Rounding up the hot topics from hockey writer Tom Timmermann's chat with Blues fans.
LET'S GET RIGHT TO IT: THE PETRO QUESTION
QUESTION: Should fans be worried about Pietrangelo leaving via free agency?
TOM T.: His departure certainly can't be ruled out. Pietrangelo will take a very business-like approach to this situation. If there's a good offer from another team, better than any offer he's getting from the Blues, he'll take it. What those offers look like with everything going on is anyone's guess.
Teams, including the Blues, likely won't have the space to make the lavish offers he might have gotten otherwise. (Roman Josi's $9 million is usually the measuring stick on this.) It also remains to be seen as to how many teams look at their rosters and are prepared to go all in and say someone like Pietrangelo is the player to put us over the top and make us a Stanley Cup team. The Blues might be one of those teams.
So it's by no means a given that he's coming back, but this also isn't a case where the Blues will let him go without a fight. I think the Blues will be very aggressive in trying to keep him. It will just depend on how aggressive other teams are.
DOES ARMY REGRET THE FAULK EXTENSION?
QUESTION: Do you get the impression that Army is regretting the extension given to Faulk? Just seems like a lot of money to a 2nd (if Petro leaves) or 3rd pairing right defenseman.
TOM T.: I'm sure he's frustrated by it, but GMs also tend to be big-picture guys and Armstrong has no doubt watched Faulk's game for a lot longer and a lot more closely than any of us. The results certainly haven't lived up to what Faulk is getting paid, but I think it's a bit soon to say Faulk is a total mistake. Players have bad seasons. (Well, most players have bad seasons.) If you dump guys the first time they have one, that might not be the best way to handle your roster.
One thing the Blues haven't been able to do with Faulk is define a role for him, and that's a problem. If the Blues can find a situation where they can say, this is where you'll be and what you'll do, and it's not on the third pairing, that will be good.
TRADING JAKE A POSSIBILITY?
QUESTION: Re-signing Petro requires offloading salary. Is an Allen/Barbashev trade package palatable enough for other teams, and money enough for the cap?
TOM T.: Jake Allen is certainly setting up as the most eligible trade candidate on the roster. $4.35 million in salary, one year to go on his contract, Husso playing well in the minors. Allen is probably the easiest "big" contract to move and his play this season probably makes him attractive to other teams, looking for a short-term goalie (if you've got a hot youngster on his way) or an established backup. And Allen would certainly welcome a chance to get more games.
Add in Barbashev and you're at about $5.8 million. with the other contracts, that's not enough to get you Pietrangelo unless the cap goes up, which seems unlikely. But I would think the Blues would be able to find takers for Allen and Barbashev, though with goalies, you never know. They would need to free up a few million dollars more, which is why everyone keeps coming back to Alexander Steen.
To a convoluted follow-up question about what could or should be done with Steen, Tom T. replied:
Everyone always wants to buy Steen out. The team loves him. The players love him. He's a leader on and off the ice. For those reasons alone, it would be a very difficult thing for the team to do. A more likely scenario would be Steen retires after this season.
UPDATES ON GOALIE PROSPECTS
QUESTION: There have been rumors that the Blues are not high on goalie prospect Evan Fitzpatrick. Accurate? Otherwise, why wouldn't he be on the AHL roster this season? Also, any news on Vadim Zherenko, the Russian goalie prospectdrafted last year?
TOM T.: Haven't heard the Blues were down on Fitzpatrick. Goalie development is one of the great mysteries of hockey. Some guys come quick, some more slowly. The reason to not put him at San Antonio this season was to get him more games. If he was the backup to Husso, he'd be getting one game a week. The Blues wanted Husso to get a lot of games, so by putting Fitzpatrick elsewhere, Fitzpatrick could be the No. 1 and get games.
No news on Zherenko, the mystery goalie from last year. Looks like he had good numbers in Russia this year. With the backup of goalies the Blues have, he'll probably stay in Europe for a while to get games. He would get more there than he could get here.
ONE VOTE TO LET PETRO GO
COMMENT: Let Petro go. I see more long-term organizational damage occurring by having to make trades or buying out Steen in order to find the money to sign Pietrangelo. I don't want to see Petro as a shadow of his former self in the final two years of his contract, similar to what happened to David Backes.
TOM T.: This will be the issue with Pietrangelo: Do the Blues give him extra years to keep the AAV down? It seems like they will almost have to. I think Pietrangelo will age better than Backes, so I think he'll be a valuable player for a bigger percentage of his contract.
Another issue with Pietrangelo now is whether he takes a shorter term contract, one or two years, and then looks for a bigger one after that. Though had there been no coronavirus, this would have been the ideal time to cash in. I'm not sure he's at the peak of his game, but he's got to be pretty close to it.
THE HIGH COST OF NOT FINISHING THE SEASON
QUESTION: That the NHL is still trying to find a way to play out the rest of the regular season makes the league look either irrationally optimistic or clueless about how they plan to proceed. Do you think this is just pie-in-the-sky thinking from Bettman or is the NHL really determined to finish its regular season playing in empty arenas just so there's no ambiguity about whether the Islanders or the Blue Jackets really belong in the playoffs?
TOM T.: If the NHL doesn't finish the season, the losses in revenue could be $500 million at the low end. That's a lot of money, and a lot of reason to wait. The league doesn't gain anything by canceling now, so why do it? As long as there is a chance, they have to ride it out. The NHL playoffs being what they are, any team with a chance to be in will want to be in. Even if there is no ticket revenue, there are reasons for teams to chase the Cup: merchandise sales, season-ticket sales, single-game ticket sales, stuff down the road. Ad rates on broadcasts could be higher. There's all sorts of things. The Detroit Red Wings may not complain about missing the playoffs, but any team that is a point or two out is going to complain.
How the Senators and Red Wings react is an issue. They may not care much, especially if they're just coming back to play two or three games. But if their safety can be assured, they won't have much choice.
This is how it works in politics, but it also is how it likely works at the NHL office: For any situation, you present the decision-makers with all the options, no matter how extreme. At one end, you could have, who cares, play every game, and at the other end, call the season off or continue the season whenever a vaccine is developed. (I'm not sure which one is more extreme.) And then in the middle are all the other possibilities, which is usually the ones that get chosen. But you have to consider everything, even if you only consider it for a second before throwing it out. Right now, the league is going to try to finish the season because that is what's normal. If that doesn't work, they will move to the other options. And the time to consider them is now, when you have the time to consider them.
As I said earlier, there are reasons to play regular season games for player safety issues. That's another factor in all this.
QUESTION: Watching the Blues-Blackhawks 2016 playoff series this week on FSM, the most distinctive impression is how much better we are in our top 4 lines. How stacked are the Blues at forward in the minors?
TOM T.: Not very deep. If you want guys who potentially are top six forwards, now that Kyrou has been called up, you're looking maybe at Kostin, though he more likely projects as a bottom six guy. Toropchenko is still several years away, and it remains to be seen where he fits in.
Most of the forwards at San Antonio are depth guys who would fill in down in the lineup. There are more defensemen down there.
Follow-up: Kostin was drafted at the end of the first round in 2017. We have been led to believe that he will eventually be a top 6 power forward. You referred to him as a bottom 6 forward. Why? Is that how the Blues view him now?
TOM T.: I think I've pretty consistently over the past year or so referred to him as a top nine guy. I think expectations on him were always a bit higher than the reality. He's a big guy, 6-3, 212, who has a career high 13 goals this season at San Antonio (though in only 48 games because of injuries). Maybe he ends up a second-line guy, depending on how you structure your lines. But I think the third line is where he's more likely to end up.
RANKING THE DEFENSIVE PROSPECTS
QUESTION: The Blues have assembled a wealth of good prospects on defense. How would you rank them both in the near term and the long term?
TOM T.: I'm not quite sure where to put Perunovich right now since he hasn't played at the NHL level. Other guys would be above him just based on pro experience. I think now, if the question was, who do the Blues need to play in a game, it would be:
By the start of next season, Perunovich could be at the top of that list. If I were to go by NHL potential, it would be:
GAMES IN EMPTY ARENAS: WHY IS THAT A GOOD IDEA?
QUESTION: What good does it do to have games in an arena where nobody is there? There is no revenue stream for the owners in playing behind closed doors.
TOM T.: Yes, there's no ticket revenue stream. But there's a TV stream, there's an advertising stream -- FSM or NBC will get more money for ads in a real Blues game than in a replay of an old game -- and there's a marketing stream and a goodwill stream. Whichever team wins the Cup or gets to the Final is going to be glad it did and will likely reap some financial benefits at some point, if only in selling Stanley Cup champion T-shirts.
There are lots of numbers at play. Now, is there a point where the cost of keeping so many people in a hotel for so long begins to cost more than you get from TV and other revenues, and the league is certainly going to look at that. But I think the league will err on the side of playing games rather than not playing them if it's a revenue issue.
WHY BOTHER WITH REST OF THE REGULAR SEASON?
QUESTION: How can the league justify playing additional regular-season games before the playoffs? Teams like the Red Wings, Devils and Senators have no incentive to prepare to play roughly 10 games, then stop again. They may choose to play games with players from their minor leagues to get them some exposure. How would the NHL get teams to play like it matters?
TOM T.: As coaches are prone to say at this time of year, teams that have been eliminated are tough opponents because those guys are playing for their jobs. So while a Red Wings motivation might be limited, Robby Fabbri is playing for his next contract and needs to show well every time he steps on the ice.
I doubt there's an 82-game season in the NHL's future. They'll pick a number, say 75 games, find a way to get everyone there, and call it quits there. Then, this playoff scenario is quite possible: Ten teams from each conference, short rounds early on, and you go from there.
It's also possible, though, that the league might keep playoffs totally within the division for the first two rounds, 5 plays 4, winner plays 1, while 2 plays 3, to minimize travel. Then you can keep the teams where they are if you're using a neutral site rather than have a wild card team relocating.
TOUGH GUYS AS COACHES
QUESTION: Is Craig Berube the biggest tough guy to be coaching in the NHL? How does he rank among coaches in all sports? I am thinking that a Mike Ditka vs. Berube tussle would have been a heck of a brawl if they were both in their prime.
TOM T.: As Berube often says, he had a lot of time to study the game since he was sitting on the bench so much. Rick Tocchet at Arizona got in a lot of fights in his day, including against Berube. Either he or Bob Boughner at San Jose were the player that Berube fought the most in his day.
Blues assistant Steve Ott was certainly a pest in his day and he could be an NHL head coach someday soon.