St. Louis Blues defenseman, Robert Bortuzzo, experienced a late Christmas miracle when the team offered his a two year extension on his contract, coming four days after the holiday. The extension was very surprising, considering Bortuzzo has only played in 11 games this season, and only a combined 64 games in two and a half seasons in St. Louis. Ultimately, it’s left a lot of fans wondering whether it was beneficial to the team or not.
Bortuzzo was acquired when the Blues sent Ian Cole to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Blues also received a seventh round pick in the 2016 draft. Pittsburgh was the clear winner of the trade, but it also helped the Blues shorten their roster, and made the choice of who to play easier.
Looking back on it, it’s likely that Blues GM, Doug Armstrong, would like to take the trade back. Cole has played in 128 games in Pittsburgh, which is exactly two times the amount of games Bortuzzo has played in St. Louis. In those 128 games, Cole has 34 points; 14 coming this season. Meanwhile, Bortuzzo has a total of seven points with the Blues.
Of course, there’s a lot more to hockey than what a player does statistically; and that’s where Bortuzzo has been strong. When asked about the contract extension, Armstrong said; “[Bortuzzo has] been here, he’s got a great character and guys are always pulling for him…” He also highlighted Bortuzzo’s ability to bring energy to, and support, the team. Head coach Ken Hitchcock agreed with Armstrong, adding in how Bortuzzo gets along with everyone.
A good leader is something that the Blues have needed for a few seasons, and it was a big deal when Bortuzzo came in and filled that role despite being the seventh defenseman. Now, he’s fixed a lot of the mistakes he made when he first came to St. Louis, and has solidified his spot in the lineup; if he can ever stay healthy.
Bortuzzo has earned a spot in the top six defense, judging by his play so far this season. He’s faced two injuries so far this season. He played in four games before the first injury, and played in seven games in between them. In those seven, he played alongside Colton Parayko, and scored his only two points of the season. However, he showed promise in both ends of the ice and got extra ice time for it. He had two games where he played just over 17 minutes, and one game where he played over 19 minutes. These are crazy numbers for someone who only averaged 13 minutes last season. The team intended to continue giving him around 15 minutes a game, but then he was injured again. However, this is why it’s easier to think that Bortuzzo will be guaranteed a spot on the defense once he’s healthy again. The re-signing makes it even more likely that he gets a spot. The Blues aren’t a dumb team financially, and they aren’t going to waste roughly $2 million on someone who’s going to be a healthy scratch half the season.
Although he has earned a spot, it fills a hole that might have been filled by guys like Brad Hunt or Jordan Schmaltz. Hunt is, for a fact, NHL ready as of right now. He was called up in early December, and wowed the league with three points in his first three games. Overall, he played in seven games during his call up, and had a total of four points in them. Hunt is currently alternating games with Carl Gunnarsson, both playing alongside Kevin Shattenkirk. Hunt has the offensive skill that the Blues defense lacks and he has proved it in his play. Even when he isn’t putting up any goals or assists, he’s always joining the rush and setting up the forwards well, and this is something that the Blues management have really liked to see. The only thing holding Hunt back from a regular spot is his size, being the smallest player on the Blues current roster. Still, it’s left a lot of Blues fanatics wondering if he’ll get a solidified spot in the lineup. If he does, that only leaves one or two more spots up for contest; and with such promise coming from their defensive prospects, not having open spots could be costly.
The one thing the signing does open up, is potential trades. Like previously mentioned, Bortuzzo hasn’t played poorly at all. He’s been a great player in the defensive zone but has also been reliable offensively. A reliable, bottom four defenseman could be very attractive to teams that have struggled with their defensive depth in the first half of the season. He’d be a good add-in in a trade that needed a little bit more incentive, or a good player too deal when looking for a second or third round pick in the draft. His value would be even higher if he could stay healthy and could play consistently. This is something that the Blues are really looking for him to contribute come the second half of the season.
Overall, the signing isn’t all good or all bad. The Blues added a somewhat reliable defenseman, for relatively cheap. He’s showed promise earlier in this season, and is popular amongst his teammates. Because of that, he’s definitely earned an attempt at becoming a regular player for the Blues. On the flip side, if he takes a spot on the lineup it closes the door for other players who deserve an opportunity to play in the NHL. It also leaves the Blues relatively gridlocked in the future, which is alarming when the Blues have defensemen like Vince Dunn and Tommy Vannelli in the AHL, both star prospects who will earn a role in the NHL within the length of Bortuzzo’s contract. So although the Blues did sign a good bottom 4 defenseman, it’s limited them in more ways than it’s helped.
Bortuzzo is returning to the lineup Thursday night, and his skill will definitely be tested. The Blues paired him up with Joel Edmundson, on the last pairing, and he’ll be expected to earn back the minutes he got before his second injury. Needless to say, now that he’s healthy, the Blues will be doing all they can to test him and see if the contract was worth it; especially before the trade deadline in early February.