Rutherford: Trade deadline moves or not, Blues are proving this roster needs a lot of work

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If the past 2 1/2 months have shown us anything about the St. Louis Blues, it’s that they have a roster problem, not a coaching problem.

This isn’t news to general manager Doug Armstrong. He knows it. But now we all have proof.

The Blues played 28 games under Craig Berube, and they were 13-14-1 (.482 points percentage). They’ve now played 31 under interim coach Drew Bannister, and they’re 17-12-2 (.581).

You might look at that and say they’ve been a little better under Bannister. You’re not wrong. He’s done a thorough job and deserves a chance to stay on as the full-time coach.

But if you dig into the numbers further, you’ll see that the Blues haven’t been that different of a team under Bannister, and he’s dealing with a lot of the same issues that led Armstrong to fire Berube.

Here’s a look at the splits:

(Shots and scoring are per 60 minutes at five-on-five)

COACH Berube Bannister

Shots for / against

29.7 / 33.5

25.2 / 31.6

Goals for / against

2.49 / 2.94

2.02 / 2.48

Power play / Penalty kill

8.4% / 78.5%

25.5% / 79.5%

Five-on-five save %

.911

.923

You can see the clear focus on the defensive end under Bannister, with fewer shots against and fewer goals against. But that could be, in part, due to the team’s improved five-on-five save percentage.

And it’s come at the cost of the offense, as the five-on-five goals per 60 are down about a half-goal.

That’s a tradeoff that the Blues will probably take, but it’s still a tradeoff.

The biggest difference between the team under Berube and Bannister has been the power play, which has been exponentially better since Bannister took over. That was the hope, and it was no easy task to get the unit going, but there was also nowhere to go but up.

So the question becomes: How many of those wins under Bannister are the result of the power play coming through?

It’s hard to say, but we know the Blues could have won a few more under Berube if the power play was going like this when he was here. At the very least, the unit’s success has masked the club’s ongoing issues.

Which is my point here. It’s not to compare Bannister and Berube. It’s to underscore that this roster is in need of some serious attention.

Again, this isn’t news to Armstrong. He’s the one who moved Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly at last year’s trade deadline and went into a retool. He’s admitted that it could take a couple of years to get back on track.

But here are my questions based on what we’ve witnessed the past couple of months under Bannister:

• Are the problems with the roster even more concerning than when he took over?

• Is there even more work than Armstrong anticipated?

• Can the Blues still be competitive, as the GM wants them to be during the retool?

It’s one thing for Jordan Kyrou to be inconsistent under a coach that he’s butted heads with. It’s another thing for Kyrou to still be up and down under Bannister and need a third-period benching in Detroit to understand that this is “playoff time.” (Robert Thomas was benched as well, but we can agree he’s had a great season and not had the same issues.)

If Armstrong wasn’t considering a Kyrou trade before, will he before Kyrou’s full no-trade clause goes into effect in 2025?

What will the Blues do with Pavel Buchnevich? They’d love to keep him on the roster, and perhaps re-sign him, but if that’s not the plan for both sides, do they trade him before the looming March 8 deadline or in the offseason?


Will Pavel Buchnevich be on the Blues past the March 8 NHL trade deadline? (Steph Chambers / Getty Images)

Even if the Blues keep Kyrou and bring back Buchnevich and their top line remains intact with Thomas, how can they revamp the rest of this forward group?

Aside from Jake Neighbours, who has been a gem this season, and Alexey Toropchenko, who has coming into his own, what other player in the top 12 excites you? Brayden Schenn and Brandon Saad may not get to 40 points this season, and now might not be a great time to remind you, but Kevin Hayes has two more years left on his contract.

Also, remember when Jakub Vrana and Kasperi Kapanen were supposed to play well enough to either be re-signed or dealt at the deadline for draft picks? Well, Vrana is in AHL Springfield and Kapanen was a healthy scratch Wednesday and wouldn’t get claimed if the Blues put him on waivers today.

Then there’s the defense.

It’s been a good season for Colton Parayko and a better one for the blue line overall, but can Armstrong come back again with Nick Leddy, Torey Krug and Justin Faulk? If the answer is no, which one is waiving his no-trade clause? Perhaps there’s a better chance this year of one of them agreeing to that, but who’s taking them with the term left on their deals?

In other words, the Blues are basically back in the same position they were last summer with their top four.

And the rest of the defense? Marco Scandella is a pending unrestricted free agent and could be gone by the deadline. That means coming back next season could be Matt Kessel, who has shown a lot of promise; Scott Perunovich, who will become a UFA if he doesn’t reach 74 career games (playoffs included, so he needs 14) by the end of this season; and Tyler Tucker, who the team has been reluctant to suit up this season.

About the only area of the club you can feel comfortable with is the goaltending, and you’d expect Jordan Binnington and Joel Hofer to be back as the tandem next season.

GettyImages 2020800577 scaled


Jordan Binnington has proved that goaltending is not the Blues’ issue. (Dilip Vishwanat / Getty Images)

But who else will be back?

We could see Jimmy Snuggerud and perhaps even Dalibor Dvorsky, and don’t forget about Zack Bolduc. But they’re not going to be difference-makers yet on a team that’s run by the veterans.

Veterans who remain inconsistent, which may not be their fault because they’re just not as talented as Armstrong thought they were when he signed them.

Veterans who responded to Bannister when he took over, which was expected, but who are still taking nights off when everyone can see what’s on the line.

On Feb. 17, the Blues hosted Nashville and could’ve gone up six points on the Predators in the wild-card race. They lost 5-2, kicking off a 1-4-1 stretch, and now they’re five points behind the Preds, who’ve won six in a row.

The trade deadline is just around the corner, and Armstrong may make a move or two. He may even surprise us with something bigger than expected. But it’s not going to be enough — not with all the work that’s needed.

(Top photo: Curtis Comeau / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)





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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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