During his weekly chat, Jim Thomas also answers questions about Alexander Steen's future, the goalie situation and his own transition to the NHL.
CAN TARASENKO 'SHOULDER' THE LOAD?
QUESTION: Is it time to examine the logic of holding fast to (Vladimir) Tarasenko with chronic shoulder issues? With the salary cap what it is and the long-range benefit of freeing up some serious cash and the risky business of hoping he regains his old form, might it be time to move on?
JT: I think you have to at least give Tarasenko this season to see how he comes out of this latest surgery. But what was once unthinkable may be in the back of (GM Doug) Armstrong's mind. Worst-case scenario though. If Tarasenko has more shoulder issues, his trade value would seem to be very limited. So would you consider putting him on the expansion list next offseason?
WHAT WILL THE NHL BUBBLE BE LIKE?
QUESTION: Your thoughts on the NHL bubble concept and what it might look like?
JT: It will be interesting to see what they come up with. I have a hard time seeing any U.S. teams playing in Canada as long as COVID is raging out of control. The Canadians don't want us crossing their border, or their teams going back and forth. The thing that worries me about realigned divisions is that the Blues could end up out West with San Jose, LA Kings, Anaheim, Colorado, Vegas (and, I presume Dallas). That would mean more time on a plane, which I would think increases the chances of an outbreak. I think four bubbles is the way the league would go -- at least that looks like the direction right now. And there's a chance the teams only play the teams in their bubble. For an eight-team bubble that could be a 56-game schedule, playing each other seven times. For the one seven-team bubble, maybe it's 54 games -- you play the other six teams nine times.
ANOTHER TOUGH LOSS FOR JADEN SCHWARTZ
QUESTION: How is Jaden Schwartz holding up after his father's sudden passing? He has been through a lot with his family.
JT: Obviously a tough time. I think his dad was only 59. Armstrong said on NHL Network that Brayden Schenn has headed to Saskatoon to be with Jaden and the family. Other Blues are heading there as well, although COVID makes travel difficult, especially across international borders. Apparently, Alexander Steen helped arrange transportation home for Schwartz's brother, who has been playing in Germany.
(Read about the tribute to Schwartz's late sister, Mandi Schwartz, who died of leukemia.)
ARE WE WORRYING TOO MUCH ABOUT BINNINGTON?
QUESTION: The concerns about Jordan Binnington might be premature. We all need to remember that before the shutdown in March, he was having a pretty solid season. Yes, he was awful in the bubble, but so was the rest of the team. Terrible play from the skaters can go a long way toward making a goalie look bad. I'm optimistic he will be fine. Not so sure on Ville Husso, though.
JT: I have no argument with your take. As bad as Binnington was in Edmonton, it was only a handful of games. It was under totally strange circumstances, and you're right, he got less than stellar support around him. I also think that Binnington will bounce back. Even so, I still think the overall goaltending situation (with no Jake Allen) probably rates as the team's top question mark entering the season.
QUESTION: Do you anticipate Kyle Clifford is a regular on the fourth line while Steen is out, or do you see that as a spot that's open for competition? I'd like to see Klim Kostin get a fair shot on the line with (Oskar) Sundquist and (Ivan) Barbashev. Do (Craig) Berube and Armstrong see that as a potential spot for Kostin or are they looking at him as a top-nine or bust guy?
JT: I think Kostin will have a tough time making the opening-day roster, barring injury. He needs a very good camp, and chances are it could be a shorter camp than usual, meaning fewer opportunities to impress the brass. I do think Clifford opens on the fourth line with Barbashev and Sundqvist.
READ THE TEA LEAVES ON STEEN'S FUTURE...
QUESTION: Has Armstrong make any reference that retirement is on the table, or is (Alexander) Steen adamant about coming back for one more season?
JT: Armstrong has not mentioned retirement. The last time I broached the subject with Steen was right before he reached his 1,000-game milestone in February. At that time he said he wanted to keep playing beyond the 2019-20 season. I have no idea of anything that happened since then that may have changed his mind.
COULD COLTON BE A CAPTAIN?
QUESTION: I'm curious what Colton Parayko's next deal might look like. He'll be 29 at the end of it and will most likely be the Blues’ No. 1 defenseman at the time. That's one year younger than Alex Pietrangelo when he left. What do you think the Blues do there?
JT: Keep in mind, Parayko has not made an All-Star Game. Has not worn a "C," although I wouldn't be surprised if he wears an "A" this coming season. The NHL,I think, won't quite be back from its COVID-related financial woes. So I'm going to say $7 million annually for six years, maybe seven years. (Parayko currently is making $5.5M.)
CAN A WRITER COVER A TEAM WELL WITHOUT LIKING THE SPORT?
QUESTION: Were you a hockey fan before taking on the Blues job? If not, are you a hockey fan now? I know professionalism keeps a writer from being a fan of the team he or she covers, but how about the sport at large? Do you think a writer can cover a team effectively if he or she really does not like the sport it plays?
JT: I was a teenager when the Blues came on the scene in the late '60s and took the town by storm, going to the Cup Final in each of the first three years of existence. We all played street hockey back then. A little later, I can remember waiting with friends outside of the Arena after a game to see Garry Unger come out of the players exit, long hair flowing, a beautiful blonde on his arm (which he told me several months ago was his future wife), and drive off in a sports car. Just like you'd imagine it, right? I can remember going to the 1980-81 playoff series and watching Mike Liut and the Blues take on the Rangers.
But then I get married, have kids, get into sportswriting with the Post-Dispatch, covering preps, Mizzou, and then the NFL. When you're covering a beat, it's all-encompassing so didn't pay all that much attention to the Blues for years. And then suddenly I find myself on the Blues beat, very late in my career. You immerse yourself in the beat, a steep learning curve. But the sport is fast, exciting, and you end up covering a Stanley Cup champ. All those hours and travel aside, how can that not be fun?
I've always enjoyed my work. And you can't be a fan. Sure, it was more fun to be around the "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams than the outfit that went 15-65 from 2007 thru 2011, but you have to put any "fan" feelings aside at the door. Objectivity is a cornerstone of our business.