Roughly 12 hours after the Ottawa Senators dropped a 5-2 decision to the Anaheim Ducks on March 10, the St. Louis Blues were in the same visitors locker room at the Honda Center for their morning skate.
Under normal circumstances, no big deal given the fact the Ducks were playing back-to-back home games. One team leaves, another comes in. But obviously, these are not normal times.
Some Blues player probably was sitting in the same locker stall as the Senators player who tested positive for the coronavirus — sitting there before and after the morning skate and before and after the Blues defeated the Ducks 4-2 that night (on March 11).
Other Blues players undoubtedly were in the same area, used the same sink or shower, etc.
That was the Blues’ last game before the NHL announced March 12 that it was “pausing” its season indefinitely because of the coronavirus pandemic. On the day of that announcement, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong communicated through the team’s leaders (captain and alternate captains) that the squad should lay low, stay at home and sit back for at least the next week or so until there was more clarity to the situation.
On Monday came more clarity, when the NHL issued a directive that all players should continue to exercise self-quarantine measures through at least March 27, but added that players were allowed to leave their club city and return home, effective immediately, even if “home” was outside North America.
All of this reached a heightened awareness when news broke late Tuesday night of an unnamed Ottawa player testing positive for the virus — the first known case of an NHL player testing positive.
One of the Ottawa Senators is St. Louisan Brady Tkachuk. Asked about Tkachuk’s health status Wednesday, his father Keith Tkachuk told the Post-Dispatch: “All good from his end, thanks.”
Similarly, Armstrong was asked about the health status of Blues players, coaches and staff in light of their possible exposure to the virus at Honda Center.
“Everyone with (us) is good,” Armstrong replied.
Bill Daly, deputy commissioner of the NHL, told the Post-Dispatch that he didn’t think the Blues were at greater risk even though their time in the Honda Center came so close to Ottawa’s stay.
“In light of a number of factors, including the relevant facts we know as it relates to the (Ottawa) player testing positive, the timelines involved, and the cleaning standards employed pursuant to existing league policies, we do not believe that anyone in the St. Louis Blues’ organization would have been exposed to any increased level of risk for infection as a result of the team’s game in Anaheim on March 11,” Daly said via email Wednesday.
The number of reported coronavirus cases in the United States approached 8,000 on Wednesday, with nearly 140 deaths.
The unnamed Senators player has experienced mild symptoms and is in isolation, according to the Ottawa Citizen. At this point, according to the NHL, the health recommendations are for only players who have experienced symptoms to undergo testing for the virus.
Other Senators and the Blues may not be out of the woods when it comes to possible infection because the time from exposure to experiencing symptoms — the incubation period — can be from two to 14 days.
As of Wednesday, it had been seven days since the Blues played in Anaheim.
Noteworthy here is the fact that Blues forward Robert Thomas has been staying at the Tkachuk household in St. Louis since he entered the NHL last season. But it’s not known if Thomas is still staying there or has headed back to his parents’ home in the Toronto area.
It’s also unclear whether Tkachuk has returned to St. Louis or is still in Ottawa.
The Western Hockey League and the Ontario Hockey League announced Wednesday they are canceling the rest of their regular seasons. Those leagues join the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in doing so, after all had announced earlier that they were merely suspending play.
All three of those junior leagues are leaving open the possibility of conducting playoffs at some point in the future. The Blues have prospects playing for teams in each of those leagues.
• Another Blues prospect, defenseman Scott Perunovich, has been named one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker award, which goes to college hockey’s best player. Perunovich, a second-round pick in 2018, No. 45 overall, plays for Minnesota-Duluth.
Blues Quick Hits
RAMP UP THE TALKS WITH PETRO?
QUESTION: With the halt of play in the NHL, will the Blues try to enter into serious negotiations with Petro's agent, or do you see him testing the free agent waters? Have to believe with the loss of revenue for all the NHL teams that money that was once on the table is gone now -- or is that not the case when it comes to top tier free agents?
JT: Not sure if the coronavirus "pause" will affect the salary cap. But I think you raise a good question. With no hockey until at least May, why not negotiate with Alex Pietrangelo now? I have no idea if this is taking place or even a possibility.
The Blues are a team built from the goaltender and D-corps out -- it's a big part of what makes them a top team. So I'd think you'd want Pietrangelo back.
Follow-up: How does the suspension of the NHL season impact next season's salary cap? How does this impact Petro's impending free agency?
JT: Good questions. I would assume the salary cap for 2020-21 is based on revenue projections. Even if the '19-20 season is shortened, resulting in less ticket revenue, does that affect the 2020-21 cap? Would TV revenue for the league change? (For example, would the network partners get some kind of refund based on lost telecasts this year?) I'm not sure.
As for Pietrangelo, as I mentioned earlier, why not negotiate now since we're in a delay period that won't end any time soon.
DOES SCANDELLA STAY OR GO?
QUESTION: Thumbs-up on the Blues' trade for Marco Scandella. Can the Blues and other teams negotiate contracts during this time? He stepped right in and did the same job JayBo was doing. He's a good fit and deserves a good contract from the Blues.
JT: I believe teams are allowed to negotiate with their own players at this time. (But not players from other teams.) It's been a small sample size — 11 games — but it does seem to have been a seamless transition for him.
But I think the only way that a Scandella contract becomes a possibility is if Petro is gone. If that's the case, Petro gone/Scandella stays, you're down to three D-men with pretty good offensive skills (Dunn, Parayko, Faulk) instead of four. And any Scandella contract would have to be for a much more reasonable number than Petro will command.
NO HARD FEELINGS FOR PERRON?
QUESTION: In the Vegas expansion draft, the Blues left DP57 exposed and the Knights claimed him. In stories I read later, I got the impression David was somewhat hurt by the Blues leaving him out, and I was surprised when he was willing to return. Have you talked to Perron about that situation? Any thoughts if the Blues do it to him again next year?
JT: Since his return to the Blues, I can't recall Perron saying much if anything about being placed on the expansion list. I do remember him talking about how excited he was to be back with St. Louis and going on and on about how fond he was of the city and its fans.
A lot can happen between now and the end of next season, but I sure can't see any scenario where the Blues would expose Perron to the Seattle draft. Not with the career renaissance he is currently experiencing.
Here's an interview I did with Perron from last season — right before his concussion — in which he talked honestly about how he and Berube got on the same page once Berube took over:
AND THE 2020 CHAMPION IS . . . ?
QUESTION: So, the Blues will be defending Stanley Cup Champions two years in a row?
JT: I guess you can say that's the case if the season is totally cancelled. Then again, under that scenario, the NHL could award it to Boston, since the Bruins have the most points.
Follow-up: Would the NHL just award it out without the playoffs?
JT: That's a good question. For now, the NHL has maintained that it plans to award the Cup, and is willing to push back the season/playoffs as far as possible without jeopardizing its ability to play a full 2020-21 situation. Obviously this is a fluid and rapidly-changing situation. A "new normal" as Doug Armstrong has referred to it, has yet to be totally established.
HOW LATE IS TOO LATE TO START A SEASON?
QUESTION: If play does not resume before June 1, shouldn't the remainder of the season be cancelled? Would hate to see that happen, but would hate it more to see players get injured because they are not in game shape.
JT: According to Frank Seravalli of Canada's TSN, several of the league's top players (Seravalli did not name names) have suggested a plan where the league starts up in August, completes its playoffs by the end of the September, takes October off and then begin the 2020-21 season in November and plays a full (albeit condensed) schedule.
Follow-up: Is there a point where even if the NHL can schedule its playoffs to end before August, that the quality of the product on the ice and logistics that it will take to maintain acceptable ice surfaces just becomes too prohibitive to make holding a postseason tournament viable?
JT: It sounds like less-than-ideal ice conditions is a risk the league is willing to take, based on the reports that some players would be willing to start the season in August. About half of the teams that would currently be in the playoff field, play in places that could be hot that time of year: Carolina, Tampa Bay, Washington, Dallas, Las Vegas, Nashville and St. Louis.
BUT ... PLAYER CONTRACTS EXPIRE IN JULY
QUESTION: If players contracts expire in July, how can you extend the season beyond that?
JT: I'm sure the NHLPA would sign off on an extension that would set back the contract expiration date to some point after the conclusion of play.
Say the Stanley Cup Final ended in late September, and there was no hockey in October, and a resumption of play in November. You could have the NHL draft, say, the first week of October and free agency starting the second week of October. The only thing that might be complicated is restricted free agency, since that's usually a longer process.
WOULD SHORTER PLAYOFF SERIES HURT THE BLUES?
QUESTION: The Blues won the Cup last year by wearing teams down over a long series. If the playoffs move to a best-of-5 format, wouldn't that negatively impact a team that needs to play a heavy game to win? Teams like Colorado, Tampa or Toronto that have an excess of offensive talent could easily play their top line 25 minutes a game to see if they can't out-skill the competition.
JT: I think there's some truth to what you're saying. Another factor that should be considered — and Jeff Gordon and I talked about this on our Net Front Presence podcast which we recorded Wednesday — the Blues' physical, checking, grinding style isn't the easiest style to play. It seemed to me that it took the Blues several games into the regular season to get into their style this season, even with training camp and the preseason games.
So if there are no regular-season games prior to any re-start of the season, and we go straight to playoff games, I think the Blues would be at a disadvantage as compared to a team that relies more on just skating and skill. By the time they got worked into their style of play in a series, the series might be over. At least that's my theory (and Jeff's) as a possibility.
STEEN STILL HERE NEXT SEASON?
QUESTION: What becomes of Alexander Steen after this season? I never really appreciated him until he became that fourth-line warrior last year.
JT: Steen remains a valuable third/fourth-line player. It's just that third- and fourth-liners usually don't make $5.75 million a year. And as you know, the Blues are very tight against the cap for the 2020-21 season.
The problem is, unless you trade Steen you're "stuck" with Steen's cap money whether he's playing for you or not. And at this point in his distinguished career, he probably doesn't have much trade value. His contract expires after the 2020-21 season.
REFLECTING ON THE WHITE HOUSE VISIT
QUESTION: We're in a lull, so I'm looking back: Did any players or Blues officials privately express a reluctance to go to the White House? It seems like hockey players are big into "We do everything as a team," a stance I respect even when I don't agree with it. Did you hear from anyone who said, "Man, I really wish I didn't have to go?"
JT: One of the things that helped the Blues win the Cup was the "team" unity and unselfish "team" attitude. I think the prevailing opinion, which came from the highest levels of the organization down, was that we're doing this out of respect for the office of the president, regardless of how any of us may feel about the current occupant of the White House.
Another thing to point out, the Blues I believe had only two U.S. players visit the White House (MacEachern and Sanford). Faulk did not attend -- he told me he went out for a long, late lunch instead. (Remember, though, he did not attend any of the Blues' post-Cup ceremonies, etc., because he was not on that team.)
So it's safe to assume that most if not all the Canadians, Swedes and Russians on the team were not engaged or invested in U.S. politics. I had no one on the team tell me they had a problem with the visit.
LESS INTEREST IN HOCKEY WHEN IT RETURNS?
QUESTION: When sports leagues resume play, do you think there will be less public interest because people have gotten out of the habit of watching games? Or will there be more because people will be hungry for entertainment?
JT: In a great hockey market like St. Louis, I would say the interest would be increased. And why wouldn't it be, with the team in prime contention for another Cup? And I think in general this might be the case, because this isn't a situation where there was a strike or lockout and fans were angry at greedy owners or greedy players.
This is simply, as the late-great Post-Dispatch baseball writer Neal Russo used to say in trying times, a situation where it was "AOG" — act of God.
HOCKEY CANCELED WORLDWIDE?
QUESTION: Have leagues in Russia, Sweden, etc., cancelled their seasons, too?
JT: All either postponed indefinitely or cancelled altogether. Doug Armstrong told me last week that all his scouts, etc., are at home because "there's nothing to watch." The Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) — which consists mainly, but not exclusively, of teams from Russia — was the last biggie to follow suit.
The KHL, which is in its postseason already (it starts and ends earlier than the NHL) announced Tuesday that it is postponing play until at least April 10.
MUSICAL CHAIRS IN THE AHL
QUESTION: Will all the players that were on the San Antonio Rampage now report to the Blues' new Springfield club? Would the Blues absorb any or all of those players?
JT: Yes, the Springfield (Mass.) Thunderbirds had been an affiliate of the Florida Panthers for four seasons. But Florida is changing affiliates next season, going to Chicago (the Wolves). The Wolves franchise became open when the Vegas Golden Knights pulled out (buying the San Antonio franchise and deciding to place it in the Las Vegas area). So you see, there's been a bit of AHL musical chairs here.
So the Florida players at Springfield that are still under contract by the Panthers would now play for the Chicago Wolves. Similarly the San Antonio players under contract with the Blues would play for Springfield next season.
QUESTION: What is the deal with Scott Perunovich?
JT: Per league rules, he is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent since it's been two seasons since he was drafted by the Blues and he has yet to sign a contract. (Perunovich was described by Gordo in Wednesday's Post-Dispatch as an "undersized but instinctive defender" at Minnesota-Duluth who, in terms of potential, reminded Gordo of Colorado's Samuel Girard. Perunovich also was just named one of 10 finalists for college hockey's Hobey Baker Award.)
I have no idea whether he's still leaning towards the Blues or wants to explore the market.
JT'S BET ON WHEN (IF?) THE SEASON WILL RESTART
To one final question about a resumption of the NHL season, Jim Thomas replied:
Until there is some concrete sign that the virus is slowing down — and a resumption doesn't seem anywhere on the horizon at this point — it's hard to speculate on when or whether this hockey season actually gets finished.
If I were a betting man, I'd have to say that this hockey season is over.
But again, it's a fast-moving landscape. That Blues game in Anaheim last Wednesday seems like it was a month ago.