After a rough start to the 2018-19 season, the St. Louis Blues hoisted the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history. What comes next? Here's everything you need to know about the Blues heading into the 2019-20 NHL season:
The big question: Is this team going to be spent after last year's Stanley Cup run?
We all know just how hard it is to repeat in the modern NHL. There's a reason so few teams can do it (and why it was so rare the Penguins pulled it off recently). The Blues' 26-game playoff run was taxing -- especially since they were playing such a heavy brand of hockey -- and many players spent the summer not only celebrating but recovering from significant injuries. If there's anyone who can inspire a group to plow through a shortened offseason, have faith in Craig Berube, who whipped this team into a disciplined shape after taking over as interim coach in the middle of the season.
Offseason comings and goings, cap situation
Hamstrung by the cap, the Blues stood pat for most of the offseason. They let free agent (and hometown boy) Patrick Maroon walk in free agency; the rugged forward signed with the Tampa Bay Lighting. Then St. Louis general manager Doug Armstrong made a massive move just eight days before the season, trading for All-Star defenseman Justin Faulk from the Carolina Hurricanes. Besides a swap of draft picks, the Blues gave up defenseman Joel Edmundson and one of their top forward prospects, Dominik Bokk.
Jordan Binnington gets nominated for the Vezina Trophy. Even after his spectacular rookie debut last season, even after winning a Stanley Cup, and even after signing a new bridge-deal contract with the Blues, there was some external concern that Binnington might not be able to sustain his performance into next season. We think he can. The 26-year-old has laser focus and is ultracompetitive. His best hockey is yet to come.
Breakout candidate: Robert Thomas
We began to see flashes of how talented the Blues' 2017 first-round draft pick was last season, and it was quite exciting. Thomas is no longer a teenager; he turned 20 in July. The center, who has been a winner at all levels of hockey, will be expected to contribute more than the nine goals and 24 assists he put up last season.
A balanced lineup. One of the Blues' best attributes on their Stanley Cup-winning team was the balance in their lineup. Up and down the roster, there are no glaring holes and top-end talent is at every position. Faulk's arrival improves an already strong defensive group.
A three-month offseason. On paper, this team looks ready to win again. But the playoff run took a toll -- both physically and mentally -- and there may be a few slumps throughout the season because of it. The Blues performed their best when they were motivated last season; when everything went wrong, they needed to persevere. That urgency is gone.
Blues in NHL Rank
32. Vladimir Tarasenko, RW
The prospect pool is a concern to our panelists (No. 18), but the NHL roster (No. 6), cap/contracts (No. 5) and owner/GM/coach (No. 7) all received high marks.
Pipeline ranking: 21
Fantasy facts to know
One burning question in St. Louis concerns whether Jordan Binnington can repeat, or near replicate, his recent dominant performance between the pipes. While the Blues remain largely intact following their Stanley Cup victory, the 26-year-old netminder demonstrated his own stamina by playing a combined 58 games during the regular season and playoffs following a mid-December call-up. So there's no cause to suggest otherwise. If not a top-10 fantasy netminder heading into this season, Binnington is certainly close.
Two elements are worth examining at left wing in St. Louis: First, the ability of Jaden Schwartz to bounce back from last season's sub-mediocre 36-point showing. Knowing Schwartz scored 12 goals and eight assists in the postseason suggests he very well might. Further, the second-line slot alongside center Ryan O'Reilly, and whether Zach Sanford can carve it out as his own. While nowhere near a slam dunk for the third-year player, it's still worth monitoring.
The preseason trade for Justin Faulk shakes up the Blues' blue line a bit. Assuming Alex Pietrangelo doesn't lose his spot on the No. 1 power play, Faulk conceivably slides into a role on the secondary unit. That could add up to a 40-to-45-point season for the former Hurricanes defenseman. -- Victoria Matiash