttered the now-famous phrase “We’re Coming” in the post-game interview with Blues color commentator Darren Pang.
In the games that followed, Binnington finished with a 7-3-3 record leading the Blues back into the playoffs for an impressive conclusion to the regular season.
After a season playing in the Western Division, the Blues will return to their normal spot in the Central Division in 2021-22. Arizona joins them to round out the eight teams. With the additions of Buchnevich and Saad, plus the expected continued development of several young stars, the Blues should once again qualify for the playoffs and could make a deep run this season.
Hopefully, with a deeper roster, the Blues can put the memories of the last two postseasons in the rear-view mirror for good. All this hinges on Berube making adjustments and using players in the right roles.
Making my family proud.
Brian Phipps is a lifelong St Louis Blues and Mizzou Tigers football fan. Very proud, yet humble husband and father of one beautiful daughter. He is also the founder of the Facebook Group “All Blues Everything”