Defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues bow out early

Once again it was proven that defending the Stanley Cup is usually quite a bit more difficult than winning it as the St. Louis Blues were ousted from the playoffs in the first round. The Vancouver Canucks did the damage as they took the best-of-seven set in six games. The Blues, who were seeded fourth in the West, were trounced 6-2 in the deciding game last week after posting a 0-2-1 mark in the round-robin section of the postseason qualifiers.

However, they were seeded first going into the qualifying round after going 42-19-10 in the regular season with a points percentage of .662. St. Louis dropped the first two games of the series with the Canucks with one coming in overtime before bouncing back to win the next two. They then blew a 3-1 lead in game five and were edged 4-3 before playing their worst game of the series in game six.

One of the reasons for the quick departure was the fact goaltender Jordan Binnington couldn’t save the day for his teammates like he did last season. He went 16-10 in the 2018-19 playoffs with a goals-against average and a save percentage of 91.4 but was 0-3 this time around while conceding 13 goals on just 65 shots for a save percentage of 80.0. He allowed six goals on 10 power-play chances and allowed nine goals against in the first two contests against Vancouver on 47 shots.

Jake Allen took over in the Blues’ crease for the next three outings and won two of them but losing game five. Head coach Craig Berube went back to Binnington for the sixth game but he allowed four goals on just 18 shots and was yanked and replaced by Allen at the 8:06 mark of the second frame. The Blues also suffered from too many turnovers in the series and injuries started to build up the longer it went.

St. Louis played game six without forwards Tyler Bozak, Vladimir Tarasenko, Troy Brouwer and Alexander Steen as well as defender Gunnarsson. The last time all five were in the lineup was in game two with Tarasenko leaving after the second encounter to have his injured shoulder checked out.

Next season’s St. Louis squad could look a little different as defenders Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents along with Brouwer. There are also several restricted free agents who need to be dealt with such as forwards Jacob de la Rose and Jake Walman as well as blue liners Vince Dunn, Austin Poganski and Derrick Pouliot.

The players who are signed for at least the next two seasons include forwards Tarasenko, Sammy Blais, Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, Brayden Schenn and Oskar Sundqvist and defencemen Colton Parayko, Marco Scandella and Justin Faulk. In addition, Binnington is also still under contract and he’ll be determined to bounce back next campaign.

He was fine during the 2019-20 regular season with a 30-13-7 record along in 50 starts with a 2.56 goals-against average, 91.2 save percentage and three shutouts. Allen is also a dependable netminder but both Allen and Binnington are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in June of 2021.

The Blues have the leadership and skill required to return to the playoffs again next season to challenge for the Stanley Cup and should be able to learn from the mistakes they made this postseason.

Colorado’s Nazem Kadri making the most of the NHL playoffs

Usually by this stage of the playoffs, Colorado Avalanche center Nazem Kadri is sitting on the sidelines with a multi-game suspension. At least that was the case when the 29-year-old played for the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Boston Bruins in the 2018 and 2019 postseasons.

Although Kadri showed character and heart on a Maple Leafs squad that apparently lacks much of both, general manager Kyle Dubas pulled the trigger on a trade in July, 2019 which saw him head to Denver. In return, the Leafs picked up defenceman Tyson Barrie and forward Adam Kerfoot. And Even though Barrie’s one of the NHL’s premier offensive blue liners it’s a deal which Colorado looks to have already won hands down.

Kadri was the longest-serving member of the Leafs when the trade came down and a fan favourite even with the playoff bans on his resume. He racked up 167 goals and 357 points in 561 games for Toronto with 10 points in 19 outings. He also posted two consecutive 32- seasons even though he was often used as a checking pivot.

When he arrived in Colorado, Kadri had a reputation as a gritty player but a hot-head who would sometimes cross the line. However, he fit like a glove with the team and produced 19 goals and 36 points for the squad in 51 games this season despite missing 19 contests due to injury. His presence helped Colorado place second in the Central Division and earned the team a bye from the playoff qualifying series.

Since the NHL resumed play in this Covid-19-riddled campaign, Kadri has been one of the league’s top scorers as he’s chipped in with four goals and nine points in seven games with a league-leading four power-play markers and three game-winners. In addition, his Corsi numbers show that the Avalanche definitely outplay their opponents and have greater puck possession while he’s on the ice.

Unless the Avalanche collapse like the Maple Leafs have been prone to do, Kadri should find himself in the second round of the playoffs for the first time in his pro career. They have a 3-1 series lead over the Arizona Coyotes and are on the verge of getting the job done with a  lot of help from their new centre.

His success won’t come as a surprise to Maple Leafs’ fans since players they trade away typically find the grass to be greener elsewhere and thrive with new teams. Players such as Carl Gunnarson, Alex Steen, Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov, James van Riemsdyk, Jake Gardiner, and Kadri are all competing in the playoffs this year while the Leafs polish their golf clubs.

The Avalanche and their fans weren’t really sure what they were getting though as Kadri’s reputation as something of a troublemaker preceded his arrival in the Rockies. They’ve been pleasantly surprised and pleased with the results and with the team having an abundance of youthful talent there’s a chance the franchise will capture its third Stanley Cup this year.

And if it does, Kadri’s sure to get the accolades he deserves as long as his history of playoff suspensions doesn’t repeat itself one more time.