OK, here we are, the last Wednesday, and the last chat, of the regular season. A week from now, the playoffs will be getting started. There are questions waiting. Let's go.
They went through this once before this season. At the end of 2018, they had 74 shot attempts against Pittsburgh and 79 against the Rangers, with 23 off target in each game. They did some drills in practice to focus on putting the puck on net more, got those numbers down, and started winning. So it's an offensive hiccup assuming that they deal with it, which I think they will, since it's been pretty apparent. The one problem they've had now has been an absence of practice time, and they won't have any of that until the regular season is over.
He obviously can't be too thrilled, because he wants to play. Publicly, he's said the right things, and privately, what the team will want to see from him is his off-ice commitment, his skating and working out. There's probably nothing short of a bunch of injuries that will get him back in the lineup this season, but he needs to position himself for next year. He's going to need to do a lot of offseason work.
I'm chatting. What could be better?
Unless Allen goes to Armstrong and asks to be traded, I think he'll be back. Binnington has played exceptionally well -- even Allen has said he's been one of, if the not the best, goalie in the league since he took over. The situation for the Blues is I don't think they can go all in on Binnington yet, since the history of young goalies isn't definitive. The Blues will want an experienced goalie to be on hand, but it doesn't make sense to plunge in on a high-priced one in the free agent market, nor does it make sense to go after a career backup like Chad Johnson. What they need is someone like, well, Jake Allen, a guy who has significant NHL experience, can be the No. 1 if needed, and will be the backup if that's what's required. With the year Husso had, he's not ready to be the No. 2, so the Blues would have to find another goalie like Allen. Before, it was looking like it could be a 1A and 1B situation for next season, but now, you'd have to say Binnington will be the definite 1 going into next season.
It wouldn't hurt to be concerned. Since the start of March, the Blues have blown a two-goal lead three times, and two of them have been in the past three games. By my count, over the course of the season, the Blues have done it 13 times and it's cost them 11 points. Even if they had just six of those points now, think how that would make the Central Division standings look. If there's a bright side, four of the last five times they've blown a two-goal lead, they've come back to win the game. That compares with them losing six of the first eight times they blew a two-goal lead. So there's some resilience there, which you can use to minimize some of your concerns. The ability to get that third goal has been an issue the whole season, and it will be even harder in the playoffs because, well, the other team will be good.
The next tiebreaker after ROW is points in head to head games. Nashville can't catch Winnipeg in ROW, but the Blues can. But Winnipeg took the season series from the Blues, so they have that tiebreaker. The Blues took the season series from Nashville, so they'll have that one. The Blues can finish tied with Nashville, but have to be a point ahead of Winnipeg. Dallas and the Blues are even on ROW, but if Dallas were to catch the Blues, they likely would pick up wins along the way to give them the ROW.
Del Zotto is also a UFA, plus some guys in San Antonio like Butler, Thorburn and Nolan. (And we can't forget Jakub Jerabek. Or maybe we can.) Schenn and Pietrangelo will be entering the final years of their contracts. I would think Armstrong will try to get deals with the two of them done in the offseason. They can't sign extensions until they're into the final year of their contract. The Blues will also have to get a deal done with Edmundson, who is an RFA. They'll be looking to get a multi-year deal done there as well.
On the defensive end, Reinke's season at San Antonio will get him a serious look from the Blues next season. Walman had been the guy in the past they were waiting on, and his numbers this year have not been good. Schmaltz obviously spent a good part of the season in St. Louis, so he'll get a look in camp to see if he can make it. Forward-wise, it looks like Kostin needs another season to get his game in shape. Blais remains on the bubble between the AHL and NHL. How he fits into next season's team will be a question at the start of camp.
I think the 12 forwards you see now will be the 12 forwards you see the rest of the way unless someone gets hurt. If there was a non-injury change to be made, Sanford would be the guy you would think would come out, unless someone else started to play just horrendously, which seems unlikely. You could take out Sanford and put in MacEachern or, if healthy, Blais, but the Blues like that combination on the fourth line and what Sanford can do defensively. It's possible that the Blues could put MacEachern or Blais in one of these final games to minimize how long they've gone without playing, but the closeness of the race pretty much assures that these last three games will all matter.
I miss those days of November and December when players, coaches, general managers and the organist couldn't be gotten rid of quickly enough. It will be fun to have playoff hockey again. Even after just one year without, it seems like a long time. Imagine what it must be like in a place like Buffalo.
Armstrong sets the roster and Berube decides who plays, though obviously they discuss things. Berube's decisions have said he's thought Kyrou wasn't ready for a lot of ice time this season, but he has played him when he's been called up if the situation requires it. The recent set of ups and downs were based on injury concerns and not knowing just when Perron might be ready to be back in the lineup. If Kyrou takes the steps on the defensive end that Berube wants to see, he'll play. If he's not, he'll sit and if he sits long enough, he'll go back to San Antonio to get games. If Kyrou doesn't make the team out of camp next season, it will be a statement about his play without the puck, because he's going to get every possible chance to make the team and be in a top nine role.
For those who have missed it, Allen is starting tonight in Chicago, which presumably means Binnington will start Thursday against Philadelphia. I've been less of a subscriber to the theory that Allen needs a start in St. Louis, which he last did in 1948. He's made enough starts at Enterprise over the years that he knows where everything is and I don't think he needs any special prep for his return. Blues fans may need some prepping for Allen being on the ice at Enterprise, but that's another matter. And if Allen is thrown into duty at home in the playoffs, I think he can handle it.
A player will sometimes accept less money on the NHL side to get a one-way rather than a two-way. I think Paajarvi did that a few years ago, if memory serves. So if the Blues think there's a decent chance Double Mac makes the team next season, it can be a move that saves them some money. But in any case, we're not talking a lot of money.
If I see him, I'll ask him. In a league like the NWHL, travel is a big thing and there's only one team in the Midwest, in St. Paul, so that would be an expense. On a non-hockey note, I'd like to see a St. Louis team in the NWSL, the women's soccer league, though again, the Midwest isn't well-represented in that league.
I'm inclined to say no, unless he's willing to sign for a whole lot less. But there are a lot of factors in play for next season on the blueline. As regular chat readers know -- and I assume you've been taking notes -- I've been of the belief that Bouwmeester won't be back because, as well as he's played, other teams are likely to offer him more money or more years than the Blues will. Jeff Gordon and I talked about this on the podcast yesterday. He said he could see the Blues offering Bouwmeester 1 year at $3 million. If the Blues did that, and Bouwmeester took it, then Reinke comes in as the sixth or seventh D and that's that. But if Bouwmeester and Gunnarsson both aren't back, there's room for another. But I think the Blues will lean toward guys in the organization more than they will toward Del Zotto.
I think they've been pleased with his professionalism. I've seen what I would consider unguarded moments between the two after games and it seems to be a sincere working relationship where they support each other. It can't be easy for Allen, but the goalie position is a weird one, where one guy plays and the other doesn't and I think they deal with that better than non-goalies do. Allen wants to play and is doing everything he can to do it, but he realizes that Binnington is playing extremely well.
I think we're at a point where the job is Berube's regardless of what happens in the playoffs. What more could they have asked him to do? He has engineered an amazing turnaround and the players all like and respect him. Unless he walks up and slugs Tom Stillman at some point, or unless the Blues make a really low-ball contract offer, the job is his. To repeat an analogy I've made before, pretend the season had happened the exact same way but instead of the coach being named Craig Berube, it was Joel Quenneville. People would be saying it was the greatest coaching job ever and something only someone like Quenneville could do. Craig Berube did it. Pay the man.