Fans of the St. Louis Blues are paying close attention to three other teams right now: the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, the Los Angeles Kings and the Vegas Golden Knights.

They’re watching Minnesota because if the Golden Gophers fall in the NCAA Tournament, 2021 first-round pick Jimmy Snuggerud could be on his way to St. Louis. His college club defeated the University of Nebraska-Omaha 3-2 on Thursday night and advanced to Saturday’s regional final against Boston University at 5:30 p.m. CT.

Snuggerud, 19, has to decide whether to turn pro after his sophomore season, and if he does, he could be in the Blues’ lineup soon. If he plays in one NHL game this season, though, it will burn one year of his three-year, entry-level contract.

They’re watching Los Angeles because the Kings are now the team the Blues are chasing in the Western Conference wild-card race. The Blues won 5-3 over the Calgary Flames on Thursday, while L.A. dropped a 4-1 decision to the Winnipeg Jets, pulling the Blues to within 5 points (87 to 82) of the Kings.

And they’re watching Vegas because it’s the other team within reach, currently in third in the Pacific by points (88 to 87 over the Kings) but slightly below the Kings on points percentage (.604 to .603). The Golden Knights are playing good hockey but have a tough stretch ahead, starting with a matchup Saturday against the Minnesota Wild that the Wild are treating like a “playoff game.”

L.A. (6-4 in its past 10 games) has 10 games remaining: at Calgary, at Winnipeg, vs. Seattle Kraken, at San Jose Sharks, vs. Vancouver Canucks, at Anaheim Ducks, vs. Calgary, vs. Anaheim, vs. Minnesota and vs. Chicago Blackhawks. Vegas (7-2-1) has nine: at Minnesota, vs. Vancouver, at Arizona Coyotes, at Vancouver, at Edmonton Oilers, vs. Minnesota, vs. Colorado, vs. Chicago and vs. Anaheim. The Blues (7-2-1) have nine: vs. San Jose, vs. Edmonton, at Nashville Predators, at San Jose, at Anaheim, vs. Chicago, vs. Carolina Hurricanes, vs. Seattle and at Dallas Stars.

So while the Blues might be a long shot to make the playoffs, it’s setting up to be an interesting finish, and it could be even more so if Snuggerud suddenly shows up in St. Louis.

But as interesting as that race and those three teams might be, they aren’t the only thing intriguing Blues fans right now. Let’s get to part 2 of our Blues mailbag.

Note: Some questions have been edited lightly for length and clarity.

Do you think Drew Bannister will get a shot, or will the Blues bring in a more proven coach? — Phillip D.

I believe he deserves a lot of consideration. The Blues’ win over Calgary was Bannister’s 45th game behind the Blues’ bench, and the team’s record is 26-16-3. That’s a points percentage of .611, which ranks 12th in the NHL in that span. For an 82-game schedule, that roughly projects to a record of 47-29-6 (100 points).

As I’ve written since Craig Berube was fired in December, the Blues’ roster is at the root of the team’s issues, and Bannister has done about as much as a coach can do with this group. He has held veterans accountable, and he’s gotten the team to compete — the two things general manager Doug Armstrong said he wanted when he made the coaching change. Could a more proven coach do the same? Maybe, but Bannister should get a shot, especially if Armstrong goes into the summer with his eye still on the future.

Who are the top three coaching finalists? — Scott F.

Armstrong is super secretive with this stuff, but we’re all familiar with the potential candidates. The Blues have had some interest in Joel Quenneville in the past, and if the NHL reinstated him following his involvement in the Chicago Blackhawks’ scandal, Armstrong would likely explore the possibility (if he hasn’t already). The question, to me, is whether Quenneville, 65, would go to a team that’s retooling if he has options with clubs that are further along.

Todd McLellan (most recently with the Kings) and Dean Evason (most recently with the Wild) will also be in the mix for teams looking for experience. After that, you have Jay Woodcroft (most recently with the Oilers), Jay Leach (assistant with the Kraken) and John Gruden (the AHL Toronto Marlies’ head coach).

Is Armstrong taking his eye off the ball or losing sight of his primary job by taking the role as Team Canada GM for the 2026 Olympics? Can he perform both jobs simultaneously? — Lamar O.

This question comes up a lot when Armstrong gets named to Team Canada positions. Earlier this month, he was named Canada’s GM for the 2026 Olympics, and he’ll also help decide the management staff for other upcoming international tournaments. It’s a big job and will be time-consuming. However, as I’ve said in the past, this should be seen as a positive for the Blues because those duties will keep him heavily engaged in watching players around the league, making connections and getting leads on guys who might be good fits in St. Louis. So yeah, he’ll definitely be busy, but it’s a good busy.

Do you think Armstrong has learned his lesson about giving out no-trade clauses yet? And while we’re at it, giving big contracts to players who have yet to earn them with production? — Steve B.

There’s no denying the Blues have been handcuffed by their no-trade clauses, but as colleague Chris Johnston and I wrote earlier this month, the growing number of no-movement and no-trade clauses is a concern among fan bases throughout the NHL. Take a look at the comments section in that story and you’ll see that several GMs were taken to task, and they all say it’s part of the business.

So I don’t think Armstrong feels any remorse for giving out those contract clauses, but regarding your second question, you’d have to believe he has second-guessed himself a bit on a few of the long-term contracts. They might have seemed like the right thing to do at the time, and we have to remember that most were signed to help the Blues stay under a flat cap, but nonetheless, they’ve hurt the franchise and led to where we are today.

Does the fact the Blues have given out a lot of long-term contracts that haven’t worked out make them more gun-shy on an extension with Pavel Buchnevich, opening the door for a trade they wouldn’t make otherwise? — Jeff P.

It’s a legit question, but I don’t think giving Brayden Schenn an eight-year deal in 2019, Torey Krug a seven-year deal in 2020 or Jordan Kyrou an eight-year deal in 2022 is going to stop Armstrong from giving Buchnevich a long-term extension. I think it would come down to the individual circumstances with Buchnevich: How do they see his arc, how much does he want, and do they think they’re going to compete for the next few years?

How about Armstrong’s message of “nobody wanted any of you at the deadline”? — Mark H.

That was something. I think it was twofold: (1) He’s always been pretty honest, and there’s another example. And (2) he probably wanted to light a fire under the team heading down the stretch, which might’ve worked. The Blues did lose 4-0 to the New York Rangers the next day, but they’re 7-1-1 since then.

What is Jordan Kyrou’s trade value should they decide to move on from him? — Drew L.

I believe Kyrou would have significant value. I understand he’s trying to find consistency at 25 years old, but he still has 108 goals and 253 points in 325 games and has speed to burn. The X-factor is his contract: seven more years with an $8.125 million average annual value. The salary cap is going up, so that price might not look as steep in the near future, but do clubs think they can develop Kyrou’s game and turn him into a player worth that kind of money?

What’s the value? Hard to say. If I’m the Blues, I’m not trading him just to trade him, and I’m not paying somebody to take him with draft picks and prospects. Sure, you could start over with his money, and if you bring in the right player, perhaps it all works out well in the end. But if I’m dealing Kyrou, I’m looking for a similarly offensive-minded player whose game is more well-rounded. I’d start there, and then, based on who that is, see if you need to include picks and/or prospects.

Kyrou has it in him to be an upper-tier player, not just a one-trick pony. Do you think he has the intestinal fortitude and desire to make that jump? — Phillip D.

There are times when I think so and other times when I’m not sure. This week, I saw a situation that made me believe there’s still a possibility. The Blues practiced for about an hour, and when most of the players headed to the locker room, Kyrou stayed on the ice for another hour with Nikita Alexandrov. I’ve never seen that before. I don’t know what he was working on because I was in the locker room doing interviews, but he was out there working.

The Blues will have around $8 million coming off the books this offseason. How do they spend it? — Scott F.

With the money coming off the books and the $4 million jump in the salary cap in 2024-25, the Blues are about $13 million under the cap. I’m not sold on them spending to the cap, though. I recall a conversation with chairman Tom Stillman from a few years ago, and he said there will come a point when they don’t, when it’s not financially prudent because they’re just not legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. That time seems to have come.

That said, Armstrong insists he wants to remain competitive during the retool, and the Blues will have holes to fill. Regardless of which direction the Blues go — trying to battle in the division or leaning more into their young players — they’re probably going to need some help with their top six forwards, most likely focusing on center. Defensively, it’ll depend on whether they move out one or more of their veterans on long-term contracts.

Is St. Louis still a good destination for top-tier free agents? It seems like our last significant free agent was Torey Krug. Is it because of the team or the city landscape? — James H.

It comes down to three things: money, money and opportunity. Whoever is paying these guys the salary they want and giving them a chance to play a big role has a chance to get them. Part of the reason Krug signed here was because he knew a top-four spot was available. The club might not be in the market for a top-tier player in the next couple of years, and there might be a limited desire to come to St. Louis because the franchise is retooling, but when the day comes, it will again come down to money and opportunity.

Now that we’ve signed Theo Lindstein, will he play in the AHL or will he continue to be assigned to HockeyAllsvenskan? — Bill B.

After his terrific world juniors, the Blues were excited to get Lindstein signed to an entry-level deal recently. I spoke with someone in the organization about its plans for the defenseman in 2024-25, and they’re not quite sure yet where he’s going to play. When his season in Sweden wraps up, they’ll evaluate how it went and decide what’s best for him: playing in Europe or coming to North America.

I bought season tickets this season to show my support for what Armstrong is doing. As frustrated as I’ve been, I think this plan is headed in the right direction. Where am I wrong? — Michael P.

I don’t think you’re wrong. I understand where ownership and Armstrong are coming from. They don’t want to miss the playoffs for five straight years because they want to keep a competitive team on the ice for the fan base and because financially it would hurt the organization not to. But if you look at this season, if the Blues make the playoffs, what does it accomplish? If they get into the postseason, it could be a good experience, as several ex-Blues players told us recently. But if they don’t, they could be picking lower in the first round.

What happens if next season plays out the same way: in the mix, miss the playoffs and a mid-round draft pick? In a few years, once these top-tier prospects get into the fold and start making an impact, somebody will look back and say, “See? This is what I was saying.” But in the meantime, people are mildly concerned the Blues are trying to do two things at once, and the desire to do that puts you in the mushy middle and might cost some good players.

How are the Blues’ season ticket renewals this year? Are they being impacted by the on-ice performance? — Andrew K.

I don’t have any specific numbers, but I’m told by the team that nothing is out of the ordinary with the ticket renewals. In other words, yes, they might be down a bit but not beyond what the club expected. Some frustrated fans will show it by not showing up, but by and large, the Blues have a lot of support.

(Photo: Dilip Vishwanat / Getty Images)



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