During his weekly chat, Tom Timmerman pondered the mysteries of goalie performance, the possibility of placing Tarasenko on long-term injured reserve, and why Dunn hasn't been signed.
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?
Who will be backup?
Q: Are the Blues content to let Ville Husso take the backup role, or is the front office looking for a cheap Chad Johnson-style pickup instead?
A: 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 him play several really good games, games that got everyone pretty excited. The Blues would have loved to have seen him get into a few NHL games last season, but Jordan Binnington and Jake 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 comes 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.
Why the delay?
Q: Why the delay in signing Vince Dunn?
A: 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.) Ivan Barbashev signed pretty close to the start of the season last year. It's a pretty similar situation. If Dunn were having an arbitration hearing this week, that probably would have spurred things along. Right now, there's no deadline, so no rush.
About those upgrades ...
Q: 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?
A: 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 are the plans?
Q: What're the plans for Scott Perunovich for next season?
A: 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, 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.
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.
Q: With it being a shortened season and Vladimir Tarasenko having to have surgery again, I would not be shocked if the Blues keep him in long-term injured reserve this season in order to get him ready to play next season. It would be a win-win: Blues get the cap and give “Tank” the opportunity to heal fully and prolong his career.
A: It would be very, very, very tough to tell a healthy 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 a 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.
Q: 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.
A: 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. 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.
How will Binnington return?
Q: 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.
A: My gut, and experience, tells me 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, 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 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. If he doesn't, he'll have two out of three not-quite-so-good seasons. He 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.
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