NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2021-22 regular season, which starts Oct. 12. Today, five questions facing the St. Louis Blues:
1. Will Vladimir Tarasenko be traded?
Tarasenko, through his agent Paul Theofanous, requested a trade from the Blues on May 25. That was two days after the Blues were swept by the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup First Round. But nothing has happened since, and Tarasenko remains a member of the Blues.
In July, St. Louis general manager Doug Armstrong acknowledged that Tarasenko could remain with the team this season.
Tarasenko has played just 34 regular-season games the past two seasons, limited by a dislocated left shoulder that has required three surgeries since the end of the 2017-18 season. He scored 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) 24 games last season, and two goals in four playoff games.
A few teams are reported to still have interest in Tarasenko, but a trade doesn’t seem to be the given it once did. If Tarasenko remains with the Blues, fences will have to be mended. He has two seasons remaining on the eight-year contract he signed July 7, 2015.
“I expect ‘Vladi’ to play for us,” coach Craig Berube said on “The Cam & Strick Podcast” on Tuesday. “I’m going to treat him like every other player. And yeah, he asked to be traded, and things happen, but again, you know, we want Vladi to play good hockey for us. … He’s going to have a role on the team like he always has, we’ll deal with it internally and we’ll go from there.”
2. How can the defense improve?
The Blues allowed 2.98 goals per game last season, which was 19th in the NHL and the most they’ve given up since 2006-07, when they allowed 3.02 per game. It was a weakness for a team that has generally been known for its strong defense, and that weakness was particularly pronounced in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when St. Louis allowed 20 goals in four games against Colorado.
With the Blues losing Vince Dunn, who was selected by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, and Carl Gunnarsson, who retired, they could look to add another defenseman — veteran Zdeno Chara has been mentioned as a possibility — or go with younger internal options like Niko Mikkola, Jake Walman, Steven Santini or Calle Rosen. Either way, they will be heavily reliant on Torey Krug, Colton Parayko and Justin Faulk this season.
3. Is Colton Parayko healthy?
One reason why the Blues struggled last season was the health of Parayko, who missed 21 games because of a back injury.
However, after signing an eight-year contract extension on Sept. 1, Parayko said his back was “doing really good, it’s getting healed now.” A healthy Parayko, who is expected to play either with Krug or Marco Scandella, would go a long way toward solving the Blues’ issues defensively.
4. Can Jordan Binnington regain top form this season?
Binnington burst onto the scene in 2018-19, when he helped the Blues win the Stanley Cup for the first time in their history. But his play has been good, not great, the past two seasons.
After going 24-5-1 with a 1.89 goals-against average and .927 save percentage that first season, Binnington was 30-13-7 with a 2.56 GAA and .912 save percentage in 2019-20, and 18-14-8 with a 2.65 GAA and .910 save percentage last season.
Binnington is entering the first season of a six-year contract he signed March 11, 2021, and St. Louis needs him to be more consistent, especially given the vulnerabilities the team could have again defensively.
5. How will new forwards Pavel Buchnevich and Brandon Saad impact the offense?
The Blues made two moves this offseason to upgrade their offense, acquiring Buchnevich in a trade with the New York Rangers on July 24 for forward Sammy Blais and a second-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, and signing Saad to a five-year contract July 29.
Buchnevich, who then signed a four-year contract with St. Louis on July 27, scored an NHL career-high 48 points (20 goals, 28 assists) in 54 games last season. Saad scored 24 points (15 goals, nine assists) in 44 games with the Avalanche.
They will be tasked with helping replace the production lost from forwards Jaden Schwartz and Mike Hoffman. Schwartz signed a five-year contract with the Seattle Kraken on July 28 after scoring at least 20 goals in four of his previous eight seasons with St. Louis. Hoffman, who scored 36 points (17 goals, 19 assists) in 52 games last season, signed a three-year contract with the Montreal Canadiens on July 28.