Can Blues tank for Connor Bedard? Trade Colton Parayko for William Nylander? Mailbag part 2


This is an unfathomable statistic: For the eighth straight game Tuesday night, and 16th time in 26 games this season, the Blues have allowed at least three goals in a period.

Here’s the breakdown in the last eight: Buffalo (3G in second period), Tampa (3G in first), Florida (3G in first), Dallas (3G in third), Carolina (3G in second, 3G in third), Pittsburgh (3G in first), New York Rangers (3G in third) and New York Islanders (3G in third).

That, of course, is not a recipe for winning games, and as we know, the Blues haven’t been doing a lot of that. But despite giving up three goals to the Islanders in the third period on Tuesday, they hung on for a 7-4 victory with the help of a couple empty-netters.

Thus, one night after the Blues gave up three goals in the third period to the New York Rangers and lost 6-4, Craig Berube’s club ended its four-game losing streak on Long Island.

“It’s a good feeling obviously,” Berube said, via Bally Sports Midwest, afterward. “We battled hard, back-to-back games against good teams, I thought we played pretty good hockey. It got hairy in the third period, (but) guys battled, guys stayed with it, and did a good job.”

So what do we make of the Blues? I don’t think anyone is any more confident in them after Tuesday’s win, even playing without Pavel Buchnevich (lower-body injury) and Torey Krug (upper-body injury).

Readers still had a lot of concerns recently, going as far as asking, “Can we just admit the Blues aren’t a good team?” which we addressed in Part 1 of the mailbag earlier this week.

And judging by the rest of the questions sent in, many of them to do with tanking the season, my guess is that even a few more wins aren’t going to change anybody’s mind about this team.

Here’s Part 2 of the mailbag …

Can the Blues just tank for a top pick? The top three prospects look pretty intriguing. — Andrew M.

Well, at this point, that’s looking like a pretty good idea.

It’s crazy to think about, but the Blues haven’t drafted in the top five since taking Alex Pietrangelo at No. 4 in 2008. In the last 14 drafts, here’s who the Blues selected with their first pick: David Rundblad (No. 17), Jaden Schwartz (No. 14), Ty Rattie (No. 32), Jordan Schmaltz (No. 25), Thomas Vannelli (No. 47), Robby Fabbri (No. 21), Vince Dunn (No. 56), Tage Thompson (No. 26), Robert Thomas (No. 20), Dominik Bokk (No. 25), Nikita Alexandrov (No. 62), Jake Neighbours (No. 26), Zachary Bolduc (No. 17) and Jimmy Snuggerud (No. 23).

At some point, you need to add a player of Pietrangelo’s caliber to the organization. Just look at what he became, a captain and the first player in franchise history to hoist the Stanley Cup. The Blues have hit on some of their high picks, such as Schwartz and Thomas, and both Bolduc and Snuggerud seem promising after making their respective World Junior Championship camp rosters.

Certainly, the three prospects that you mentioned — Regina center Connor Bedard, Michigan center Adam Fantilli and St. Petersburg right winger Matvei Michkov — are all players who could be difference-makers for the Blues sooner than later. Being in position to select one of those players would mean a long 2022-23 season, but as you’re suggesting, it might be worth it. (You can read more about these junior hockey and college players below from The Athletic’s prospect guru Corey Pronman.)

Do the Blues need to adopt the Colorado and Dallas model of tanking and/or selling assets every few years to get top draft choices like the Stars’ Miro Heiskanen or Avalanche’s Cale Makar? — Terry W.

You probably don’t want to be doing it “every few years.” As Blues general manager Doug Armstrong has shown over the past decade, it’s possible to draft players like Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko and stay competitive. You may not get the young, uber-talented defensemen like Heiskanen and Makar where the Stars and Avs got them (Nos. 4-5 in 2017). But even that high, it’s a crapshoot.

Again, I think you need one of those guys in your organization at some point — it’s tough to go 15 years without one — but I don’t think selling so often needs to be the blueprint. The Stars have been good, but they haven’t won anything yet with Heiskanen, and while Makar is phenomenal, look how long it took the Avalanche to win and they have had a lot of other high picks, like Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog.

I typically don’t like selling if we have a chance at playoffs, but agree a one-year blip could be much more beneficial to the roster construction of the team long-term. What say you? — Mark H.

This question is similar to the previous two, but I’m replying because I want to emphasize what I’m saying: I agree with you that backing off and making moves with the big picture in mind can help. And Armstrong has followed this ideology in the past, too, trading players like Paul Stastny when he didn’t think the Blues had a contender.

The problem is, would it really be just a one-year blip? I don’t know that Armstrong would be able to alter the roster that significantly in one year and have the roster ready to compete in 2023-24. I think it would take longer than that.

If Armstrong decided to be a seller with the goal of a rebuild, which players do you think would want to waive their no-trade clause? — Mike W.

First, let’s recap the Blues players who have no-trade clauses in their contracts. You may remember several months ago I reported that they had the most in the NHL with 10: Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn, Brandon Saad, Justin Faulk, Torey Krug, Colton Parayko, Nick Leddy, Jordan Binnington, Pavel Buchnevich (12-team list) and Marco Scandella (seven-team list).

Which of those players would waive them? Well, Tarasenko is in a different category because he’s scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent next summer. So if the Blues are out of playoff contention and he’s planning to head to the market, I’m assuming he’d have interest in waiving his no-trade clause and going to a contender before the deadline.

However, I’m guessing the others on the list are the ones you’re really wondering about. It’s a good question, but a tough one because you just don’t know who the Blues want to move and who would approve a trade. So keeping in mind that we’re just speculating, I could maybe see Krug as a guy who might be OK with it. The thing is, with Krug and others, there’s a lot of term left on these contracts and they’re hard to move. The Blues won’t want to retain salary, and they’ll want something back in return to help with any sort of retool or rebuild.

The combination of long-term contracts and no-trade clauses for a lot of players is not a good situation when the club isn’t performing and you want to change up the look of the roster.

One player I’m supportive of moving that may actually have value is Parayko. What could we get for him realistically and is this something you think is on Armstrong’s radar? — Adam S.

It’s a question worth addressing because I do think there would be some interest around the league. How much? I don’t know. He’s in the first year of an eight-year deal, and there are always going to be concerns with his previous back injury.

A couple things: Even though Parayko isn’t the player many fans want him to be, I’m not sure the Blues would want to move him. He plays a lot and doesn’t cost a lot. If you try to move him, which young defenseman is coming through the system and will play in your top four? If you’re going to sign or trade for his replacement, how much cheaper is that going to be than Parayko’s $6.5 million AAV? And going back to our earlier discussion, would Parayko waive his no-trade clause? Maybe not, as he loves St. Louis.

But just for speculation’s sake, let’s say there was interest in Parayko and the Blues were willing to entertain the idea. I think it has to be a hockey trade involving established players. You’re not moving Parayko for prospects and/or picks. You’d find a team, like Toronto, that needs a top-four, right-shot defenseman, and perhaps has a young-ish player who can help you. That team isn’t sending you a defenseman because they need one, so I’m assuming it would be a forward. Sure, you can move Faulk into the top spot on the right side, but again, who’s coming along that you’re going to put in your top four? Whether you like Parayko or not, that’s a big hole to fill.

Since Toronto needs a right defenseman, how about Parayko for William Nylander? — Michael P.

This exact trade proposal has been mentioned for a few years, and for all we know, the teams may have even discussed it. I reached out to a colleague in Toronto for his thoughts, and here’s what he wrote back: “I would highly doubt it with Parayko’s age (29) and contract, especially in-season.”

I don’t disagree with that. Nylander, as you can read in the story below, has 14 goals and 26 points, so he’s on track for a nice season. He’s 26 and has one more year left on a deal with a $6.9 AAV before becoming a UFA, so his price is headed north. Even if the Maple Leafs don’t think they can re-sign him, the current regime can’t afford to move a productive player who can help them win now.

I know it borders on the absurd and Armstrong would probably never do it, but are there any circumstances where you would put Jordan Kyrou up for a trade? — Jordan I.

I wouldn’t. Does he have some flaws? Yeah, every player does. The Blues’ organization has wanted a speedy, skilled forward for years and they have one in Kyrou. In order to retool, rebuild, or whatever you want to call it, he’s a player you want in the future NHL. His $8.125 million AAV that kicks in next season might be a little high for him now, but I do think that could be a steal in a few years if he becomes the 90- or 100-point player that he projects to be.

Now, I might have been willing to give up Kyrou in a swap for Matthew Tkachuk last summer, but in that scenario you’re getting a young forward with skill in return. They’re two totally different players, but if you’re giving up a Kyrou, you’d have to get a player with a lofty ceiling and long career ahead of him.

Is it time, or has the discussion already been had with Kyrou about developing more ways to score? How hard is it for him to learn from watching David Perron power-play film last year and start doing one-timers? I think he has some untapped potential offensively. — Dane C.

Yes, coaches are always talking to these guys, encouraging them, etc. It’s perfect that you used Perron as the example because look how long it took him to develop into the type of player he is today, and master his shot. Heck, he didn’t even get a lot of time on the No. 1 power-play unit until he returned to St. Louis from Vegas. Kyrou will get there. He’s only 24 and really has spent just one full season in the NHL.

Should the Blues put Alexey Toropchenko on injured reserve to let him rehab properly and get his shoulder back to normal? It seems like he rushed it and the Blues let him back into action too soon. — Lee L.

You probably sent this question in before the Blues sent Toropchenko to the AHL Springfield Thunderbirds. He’s played three games with the T-birds and has one goal and two assists, so a point per game.

I don’t know if they rushed him back as much as if he’s feeling good at the start of the season, let him play, and just know that he’s not going to be out of the woods yet. All players coming back from surgery need more time than they think. The team could’ve let Toropchenko build himself back up in the minors and then recalled him, but I’m not sure the current situation would be much different, other than he could be here now. I think he’ll be back relatively soon.

Assuming Josh Leivo stays on the first line and produces, is he a Masterton Trophy candidate? His story would be incredible! — Silas A.

How about Leivo! He finally got his first goal with the Blues in Tuesday’s win over the Islanders. He’s had lots of chances, but just couldn’t put one in. As far as the Masterton, which goes to the player who shows the most perseverance and dedication, it’s a great story but I don’t think so.

I’ve been a voter for that award for years, and it usually goes to someone with a bigger name who had an injury or illness that most people are familiar with. Leivo did come back from the kneecap injury and battled his way back in the minors last season, so he has shown a lot of perseverance, but I don’t think he’d get enough consideration.

How do you see the Blues handling Jake Neighbors the rest of this season and beyond? — Ian R.

If I had to guess, I think they’re going to keep Neighbours in the AHL for a bit. Berube acknowledged it’s just not a good situation for him in St. Louis because, with the way the games have gone, they just can’t guarantee he’s going to get playing time.

I chatted with Neighbours briefly when he was called up recently and he said it felt good to have a prominent role with Springfield. I could maybe see him coming back, but only if the Blues aren’t losing regularly and there’s a need for him. Otherwise, the extra ice time with the T-birds is only going to help.

The team defense looked different with Tyler Tucker back there. Coincidence, or when can we expect him back up? — Mark S.

I really liked Tucker when he was up. I have to admit, I was a little skeptical that he would be ready. Remember, he was a seventh-round pick (2018), and he’s only played a little over 100 minor-league games, which isn’t a lot for a defenseman. But boy, he looked solid and very direct in his four games.

Yeah, you could make the case the Blues looked better on the back end when he was up, but keep in mind, the opponents were Anaheim (twice), Chicago and Washington. If the defense is healthy, which is a question mark at the moment with Krug out, but if they’re healthy, Tucker will remain in Springfield.

Is there anyone on the T-birds roster who has not appeared with the Blues this season, who could provide a spark: Matthew Highmore, Matt Kessel? — Thomas C.

Well, Will Bitten got the call-up recently and has looked pretty good in his two games. He notched his first NHL point with an assist on Ivan Barbashev’s goal against the Islanders on Tuesday.

If the Blues needed another forward, Highmore (five goals, 23 points in 22 games) would perhaps be next in line. Kessel has a lot of upside, but still looks pretty raw and Tucker has been the better defenseman with the T-birds this season.

How much do the Blues earn from the Stifel badge on the jersey? Would the Blues be willing to let the public vote as to whether they’d prefer to take that annual revenue amount, divide it by anticipated seats sold per season, and add that as an “Avoid the Advertising” ticket fee? — Aaron R.

It’s been reported that NHL teams are making anywhere between $5-10 million per season on the advertisements. So that would be a lot of additional “fees” if you want to go back to the ad-less jerseys.

Robert Thomas seems to be doing a lot of interviews. Are they grooming him to take Ryan O’Reilly’s place as captain, if he leaves? — Susan P.

If O’Reilly left, and that’s a big if, I personally think Schenn would be the next captain. I remember Armstrong saying one time that you go with the guy who makes the most sense at that time. Schenn, who is a glue guy on the team, still has five more years left on his contract, so I think that’s the direction they would go. Thomas has been doing a lot of promotions, interviews, etc., and they do think highly of him in that regard, but my guess is he would have an ‘A.’

Any plans for more analytics in your coverage? — C.P.

It’s a hard balance trying to provide the right amount of features, game stuff, analytics. I know a lot of people subscribe to The Athletic looking for that type of analysis and I try to provide it whenever possible. So like I said, it’s a balance. I can tell you that I’ve got a fun story coming up soon about the evolution of the Blues’ roster since the Stanley Cup that may include some analytics. Stay tuned!

(Photo: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)


Related posts

Leave a Comment