As this abbreviated NHL season nears the halfway point, the Blues are still hanging tough despite suffering a slew of long-term injuries.
Meanwhile the pressure is mounting on several sputtering teams elsewhere in the league.
The Montreal Canadiens head that list. They had great hopes for this season in the (Great White) North Division. After starting the season 7-1-2, they have gone 3-4-4 to fall into fourth place.
General manager Marc Bergevin, a yesteryear Blues defenseman, fired coach Claude Julien and promoted Dominique Ducharme. Although Ducharme was being groomed as a long-term candidate for this job, plugging him in during the season is not ideal.
Also cashiered was Kirk Muller, a former Blues assistant coach, and long-time goaltending coach Stephane Waite. Bergevin turned to former NHL goaltender Sean Burke to replace him.
This was a curious move for Burke, who seemed destined for a GM role somewhere in the league. He previously rose to the assistant GM level with the Arizona Coyotes.
Now Burke’s job is to get Carey Price (6-4-1, 2.96 goals-against average, .893 save percentage) back on track. Former Blues goaltender Jake Allen (4-2-2, 2.12, .929) has outplayed Price by a lot while bolstering his case for a starting role elsewhere next season.
The Columbus Blue Jackets lost five straight games to fall below .500. Before they snapped that streak by beating the woeful Detroit Red Wings, coach John Tortorella got a vote of confidence from general manager Jarmo Kekalainen.
“We owe him a lot for what he’s done for this franchise,” said Kekalainen, the former Blues draft czar. “I don't believe in quick fixes — that you all of a sudden blow up something that you've been building for a while. I have full confidence we’re going to snap out of this.”
But that team is in disarray. Cornerstone center Pierre-Luc Dubois wanted out, which precipitated his trade to Winninpeg for Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic. Now the Blue Jackets are in the market for a center.
Defenseman David Savard is a pending unrestricted free agent. The absence of an extension for him suggests he could get moved in a rental trade.
The Buffalo Sabres are an utter catastrophe, but that’s nothing new. They are 2-7-1 in their last 10 games. Star center Jack Eichel appeared to be at loggerheads with coach Ralph Krueger.
Did he have a nagging injury? Did he not? These two gave different indications. After scoring at a 94-point pace last season, Eichel has two goals and 13 assists in 18 games this season. Cue the Eichel trade rumors.
Winger Taylor Hall signed a one-year contract for $8 million for this season, hoping to drive up his value for a bigger deal. He has not scored in 18 games, so that turned out to be a massive miscalucation. Kyle Okposo, who carries a $6 million cap hit, has scored zero goals.
Krueger scratched winger Jeff Skinner for three games, which is a big deal since Skinner is under contract until 2027 with a $9 million salary cap hit. Skinner scored 40 goals in 2018-19 and he pumped 235 or more shots on goal from 2013-19.
But Skinner scored just 14 goals last season and he has zero in 17 games this season. Yikes!
Stork-like winger Tage Thompson was a key piece for the Sabres in the Ryan O’Reilly trade. But has made the lineup just nine times this season and he has produced just assist.
Two other former Blues from that deal, Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka, are playing in Europe. Both were terrible in their stints in Buffalo. That wasn't the worst trade in NHL history from the Sabres' side, but it merits consideration for that honor.
Former Blues goaltender Carter Hutton is manning the nets in Buffalo with Linus Ullmark on the injured list. Hutton is 1-6-1 with a 3.18 GAA this season.
Rookie Sabres GM Kevyn Adams inherited a dumpster fire that is not raging out of control. The smell of flaming garbage hangs over upstate New York.
“I’m very embarrassed. This is not acceptable. This sucks. It’s the worst,” Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin said Sunday. “We will keep losing if no one is competing. We need to do all the gritty stuff. Hit someone. A fight. I don’t know. But the team we have right now should not be losing like we are right now.”
The Nashville Predators are 5-1 against the Blue Jackets this season and 5-11 against everybody else. This has ownership feeling restless. Injuries to defenseman Ryan Ellis and forward Luke Kunin added to management’s discomfort.
Ryan Johansen hit the COVID-19 protocol list and goaltender Juuse Saros got his bell rung by Hurricanes forward Nino Niederreiter. It’s raining misfortunate in Smashville.
GM-For-Life David Poile seems ready to make changes. Defenseman Mattias Ekholm and winger Mikael Granlund are potentially two pretty good trade pieces if the Preds decided to retool.
“We’ve been a good team the past two years, but not as good as we were at our peak, so there’s a little bit of decline,” Poile said in a radio interview. “Obviously the start of the season, we were perfect fodder for any conversation as to trades and a rebuild, and that’s going to continue until we either climb higher in the standings, or we actually make a trade.
“I think this next stretch of games playing against Carolina, Florida and Tampa Bay really going to show us whether we’re one of the top teams in our division, whether we’re a playoff team or possibly that we’re not.”
The Calgary Flames are 2-5-1 in their last eight games. They just lost two of three games to the rebuilding Ottawa Senators. Goaltender Jacob Markstrom has been “day-to-day” with an upper-body injury that is threatening to drag on for weeks.
“We’ve got to come up with the solutions ourselves,” Flames coach Geoff Ward said. “As a team, we’ve got to be more committed to playing the game the right way. We’ve got to make sure we don’t let things compound. When something happens that’s not the way we want it to be we can’t fall back — we have to get a push in the right direction. Right now, when things are rolling the way they are for us, I think the confidence gets a little fragile and things start to compound, and we’ve got to find a way to make it turn the corner the other way.”
The Anaheim Ducks are also mess. Their rebuild is taking too long, due to the failure of various young players to take the Next Step in their careers. Maybe top prospect Trevor Zegras will change that because he looks legit.
It may be time to shuffle off more veterans. The Ducks put center Adam Henrique on waivers but nobody claimed him. They has been talk of sending Danton Heinen to Vancouver for Jake Virtanen, but that trade hasn’t come to fruition.