With the current NHL season heading into late winter and early spring, several teams are making remarkable turnarounds from last season. And then there’s the St. Louis Blues who are just mired in a continuous path to mediocrity. The biggest news to hit this franchise in the past week seems to be sending Vladimir Tarasenko and Niko Mikkola to the New York Rangers in exchange for Sammy Blais (returning to St. Louis) along with prospect Hunter Skinner and some big draft picks. In all reality, the only excitement surrounding the Blues right now seems to be who they will trade and who will stay before the March 3rd NHL trade deadline.
The Blues certainly have underwhelmed expectations so far this season so any real interest in the team at this point has to be reserved to hardcore fans and the few pundits who seem to still care about the organization and its direction. To reiterate the Blues’ mediocrity tag, they are exactly that – a team with a 25-25-3 record and perfectly at .500 for the season. Even a home ice advantage hasn’t panned out for the Blues this season as they are .500 at home and .500 on the road. The St. Louis Blues are stuck in a rut where the only real interest in the team right now seems to be on what type of revolving door the organization is creating between now and March 3rd. However, the Blues are riding on a very modest two-game winning streak and look to add more points each night in an effort to keep pace with the Western Conference wild card race.
There are positive notes to talk about when discussing the Blues and the return of Pavel Buchnevich and team captain Ryan O’Reilly certainly top the list for important milestones for a franchise looking for anything positive to talk about. Buchnevich has logged 38 games this season and missed the last four before the All-Star break with an ankle infection but is now back in action. Joining Buchnevich back on the active roster is captain Ryan O’Reilly who was out with a broken foot. Buchnevich has produced 15 goals and 23 assists so far this season while O’Reilly has added an additional ten goals and six more assists. A possible O’Reilly trade before March 3rd still looms around the Blues’ organization and while it may make more sense to look at trades this summer (O’Reilly become an Unrestricted Free Agent after this season), O’Reilly’s name certainly will continue to circulate in trade circles up to the trade deadline.
The Blues are making strides to improve their special teams.
Last season, the Blues ranked number five in the NHL with an 84.1% penalty kill which certainly helped project them into the Stanley Cup playoffs. The first half of the 2022-23 season became a roving nightmare for the Blues as special teams fell apart and their penalty kill dropped to 63.8% which was the lowest in the league. However, the Blues have turned around their penalty kill ability and since mid-December have improved to an 84.7% success rate which puts them third in the NHL. Even more impressively, the Blues lead the league since January with an 88.6% penalty kill but last week’s 6-5 overtime win over the Arizona Coyotes nearly was a special teams disaster by giving up two power play goals to the Coyotes. If the Blues can improve on both phases of special teams (power play and penalty kill), they still have an outside shot at grabbing a wild card spot before April arrives. Of course, the word if can be one of the biggest and most elusive words in the English language and the Blues need to improve all phases of their game right now just to finish on the positive side in the regular season standings.
Welcome back to the Gateway City Sammy Blais.
With all of the excitement and outright hype surrounding the Vladimir Tarasenko trade last week to the New York Rangers, sometimes the fact that the Blues gained some players is lost in the conversation. Winger Sammy Blais returned to the Blues from the Rangers as part of the Tarasenko trade (Blais was traded to the Rangers back in 2021.) While Blais was with the Blues from 2018-19 through 2020-21, he played in 108 games and produced 14 goals and 16 assists. The trade to the Rangers never favored Blais as his 2021-22 season was sidetracked with an ACL knee injury and in 54 games with the Blueshirts, he produced exactly zero goals and only nine assists. Fast forward to Blais’ first game back with the Blues last week where he scored a goal in his first game back in St. Louis after enduring a 54 game scoring drought. While it may be too early to tell at this point, the trade for Blais may pay dividends both to the Blues and to revitalizing Blais’ career.
Kyrou and Thomas keep the offensive pace up for the Blues.
Despite all of the negativity surrounding the Blues and their “streakiness” this season, one thing is certain – extending the contracts of both Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou was one of the best things this franchise has done to grow for the future. Despite a recent concussion scare, Jordan Kyrou has been cleared to begin play again and simply leads the Blues with 24 goals and 27 assists while Thomas adds an additional 13 goals and 33 assists. This offensive dynamic duo should provide whatever spark needed to make at least an honest effort at a playoff run between now and April.