Chat all things Blues with Tom Timmermann at 11 a.m. Wednesday

Chat all things Blues with Tom Timmermann at 11 a.m. Wednesday

Get your questions ready and join in at 11 a.m. Wednesday for our weekly Blues chat.

    Good morning. Here we go again. In the new world of hockey, this is August, so not a whole lot going on, but if you have questions, I have a laptop
    Is there a sense about whether fans will be permitted to attend at any point next season?
    The league sure hopes so. If the season starts in January and runs through July, there's certainly a hope that by the later stages of that the COVID situation will have clarified to the point where that's possible. Bettman has said that just because they start the season one way doesn't mean they have to finish it that way. If a vaccine is widely available starting in the second quarter of 2021, which would be April, that would ease things, though how exactly that would work is unclear. If, for instance, only 25 percent of the population had the vaccine by then, would you have to prove you had a vaccine before they'd let you in? The later the season starts, and the later it runs, the better the chance there are people in seats and some teams are going to be really adamant about want to have bodies in seats. And while the Olympics stand as a forced stop for the season because of the NBC/NHL contract, there certainly could be ways around it, such as farming two weeks of broadcasts out to another non-NBC network. And, who knows? Maybe there won't be an Olympics, or there will be a greatly streamlined version with a much smaller number of events. 
    But there's no sense because so much of the 2021 season, including when it starts, is up in the air.
    Early indications are everyone is wiped out from watching election returns last night. Or Jim has answered every question over the previous weeks.
    Haven't even considered that yet. I think we have some sliced turkey in the refrigerator. A sandwich seems likely.
    Hi Tom. What does your crystal ball say about the length of the upcoming season? 48 games or more? Regular playoffs? Also if we go to new division alignments for this year would the Blues be in an Eastern division? Thanks
    An 82-game schedule seems really optimistic, because if you're not starting it until January or February, even with limited breaks you're looking at running into September, which greatly reduces your chances of making a normal 2021-22 season work, and that's one that the players hope have an Olympics in. 48 games seems like what the league has determined from other seasons is the minimum number of games you need to have a realistic season. Any number between 48 and 82 would be determined on when the season starts and if the league has a way around NBC and the Olympics.
    With no sign of the U.S.-Canada border opening any time soon, an all-Canada division seems likely. If that's the case, and the league wants to stick with four divisions, then I could see an LA-Ana-SJ-Ariz-Colo-Dal division, and then maybe STL-Chi-Min-Det-CBJ-Nash and two or three other teams, such as the Florida teams and Carolina. That would lead you with a tidy group in the Northeast. I guess it would be up to the league to decide who is the other division in the East. I could see them favoring an arrangement with Toronto and Montreal in the East Conference for TV purposes. From what I've seen of the NHL and determining TV start times, the new-fangled Central Division could well be in the West but no one seems to care about them. 
    Hi Tom,

    What's Husso been up to recently, and are the Blues content to let him take the backup role or is the front office looking for a cheap Chad Johnson-style pickup instead?
    The Blues, from everything they've said, are committed to Husso as the backup. Having only seen Husso play in person during exhibition season, all I can say is, I've seen Ville Husso play several really good games during the preseason, games that got everyone pretty excited. The Blues would have loved to have seen him get into a few NHL games last season, but Binnington and Allen never got hurt, so that took care of that. They've got to make a decision on Husso soon, because other goalies are coming along and they need to know what they've got. There is ample reason to think Husso can be an effective NHL goalie. He was, as we all know, ahead of Binnington in the pipeline for a long time. Also, there's a money thing. He works cheap, and even with so many goalies on the market, the Blues have to watch their cap space. And he won't be complaining about getting into 25 games.
  • Any news on the blues signing Hoffman? It would then appear Steen and Tarasenko would be on LTR the whole season?
    I think the significant matter is Hoffman is prepared to wait. He made $5 million plus last season, scored 29 goals in 69 games and is in on hurry to take some cut-rate deal. Let's face it: From his point of view, he'll be able to sign for $2 million whenever he wants if that's what it comes down to. If there's a chance someone offers him real money, he'll wait for that. And there is the potential for that. All it takes is someone to get hurt in camp and bingo! There's a market for Mike Hoffman. 
    There is no indication Tarasenko will be on LTIR all season. There is less indication about what will happen with Steen, other than he won't be ready on opening day, whenever that is. The potential always exists, and I've felt this going back to last season, that Steen retires. He wants to play, but his body is increasingly sending messages to the contrary. But until the Blues get clarity on what Steen's status will be, it's hard to go much farther on moves. 
    One of my assumptions all along has been that the Blues are expecting to have Steen and Tarasenko on LTIR at the start of the season with the hope that another team will have the need for a defenseman in the early going, they can trade a defenseman, and then they have cap space for when Steen and/or Tarasenko come back. At present, the Blues are $1.1 million over the cap and still need to sign Vince Dunn. 
    I would assume that Tarasanko will sit on the LTIR until he is ready to go and then he will be activated as soon as possible during the season. Steen seems more unsure to me. It sure seems from how Armstrong has been talking that he will start the season on the LTIR as well, but will the even think about activating him if they need the cap space? It kinda gives them an out that even though they can't recoup the money, they can the space.
    The Blues will be patient with Tarsaenko, but when he's cleared to play, he'll be back. Maybe they give him an extra few days, but it won't be anything extreme. The same goes with Steen. The one difference, and keep in mind, that we don't know the specifics on Steen's injury -- actually, we don't really know anything -- is that his injury issues seem to be more chronic. His injury that kept him out of most of the restart didn't seem to be because of a hit like with Tarasenko's shoulder. Steen's injuries seem to be more just the result of a lots of wear and tear over the years, brought on by his style of play. The more the start of the season is delayed, the more chance there is for Steen to recovered and ready to give it another try. But there may come a time when, if the season is really short or he's still hurting, it's not worth it for him. If Steen were to retire, the team would certainly look for another job for him in the organization because -- and this can't be underestimated -- everyone on the team and in management really likes him. He's a good guy to have around. His leadership is highly valued. Which is one reason why, after saying all that, if he says he wants to play the team will give him the benefit of the doubt.
    Why the delay in signing Dunn?
    I think right now it's a matter of what's the rush? It's the middle of the hockey summer, his salary is going to be within a very narrow margin, and the only question is likely how long a deal either side wants to have. And, from the Blues point of view, they don't have to pay him right now. (NHL players got their first, highly escrowed, paycheck of the season a few weeks ago.) Barbashev signed pretty close to the start of the season last year. It's a pretty similar situation. If he was having an arbitration hearing this week, that probably would have spurred things along. Right now, there's no deadline, so no rush.
    Usually in the off season we hear about rule changes for next season. Have you heard of any proposed rule changes for next season? I thought they were looking at some changes to how offsides is called, or reviewed?
    With the full admission that I've forgotten exactly where these things stand and if they've been officially approved, the big change was/is in that you wouldn't have to have your skate touching the blueline to be onside, just having it be above the plane that extends upward from the line, like breaking the plane for a touchdown in football. Even if the skate was in the air, but above the line, you would still be onside. This would lead to a few less offside calls over the course of the season and a few more goals. Since most of the readers here have watched Blues games on television, you no doubt know that Darren Pang is very passionate about this, that a player's skate needs to be touching the line and that being above it is morally wrong. I do not share his zealousness about the rule. There is some issue apparently as to whether this would need to be a formal rule change or just a change in the interpretation of the rule by the linesmen. 
    I forget if there was anything else. It all seems so long ago. 
    Can you remind me where they are with the Enterprise upgrade phases? I thought they completed two phases, but had one or two additional phases to complete. Did the pandemic impact this schedule from a cost/fan attendance prospective?
    They were last season installing new escalators, which should be done by now. And, in a matter of relevance to me, since I ride in them every game, right before the shutdown they were replacing the freight elevators. I think everything that had an impact on fan experience should be taken care of now.
    what's the plans for Perunovich for next season?
    Some, maybe much, of that will depend on Perunovich. If he comes in and has a great camp and looks like he's ready to go, the Blues may well give him the chance. Camps are expected to be shorter this time, maybe only two weeks as they rush to get started, so he may not get enough of a chance to show it, but he can make his own case. 
    If he doesn't do that, the Blues don't have any problem with having him in Springfield for a year, or for however long it takes to get up to speed. There's a lot to learn about being a professional hockey player and the AHL is the best place to do it. But another factor will be: What's going on with the AHL? That's a league that needs to sell tickets to survive. If the AHL's start is substantively after the NHL's, NHL teams would be allowed to carry larger rosters, and the Blues would want Perunovich doing something rather than sitting around, so he could be with the Blues in that case as well. 
    And, as is the case with all young players, the Blues won't keep him around if he's going to be the seventh defenseman and a regular healthy scratch. He's got to be in the top six or he'll be in the AHL. And making the top six, barring a player move, won't be easy. 
    Is the start of the season contingent upon some percentage of fans being able to attend? Or can they make a go of it with an empty house?
    No plan exists at the moment, so nothing is contingent on anything, but it will be hard for the league to go a full season without selling a ticket. If they start with an empty house, it would be only because they are confident that in the near future they could sell tickets. So they could be wiling to play a month with an empty building, but two or three months would not be well-received in some quarters. 
    Though the idea has also been floated of mini-bubbles, with teams in one division gathering in one place for two weeks, playing a lot of games, then going back home to their families for a while, then doing that again. And it would be like the NFL or MLB, where players are still out in the real world, just staying out of trouble. If that happens, the league would also likely seek out venues where they could sell some tickets, to make some money. 
    I think the NHL needs to have some event horizon in mind before they start. As it stands now, planning is almost impossible. 
    Mr T-
    Who you got as the starting 6 D-Men? It would seem Gunner would be out more often than not due to Krug, Dunn, and Scandella being left as well. Does this mean 41 FINALLY gets in more than just the normal rotation he and Gunner did the last 2 years?
    When they make the movie of Robert Bortuzzo's life, it will be called The Seventh Defenseman. (Alas, Max Von Sydow can not play Bortuzzo.) There could be a more regular rotation between Bortuzzo and Gunnarsson next season, but Bortuzzo has, alas, become finely tuned for that role of being the extra guy. (Then again he's made $7.5 million over the course of his career, so we should all be so lucky.) I don't think the Blues will have an issue with playing Gunnarsson on his off hand. He's done it before, and when you're on the third pairing, it's not the worst thing in the world. The course of their careers in St. Louis says the Blues prefer playing Gunnarsson to Bortuzzo, and I don't think Gunny's status as the fourth lefty is going to change that. 
    I will say that the situation does make it more likely that if the Blues deal a defenseman from their top seven, Gunnarsson would be the leading candidate, but what another team wants is a driving factor in that. If a team is looking specifically for a lefty or a righty, that would drive the decision.
    FYI: Gunnarsson has a limited no-trade clause, where he can specify five teams he doesn't want to go to. 
    How long does the existing NBC television rights contract last? Is NBC the best choice for the NHL due to their available multiple cable channels during the playoffs, and their ability to provide free over the airwaves nationally televised games? Is there anyone else that could compete? Maybe ESPN, but I don't think that would be good for the NHL!
    This is the NHL's last season in their 10-year deal with NBC. The league and the network have a good relationship, and as one of NBCSN's main properties, they get better exposure there than they would most anywhere else. Once the playoffs begin, you get one or two games a night. On weekends you get three. ESPN can't offer that because they have the NBA and, through March, lots of college basketball. Could you have an arrangement like ESPN and TBS/TNT with games on both? Yes, but you wouldn't get as many games on and you have that over-the-air option with NBC. CBS' cable channel isn't in anywhere near as many homes. NBC wants to have the NHL back because, well, they would need to fill a whole lot of airtime on NBCSN without them. (More of those automobile auctions?) NBC is the best match for the NHL right now. ESPN has more cache than NBCSN, and maybe there's something where ESPN, which is interested, picks up some games, but NBC is the obvious choice.
    With it being a shortened season and Tank having to have surgery again, I would not be shocked if the Blues keep him in LTIR this season in order to get him ready to play next season. It would be a win-win; Blues get the cap and gives Tank the opportunity to heal fully and prolong his career.
    I think it would be very, very, very tough to tell a healthy Vladimir Tarasenko, who has been cleared to play, that he's not going to play. In fact, if he's been cleared to play by team doctors and the team doesn't play him, it's going to get very messy very quickly. There's an extremely valid case to be made that, to use an example, resting Alexander Steen regularly during the season would keep him fresh for the postseason, when you want him. That doesn't happen. Unlike baseball or basketball, giving a guy a day off to rest just doesn't happen. Giving a guy a season off to rest happens less. The Blues could try playing him fewer minutes, using him 12 minutes a game rather than 15 or 18, but even that doesn't happen often.
    Also, I don't know that you can keep a guy who's been cleared to play on LTIR, because then teams would use that as a dodge to get around a bad contract for a bad player. You actually have to provide paperwork from the doctor saying the guy can't play when he goes on LTIR. The league in this case would step in and say he doesn't qualify for being on LTIR. No, if Tararsenko can play, he'll be playing. 
    Now, if Tarasenko were to say I don't feel ready to play, that would be another matter. They may say I need another week, but not another month or season. Hockey players aren't wired that way. 
    I fully expect Steen to come back this year, especially since it will most likely be his last. I do not think he would want to fade away and not get the chance to play one more season.
    Unless he's totally fed up with rehabbing every summer, he's going to want to play. Unless they say, you won't be able to pick up your child or play catch with them, he'll want to play. That's what Alexander Steen does. He plays hockey. (Though, I hasten to add, he's anything but a one-dimensional guy.) But in some ways, a shortened season may make it easier to step away. If it's a 48-game season and you're going to miss half of it, maybe all that work for playing 24 games is not something that's worth all the effort. And he's won a Stanley Cup. That makes any retirement decision that much easier.
    Any more questions? Time to serve them up.
    Well, we're at our normal in-season start time and coming to a close. Anybody else?
    Good afternoon,
    I hope you didn't loose any sleep watching the endless results and pundits last night. I found out everything I needed to know this morning after a good night's sleep.
    Earlier you mentioned the number of games in the regular season. As football is finding out right now you can't schedule too many off days for rescheduling if you're not in a bubble.
  • I was up till about 3 a.m., but once I fell asleep, I slept soundly. 
    Yeah, how the NHL would have to deal with in-season positive tests would be an issue, and if the league gave teams a week off in-between bubbles, maybe that would give them some flexibility. But with doubleheaders not an option like in baseball, and multiple back-to-backs also a problem, being prepared for teams playing significantly different numbers of games would be something people would have to accept. Be prepared for points per game being a determining factor. 
  • Hi Tom - What's your gut tell you about Binnington coming back to more like his 2019 form? This past season was NOT what we all wanted to see. Thoughts?
    My gut tells me, as does past experience, that goalies are the most difficult thing to predict in hockey. It's not quite random, but, as I've noted before, when Binnington started taking off in the 18-19 season and it seemed like every night out, he was doing something a rookie hadn't done in 10 years, the majority of the time the other guys who were on those "Rookies to win five straight games" lists were guys who you never heard from again. It wasn't until the very, very end that the players he was matching were really, really good ones. He had more bad games in 2019-20 then he had in 2018-19, when he had almost no bad games. This will be a pivotal season because if he does well here, he'll have two out of three good seasons and if he doesn't, he'll have two out of three not-quite-so-good seasons. He still played really well on a lot of occasions last season, and sophomore slumps are a cliche, but the reality is, it's tough to put together two really good seasons in a row. He did it often enough last season to certainly make you think he can do it again. This will be a big season for him and the Blues in that department. And he will be driven to do well. He may not be 2019 level Binnington, which was exceptional, but he can be like it more often.
    I heard Kovulchuk being discussed the other night on 101.1 as a long-shot to sign with the Blues. He's older, but has still been productive recently. Do we have the cap space, given Tarasenko's and Steen's situation, to sign him for a year or two?
    He's productive offensively but he'll have to be productive defensively and on the forecheck to fit in with Berube's style. The cap space for him only works if Steen or Tarasenko is out for the whole season. There are other guys I'd look at first.
    OK, it's lunch time. Thanks for stopping by and someone will be here next week, though it remains to be seen if there's anything new to talk about. Take care.
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