Greetings and welcome to another chat. We're past the trade deadline, so the stretch run I guess you can say has now begun. I'm sure there will be questions on it, but Perron and Schenn skated in practice today, though Berube didn't say either was in on Friday. We'll probably get back to that later. And off we go ...
That's Binnington's style. He's droll, wry, a bit sarcastic. So to that extent, it's a bit of a schtick. But it's his schtick. I've probably told this story before, but after he played his first game with the Blues, I asked him if he had kept anything as a souvenir of the game. He said, Yes, he scraped up some snow from around the crease to keep. Really? I said. Of course not, was his replay. I now know that to be fairly typical of Binnington. He does give longer answers, but if he's got a chance for a zinger, he will zing.
That was one of the most dominant performances for the Blues this season, but they've had other games like that against very good teams, so you can't pin it all on the Predators playing back to backs. And the Blues have played some teams that have been on the back end of back-to-backs and not done that well. The first shift set the tone for the game (including the fact that they almost scored but didn't). I'd say the Blues were really that strong last night.
I think standing pat was the best plan, as advertised in this chat the past couple weeks. Going after a high profile player would have required taking someone off the current 23-man roster, which potentially would adversely affect a team that has become a well-oiled machine. Also, the lack of a first-round draft pick this year would have made that tough, as well as limited space under the salary cap (I don't think they could have fit anyone making more than $4 million a year without removing some salary) and an organizational philosophy not to trade top prospects. Add that all up, and it was tough to make a deal anyway. And as Armstrong said yesterday, the Blues see this season as the beginning of a window of opportunity, which made standing pat a better choice. Had this been the end of a window, he'd have been more inclined to go all in. So I give it a thumbs up.
The power play needs to be better. Everyone agrees on that, from Armstrong on down. The Blues have in the past month beaten Nashville three times, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Boston, so they have shown they can play with anybody. (They also beat Columbus, though that team looks a lot different now.) As Berube cautioned yesterday, the playoffs are a different animal. So they have to get better all around, in every aspect. They need to get more consistent balanced scoring. They need to cut down on mistakes in their own end. There aren't many parts of their game that currently rate a 5, but the ones that may be at an 8 or 9 have to be upgraded.
The Vezina will be tough because he won't have played anywhere near as many games as other goalies, and right now, it will be an interesting race between him and Carter Hart of Philadelphia for the goalie spot on the all-rookie team. Hart may have an edge at the moment being on the East Coast amid much more of a media spotlight. One thing we were talking about yesterday is, could Binnington enter the Calder race for rookie of the year? Elias Pettersson of Vancouver has been considered the runaway choice for that all season, but if Binnington almost single-handedly puts the Blues in the playoff picture and high in the Western Conference standings, he could get some votes. But it's often tough to break a narrative; voters to some extent may have already settled on Pettersson in their minds. Now, if Binnington gets another three or four of five shutouts the rest of the way, that could change things. He's one off the league lead right now, despite having played 20 or 30 games less than the goalies ahead of him.
Sanford and Fabbri, most likely, though Fabbri's game has really come on strong the past few games. And Blais will come out when Steen returns. That was one of the amazing things about last night. The Blues won that game without Schenn, Perron and Steen in the lineup. Those three, by the way, skated as a fifth line in practice today. Perron looks pretty close to being ready to return; Schenn seemed to be taking it a little more lightly.
Binnington needs to play at least 30 minutes in 28 games this season or he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Right now he's at 18, so he's got to play 10 more. He is the starting goalie now, so getting 10 games out of the last 19 seems pretty likely as long as he doesn't get hurt. If he does play those games, he becomes a restricted free agent who is arbitration eligible. It is, as Armstrong said yesterday, a great Cinderella story. A two-year extension would seem a likely move after this season. Despite how this season has gone, I think the Blues still need to see some proof. Andrew Hammond, for instance, had a great start to his NHL career and is now in Minnesota's farm system. The more Binnington plays, the more opposing teams will know about him and how best to attack him.
I think he has a better shot at the Calder than the Vezina. But I don't know that he's a lock for the goalie spot on the all-rookie team yet because of the attention Carter Hart has gotten in Philadelphia. If the Blues make the playoffs and the Flyers don't, that will help that cause.
I don't believe there was a memo on that, but referees miss things.
I would think they put Del Zotto in a game at some point, probably sooner rather than later, just to have him get in the flow of things. But unless someone gets hurt or royally messes up, I don't think you'll see him much, and you'll see him even less when Gunnarsson gets back, though who knows when that will be. Fabbri could be headed back to the press box as soon as this weekend, though I'm sure Berube will try to slip him and Sanford and whoever else may be sitting idle in from time to time. I think the lineup from the 11-game win streak, but with Perron instead of Sanford, is how this team will look most of the rest of the way.
I think the organization likes having Thorburn around. He's a great guy in the room, as they say. So I think he would be one of the callups if the Blues are playing after San Antonio's season has ended. As to whether he would get in a game, that would take a whole batch of injuries because there would be four or five players on the runway ahead of him. And even when Thorburn was here, he didn't play many minutes, which is less of an option in a playoff game.
He's looking stronger and more confident out there and as fast as he used to be. He said after the Minnesota game that he was glad to see he was getting chances. When he doesn't get chances is when he's concerned. There still may not be room for him to play when the team is at full strength, but it provides optimism that he can step in if needed and can be expected to contribute next season.
Bouwmeester would have to take a significant pay cut to come back. With the money the Blues are going to have to be spending soon on UFAs, and if they think players like Reinke, Walman or Mikkola are ready, they will turn to them. (And Jordan Schmaltz is still in the picture.) Bouwmeester may attract some attention from other places next year who may have more money to offer, or more years. If the Blues gave Bouwmeester more than one year, it would just force them to keep the guys currently in the minors there longer.
Catching Nashville certainly seems do-able. The Blues are five points back with three more games to play and, while I haven't studied Nashville's schedule, the Blues' schedule is relatively easy down the stretch, with lots of teams that are out of playoffs spots. (Though, to get you a headstart on hockey cliches, those teams are tough because those guys are playing for their jobs.) Winnipeg is tougher to catch because the teams are even on games, but the Jets hit a downturn for a while and if they do that again, the Blues could be poised to make a move. Though to be pragmatic, it will be tough for the Blues to keep rolling up points at the rate they are. Right now, hockeyviz.com projects Winnipeg at 98.5 points, Nashville at 97 and the Blues at 95.3. So the Blues are definitely in the picture.
The Selke is the toughest award to vote on. It gives me more trouble every year than any other award. So an ad campaign can't hurt, but voters tend to look at last year's winners and start there and those national articles are where a lot of people start when making up their ballot. It's hard to come out of nowhere to win the Selke. Being a playoff team certainly helps, if only because you're not voting for someone for that award who plays for Ottawa.
I can't see the Blues handing over the keys to Binnington next season, making him the No. 1 and signing a career backup ala Carter Hutton. Even with the rest of this season and a long playoff run, that may not be enough to sell them on him. I could see Binnington and Allen in a 1A and 1B situation next season, and whoever plays better gets more of the time. The goalie position is erratic and goalies routinely go from great one year to not so great the next year. One thing that Binnington's rise does is probably make Ville Husso expendable, or at least a potential trade chip. Because another thing I can't see is the Blues going with Binnington and Husso next season.
Well, for starters I'd put Schenn back with O'Reilly and Tarasenko because they haven't been as effective since Schwartz has joined them. My original thought was that they would go back to Thomas as a center, but that doesn't seem to be something they're considering now. So Schwartz and Perron would end up on a second line with Bozak. Then what have you got? Maroon, Sundqvist and Steen on the third line and MacEachern, Barbashev and Thomas on the fourth line. The fourth line has been one of their most effective so far.
When I tweeted out yesterday that Del Zotto would wear 42, I was amazed by the response in the Twitterverse, and I'm hard to amaze. Some saw it as a sacrilege. Others were fine with it. (Many of those thought Backes forfeited his rights to that number when he left as a free agent.) I don't think the Blues are ever going to retire 42 in Backes' honor, so the sooner they get it back into circulation, the easier it probably is treat it like any other number. Let it sit idle too long and it gets harder to do that. I'm also amazed that the Blues gave out Pronger's 44 after he left, though they haven't done it in the past seven seasons.
The only way to get high draft picks back will be to trade players of value. I was walking over to the rink with Chris Kerber on Sunday and he pointed out that the last time the Blues drafted a forward in the top 10 was Rod Brind'Amour in 1988. So with the Blues consistently drafting in the middle to late first round, they've done pretty well.