The St. Louis Blues’ 2020-21 season had its highs and lows, but ultimately ended in disappointment after the team fell in four games to the Colorado Avalanche in Round 1. In this series, we’ll look back on the season player by player, and evaluate each player’s performance as an individual, with an eye towards their future with the team.
Entering the 2020-21 season, most fans viewed Jaden Schwartz as an integral part of the team’s offense and probably a piece of their future for years to come. But one season can change a lot, and even though Schwartz’s numbers may not immediately betray a massive underperformance, few Blues fans would call his effort anything but a disappointment.
In this article, we’ll try to evaluate what went wrong for Schwartz. But, more importantly, with his contract coming to an end, we’ll discuss what the future holds for the unrestricted free agent (UFA) and whether he is a long-term fixture for the Blues any longer.
What Went Right: Schwartz’s Metrics
Schwartz has always had strong metrics, and though the 2020-21 season was something of a disappointment in that regard, he still had a very strong output in the advanced stats categories. At even strength, he was second on the team in expected goals for (xGF) per 60 (xGF/60), trailing only breakout forward Jordan Kyrou. He was also fourth in Corsi for (CF) per 60 at 53.2, meaning he took almost one shot attempt (blocked or unblocked) per minute on the ice.
Despite Schwartz’s low offensive output, which we’ll discuss shortly, he was actually sixth on the team in goals for (GF) per 60 as well, averaging 2.61. And his xGF%, which measures how well a player controls scoring attempts at both ends of the ice, was seventh-best, at 48.73 percent.
Once again, Schwartz showed many of the intangible skills that once had him ranked by his peers as one of the most underrated players in the NHL. Unfortunately, as in seasons past, those strong metrics didn’t perfectly convert to the counting stats the Blues needed to go farther this season.
What Went Wrong
Not Enough Production
There’s no reason to complicate things: Schwartz simply didn’t produce enough as one of the team’s top forwards. He managed only eight goals in 40 games, and he added just 13 assists. There are limitations to head coach Craig Berube’s offensive system, to be sure. But Schwartz averaged .200 goals per game, his second-lowest mark in the last eight seasons. Moreover, Schwartz did most of his producing at even strength. he was a distinct weak point on the power play, dragging down a unit that was otherwise strong (sixth in the league, 23.2 percent).
Inconsistency has been a plague on Schwartz’s career. He is a streaky goal-scorer to be sure, with seasons as high as 28 goals in 75 games (2014-15 season) and as low as 11 goals in 69 games (2018-19 season). The two hat tricks he scored later that season in the playoffs are proof positive that Schwartz scores in bursts. Unfortunately, none of those bursts came in the 2020-21 season.
Injuries have also been a plague on Schwartz’s career, and this season was no exception. He missed 16 games due to a lower-body injury he suffered in February. In fact, the shortened 2019-20 season is the only NHL season of Schwartz’s career where he played the maximum number of games. Of course, injuries are never truly a player’s fault. But when they start to mount over the course of a career, they become a concern. Since the 2016-17 season, Schwartz has only played in 85.8 percent of his possible games. If we include his most-injured campaign the season prior, that number drops to 77.6 percent. That number starts to become a concern when weighing whether to sign a player to a long-term extension.
The Blues as a team disappeared in the 2021 Playoffs, but Schwartz was particularly invisible. He recorded no points in four games and was a minus-5. He was eighth in xGF% at 30.94 percent. It was a far cry from his centerpiece performance during the Stanley Cup run. No one should blame the playoffs loss on Schwartz alone, but he certainly didn’t do much to turn his team’s fortunes.
- 8 G, 13 A (21 P) in 40 GP
- Second-lowest career goals per game mark (.200)
- Zero points, minus-5 in four playoff games
- 48.73 xGF% (seventh on the team)
- 85.8 percent of possible games played since 2016-17 season
Final Grade: F
Before anyone thinks this grade is too harsh, consider that Blues beat reporter Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic gave Schwartz the same grade in his postseason report card piece. He noted Schwartz’s poor counting stats, and added: “While his offense has been streaky in the past, he’s been able to fall back on his reputation as a dogged defensive player, but his Expected Goals percentage this season (49.16) was the lowest of his career” (from ‘‘This is embarrassing’: St. Louis Blues final 2020-21 report card following another first-round playoff loss,’ The Athletic NHL, May 25, 2021).
It simply wasn’t a good enough season for Schwartz, particularly in trying to prove his value to the team going forward. The Blues expected Schwartz to be a centerpiece of their top six, and he offered middle-six numbers at best. Now, general manager Doug Armstrong has a tough decision on his hands.
What’s Next for Schwartz?
In his postseason press conference, Armstrong was open about the fact that Schwartz chose to wait to sign a contract, and that “we have until the end of July to figure out if this relationship is going to continue.” It wasn’t exactly a warm endorsement of his player’s performance, nor his desire to sign him. Armstrong let team captain Alex Pietrangelo walk last summer, so emotion won’t force him to make a move. At present, it seems more likely than not that Schwartz will sign elsewhere this offseason.
But, never say never in the NHL. The Blues and Schwartz have a long history together, and it’s possible neither is eager to bring it to an end. But for the marriage to continue, it will probably require Schwartz to admit his poor performance and take a lower contract than he may have hoped for. The Blues cannot give top-six money to a winger who is giving them middle-six output. If Schwartz is willing to accept a reasonable contract that fits for the Blues, he may have many more days left in St. Louis.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.