Rounding up the hot topics from hockey writer Tom Timmermann's chat with Blues fans.
HITTING THE RESTART BUTTON
QUESTION: Sounds like that MLB relaunch is imploding. What are the percentage chances that the NHL can pull this off and restart?
TOM T.: If they can survive the next two weeks, they'll be in good shape. I think once they get to Edmonton or Toronto, chances go way up. But we're going to see positive tests in the week ahead around the league. That's to be expected as everyone gets tested. How well everything can get under control will be the test. And avoiding testing debacles like baseball had this weekend.
Right now, baseball's problem seems to be logistics as much as anything on the tests.
QUESTION: What's the deal with the infected Blues and their carousing in Clayton? Got any scoops on that? Will the team crack down on those involved?
TOM T.: Nothing that hasn't already been reported. One thing about this kind of thing is that it's kind of self-policing. Once one person tests positive, a whole lot of people get religion very fast.
Sammy Blais was talking Tuesday about how it's up to everyone to stay away from crowds over the next couple weeks before disappearing into the bubble.
But I'm sure it's a message that will be enforced strongly when official team meetings start on Monday.
SOLVING THE PETRO PUZZLE (CONTINUED)
QUESTION: Does it make more sense for "Army" to clear cap space before signing Pietrangelo, or after? He loses leverage waiting until after — other GMs know he has to get cap compliant vs. trying to free up cap space. Or does it not matter, because GMs know what he's trying to do either way, and the difference for someone to take a Steen or Allen contract in either scenario is negligible.
TOM T.: Consider two scenarios:
1. You sign Alex Pietrangelo, then trade two players, say Jake Allen and Jaden Schwartz, to get under the cap, potentially not getting as much in return.
2. You trade two players, say Jake Allen and Jaden Schwartz, to clear room under the cap (because everyone knows you want to sign Pietrangelo), then fail to sign Pietrangelo.
Which do you like less?
If at least one big-ticket player has to be traded to accommodate Pietrangelo's contract, seems to me you're better off waiting until after you sign him so you know you have to make that deal.
Once free agency starts, Pietrangelo is going to sign within the first hour, so you would have to have that deal already in place. Of course, if you create that space and Pietrangelo takes another offer, then you do have the flexibility to jump into the market yourself.
And I'm not sure what teams are lining up to acquire Steen. I think the Blues value him more than any other team does. Which is not to say they're making some kind of mistake. They know the value of him in the room and around the team better than anyone else.
Follow-up: Any chance Petro would or could sign a short-term deal?
TOM T.: A short-term deal, for one or two years, is possible, especially if he decided to stay in St. Louis. But the league's financial situation figures to last for a couple seasons, at best, so the picture might not be any better then, and he'll be one or two years older. But if someone offered him a competitive long-term contract, he would take it.
IN DEFENSE OF FAULK
COMMENT: I might be one of the few Faulk supporters — he was not given a clear role so his play suffered. Assuming Petro is gone, Faulk can assume a role as a top-pair player and make the transition less painful. The Blues can send out these pairings: Gunny/Faulk, Scandella/Parayko, and Dunn/Bortz. Perunovich and Mikkola are next in line, with Walman making a case to be in the mix.
TOM T.: Yes you are, though there may be a few more Faulk supporters than you think.
The Blues certainly had trouble finding a regular role for Faulk, and that's something players realize. Even from the time of the trade, it was hard to see just where he would fit in, and Berube and Van Ryn still haven't figured that out. Finding a place for him and keeping him there, as well as getting him back on the power play, would likely help his confidence, which would help his game, which would help the Blues.
Another issue out there is whether it's time for Parayko to move into the top pairing.
To follow-up comments about the wisdom of acquiring Faulk in the first place and extending his contract, Tom T. replied:
Faulk wasn't necessarily insurance as much as he was a message from Doug Armstrong to Pietrangelo's camp: we'll be fine if you go. It gave the Blues some leverage. Now, it was a pretty expensive way to do it, but Faulk is still a pretty good player, and there's ample reason to expect him to return to that level. It's not like they gave that money to Robert Bortuzzo or Carl Gunnarsson.
TRADE SCHWARTZ FOR CAP RELIEF?
To a long-winded comment/question about Jaden Schwartz's injury history and the possibility of trading him, Tom T. replied:
You would get more in a trade for Schwartz after this season, when he has a full year to go on his contract, rather than waiting for the trade deadline before his contract runs out, so that's a strong case for a trade this offseason.
It all hinges on the Pietrangelo situation. If they sign him, Schwartz becomes a trade candidate unless the Blues can find takers for other players with expiring contracts. If Pietrangelo doesn't sign and the Blues feel they're set on the blueline, they can probably handle whatever raise Schwartz figures to get. (The other factor, I suppose, would be if Seattle takes Faulk in the expansion draft. That would free up more money.)
I think the main issue on keeping Schwartz would be signability. The Blues would like to see him stay healthy, but other than that, they like very much what he brings to the team.
WHAT IF BERUBE HAS TO MISS A GAME?
QUESTION: If Craig Berube had to miss a game or more, who would step up and be acting head coach?
TOM T.: Mike Van Ryn would continue to call the defensive pairings and Steve Ott would start to call the offense. After that, in-game, I imagine Ott would be delegated to shout at the referees because he does that very well. Don't know if they would have to name him acting head coach to do that. That would probably be about it. I would expect Marc Savard to stay upstairs.
WHAT WOULD BE A GOOD RETURN FOR JAKE ALLEN?
QUESTION: What's a good return for Jake Allen? Should the Blues be looking for a guy who is one year away from making the NHL, to let some players get off the books?
TOM T.: I don't know that the Blues need a big return on Allen. They certainly won't want a sizable contract back, because that would defeat the purpose of trading him. If you got a prospect on an entry-level deal and a draft pick, that would be good.
How high a pick, I don't know, The Blues are running low on forward depth in their system.
Follow-up: Do you think that Allen is capable of carrying a team to a championship?
TOM T.: I do. If something had happened to Binnington this season, or if it still happens to Binnington in the postseason, Allen could get the Blues to the Cup.
QUESTION: Have you spoken with players on how they'll be voting on the CBA and the return-to-play plan? Do you get a sense that it'll pass?
TOM T.: I haven't spoken to anyone, but I expect it to pass. There will be some players who might be strongly against it, but I think the majority want to get back to playing. If there are objections, it would be over the return-to-play protocols, but again, I think more players are willing to take that chance.
Follow-up: So was there no mention in the new agreement about allowing teams to buy out a contract without it hitting the cap? Teams were making deals under the assumption of a big cap increase for next season.
TOM T.: Such is life. I think the players association wanted to protect the size of the cap, so whatever it took to get the league to stay at $81.5 million, rather than having it come down, is what they wanted. It maximizes the amount of money paid out to the players.
QUESTION: Do you have any favorite moments from last season's championship run?
TOM T.: In many ways, the whole thing is kind of a blur. Carl Gunnarsson's goal at Boston certainly changed the series. Schwartz vs. Winnipeg was dazzling to see. The victory parade was an unmatched sight. And being down on the ice with the players after the win and being able to see all that joy up close was something to savor.
I've been in several baseball clubhouses after the World Series and there's lots of hooting and champagne, but the extended happiness of a Stanley Cup celebration, with out the stinging in your eyes, is wonderful to behold.
ZOOMING IN ON A STORY
QUESTION: What are your feelings about having to cover the team using virtual interviews?
TOM T.: I don't like them, but don't see much of an alternative.
What really hurts is that there's no way to do a virtual casual chat with someone. Sometimes you go into the Blues dressing room, wander up to someone sitting around, start a conversation and learn something. That won't happen. Virtual interviews become very un-natural and much more formal. But that's life right now.