Here are the highlights from our weekly chat with Post-Dispatch readers.
Q: I marvel at the Blues’ position as one of the top five teams in the league, with not a single player among the league’s top scorers. Talk about the balance between the top three lines. How do they do it?
A: The Blues’ top scorer Jordan Kyrou currently sits 57th in the league by goals. It’s impressive what the Blues have made of nine 20-goal scorers. I’m sure Doug Armstrong or Craig Berube wouldn’t mind if someone was in the top 10. Their balance at the top has made it difficult for opponents to close their top line because the first three are really all about the same.
Q: Are the Blues the best 40 minute team in the NHL?
A: No, I suspect many teams can handle the blues over 40 minutes. The question for the blues would be, what 40 minutes would it be anyway? There was a while when the Blues were one of the best second-period teams. That has been less and less the case lately as they’ve had some brutal ones. And the first period wasn’t always good. The same with the thirds. It’s rare for the blues to combine three brilliant periods. Even when the blues are at their best, I don’t think they’re as good as Carolina or Colorado or Florida or Calgary over 20 or 40 or 60 minutes.
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Q: I keep hearing that Montreal’s Ben Chiarot is a tradesman. I don’t see Doug Armstrong acting for him unless he signs an extension. The Army isn’t the type to give up a first-round pick and other assets for a two-month lease. Do you agree?
A: Giving up a No. 1 pick and other assets for Chiarot would be a mistake. Chariot is having a bad year and I don’t think it’s because he’s on a bad team. His isolated numbers affecting his teammates’ play are not looking good. Your defense is much better off the ice with him than on the ice. If the Blues give up more than one mid-round draft pick or own a special sauce that will revive Chariot’s season, I don’t think that’s a good move.
But the other thing is the blues have to trade someone to make it happen. You don’t have the space for someone like Chiarot. Even if they put Tyler Bozak on long-term injury reserve, that wouldn’t make room for Chiarot’s $3.5 million contract, even if the Canadians kept half his salary. In order for it to work, the Blues need to trade someone who makes more than $2 million. A Marco Scandella for Chiarot makes little or no sense from a Canadian perspective, and not much from a Blues perspective either. And I also don’t think it would make sense to exchange an asset like Ivan Barbashev or Oskar Sundqvist for rent.
This will be the Blues’ challenge by deadline. If no one wants Scandella, it will be difficult to strike a deal.
Q: Is Ken Hitchcock still connected to the blues? If so, in what capacity?
A: Ken Hitchcock is retired and lives in Palm Springs, but he holds the title of coaching consultant with the Blues. He’s available as a sounding board for the coaching staff, although Craig Berube said he’s spoken to him regularly so not much has changed. I haven’t seen Hitchcock in St. Louis for a while, but when the blues play Southern California or Arizona, he’s popped up.
Q: Since the Blues called up Alexei Toropchenko and Mackenzie MacEachern, the fourth line has had a noticeable impact, adding a sandpaper element that was missing for most of the season. … Does the team need to play against lower skill players who are more willing to score than roll four lines trying to score?
A: The Blues have some players who are goalscorers and Grit. David Perron is certainly a pest and Brayden Schenn will drop the gloves if necessary. Oskar Sundqvist is considered perhaps too aggressive in some circles in the league. This allows them to put an aggressive guy in almost every row. Robert Thomas and Pavel Buchnevich could be back as early as Thursday, and if not then not long after, and that would likely knock Sundqvist into the fourth row.
I think Craig Berube would be very happy with Sundqvist, MacEachern and Toropchenko on the fourth line (I don’t know the last time I saw Berube so excited about a player as he was about Toropchenko), but it would be more traditional fourth line instead of like the ones they had during the championship season. I tend to value goals more, but I think it’s hard to deny that the fourth line has had an impact in recent games. I have the distinct impression that Berube would like to stay with this group in the future. …And this group created some scoring chances by keeping the puck in the opponent’s zone.
Q: Marco Scandella has gone from a solid No. 4 defender to a defender at every shift. His faults aren’t so much a lack of talent or physical ability as they are mental flaws. … I’m not sure I have a question other than: How can a veteran player lose his hockey sense overnight?
A: I didn’t see enough of Scandella while he was in Buffalo to provide a definitive answer, but the numbers suggest he didn’t play well there. His game bounced back in Montreal and then was excellent when he first came to St. Louis, leading to his contract extension that has taken us to this day. So it can’t be overnight. This may have been building for a while, save for the brief period when his game got better for some reason, which coincided with his arrival at the Blues. I mentioned to Jim Thomas the other day that Scandella is sort of in the same spot as Zach Sanford and Jake Allen at certain points in their blues careers. It’s not like they made a lot of mistakes, but if they did make one, the puck was in the back of the net, which made them look a lot worse. Scandella is 32, a point at which a player’s career rarely improves.
Q: How concerned should Las Vegas fans be about the Knights’ lackluster game? Is this just another cautionary tale about what happens when a team charges stars at the expense of better depth?
A: We talked about that on today’s podcast – about the Golden Knights’ fixation on the next shiny object that comes along, even when there’s no place to put them. I suspect there are a lot of people, both fans and front office guys, who smile a little at the Knights’ struggles. Injuries are a problem and their salary cap situation is a mess and isn’t going to get any better. I’ve seen some numbers on how big the difference between Vegas and Seattle (as expansion startups) is that Marc-Andre Fleury’s Vegas was great in goal and Philipp Grubauer’s Seattle wasn’t great in goal. At the moment Vegas is not a playoff team and it will be difficult for them to turn things around. You’re on the escalator down.
Q: Doug Armstrong should lock Ville Husso in with a good overtime. Then either Husso or Binnington could be traded in the off-season or next season if Binnington doesn’t have full no-trade protection. Wouldn’t that be the clever game?
A: Husso plays well. The team has been waiting for this for years. A trade with Binnington could happen, but for now, Husso has had less than a good season in the NHL. It might be a bit early to go all in on him.
Q: Coaches say every game counts. But some victories count more than others. Given the league lead and their string of poor games, was Saturday’s win over Nashville the Blues the biggest win of the season?
A: As a four-point game against a division rival, the Blues’ victory over the Predators carries added weight. But if it’s the biggest win, then it’s the biggest so far. The final six weeks of the season will see two games against Minnesota and another against Nashville that could easily eclipse it. The overtime win over Florida on Dec. 7 or the shootout win over Tampa on Nov. 30 were huge wins back then, coming against two of the league’s top teams at a time when the Blues weren’t playing well and had a lot of players out there.