Breaking Down the Forwards of the Powerhouse St. Louis Blues

Jonathan WillisNHL National ColumnistMarch 28, 2014

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 25:  David Backes #42 of the St. Louis Blues celebrates a third period goal as Cody Franson #4 and Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs look on during NHL game action March 25, 2014 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
Graig Abel/Getty Images

Ask an expert to name the best team in the NHL, or to pick his Stanley Cup favourite, and the St. Louis Blues are a common choice. According to Oddschecker, the majority of bookmakers have the Blues behind only the Boston Bruins—a team with a much easier road in the playoffs—as a better bet to win the Stanley Cup.

What makes the Blues stand out from the NHL pack? The combination of new goalie Ryan Miller and a truly exceptional defence really don’t hurt, but it’s instructive to look at how well a no-name forward corps compares to the rest of the league.

We’ll look at two categories of five-on-five statistics: goals for and against, and unblocked shot attempts (“Fenwick”) for and against. The forwards are divided by five-on-five ice time, and their results are compared to players playing similar minutes leaguewide (“NHL Average”) and players on six extremely strong teams (Anaheim, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and San Jose).

To make the numbers more readable, we’ve taken rate statistics and multiplied them by 82 games played and the median ice time in each group (e.g. for players in the 14- to 15-minute range, all totals are multiplied by 14.5 minutes for the purpose of fair comparison, regardless of the actual ice time of the individual).

All the data used here is courtesy of BehindtheNet.ca.

Projected totals for forwards playing 14-15 minutes per game
PlayerGFGAGoal +/-FFFAFenwick +/-
Alexander Steen634716884697187
David Backes574017826680146
T.J. Oshie583523806697109
Steve Ott2859-31699966-267
NHL Average5450485983029
"Strong 6"654421928755173
BehindtheNet.ca

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 26: Alex Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues checks Daniel Sedin #22 of the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena on February 26, 2014 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Ben Nelms/Getty Images)
Ben Nelms/Getty Images

The numbers here are heavily dependent on team, so Steve Ott’s terrible totals need to be considered in the context of playing for one of the NHL’s worst teams. The other three Blues players are all well clear of the NHL average numbers in both goal and Fenwick differential, with Alex Steen also surpassing the average of our strong six teams in terms of Fenwick. Despite lagging behind more famous names in point totals, it’s clear that the on-ice results in St. Louis are exceptional at the top end of the roster.

Projected totals for forwards playing 12-14 minutes per game
PlayerGFGAGoal +/-FFFAFenwick +/-
Vladimir Tarasenko613131857617240
Vladimir Sobotka613823819599220
Jaden Schwartz603228726607119
Patrik Berglund53341974468164
NHL Average4443174572421
"Strong 6"503614806677129
BehindtheNet.ca

ST. LOUIS, MO - JANUARY 16:  Vladimir Sobotka #17 of the St. Louis Blues handles the puck against the Los Angeles Kings during an NHL game on January 16, 2014 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Tom Gannam/NHLI via Getty Images)
Tom Gannam/Getty Images

The totals here are really remarkable.

Vladimir Tarasenko is still relatively unknown leaguewide, but he’s posting monster results (albeit helped by a lot of shifts starting in the offensive zone). Meanwhile, 26-year-old Vladimir Sobotka has a strong case as the NHL’s most underrated player, simply because he isn’t rated by almost anyone. He’s starting more than half his non-neutral zone shifts at the defensive end of the rink, and St. Louis is still destroying the opposition with him on the ice; his totals are nearly double those averaged by players in similar minutes on our six strong teams.

It’s a mistake to fixate on the individual players here, since these are team numbers, but the Blues’ unheralded middle four forwards are just crushing it.

Projected totals for forwards playing 10-12 minutes per game
PlayerGFGAGoal +/-FFFAFenwick +/-
Dmitrij Jaskin1717059253260
Derek Roy3632461856058
Brenden Morrow382810531575-44
NHL Average3035-55915900
"Strong 6"3230260157723
BehindtheNet.ca

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 22:  Derek Roy #12 of the St Louis Blues looks on against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 22, 2014 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
Len Redkoles/Getty Images

Again, we see strong totals.

The Blues’ shot results with Dmitrij Jaskin and Derek Roy on the ice are more than twice as good as even our strong six teams, and well clear of the NHL average. Brenden Morrow’s shot numbers are weaker and his plus/minus probably shouldn’t be trusted (last year goalies posted a 0.892 five-on-five save percentage when he was on the ice; this year that number is 0.933), but even so, this is a nice group.

Projected totals for forwards playing 8-10 minutes per game
PlayerGFGAGoal +/-FFFAFenwick +/-
Magnus Paajarvi2530-546841454
Ryan Reaves25205404421-17
Maxim Lapierre28226390460-69
Chris Porter18612352434-82
NHL Average2125-4435480-45
"Strong 6"1923-4443448-6
BehindtheNet.ca

Interestingly, the Blues’ end-of-roster types really aren’t getting the job done any better than a bunch of random teams. Magnus Paajarvi’s doing well here, and Maxim Lapierre takes on a ton of defensive zone starts, but St. Louis isn’t counting on this group to outplay the opposition; the damage is done higher up the depth chart.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 22:  David Backes #42 of the St Louis Blues readies to face-off against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 22, 2014 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
Len Redkoles/Getty Images

The takeaway here is that the Blues are typically regarded as a team that takes its strength up front from depth, and while that's true in the sense that the second- and third-line types outperform their equivalents on other NHL teams, it understates just how good the top end of the roster is.

David Backes and Alexander Steen are really exceptional players at even strength, and the entirety of the Blues' top six is extremely good compared to the league as a whole. It's not a surprise; St. Louis wouldn't be where it is without that strength, but it'd be nice to see those guys get the same kind of press that their flashier but less effective brethren in bigger markets or on more offence-oriented teams get.