Last Wednesday, the St. Louis Blues claimed their first ever Stanley Cup victory with a 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins. After a 49 year wait, the Blues’ championship was as impressive as it was well earned.
The Blues were a “feel good” team for most hockey fans in these playoffs. Fantastic playoff performances from unassuming rookie goalie Jordan Binnington and underrated forward Ryan O’Reilly helped fuel the team’s miraculous comeback from being the worst team in the NHL in December to hoisting the Cup in June.
Meanwhile, the Nashville Predators have a long summer ahead of them. In addition to needing to make several changes to a roster that lost in the first round to the Dallas Stars, they now have to deal with another division rival winning the Stanley Cup.
So what lessons can the Predators learn from watching the Blues’ run?
Don’t hesitate to pay for great talent up the middle
I’ll start by saying that this particular lesson is not one that David Poile doesn’t already know about. He has a proven track record of making huge deals on the trade market. And all signs point to him being even more trigger happy this summer.
But he has yet to make as big of a trade as the Blues made when they acquired Ryan O’Reilly last summer.
On July 1st, the Blues acquired O’Reilly for Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson, a 1st round pick, and a 2nd round pick. It was a high price to pay for O’Reilly, but considering he just won the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP, I’d say the Blues made out like bandits.
The key to O’Reilly’s success in St. Louis is the position he plays. He instantly became the Blues best center, one of their most glaring weaknesses in previous years. With him in place, key wingers like Jaden Schwartz and David Perron thrived. Meanwhile, other centers like Brayden Schenn and Tyler Bozak slotted into more natural positions for their playing styles.
If the Predators want to put themselves over the top, they will need to upgrade at the center position. Ryan Johansen is a solid 1st line center, especially with Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg as linemates. But Kyle Turris, Nick Bonino, Colton Sissons aren’t making other teams worry too much.
If a change happens at center, it will almost certainly have to be via trade. The Predators have the 3rd least cap space in the league this summer and they still have a Roman Josi contract extension to consider. David Poile should not hesitate to make the change necessary, especially if it’s acquiring someone with the same caliber as Ryan O’Reilly.
The power play needs to improve, but doesn’t have to be elite
One thing the Blues were not overwhelmingly successful with in the playoffs? The power play.
The Blues went 13-for-80 on the man advantage in the playoffs, for a 16.3 percent success rate. That ranked 12th among all playoff teams.
Obviously it didn’t matter in the end, but that’s an interesting aspect of the Blues playoff run. The power play wasn’t terrible (like the Predators’ was) but it wasn’t great either. It did enough to make a difference on occasion and it kept opponents on their heels.
If the Predators are going to be a better playoff team in 2020, they will need to improve their power play. This isn’t exactly breaking news.
But it is important to recognize that it doesn’t have to become an elite power play overnight. Even small improvements can make a difference, especially for a power play that went 0-for-15 in the playoffs. Signs are pointing to improvement in that area, but we will have to wait and see.
Trust young goalies if they prove themselves capable
Let me start by saying that I don’t think the Predators made any wrong decisions related to goaltending last year. Pekka Rinne was still the best option for the Predators in both the regular season and the playoffs. He’s their guy, and you can’t blame them for relying on him heavily.
But we are looking at lessons for the 2019-20 season here and I think the Jordan Binnington story holds the most powerful lesson for any NHL team, the Predators included.
Heading into last season, Jake Allen was the unquestioned starter for the Blues. They acquired backup Chad Johnson after Carter Hutton departed for a starting job in Buffalo and with that, their goalie rotation was set.
Then both Allen and Johnson struggled. With the Blues in last place and about to fire their head coach, the Blues called up Jordan Binnington from San Antonio. He made his first start on December 16th.
As you can see from the chart below, the Blues never looked back, making Binnington their starting goalie for the 2nd half of the season.
Why did they go with Binnington and not their veteran goalie Jake Allen? Production. He led all rookie goalies in save percentage and goals allowed average and was among the league leaders in both categories.
Think about what happened here. A young goalie proved that he was capable of handling the load in the regular season, then he carried that momentum into the playoffs, taking his team all the way to a Stanley Cup victory.
Couldn’t the Predators be in exactly this same situation with Juuse Saros and Pekka Rinne next season?
Saros has already proven that he’s capable of performing well in the regular season. He has 38 NHL wins to his name, plus his career save percentage (.920) is 5th among all goalies in the league since 2016.
Pekka Rinne will be turning 37 years old in November. He has at least two more years in Nashville, thanks to the contract extension he signed last season. But it’s only a matter of time before Rinne sees a significant drop in his production.
Next year, the Nashville Predators, like the St. Louis Blues this year, need to be willing to make a change in goal if opportunity emerges.
— Featured image via Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports —