QUESTION: Would the Blues have room for Maroon after Edmundson, Sundqvist, and Barbashev were signed?
TOM T.: Room, yes, but I don't know if he fits in the team's plans. The Blues have younger forwards they want to get playing time, and if they re-sign Maroon, in addition to whatever he makes, he gets in the way of other's chances to play. They've got to open some room for players like Kyrou.
Follow-up: I'd rather have Maroon back than Edmundson. I know we need to get young guys in but let's win now while we still can.
TOM T.: I don't know that Maroon is the difference between winning the Cup and not winning the Cup. And it's apparently not as though other teams are breaking the bank to sign Maroon as the answer to what they're lacking. It's Maroon's bad luck that he's at an age where NHL teams routinely look to save money by using their young guys.
The Blues' window is more than just next season, and I think for the remaining seasons of that window, they're better off with Edmundson. (Not that Edmundson/Maroon is the binary exchange.) And as for young guys like Kyrou, they still need to prove themselves and while I generally side with experience over potential, you're talking about multiple candidates the Blues have to fill that hole.
Follow-up: Over unders — Barbashev at $1.5 million, Sundqvist at $2.5M, Edmundson at $3M?
TOM T.: Those seem pretty close to what I would think. Edmundson could go a little higher, but not much. He'll be an interesting negotiation; he's shown how good he can be, but by his own admission, he didn't have a great year.
Seems like the Blues are unlikely to invest in a really long-term deal for him, but he can be an integral part of their unit going forward, especially with players like Gunnarsson and Bouwmeester aging out. I think you're better off investing in him right now than betting on Mikkola.
QUESTION: Odds today of Petro (above left) and Schenn (above right) wearing the Blue Note in Oct. 2020? Less than a coin flip on both.
TOM T.: I think it's better than a coin flip on both. They're two key elements of the team and the Blues have a strong incentive to keep them around. The challenge will be if other teams make them bigger offers, which could happen with Schenn, because he's a couple years younger. Which would be an incentive for Armstrong to try to wrap them up before they go on the market.
And Pietrangelo isn't easily replaced, which will make the Blues want to keep him even more. Neither are at a point in their career like Backes was.
Follow-up: What could the Blues get in a trade for Schenn if they aren't likely to sign him?
TOM T.: Not as much as they could have gotten earlier. He'd be a rental this season for someone, so you're not talking getting appreciable talent in return. And if the Blues can't sign him, it's better for them to look at him as a rental and hang on to him. But I think they'll do as much as they can to re-sign him.
QUESTION: Doesn't camp start in a month? Will the Blues be rested physically and mentally for this? And sober? Seems ripe for a slow start.
TOM T.: Training camp should open around Sept. 13, so you're talking seven or eight weeks. (The Blues first preseason game is Sept. 16, and camp usually starts three days or so before the first game.)
Sober yes, but common sense says it's tough to come back after that long a season and that many games. Other teams have had two months more to get rested and, in the case of players who had offseason surgery, that surgery didn't happen until mid-June rather than early April, so you may not be fully recovered by then.
I talked to Ryan O'Reilly a couple weeks after the season ended and he said he was still getting up in the morning thinking, what do I have to do? Where do I have to be? When's the next game? So unwinding from that season will take some time too. Add to that the inevitable distractions that will be in camp and a slow start seems reasonable. Just don't expect the Blues to fire the coach this time.
QUESTION: How does the team go about improving the power play?
TOM T.: I was listening to NHL radio on Sirius one day during the playoffs, and they were talking about the players on the Blues' first power-play unit and couldn't understand why some of the team's best players weren't on it. The answer, for those of us who watched the team all season long, was they had those guys on it and it didn't work, so Berube was trying anyone he could.
It's clearly not a personnel issue, because they've got guys who do great five-on-five and then do nothing at five-on-four. It needs to be a mental adjustment. Move the puck more quickly. Take shots more quickly. Try a one-timer for a change. The Blues love to work the puck around the perimeter waiting for, uh, someone to trip? Two players to bump into each other? I would love to see how the Blues' number of one-timers compared to the rest of the league.
Maybe it just seems low to us since we see it and don't see every other team's power play all the time. Win the faceoff, get set up, and then shoot!
Follow-up: Growing up watching Hull, then Big Al and Pronger scoring so many one-timers -- it is frustrating to watch the power play. Blues should look to have defensemen on their opposite side to create room for the one-timers, like Gunnarsson's game-winner in Game 2.
TOM T.: Parayko (above) seemed to get better at it as the postseason went on, and you can't take a one-timer every time (unless you're getting really good passes), but the Blues seemed to have everyone getting the puck on the wrong side. And, as Gunnarsson showed, a one-timer doesn't have to be 90 mph. If you're getting the shot off quickly, a slower speed can work just as well if the goalie isn't in position yet.
QUESTION: Anything about the Binnington contract surprise you? Money/term? Couldn't help but notice the contract comes in just above Allen the next two years.
TOM T.: Not really. The Blues didn't want to go long-term because of the uncertainty on what Binnington will do in the future. So two years made sense for them. For Binnington, a short-term deal works for him as long as he plays well and can cash in big. Armstrong said that both sides settled on two years fairly quickly.
This first season is the key one for Binnington. If he does great, the Blues will look to extend him and lock him up long term, and he'll be able to ask for big money or go on the market. If he isn't lights-out and is just another guy, he won't get the playing time and won't get the big money. The jackpot awaits if you're Goalie No. 1, not if you're goalie 1A. So he'll need to continue to set himself apart next season.
As for the dollars, common sense, and justice, said he had to make more than Allen, and he does, by $50,000 a year.
QUESTION: Did you see the "Hey you kids, get off my lawn" rant by THN's Ken Campbell about Fabbri letting his dog eat out of the Cup? As if far, far more perverse things haven't happened with it.
TOM T.: I don't want to explore the more perverse things that have gone on, but yeah, having your dog eat from it has got to be not at the bottom of things that have gone on with the Cup. I would let my dog eat out of it. I would also put my baby -- if I had one -- in it.
Follow-up: Wow, has Robby Fabbri been taking it in the media concerning his handling, or mishandling, of Lord Stanley's hardware. The Hockey News thinks other players may take offense to his lack of respect to the Cup. What's your take, much ado about nothing, or should Robby look out for a slap shot to the general direction of his cup come training camp?
TOM T.: Does someone own a wash cloth? Do they have silver polish? Geez. I doubt anyone in the Blues is going to react too strongly come the fall. As noted earlier, I'm sure there are plenty of things there aren't pictures of that would not play well with the sanctity-of-the-Cup crowd.
Follow-up: Get out of here with the "respect" the hockey world gives the Cup. There are tons of stories about the Cup getting dented, left at the bottom of Mario Lemieux's (I think?) pool, left in someone's front yard, etc. Also, let's not pretend that filling the thing with Bud Light is oozing respect.
TOM T.: Excellent chance Fabbri's dog has better hygiene that some NHL players.
QUESTION: Think Steen plays most of his games on the fourth line again this year? Will he be content with that role from training camp on? It presented itself differently last year.
TOM T.: Yes. The Blues turned that fourth line into a good little unit last season, and I think they'll want to continue that. Steen could get an occasional promotion up the lineup every now and then when someone's hurt, though he's at a point in his career where he's more likely to be the guy who's hurt. His game is well suited to the playoffs, so I think the Blues are well served to keep him fresh for the latter stages.
QUESTION: Do you think "Eddy" is a Blue at season’s start? Yes, he had a bumpy playoff but he is also their best lefty D-man when he’s right. Also, who is the first D-man call-up when the injury bug inevitably hits?
TOM T.: I think Edmundson will be around. I don't see the value in trading him. He's had more good times than bad times with the Blues, and that counts for a lot.
Who gets called up often depends on whether you need a left or a right or whether it's a case where you want to play a guy or just have coverage. The candidates would be Schmaltz (if he's still around), Reinke, Mikkola or free agent signing Derrick Pouliot, whose name is going to be giving me trouble if he gets called up. Schmaltz and Reinke are rights, the other two are lefts. Plus there's Jake Walman.
This will be one of the stories that will play out in camp. It's pretty open right now and who gets the call when needed could be who's playing better at that moment.
Photo: Defenseman Mitch Reinke defends Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals in a Blues' preseason game last September. (AP Photo)
QUESTION: Why is Barbashev (No. 49 above) seemingly not getting the same love as Sundqvist (70)? Not that anyone has dissed him, but Sunny seems to be getting tons of praise while Barby had the same number of goals, better face-off %, is 2 years younger, and, IMO, has a higher ceiling.
TOM T.: Sundqvist did take on a kind of mythical status this season, especially after he got laid out by Wilson in the preseason. But he was a guy that, based on the season before, we (sportswriters) weren't sure was going to make the team. I thought he was AHL-bound because the season before was a big "meh." So he had that going for him. I think we thought Barbashev was more likely to make the team. (Though I also thought Jaskin would be around.)
Right now, I think Sundqvist is a better player, or at least lends himself to the imagination of doing more. Berube seemed to chuckle at the suggestion during the playoffs that Barbashev could be playing higher in the lineup. It sounded like he's become more of a fourth-line guy in Berube's mind. Sundqvist averaged almost 14 minutes a game this season; Barbashev 11 1/2. The team seems to see Sundqvist as the better player, or at least sees extra value in the fourth line.
And right now, Sundqvist has arbitration rights and Barbashev doesn't, which means he'll get paid more.
QUESTION: How will "Chief" reel in the boys to get them to focus on the new season? Suggestion: play the kids early and let the vets work/recover their bodies for another run.
TOM T.: He's going to emphasize the things he did last year: Don't look back. Look at the next game, the next shift. They handled that last season, and they're going to hear it every day next season. Which means I'm going to hear it, too. (Either Armstrong or Berube, I forget which, already sort of apologized for that.) After they raise the championship banner on opening day, that's likely to be the last time anyone on the team talks about it.
As for playing the kids, that's fine in theory, but hockey, with a 23-man roster and 20 players suiting up daily, doesn't afford you that much of a luxury. You've only got two extra forwards most of the time, so you can't sit that many guys and you've only going to have two "young forwards" to fill in for them. Now, should they watch Steen's playing time? Definitely. But hockey just doesn't lend itself to having guys on the roster sitting out.
QUESTION: Any idea just how much of a $$$ bump the franchise saw this year?
TOM T.: No, but this has to be the most profitable year in franchise history. The rule of thumb was always $1 million in extra revenue per postseason game, but I think games in the Final have to bring in even more, and then there's the sales of everything else. (Plus, probably a 100 percent renewal rate on season tickets.) The team historically hasn't been in the black much, but for once they definitely are.
It will be interesting to see if how the franchise valuation changes in those Forbes numbers next season. Teams always scoff at those figures, but I think the relative numbers could be interesting.
COMMENT: About Petro and Schenn, giving legacy contracts hasn't worked out well for the Cardinals, and I hope the organization doesn't give Petro a contract paying him 10+ when he is in his late 30s. People talk about Steen being overpaid for his current role, but it's much easier to manage a salary cap when your worst contract is for less than 6 million.
TOM T.: Contracts for big dollars and big years are always risky, especially when a player is well into his career. Sometimes, you've got to pay that though. Way back when I covered the Los Angeles Clippers, their owner, Donald Sterling, didn't want to overpay guys. So he underpaid everyone and had terrible teams for years.
It's like being a third-base coach. You have to get someone thrown out at the plate every now and then or you're leaving money on the table. (I am currently at a loss for a football analogy.) So if you make these deals, you have to hope you don't get burned on more than one of them, because then you're looking at a lot of dead money.
But also, with the inevitable rise in contract dollars, a ridiculous number now doesn't look so bad at the end of the deal. But only if the guy is still producing.
QUESTION: Care to offer your very early prediction on how the Central Division standings will finish next season?
TOM T.: Here goes ...
Though as we've seen, all you have to do is "get in."
Also, picks made in July probably have a low level of accuracy. And it wouldn't take much for the Blues to drop a spot or two.
Follow-up: What division opponent improved the most this offseason?
TOM T.: The teams that took steps up also took risks, betting that what they got would be better than what they gave up. Colorado moved in that direction, as did Dallas, which went all in on winning now. Chicago's goalie upgrade could make a big difference (especially if you consider a healthy Crawford an addition), though it could be the area in front of the goalie that needed even more help.
QUESTIONS: Do you think Chief will try a 5-forward power play in training camp? Who will take a step forward like Sundqvist this coming season? Do players find it difficult to play the Chief's system?
TOM T.: The Blues had so many odd-man rushes against on the power play, and a goodly number of short-handed goals allowed, that having five forwards could be asking for trouble. Remember at some points in the season, they had Edmundson on the power play for just that reason, to have someone there to get back on defense.
Who will take a step? This could be Blais' season, or Sanford's. Kyrou hasn't had a season yet, so it may not count as taking a step for him. Also, expectations on him are high, maybe too high.
Berube's system is hard to the extent that you have to get in on the forecheck and throw your body around and a lot of effort is exerted. Some players like that stuff. Others less so. (I know I'd prefer a system where I wasn't having a large number of high-speed impacts every game.) But the Blues have built a team of players that like that, so it's not a problem for them. It's clearly more difficult than a system where you go flying up and down the ice, shoot and either score or have to race back on defense. But it's not too difficult.