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BenFred: NHL blew it by not suspending Spurgeon after cheap shot

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Check out the highlights from sports columnist Ben Frederickson’s weekly chat with readers.

Q: Thoughts on Wild captain Jared Spurgeon getting nothing more than a $5,000 punishment for the cheap shot on Pavel Buchnevich?

A: The NHL Department of Player Safety screwed this one up, period. It was not a borderline hit made during a hockey play. It was a player taking a deliberate cheap shot with his stick with an intent to seriously injure when his team was losing 4-0 with less than two minutes in the third period. I don't think I'm being a whiner to point out that it looked like Spurgeon was trying to do some serious damage to the ankle of a key Blues player. That wasn't a, "hey, smell my stinky glove." It was, "hey I'm going to try to snap your Achilles when I don't think anyone is looking." It was something you would see in a bad hockey movie. Prepare for a sequel. If the league does not police this stuff, players will.

And for the people pointing out that Buchnevich wasn’t hurt, so? If he had been hurt, would Spurgeon have been suspended? I bet so. 

Q: What did David Perron eat before Game 1? Holy smokes! 

A: Wheaties, I guess. He hits another level in the playoffs. Sure, he might make you pull some hair out with a pest-like penalty or two, but he's playing the long game, and crawling beneath opponents' skin, and oh yeah, he scored three goals. And an assist. Remember, the Blues didn't have Perron on board due to a quarantine when they were swept out of last season's playoffs. Perron could be the Blues' X-factor in this series against Wild goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. They were teammates in Las Vegas. They're still pals. But if anyone knows how to go at the future Hall of Famer, it's playoff-mode Perron.

Q: Where would the Cardinals be without Nolan Arenado?

A: Let's do some quick math.

Entering Tuesday's game, Nolan Arenado leads the Cardinals in hits (28), doubles (seven), home runs (six), RBIs (18) and walks (10).

Take his numbers out from the Cardinals team numbers in those categories, and here's how they would rank in MLB.

Hits: 142, 28th

Doubles: 25, 30th

Homers: 11, 29th

RBIs: 67, tied for 27th

Walks: 57, 28th

Of course, if the Cardinals did not have Arenado, they would have someone else playing third base, but I'm guessing that person would have a hard time beating what Nolan Areando just did to start the season, winning NL player of the month because of it.

So, be glad the Cardinals have Arenado.

And worry about what happens if he cools a bit without teammates finding their groove.

Q: Did the Blues hold back some of their physical play and shot-blocking buy-in during the regular season only to turn it on during the playoffs?

A: They showed some flashes during the season of being able to ratchet up the physicality, so we knew they had it in them. At least for spurts. But sure, that was a question — especially against the Wild. The Blues did a great job of being physical and not letting the Wild push them around. They were pretty good about not responding to some of the invitations to take preventable penalties but they'll need to stay on that. Proving their brand of high-flying, high-scoring hockey can be paired with the kind of defensive commitment and physicality the playoffs tend to require was a box they needed to check. They did that in Game 1. And Ville Husso cleared up some mistakes, too. This is a veteran, smart team. They know what they can get away with in the postseason and what has to change in the playoffs. They showed that in Game 1. Gotta keep it up, and it will get more physical moving forward. Always does.

Q: Can Mizzou secure the 7-foot-5 center from Western Kentucky in this wide-open NIL era? How can the Tigers compete in this landscape?

A: The player you mentioned is Jamarion Sharp, and I can pass along some tentative but good news.

There is optimism coming out of CoMo that he's going to be a Tiger.

As we have learned with the transfer portal, never count eggs before they hatch.

But the Tigers had been linked to the 7-foot-5 (yes, 7-foot-5) rim protector before he ever entered the portal. He played at John A Logan, the junior college new Tigers assistant Kyle Smithpeters worked at before joining Dennis Gates at Mizzou. Good connection to have.

The best way for Mizzou to compete in NIL era is to get more competitive NIL money.

That's really it.

The groups that have launched to help Mizzou are not moving as fast or as big as places like Tennessee and other SEC programs.

Q: Any thoughts on Baylor transfer QB Gerry Bohanon and how he could fit with Mizzou?

A: My SEC talent evaluation source (not at Mizzou) suggested Bohanon would be Mizzou's starter on day one if the Tigers can land him. Said he would "greatly" help Mizzou's QB situation. Considering this is the third transfer QB Eli Drinkwitz has welcomed to campus this offseason, it's pretty safe to assume the head coach is not feeling so great about the QB talent he has in hand outside of incoming freshman Sam Horn, who is a baseball draft risk. Bohanon was Baylor's full-time starter when healthy in 2021. That team won 10 games. One was a 14-point win against Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl. He can run and pass, which means he can stretch the pocket and do some of the things Connor Bazelak could not, and has some of the proven experience some of the other Mizzou in-house options do not. I like his game more than previous Mizzou target JT Daniels (West Virginia), especially for what Mizzou is trying to do in a Drinkwitz-coached offense.

Q: If you were the Cardinals, what would you do? Paul DeJong struggling. Nolan Gorman surging, but so is Tommy Edman. And just OK production at DH. What’s the answer?

A: I would have added a proven (and probably pricier) DH entering the season, or upgraded shortstop in a free-agent offseason that revolved around the position. One, or the other. This is not hindsight. The Cardinals had two pretty big what-ifs in their lineup — shortstop and DH — and they told DeJong he was their guy during the holidays and pledged prospects could fill the DH hole before switching gears late to platoon late adds Albert Pujols and Corey Dickerson. The DH production has been OK, not great, not bad, just OK. Cards rank 15th in MLB at DH OPS entering Tuesday’s game. The shortstop production has been abysmal. The Cardinals are second-to-last in MLB in SS OPS.

Now, what to do now?

The Cardinals don't seem eager to do anything quite yet. They are changing the public tone about DeJong, from believing he will produce, to saying now they need him to or will have to consider alternatives. If there's a team out there that thinks it can fix him, maybe there's a trade to be made that is similar to what the Brewers pulled off for Willy Adames last season? Gorman could help. He is forcing the issue with his power in Class AAA. I'm not quite buying the big fear the Cardinals seem to have about moving Tommy Edman off of second base, because they let Gorman shift to that position after trading for Arenado. They knew this was coming. It's also worth remembering that the Cardinals let a Gold Glove second baseman walk (Kolten Wong) not knowing that Tommy Edman would be as good as he has been there. With shifting and shading, there are ways that Edman could help Gorman out at second as the shortstop, and ways that Nolan Arenado could help Edman out at shortstop, and so on. I'm just hesitant to go all in on the idea that the Cardinals don't think they can move Edman off second, at least some of the time, if Gorman keeps popping homers in Memphis. Especially because Gorman could get work at DH too. A lot of work. The Cardinals are slugging .319 against right-handed pitching entering Tuesday’s game. While Corey Dickerson has done some good things, he is slugging — not averaging, slugging — .214 against right-handed pitching as of Tuesday morning. Gorman did not have a great spring and the Cardinals seem to be challenging him to prove it longer because of that, but he "kicks the door down" sooner rather than later if he keeps hitting like this. And I'm not saying he won't get up here and struggle. That has been his track record during his rise. Promotion. Struggle. Continued surge. I think the Cardinals want to avoid promoting him as the potential savior of the offense, but this is the situation they have created.

Q: Are you down on Nolan Gorman’s second-base defense? Seems like some are. Are you down on Tommy Edman’s arm at shortstop? Seems like some are.

A: I've watched Gorman play second base. For a guy who is still learning it on the fly, he’s gotten better fast. I’m not saying he’s a future Gold Glove winner there. And maybe he’s a designated hitter long term. No need to decide that now. He's 21, still adjusting to the new position. If Gorman is called up, I don't think he starts every day at second. But he's going to need to play the field some if the Cardinals care at all about continuing his development on defense, and I think they do. That complicates this somewhat, because of how little Edman has played shortstop in the majors, and how good he is at second base. Suddenly, there are these whispers about Edman's arm not being able to handle shortstop. I'd like to see him struggle there at the major league level before I buy that. He played shortstop at the minor league level quite a bit. Some, myself included, did not think Edman would fill Wong's defensive shoes at second, and he did that, and quickly too. I’m done assuming Edman can’t do things on defense. He’s proven me wrong before.

Q: What are you seeing going on with Paul DeJong? Matt Carpenter situation?

A: What has me stumped is DeJong looked like he had trended back in the right direction at spring.

Was hitting the ball hard, using all fields and seemed to have his mind in the right place.

Now he looks like the guy we watched last season.

At some point, it has to become a question of if he's better off somewhere else.

His slide has coincided with the Cardinals leaning more and more into the Jeff Albert hitting vision.

Albert was hired entering the 2019 season.

DeJong's OPS+ (league average is 100) by season . . . 

2019: 99

2020: 87

2021: 85

2022: 43 (58 at-bats)

Ultimately, it's on the player, not the coach. And DeJong has worked with outside hitting coaches, too. He had COVID and injuries and that clouded the picture and helped the Cardinals talk themselves into the idea of his rebound. There is time for him to right the ship, and the Cardinals want to give him some more, but it's about production now and so far it's not there. Something here is not working for him, it seems.

Again, as I've said before, the Carpenter-DeJong conversation doesn't make sense to me. Carpenter was past his prime age as a player and caught between being unable and incapable of adapting to the shift. A better comparison for Paul DeJong would be Aledmys Diaz, another All-Star Cardinals shortstop early in his career who could not follow up that success. He rebounded with the Astros, but not as an All-Star. This has become a big problem for the Cardinals in terms of hitters. Young guys come up, flash, then fade.

Q: Isn’t it time that the corner outfielders catch some heat along with struggling shortstop Paul DeJong?

A: Fair point.

The Cardinals entering Tuesday’s game have MLB's lowest left-field OPS (.514) and its fifth-lowest right-field OPS (.451).

Carlson could be due for a Memphis refresh cycle if he can’t climb out of his slide. Edman can handle leadoff, which helps things.

O’Neill is a bigger issue at the moment. There is no one else who projects well for the No. 3 spot in the order but him.

He has great real estate between Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, and he’s not delivering.

I’m curious to see if he goes on one of his surges after this arbitration hearing is over. That is scheduled for this week. He seems to me to be a guy who is putting a lot of pressure on himself this season, and maybe having that dealt with will release some.

What's confusing about O'Neill's struggle is that he's walking at a career-high rate (10.1 percent) and striking out a career-low percentage (25.8).

He's just not making as hard of contact has he did last season.

His hard-hit percentage (35.1) is down more than 15 percent from last season's season-long percentage.

He's barreling 8 percent fewer of the balls he hits.

He's pulling more and going to opposite field less often.

I think with O’Neill it's a combination of pressing, of perhaps expanding too much — not necessarily the strike zone but swinging at pitches he can't do as much damage with — and just the pressure of trying to replicate last season's impressive results.

And, sure, the contract situation weighs on that.

Q: Can we finally just admit this NIL stuff is not about business and players partnering and all about boosters throwing money at players?

A: It's both. Some of the deals are truly about pairing an athlete and a business for the purpose of a two-way business deal. A lot of the endorsements women's athletes have received fall into that category. Gymnasts partnering with a gymnastics brand, for example. And then there's the other end of the spectrum, where a booster who wants his team to play well at Miami is trying to shovel money to every scholarship football player, seeking nothing more than the wins and the recognition for helping provide it. Is that bad? Doesn't really matter. It is. Unless it's clawed back. It's not all that new, either. Boosters have been funneling money to recruits and players for a long time. Now it's just being discussed because it's happening under the NIL umbrella. Players have been getting paid for years and years and years, just under the table. So I tend to be a realist on this. At least now there's less of a chance of the money getting intercepted by someone who is not the player, which happened often in the past due to runners and rogue agents. Now athletes can negotiate for themselves, and have agents they picked. Is it amateurism? No. The NCAA doesn't want to enforce it, but its refusal to get out in front of the tectonic shift in sports led to this. It'll either find a balance, or collapse, but college sports and the fandom that fuels it is not going anywhere, whether the NCAA is around or not. And in some ways — like a fringe NBA player coming back for another college season — this could help the sport keep some of its talent around a little longer. I'll also add this: We have talked more about college sports in The Chat this year than any other year, probably. People are certainly interested.

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