St. Louis Blues: A look ahead to the schedule, roster and projections for the 2021-22 season
ST. LOUIS (KY3) - After two straight seasons altered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the St. Louis Blues head into a new campaign one step closer to normalcy.
The 2021-22 season begins Saturday as the Blues hit the road to take on the division-rival Colorado Avalanche. Puck drop is set for 8 p.m.
Now two-plus years removed from their only Stanley Cup championship in 2019, the Blues have navigated through a bit of a transition phase recently.
When the NHL first paused due to the pandemic in March 2020, the Blues were leading the Western Conference with 94 points over 71 games. Months later, the Blues regrouped in a Canada bubble, but couldn’t find a consistent groove in an adjusted playoff format. This has since led to two first-round playoff exits and several core players departing via trade or free agency, including the only player to captain the Blues to a Stanley Cup in Alex Pietrangelo.
In previous seasons, the Blues have taken national spotlight with hosting a Winter Classic Game, winning the Stanley Cup and leading NHL All-Star Weekend festivities. The Blues will compete in a second Winter Classic on New Year’s Day of 2022 in Minnesota. But as the season returns to an 82-game format, fans are wondering what’s next for the franchise?
The Blues start the new season later than most teams. As of Saturday, the Blues are one of only four teams who have yet to play a game since the NHL season kicked off Tuesday. More than a week removed from their last preseason game, the Blues are now just hours away from the season opener.
Here’s a closer look at the upcoming schedule, roster and projections as the St. Louis Blues set sights for the 2021-22 NHL season.
Assuming there are no further pandemic-induced setbacks, the Blues return to an 82-game schedule that features at least two games against every NHL opponent. There will also be a three-week break in February due to the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Just like last season, the Blues open up the new campaign on the road against the Colorado Avalanche. It’s one of only three scheduled matchups with the reigning division champions, who played 12 times against the Blues last season counting playoff games.
Saturday marks the start of a three-game road trip that also includes stops in Arizona and Las Vegas. One week later, the Blues will host the Los Angeles Kings for their home opener.
In addition to the season opener and home opener, which are set for the next two Saturdays, here are five games you won’t want to miss:
Oct. 30 vs. Chicago Blackhawks
One of the biggest rivalries in franchise history returns and counts for the standings for the first time in 602 days. The traditional Blues-Blackhawks matchups were put on hold last season due to pandemic-scheduling adjustments. The Blues swept the four-game season series with the Blackhawks in the 2019-20 campaign, but the cross-state rivals have added some depth since then, most notably three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury in net.
Nov. 30 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
The back-to-back Stanley Cup champions pay a visit to the Enterprise Center, along with fellow St. Louis native Pat Maroon. After a season-opening loss Tuesday, the Lightning also scrambled early Thursday before a late comeback win. One of the league’s top scorers in Nikita Kucherov is now healthy for Tampa Bay, but the competition is growing stronger out east, so it will be interesting to see what type of momentum the Lightning bring when the Blues close out November.
Jan. 1 @ Minnesota Wild
For the second time in six years, the Blues head outdoors for the NHL Winter Classic, a near-annual game since 2008 that traditionally marks the new calendar year. In 2017, the Blues hosted the Chicago Blackhawks in the Winter Classic at Busch Stadium, earning a 4-1 victory. This time, the Blues will serve as an opponent to the Minnesota at Target Field in Minneapolis. In eight head-to-head games last season, the Blues dominated the series with six wins and outscored the Wild by 11 goals.
Jan. 13 vs. Seattle Kraken
More competition awaits in the Western Conference as the Seattle Kraken join the league as the 32nd NHL team. Seattle dropped its inaugural game, 4-3, on Tuesday night to the Vegas Golden Knights before its first win Thursday, also 4-3, over the Predators. The Kraken will meet all but three other teams before their inaugural matchup with the Blues. This game will also mark a mid-season homecoming for two 2019 Stanley Cup champions in Jaden Schwartz and Vince Dunn.
April 12 @ Boston Bruins
The TD Garden is the site where the Blues secured their only Stanley Cup championship in franchise history. Three years later, the Blues will play what could shape up to be a pivotal contest in a push for playoffs. Like the Blues, the Bruins have consistently pushed for playoffs over the past decade. This matchup begins the final 10-game stretch of the season, which is followed by six more road games and a home rematch one week later with the Bruins.
In addition to these matchups, growing division rivalries, like ones against the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators, return after the pandemic led to altered divisions last year. Division play makes up 25 games in the Blues schedule.
Canada will welcome the Blues for the first time since the 2020 bubble playoffs. The Blues are preparing for nine games over four road trips through the country border.
January will be a busy month at the Enterprise Center. It features a season-long five-game homestand and eight home games for the Blues. The Blues will open up Enterprise Center to full capacity for all 41 home games, but those who attend must have proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test.
Road games pile up near the end of the season, including a five-game road stretch that ends in early-March and a season-high nine road games in April. The Blues will wrap up the regular season on April 29 at home against the Vegas Golden Knights after completing four-game West Coast road trip.
Fourth-year head coach Craig Berube, now on a contract season, has finalized his 23-man roster for his third season opener.
It’s expected that the team will begin the season with 14 healthy forwards, seven defensemen and two goaltenders. The Blues can only dress 20 skaters at a single time for each game, but can rotate anyone from their active roster into the lineup.
Here’s a closer look at the roster:
The opening-night roster still features 11 players from the 2019 Stanley Cup championship team, but a few more core players departed in the offseason.
Most notably, the Blues lost two experienced skaters, defenseman Vince Dunn and forward Jaden Schwartz, to the Seattle Kraken through the offseason expansion draft and free agency respectively. The new season also begins without forwards Mike Hoffman and Sammy Blais, in addition to defenseman Carl Gunnarsson after his recent retirement.
Ryan O’Reilly prepares for his second season as captain. The 30-year-old center is considered one of the strongest two-way forwards in the league, winning the Selke Trophy for his defensive prowess in 2019 and averaging just under a point per game over the last three years.
Despite the shortened season, O’Reilly finished with his sixth 20-goal campaign and won the second most face-off wins in the league. His chemistry has been top-notch with David Perron, who became the first Blues forward in nearly two decades to eclipse the point-per-game rate last season.
Vladimir Tarasenko, one of the team’s longest-tenured players and a former 40-goal scorer, starts the season with plenty to prove. The nine-year veteran reportedly requested a trade early in the offseason after frustration over a pair of recent shoulder surgeries and the team’s medical response.
Tarasenko is one of many forwards, including Brayden Schenn and Robert Thomas, looking for a rebound in the points department. Ivan Barbashev, Tyler Bozak and Kyle Clifford provide steady fourth-line depth along with Oskar Sundqvist, who will start the season on long-term injured list.
Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk and Torey Krug anchor a defense that for most part brings back familiar names after some moving parts in previous seasons. Veteran blue liners Robert Bortuzzo and Marco Scandella appear to be in good health after dealing with various injuries last year. Jake Walman and Niko Mikkola made notable impressions in their rookie campaigns and could push for more ice time as the new season progresses.
Jordan Binnington, who emerged as the go-to goalie during the 2019 Stanley Cup run, will handle the bulk of starts in net once again. He finished right around league average in several statistics among qualified goaltenders, but the Blues are hopeful he can build on last year’s marks as he six-year, $36 million contract begins this season. Ville Husso will serve as his primary backup in net.
MEET THE NEW GUYS
- Pavel Buchnevich: After five seasons with the New York Rangers, Pavel Buchnevich joins the Blues with promise to fulfill a top-six forward role. Buchnevich has improved on his scoring in each of his last three seasons, posting 48 points in 54 games last season. His contributions did not go unnoticed in New York, where he finished with three short-handed goals and a sharp 16.7 shooting percentage in his latest campaign. He will most likely work on a line centered by Schenn, but could get time with O’Reilly, Perron and other high-profile scorers on the power play.
- James Neal: The Blues got a real steal of a deal for James Neal, signing the 13-year veteran to a league minimum contract after a strong audition, which included a hat trick in his first preseason game. A former 40-goal scorer, Neal buried at least 20 goals in each of his first ten seasons. Neal’s career Corsi factor mark of 54.3% is another sign for optimism, meaning his teams have consistently controlled the puck more often during his ice time. His primary preseason linemates were Thomas and Tarasenko, so Neal will be tasked with a scoring touch quickly on his seventh team.
- Brandon Saad: You may remember Brandon Saad for coming up with some timely playoff goals against the Blues and helping the Chicago Blackhawks to two Stanley Cup championships in the 2010s. The longtime rival brings quite a load of experience, 76 playoff games to be exact, at only the age of 28. Though his scoring isn’t the most prolific, Saad earned a five-year, $22.5 million contract with St. Louis in the offseason. He has shown strong metrics with board battles and puck possession in the past, which makes him a good candidate to slot at left wing on the top line with O’Reilly and Perron.
- Jordan Kyrou: Known as one of the league’s fastest skaters, Jordan Kyrou broke into the scene with 14 goals and 21 assists over 55 games last season. His speed proves vital in zone transition and cutting away from traffic to create plays. Another byproduct of his speed, Kyrou’s 32 even-strength points were the third-most for the Blues last season. He has a more solidified roster spot compared to his previous three seasons, and his path to more ice time will likely depend on how much of a defensive presence he can build.
- Jake Neighbours: The 2020 first-round pick is one of the more surprising players to make the cut out of training camp, but Jake Neighbours made a strong preseason impression with four points and a +7 plus/minus rating in five games. He will be the first teenager to crack the opening night roster since Robert Thomas in 2018. Neighbours has drawn some comparisons to Perron in the past, as scouts have touted his playmaking abilities and aggressiveness around the boards. The Blues can play Neighbours in up to nine games before deciding for contract purposes if he stays in the NHL or spends the rest of the season in the minors.
- Jake Walman: A slew of injuries and the departure of longtime captain Alex Pietrangelo opened up more opportunities for Jake Walman. His scoring was limited last year to one goal and one assist over 24 games, but he matched that in last week’s preseason finale. The Blues see upside in Walman’s puck control and movement abilities, but a Fenwick factor below 50% shows there is room for improvement in blocking and preventing shots on goal. Walman will likely split blue line duties with Niko Mikkola on last defensive pairing until one becomes more established or a more regular defender misses time with an injury.
- Torey Krug: Other than leading Blues defensemen with 30 assists, Torey Krug finished a below pace of several career norms that inked him a seven-year deal ahead of last season. He went 45 games without a goal through one regular-season stretch and finished with only 13 power plays points, his lowest output on the man advantage in eight years. Krug logged a personal-best average ice time rate of 22 minutes per game to fill in the shoes of longtime defensive anchor Alex Pietrangelo. Perhaps some new offensive-minded forwards and similar defensive core will help Krug establish his style in year two with the Blues.
- Brayden Schenn: Though many Blues forwards saw scoring production decrease last year, Brayden Schenn may have been unluckiest of the bunch. His 0.64 point-per-game rate was his lowest since joining the Blues four years ago and he was contained to one goal on a -6 plus/minus rating in the four-game playoff sweep. He took a step forward in the faceoffs, hits and blocks department, so the tenacity could help him create more offensive chances, especially if he lines up with a similar-minded player in Pavel Buchnevich.
- Vladimir Tarasenko: It’s hard to find someone in the NHL more due for a fresh start than Vladimir Tarasenko. After a stretch of five seasons with at least 30 goals, Tarasenko has been limited to seven goals and 24 points over two injury-riddled campaigns. Earlier in the offseason, Tarasenko requested a trade based on how the Blues medical staff handled his injuries, which led to two nearly identical surgeries on his left shoulder. The request came despite a no-trade clause with two years remaining on his contract. The Blues could not find good fit between several offers the expansion draft, so Tarasenko remains on the team with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. However, a clean bill of health and finding suitable linemates could work wonders for Tarasenko and his teammates this upcoming season.
Nine of the last 10 seasons have resulted in playoffs for the St. Louis Blues. Another playoff bid seems viable for the 2021-22 squad on paper, even as the Blues get reacquainted with the pace of an 82-game season.
As the NHL returns to its primary post-lockout playoff format, the Blues can secure a playoff spot by either finishing among the Top 3 teams in the Central Division or Top 8 teams in the Western Conference in terms of points.
JFresh Hockey, an NHL analytics-based website, predicts a second-place finish for the Blues in the Central Division with 97 points.
The analytics-based projection isn’t too far off from St. Louis’s pace last season. The Blues finished with 63 points behind a 27-20-9 record over 56 games last season, which would pace to around 92 points over a full 82-game season.
Considering that roughly one-third of games come against division opponents, recent history shows the Blues could meet that projection. St. Louis has compiled a 25-19-5 record (55 points) in 49 regular season games played against Central Division foes over the last two seasons. In an 82-game pace, that would equate to about 92 points.
The projections and recent splits look promising for the Blues, even though most hockey insiders predict the Colorado Avalanche to run away with the division title.
Daily Faceoff projects the Blues will have several team leaders for individual stats in 2021-22, including:
- Goals: Ryan O’Reilly (26)
- Assists: Ryan O’Reilly (48)
- Points: Ryan O’Reilly (74)
- Plus/minus: Ryan O’Reilly (+13)
- Shots on goal: Vladimir Tarasenko (217)
- Hits: Brayden Schenn/Justin Faulk (137)
- Blocks: Colton Parayko (139)
- Wins: Jordan Binnington (29)
- Goals Against Average: Jordan Binnington (2.59)
- Save Percentage: Jordan Binnington (.913)
The Blues enter the new season as one of only six unique Stanley Cup winners over the past decade. Four of those six teams either won back-to-back titles or two over three seasons. Winning two Stanley Cups over four years would still be quite an elusive feat, but oddsmakers think that task may be tough for St. Louis.
Right now, sports betting organization PointsBet gives the Blues 33/1 odds (+3300) to accomplish that feat. PointsBet projects that 16 teams have stronger odds for a Stanley Cup championship this season. The highly-touted division-rival Colorado Avalanche (+500) are favorites to win, while the Tampa Bay Lightning also have favorable odds (+600) for a Stanley Cup three-peat.
The championship window might look a little tighter for the St. Louis Blues, but perhaps the team will have more time to develop and find its identity as the NHL stretches more than half a year for an 82-game season.
Time will tell what’s in store for the “Blues of ‘22.” Enjoy the new season!
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