Greetings one and all, and welcome to a game-day edition of our Blues chat. First off, just to be clear on this, I'm not in Winnipeg. Jim Thomas and Ben Frederickson are there, while I'm here waiting for Games 3 and 4. If you've got questions, now is the time. Ask away.
With six defensemen under contract for next season -- assuming they re-sign restricted free agent Edmundson, it essentially means Gunnarsson isn't coming back. I haven't had a chance to talk to him about it, but it can't be too surprising considering the amount of time he's missed this season. Armstrong talked about also needing room for young defensemen coming up, but with six solid D who look to be on the team next year, you have to wonder where that young defenseman -- whether it's Reinke, Schmaltz or Mikkola, who may be a year away still -- fits in, because having them as the seventh D doesn't make much sense. (Though Schmaltz has familiarity with that role.) Unless that young guy is going to beat out Bortuzzo. Armstrong declined to talk about the team's depth with left-handed shooting defensemen.
Well, the thing that immediately comes to mind is Jake Allen's play in the corner against Carolina. That was highlight reel worthy. Goalies, alas, are more likely to show up on a list like that because of the nature of their position. Binnington's pass on to an opposing team's stick from behind his net wasn't much better.
The headline on the Winnipeg Free Press story, at least online, is "Controversial tweets from Blues goaltender come to light." There doesn't, at this point in time, seem to be much controversy about them. If the Muslim Council of Greater Manitoba -- if such a thing exists -- or some other group said, This is an outrage! He must apologize!, then you've got a controversy. What you had were tweets from a teenager that may not have been well thought out and involved the word "burka." So there seemed to be a leap there to label his tweets controversial before that had come to pass. Had I known about them would I have written about them? I'd have certainly asked him about them before doing that, but I also have regular access to Binnington after practice. If you're an out-of-town writer -- and the reports of these tweets originated in San Jose, not Winnipeg -- that's not possible.
That was a point when people had doubts about how Parayko was going to do this season, and it seemed to reinforce that point. He recovered pretty well from that one. That was pretty bad timing for him on that one too.
I was surprised he didn't, and that was my question that brought out his "For a 36-year-old defenseman?" response. I guess Bouwmeester and his agent know the free agent market better than I do -- at least I hope his agent does -- but he's played so well in the second half of this season, it seems to me he would have gotten something and has shown he can still play. But it is a young man's game, and Bouwmeester does seem like a better-safe-than-sorry kind of guy. (And if the safe choice is $3.25 million, that's not a bad safe choice.) I'm never one to think a player should be expected to give a team a hometown discount, but Bouwmeester seems to like St. Louis enough to stay, and I guess after a long well-paid career, one or two million dollars isn't as important to him as family stability. (Though he spends his offseasons in Canada.)
The Blues. The easy explanation is that the Blues are playing very well right now and the Jets aren't. The Blues have a red-hot goalie, though not as red-hot as he was earlier. The Blues are 8-1-1 in their last 10, but that's slightly misleading with the overtime and shootout games they had. The Blues have stepped up their play defensively, and have done a good job at keeping the puck at the other end of the ice and when they haven't, Binnington has been there. What the Blues need to avoid are those scoring droughts where they have 50 shots on goal and score once. But, as every says ad infinitum, the playoffs are different from the regular season. Things can change. All it takes is a hot goalie.
I don't see them being very active. Right now, Gunnarsson, Maroon, Del Zotto and Thorburn are UFAs. Earlier in the season, we wondered if Maroon would make it to that bobblehead night they had planned for him in December. Now you have to think they have to consider bringing him back. The Blues need to find a place to fit in Kyrou on one of the top lines, so that will factor into the dynamics. Last summer was the summer of big moves. They should be fairly content with this team after this season.
The Presidents' Trophy year in 1999-2000 has to stand out. That was the golden opportunity. As I've written more than a few times -- I think you're allowed to plagiarize yourself -- in a league with 30 teams (or whatever it was that season), you should expect to win the Stanley Cup once every 30 years. But if when your year comes around, you have Roman Turek in goal, sometimes things don't work out. That was certainly a very talented team.
Rest is always good at this time of season. That's one of the things that did the Blues in when they went to the conference final against San Jose. They were just worn down by then. The fewer games you play and the more off-time you get, the better. One thing for sure is that if the Blues do get to the second round, getting to Dallas or Nashville will be a lot simpler, though Winnipeg isn't as far away as you think, especially if like the Blues you're taking a charter. For the writers who had to take two planes to get there, it's a bit more of a hassle.
I can see Binnington being the second coming of Roy or Dryden for the postseason. Career-wise, that would be a reach, which it would be for anybody. But right now, living in the present is a good idea. Binnington has played extremely well. As Bouwmeester said the other day, he's given the team no reason to think he won't continue to play this way.
Chances are slim, bordering on none that Thorburn plays. (Or maybe the other way around, none, bordering on slim.) Blais, Fabbri and MacEachern will all get in ahead of him, and if they need someone to mix things up, or a big body somewhere, they've got others guy they can ask.(And if he's healthy, Kyrou will be around.) Thorburn is back because he's a great guy in the locker room for keeping things light, and he has a house in St. Louis, so they don't have to get him a hotel room, and they were able to get him an extra week with his family. It's a sign of respect for Thorburn in what must not have been an easy year, having to go to the minors and being away from his family.
Yeah, Perron's last couple seasons haven't ended great. He didn't play at all in the third period of the Blues' last game two years ago. We'll have to see, but the time off for his concussion might keep him fresher for the playoff run. He was skating and active in that time, but not getting hit all that time has to reduce the wear and tear. So that will be watched.
The NHL does have a tendency to turn its back on players of a certain age. Also, Bouwmeester indicated he isn't sure he wants to play another year after the next one, so that could be a factor. He didn't want to try to get a two-year contract if he wasn't positive he wanted to play a second year. You have to respect that.
You're not alone. The Blues have been a trendy pick around the league in this series, and websites that run statistical analyses of playoff series seem to be all siding with the Blues. Now they just have to live up to their expectations.
The NHL did the smart thing in not allowing that move to happen, because there's no way the team would have survived in Saskatoon if it couldn't survive in Winnipeg or Quebec City. So who knows where the Blues might have ended up. Back in St. Louis? Or would they have been the team to go to Denver or Phoenix? Saskatoon has a population of about 250,000.
While I await for more questions to arrive -- hint, hint -- I'll note that today is the final day for ballots to be turned in for NHL awards, like the Hart, Norris and Calder. (Also, the banes of my existence, the Selke and Lady Byng.) The writers don't vote on the Vezina or Adams (for coach of the year). Without divulging my ballot, which will be divulged after the winners are announced, I will say that Ryan O'Reilly and Jordan Binnington appear on it. Though I haven't turned it in yet. I have until 6 p.m.
If Ben Bishop is still healthy, I wouldn't want to face Dallas. Actually, the Blues might not want to face Dallas at all. Even when the Blues were playing better, they couldn't handle the Stars. Home ice would be good, but if the Blues could beat Winnipeg without it, they would like their chances against Nashville.
Thanks. It's always interesting to see what's on the mind of readers. I assume we archive these things. The tone of them has changed dramatically since December.
Breaking news: Defenseman Mitch Reinke has been named to the AHL's all-rookie team. He has 11 goals and 32 assists in his first pro season. (Not counting that one game he played for the Blues last season.)