At last, it's Showtime on the 2021 NHL season. The Blues have just taken the ice for their morning skate in Denver and in 8 1/2 hours, we'll have a game. So let's dive in.
Jim or I will be on the road this season. Jim is doing most of the games. There's still no locker room access or any event level access for that matter. Most everything is still being done on Zoom or by phone
He hasn't said anything, though he has suggested that Faulk and Scandella are the shutdown guys. Considering the number of times Berube has said to us about the importance of defensive play from the forwards and getting the puck back, I can only assume he has mentioned that fact to Hoffman more.
Having some chicken and dumpling soup, mostly because I decided too late to eat lunch and had to find something fast. A nap might not be a bad idea, especially if you're on the East Coast.
Hard to say too much since he was skating with other youngsters and getting him ice time in the scrimmages wasn't a priority for the staff. Berube spoke highly of him, especially for his quick response to getting back on the ice after taking a puck to the face. So if nothing else, he's got that going for him. He'll be playing in Utica, assuming the AHL gets started, but he's got a ways to go.
I know our chats don't get near the number of questions Derrick and Rick get, and Cardinals fans appear to be much closer to the edge than Blues fans. Though I recall in the 2018-19 season when things weren't going well participants in this chat wanting everyone sent down to San Antonio and all the youngsters brought up. (I'd like to give myself credit for saying that wouldn't be a great idea and a little more patience might be in order.) But there's also reason for Blues fans to feel better. The Cardinals haven't made a move like snapping up Hoffman lately. The Blues have been more aggressive than the Cardinals have.
There should be, because his numbers last season, around 43 percent if I recall, weren't very good. He said he put on weight in the offseason and is stronger, which he thinks will help him. That line, with him, Schwartz and Hoffman, isn't a really great faceoff line, so there could be some rearranging done late in games if the Blues were trailing and had an offensive zone start. With no preseason games against opponents, hard to say if there's progress yet.
I don't think you can say the Blues lost the Edmundson trade, since he didn't really fit in their plans. When you keep going to arbitration like that, it was clear the Blues and the Edmundson camp placed a different number on his value. Edmundson's offensive and defensive numbers last season were not good. Looking at the numbers at hockeyviz.com, opponents' offense was better with Edmundson. One difference, of course, is that the Blues are paying Faulk way more than they paid Edmundson, but still, the Blues got more on offense out of Faulk than they would have out of Edmundson, and the defense was about a push. There's a loss on toughness, I suppose, but if you play Bortuzzo more, which looks like will happen, you can make up for that.
I double checked on that yesterday when they announced the move. The AHL age limit, at least now, is 18, and Neighbours is over 18.
Though it may depend on how the refs choose to call it, I would expect a lot of penalties, a lot of clutching and grabbing and stick fouls as guys just aren't ready to go. So there should be a lot of power play time. After that, the Blues have to do what they also have to do against Colorado, find a way to slow them down and keep them from getting into their game. The Blues have two new pieces, Hoffman and Krug, in key positions, so there could be a learning curve there with the short camp.
That's on the list of questions we haven't gotten answered yet. The Blues will certainly have someone on the staff in Utica to keep tabs on these guys. Some teams are brining members of their AHL staff into the home city to work with the taxi squad guys, and to work with the guys who don't go on trips. Haven't gotten an answer to that question yet though
If any of the California teams did anything that would be a surprise. There seems to be some optimism coming out of Los Angeles. Minnesota and Arizona are the tweeners, teams that could move up or down. Vegas and Colorado are the clear top two, the Blues a smidge behind. The Wild have been picked ahead of the Blues by some people. But if there are any surprises in the West, it may be a team not doing as well as expected.
Taxi squads have to have a minimum of four players and a maximum of six. Armstrong has said the Blues will carry the maximum of six, but when they will do that, I don't know. Right now they're at two forwards, a defenseman and a goalie. I would expect at least one defenseman, most likely Walman, to be added. After that, they could look to add a forward. What direction they go is unclear. Would it be worth their while to have a more experienced forward, a Walker or Anas, around in case?
Kyrou doesn't have to go through waivers, so moving him (and eventually Mikkola, who also doesn't have to go through waivers) is easy. Among other players, it would be MacEachern, since he's the most likely to get through waivers. I don't think the Blues would want to put Bortuzzo on waivers to move him to the taxi squad.
If the Blues re-sign Hoffman prior to the expansion draft, they would have to protect him. Just one more complexity to the decision awaiting the Blues. I believe March 12 is the first day the Blues could extend Hoffman.
The game is on NBCSN on TV and on ESPN 101 on radio.
There were about 135 players on waivers yesterday, so that's an awful lot. Players changing teams aren't going to be immediately available because of quarantines and isolations, so that's going to complicate matters. Third goalies appear to be in demand. I think right now unless there's a glaring weakness for a team because of injuries or for some reason a real good player has to go on waivers, there won't be much action. I don't think you need an agreement between GMs for that.
Schwartz, Bozak, Hoffman, Gunnarsson and Binnington are unrestricted free agents after this season. That's a bit over $20 million. Schwartz, Hoffman and Binnington will be the ones the Blues want to keep.
That would be my assumption, that if Binnington or Husso got hurt that the Blues would call up Gillies, since he has NHL experience and Hofer doesn't. By sending Gillies to Utica, once they start, he will be getting games and staying sharp, while Hofer will just be taking shots in practice. Evan Fitzpatrick will also be in Utica and if things really got messy, he might get called up ahead of Hofer, again just based on experience. Fitzpatrick isn't likely to get much ice time in Utica though.
I guess we'll know for sure when Utica starts playing, but the Blues seem awfully interested in using Tucker as a forward rather than a defenseman. He did play there in camp because it made the numbers work out, but if that was the only concern, the Blues had plenty of other forwards they could have brought into camp and not invite Tucker. They like what they're seeing there. It will be interesting to see what he is in the AHL this season.