Monday, May 31, 2021

Blues coach Craig Berube

ST. LOUIS -- Coming into the 2020-21 season, Craig Berube knew things wouldn't be the same.

And they never are.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Craig Berube is 107-58-25 in the regular-season coaching the Blues but is
2-11 in the playoffs since going 16-10 and winning the Stanley Cup in 2019.
But at the time, being a year removed from winning the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup, the Blues coach understood that expectations remained high for a team projected to be in a Cup-winning window.

In the two years removed from winning it all, despite reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the past two seasons, the Blues have suffered back-to-back first-round losses, and that doesn't sit well with Berube or the Blues.

The roster has a new look to it, but being a cap-ceiling team doesn't alleviate the pressure of winning again, and Berube and the Blues have gone through some difficult challenges since the Cup win in 2019.

After finishing up his second full season as the head coach, and one as the interim, Berube talks about what went astray, what the Blues need to elevate themselves back into the upper-echelon talk, how things have changed since COVID and can they play the style he wants with a lineup of a forechecking style mixed with more rush attack players:

When you look at this season, what was missing, what wasn't right:
The injuries had a big affect on the year for sure. It seemed like we were never healthy and there was a lot of new faces in the lineup and big players out of the lineup I think that obviously had an affect on a lot of things. I think we were just in between. We didn't score enough, we didn't defend good enough. Our differential wasn't good. Special teams improved over time, but they took a while to get going on both ends of it. Power play ended up sixth in the league, which is good and our PK was still low in the standings in the league percentage-wise, but i thought that it really improved over the last month or so, got better. We didn't score enough goals and in the end, you've got to score goals, especially in the regular season, it's so important to be able to produce and I think scoring got better because the power play got better as it went along.

Think pieces are still in place here to be a Cup contender:
I think our core is really strong here, core group of guys from the Stanley Cup team, plus adding Faulk and Krug to our lineup helps for sure. They're good players. I do believe we have the core. You always have to tinker and do things and find players in the salary cap era and things like that to make your team better and Doug's always done that for us and done a good job of that. I do believe in this team, yes.

How do you blend in style that won you a Cup with some of younger guys who want to play up-tempo:
You can still do both and you have to do both. It's just about decision-making with the puck. We actually were a pretty good team off the rush this year. I think we ended up with 10th or 11th in the National Hockey League in rush opportunities. We did a good job in the neutral zone too. We didn't turn pucks over like I preach all the time. I think we ended up second in the league in that category, so pucks did get deep and I think we did do some good things off the rush. I do believe that you have to score off the rush or get scoring chances off the rush. I think it's important. I know that we got some speed with some young guys on our team that rae good off the rush. I preach both. It's about decision-making for me. As players mature and develop and spend more time in the NHL, they're going to get better at that. I saw improvement. Jordan Kyrou's a perfect example. I thought his game improved over time this year and he had a real good year in my opinion and he's a good rush player.

On record with/without Sundqvist; why does your team succeed when he's there:
He's an energy guy for sure. He brings a lot of energy to our team and he's a role player. Role players are really important on your hockey team. He does a variety of things for us, from penalty killing, we put him on the power play he does well, checking line, you can put him with different lines and move him around, but he's an identity player and they're so important to have. he was missed, for sure.

Was it hard for this team to find an identity/culture:
Yeah, I believe so and I think the injuries obviously were a big part of that. When you're missing Colton Parayko for most of the year and Oskar Sundqvist and Gunnarsson, a lot of guys. There were a bunch of injuries over time, a bunch of players, but just the three guys I mentioned that lost significant time throughout the whole year, they're identity players for us and I saw we were just in between with what we were as a team. We've always been good defensively and we've taken pride in playing good defense and at the same time, from playing good defense, we scored and were a productive team. You look at last year, our scoring was up and was really good and our defensive play was good. We could do both and we were good at it, but we lost that identity this year because neither one was good this year. We didn't score enough goals and we didn't defend well enough this year.

As this group is assembled now, can you be harder around the net:
Yeah, you can get better at everything. I know we lost players, but it's not just on the defense. Defending is everybody, goalie (on) out. It's everybody. You've got to take pride in that. It's an important part of the game. Yes, you can improve it being harder at your net and doing different things. Listen, the d-corps, there's guys that are big guys, it's easy for them to push guys out of the way or be physical around the net and there's a smaller d-corps that's got to do it another way.

Do you have guys on the roster that can be a net front presence or do you need to go get someone:
Getting to the net's got to be on everybody. It's not just, 'Oh, we've got to go get a couple net front guys.' It's an attitude that we've got to go to the net more. We didn't get enough rebound chances because of that. Shooting pucks, we weren't at the net enough for rebounds and things like that or get to the net for rebounds and things like that. That was a problem that we talked about all the time and get our team to do it. For me, it's more of an attitude. If you want to score in this league on a consistent basis as a player and be a good scoring team, you've got to go to the net and get those rebound goals because that's where a lot of the goals were scored, we all know that.

Any subtle differences between you and Avs in this series or glaring gaps:
Listen, they're a very good team, we all know that, but we weren't healthy either, so it's hard to know, right? You're missing David Perron, Vince Dunn, we've got a lot of guys out. I'm not going to mention them all. You all know who was out and who wasn't, so it's hard for me to evaluate that with all the injuries.

On Tarasenko and his season:
Obviously he wasn't happy and neither were we. He didn't get going like maybe we thought or he thought. But listen, he's been out for two years really. It's almost two years that he was out and he's back. I think it takes some time for sure. I know he scored a couple goals in the final playoff game, but overall, I think he needs to get his legs going again and use his body and just play a harder game down low in the offensive zone and get to the harder areas to score goals.

Is Tarasenko capable getting back to or close to where he was after all the injuries:
Well, who knows? Nobody knows that question, but he probably needs more time to get going. This is a big summer for him for sure from a training standpoint and making sure he comes in real healthy next year in training camp and use training camp to get everything going again. I'm sure he's going to be feeling good about everything coming back next year and going through a camp and working on his game in camp. I think you're going to see a different Vladi for sure.

Are you OK with Tarasenko going to Worlds and playing despite groin injury:
Yeah, I'm OK with it.

Able to say what Faulk and Bortuzzo are dealing with and are they OK:
Upper-body injuries and they'll be fine.

On Vince Dunn and coming close to playing:
Again, upper body but he never felt comfortable to play. We never want to put a player in a bad situation. He wasn't ready and he told us he wasn't ready, so that's why he didn't play.

Surprised you slumped when you started getting impact players back from injury or figured it would take some time:
I think that was part of it, for sure, re-establishing chemistry. Vladi was out for a long time, we all know that. I think that before the injuries, we had a lot of young guys in there, hungry guys that did a good job for us, playing a role, role work and then we started getting everyone back so everything like of changed. When injured guys came back, they didn't play as well as we needed them to play. That's a big part of it.

Did Mikkola and Walman open some eyes for you with their play:
Yeah, for sure. I thought they played really well, to be honest with you. I thought Mikkoka came in and played well and then we took him out for a while and then he got got back in there and he needed a little reset button and I thought he performed well again. I was pretty impressed with him overall. He's an aggressive guy, big guy, covers a lot of ice and he's hard to play against. I think he did a good job. Jake Walman, he finally got an opportunity in there and I think he ran with it. He used his feet really well. He's a tremendous skater, he's got a real good shot and it's a different game. It's his first time in the NHL playing significant games and important games and I thought that he came in and grabbed the rope and took off with it. It was good to see.

On Kostin, his two regular-season games and what went into not playing him in the playoffs:
He did fine in the two games there. He looked a little tired with the travel and everything with the season he had. He looked like he got a little winded at times, but he did fine. I just didn't feel for me that, where we were at, I went with the guys that I thought could get the job done.

On O'Reilly's first year as captain and what do you look for in that role:
I thought he did a great job. I thought he got better as we went along the year. Did a tremendous job down the stretch and in the playoffs, in my opinion. I know that we got beat four straight, but from a captain's standpoint, he worked and he leads by example on the ice. I thought that he did a great job in the locker room and on the bench of becoming vocal and preaching the right things. All the stuff that captains do, but first and foremost, captains, what do I look for in a captain is just lead by example on the ice as the No. 1 most important thing. It's hard to find a guy that works harder and competes harder than Ryan O'Reilly.

On Robert Thomas and where he needs to go from here:
Well, I think first from a training standpoint, getting in good condition this summer. I think that's really important. I think he's got to work extremely hard in the summer time, get himself in tremendous shape and then come into camp and I think that's going to help him for sure. There's a ton of upside there, we all know that, but he had a tough time getting going this year with the injuries, that really set him back quite a bit.

Will there be more guys in town with the way Canadian borders are:
That's a possibility. Canada's not a place probably anybody wants to go to right now because of the situation. It could end up guys hanging around here, being around here. We'll see. I know our guys really like it here, so they might want to stay here in the summer too.

On needing scoring more from defensemen and fourth line:
We always score by committee here and we showed that last year throughout the season. We had real good scoring last year and it was by the committee from the defense out. Everybody contributing and our D scoring was down quite a bit this year. Probably our bottom six scoring was down quite a bit. Obviously Vladi had a tough time scoring, Jaden Schwartz and even Brayden Schenn dried up for a while. I think that again, we need everybody to contribute both ends of the ice. That's how we play here. We want to play 200 feet and part of it is scoring.

On the forecheck and if it was enough on a consistent basis:
No. We didn't get enough guys that whether they wanted to do it or didn't want to do it or whatever the reason was, it wasn't good enough for sure. It got better. I thought the last few weeks before playoffs, our forecheck game really came around and the hounding part of it and the work ethic that's needed. It's not just the forwards, it's the D too. The D are really involved in all of it too being aggressive and hammering walls, keeping pucks alive and all that. I thought it came around and it got better as it went along, but it was not good enough for sure.

On how to get that back:
Well, we've got to make sure that we first of all in camp, that we're pushing our for it and we're working on it. That's our identity, that's a big part of our identity. Going forward, we've got to demand it out of our players.

On Colton Parayko's growth, how he's doing, and if he shoots as much as you want him to:
Well, his injury, he's gotten better with his injury. I think he's feeling a lot better and hopefully this summer, he can improve that injury and fix it so he's 100 percent healthy next year. It's hard to evaluate his game this year because of the injury and he didn't play a whole lot. I thought he got better as the year went along. When he came back, it was tough for him, but he worked through it and before playoffs and in playoffs, he was playing a lot better for sure. Does he shoot enough? Well, it's hard to again evaluate that shooting this year with the injury. It's hard for me to say, but we do want him to shoot a lot. He's got a great shot and he has to use it more. This player, he's one of the players that can control the game in my opinion with his size and strength and skating ability. That's something that I think going forward, we've got to be talking to him about that a lot and how significant it can be for the team and for him. He wore the 'A' this year as part of the leadership group, I think he did a good job. Again, his injury, it's hard to lead when you're injured, but he's a guy that can go out there and lead by example, which he does. Does that answer your question?

What do you want from your players this off-season, change anything in terms of how they train in light of all the injuries:
Well, I don't know about that. I don't think that had a lot to do with how they trained in the summer time or anything like that. A lot of these injuries were just injuries that happened. We demand guys are training and getting in great shape, being in great shape. We've got a great strength coach here, does a great job and guys like working with him. I don't think that's going to be an issue. I think guys will come into camp on great shape next year and they'll be hungry and ready to go. Nobody's happy about getting beat out four straight. Next year, they'll be hungry.

On Jaden Schwartz's season and was he playing injured down the stretch:
Well, it was a tough year for him for sure from an offensive standpoint, not producing. He wants to produce and we need him to produce, but that didn't happen. Now, he gives you everything he's got on the ice, hard worker, extremely hard worker, competitive player, real good team guy. He had injuries this year. He was banged up a little bit down the stretch for sure, but nothing that would keep him out of the lineup. 

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong

ST. LOUIS -- There have been exit interviews with Doug Armstrong where you can see the vigor and venom popping through his pores from disappointment, and there have been times where the Blues president of hockey operations and general manager was understanding of circumstances.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong just completed his 13th season
with the organization and will have an important retool on his hands.

This happened to be one of those extenuating circumstances where Armstrong was sympathetic, yet cautious, of assessing the Blues of 2020-21.

It wasn't east by any means for the Blues, who suffered the second-worst amount of injuries among the 31-team NHL this season yet made the playoffs.

It was a different-looking lineup, to say the least, especially from the one that won the Stanley Cup just two short seasons ago, due to player departure via free agency or through retirement.

Armstrong knows this will be an important off-season for the Blues and where they go after being swept out of the first round of the playoffs by the Colorado Avalanche, but he still feels like the championship window is still open and will certainly retool, not rebuild this roster moving forward.

He discusses the challenges of a COVID-laced season, on that championship window, who could stay, who could go, what the team needs moving forward and a plethora of other topics:

How much do you factor in injuries/Covid this year:
Certainly that is going to play into my overall assessment of the year. I'm trying to look at it in short snippets and then a longer haul obviously. I need to find out why since COVID hit a little over a year ago that we went to the bubble and weren't able to muster the same effect that we had pre-COVID and I think this year was sort of a continuation of that. The strength of this organization is the team and we have to get back to being a better team."

Do you feel your Stanley Cup window is still open:
Well, I think when we brought in those players a couple years ago, we said we thought we had potentially a five-year window. That's Year Three of it, so I do think it's open. It's going to be difficult, obviously. The way the league works - I think we all know it - over the last decade this group has averaged a little over 103 points a season, which is commendable. And in that last decade, Colorado has had four top-four picks and I think six top-10 picks. So they're primed and I think they're going to be good for a while. I think you look at the Toronto Maple Leafs, you look at their team today with the number of top-five picks, they're going to be good for a while. So the way that we have to be good is team and pact mentality, and we'll have to assess how we can get better under that format. We don't have an answer internally for MacKinnon, or McDavid, or Crosby, or Ovechkin ... these guys are No. 1 overall picks, or top picks. The way that we have to build our team and the way that we have to continue doing it is by believing in each other, supporting each other and understanding that individually we can't get it done. We have to do it as a group.

How much change do you anticipate this summer, thoughts on Jaden Schwartz:
I think this will be an active year, not only potentially here in St. Louis but around the league. Anytime you have expansion, you have teams trying to do what's best for them, whether it's not exposing players to Seattle, making trades in which they feel they're in a better spot, or just giving Seattle a list of players ... and then a flat cap for the foreseeable future. So I think it's going to be an interesting summer. Will there be a lot of change? Time will tell. I think Schwartz is a player that we talked to before the season and he was very adamant that he was comfortable waiting and I understood that. He was going through a lot of things personally and now we have until the end of July to figure out if this relationship is going to continue.

How do you assess the defense: 
I think if Colton was 100 percent healthy and Gunnarsson played the whole year and Dunn didn't get hurt and we had growth in certain players. But you really have to deal with reality. This is how the season went. Players got hurt. I would say overall our defense was not to the standard that we've had in the past, and we have to be able to address that thinking health alone will fix that or maturity of younger players will fix that, or a combination of new players coming will help fix that. I certainly understand the question, but it's hard to formulate an idea of what might have been if certain things had have happened.

How did you see Krug fitting in:
Well, the power play got good at the end. It wasn't very good for half the year. So, that's Torey's game. I think one of the things is when you have injuries, players get extended to areas that they haven't done in the past. I think Torey was plus 10 or 11 this year, maybe his highest plus-minus, so I think he di a lot of good things defending that he hadn't had to do before, and I think the extended ice time probably hurt his five-on-five player or his power play. But with that being said, I think coming into a new organization in the format that he had to come in ... his wife and family not really being able to connect with people in community and on the team, it was a trying year for people coming in. That's not only for Torey, that's for everyone that switched teams. But I think he has a good future here based on his history.

On Justin Faulk and how he did so well this year:
I think in the three or four days that I've had, I look back and if I start with myself, and the coaches and the players, just looking at that group, there's three people that I think if they have the same season they had this year next year, we're going to be happy. And that's Faulk, that's Perron and that's O'Reilly. I think the rest of us, starting with myself, and the coaches and the rest of the players, we have to find a different level. Some of us have to get a lot better and some of us have to get 1-2% better. But it's amazing - if everyone gets a little bit better, what that effect will have on the entire group. But with Faulk, I think Faulk came in, he's a proud player, he has a good pedigree of being a top player. I think that he commanded the respect of his teammates with his play and this is the player that we thought we traded for and the player we expect moving forward.

On Tarasenko's season; can he ever be the same again:
Yeah, I think the season, when he got back in, it was going to be a work in progress for the year. Vladi is a tremendous competitor. He worked extremely hard off the ice to get ready, but it's still an extended amount of time off. We saw flashes of a 25-year-old Vladi Tarasenko. I know he's going to put the work in, but like any player at his age, you always have to evolve and your game has to change to stay current. Not just Vladi, but a lot of guys are going to have to evolve their game to today's NHL. But I respect Vladi, I know he works hard and he's a good human being and a good person and I know he wants the best. Part of it, going over to World Championships shows his love and passion for hockey. He wants to play.

Hoffman took a while settling in; do you see a future for him here:
I could. I certainly want to sit and take some time an talk to our entire staff. Mike is a goal scorer and I think he was certainly in the top portion of our team in points. When we needed goals, when our season was on the brink, I thought he stepped up and played. It's that communication and bonding that takes time with coaches and teammates. Sometimes you say, 'OK, I envision this player working with that guy' and it doesn't work out that way. What I was really impressed with Mike though, is that he hung in there, he battled, he worked, he waited for his opportunity and then he produced. What we asked him to do, he produced.

On Bozak and interest in bringing him back:
Yeah, I think Bozie is a good pro. I haven't got into the minutia yet on who's coming back, who's not coming back. Obviously I'm going to work with my management staff to get their assessment of our group as a whole and then we'll do individual players. I'll get some input from the coaches on their thoughts on players and we'll make a plan. But Bozie is a good pro, I've enjoyed him for three years, and if it works out, great.

On Colton Parayko's back injury, will he need surgery to be 100 percent healthy:
Yeah, I'm certainly going to leave that to Colton and the doctors to find out what's best. But I know he was able to come back and play. We had to give him the ability to get strong, regardless of how we were playing on the ice. I think you just see, he's such a dominant player with his skating and his size. The offense wasn't there (but) I think a lot of that was probably related to maybe his injury. So, I'm hoping there's no surgery involved for him. Again, once the season is over, and you let your body settle down, it'll tell you what it needs. But right now, I think that he's just going to be able to continue the rehab and get back to work.

What is Parayko's ceiling:
I think he's a top defender. I think we saw it in the World Cup in 2016. He was on that Young Guns team. The offense hasn't been there to maybe what we envisioned earlier, but he's still a great 200-foot player. To score in this league, you've got to play on the power play, and he doesn't play on the power play. Not many top point-producing players get that just five-on-five, so his job is as a 200-foot player that's asked to play two-way and take a strong defending role, and I think he's one of the best in the game at doing that.

Among the things you'll be looking for, do you need good bottom-six forwards:
I think Sundqvist is a big loss in that group. There hasn't really been a lot of turnover, quite honestly, there except for Steener. So I think we just need to get better all around, quite honestly, and we need players that have played better in the past to get to that level. It's not like we're asking 36- and 37-year-old guys to reinvent and find the fountain of youth. We're asking guys between 27 and 31 to get to the level that we know that they can play at and that would include that group that you're talking about. If we can add a different player into that mix, maybe it makes a difference, but we've seen a lot of those guys do that and have success, and I think we're going to have internal growth. A guy like Kostin, I'm high on him myself. I'm a big fan. I watched all of his games in the KHL playoffs. Neighbours had a good year. It's a difficult league for a 19-year-old. Toropchenko played good. So there has to be competition inside to push these guys. As I said, when I sit down and do the end-of-year assessment with our management staff and then our coaching staff, we'll see if we have those answers inside, or we need to go outside.

On losing Perron and three vaccinated guys turn up positive:
New York Yankee-ish. Yeah, it's not something that, quite honestly, I thought was going to happen. I thought, like everybody else, you follow the news and you see the vaccinated people and society is opening up and masks aren't necessary and people are going to restaurants and then we got hit with it. I think it's the psychological (factor) of losing a player like Perron, and then there's also that psychological factor of 'how and why' did Walker and Walman get it as vaccinated people. So it plays with your mind a little bit. It played with our mind a little bit when Vladi and Binner had the tests in Colorado. But it is what it is. I guess if I wanted to sit here and find excuses why we didn't perform to our level, we could. But nobody really cares. You are what you are, you are what your record says you are, and we were 0-4.

Were you hoping, or expected to have games postponed playoffs for COVID:
No. I didn't expect them, too. They have a business to run. They want this to end on schedule and we were told that if you get a COVID case and it's not something that's running through your whole organization ... I think the reality is you just have to push and deal with it. I never expected them to push the season back, or the playoffs back. So, no, I wasn't surprised nor did I expect it.

On the challenge of adding from outside with a flat cap and expansion draft:
There's going to be a different challenge, but it's going to be a challenge we're all going to deal with. It's talking, I think, to Mr. Stillman and Chris Zimmerman on when they think the revenues might catch up and, people they're talking to, how long the cap is going to be flat. Are players going to want to go short and then get on the gravy train when it starts to grow, or are they want to maximize now and just understand that they might get left behind when the cap grows. So it's going to be a balancing act with expansion, with the flat cap. But I think every year has its challenges. They deal you the cards, you pick them up and you start to play.

Any other surgeries planned for any players:
Not that I've talked to the trainers about. Not that I'm aware of yet. Not saying that that won't happen, but nothing that I'm aware of.

On Walman/Mikkola, did they show you enough to pencil into top-six:
I'm not sure top-six, but I think they're going to be in our top seven or eight that are going to compete for that job. Again, expansion is going to play into this, who we lose. We're going to lose somebody, that's a fact. I thought they played well. I really liked Mikkola's competitiveness. I thought in the game when we lost Bortuzzo and Faulk, he showed his willingness to be a gamer, jump in on the play, try and make some things happen offensively. Walman has got great feet. I really felt for him because he was a guy, with Colorado's speed, I think could have had a positive effect for us. So they both had good years, growing years, and we've got to continue to expand their game over the summer and get them ready for camp.

Have you spoken with Kostin:
I haven't talked to him since the season ended, but I will. He's a big horse of a player that's a second-year pro now by birth age going into the last year of his entry-level deal. He's got size, he's got power. I saw him make a couple of plays in the game that he played. He had good scoring chance his first shift and made a nice pass on a goal. There's some positive things there that we're going to have to push along. You have to have young players to have success in this league and I'm excited about his play.

Do you need net-front on both ends of ice:
Yeah, I do. I think that we weren't maybe as ... you either have to be physically competitive or you have to tie up sticks defensively, and I thought what we did this year, we took up space, but didn't take up sticks. You saw that through that whole Colorado series, the number of deflections. So (Mike) Van Ryn and the defensemen have to come up with a plan - either front those and block those more or tie up sticks because those are impossible saves for the goalie when you do neither.

How about the other end of the ice:
Yeah, I think you have to go to that area to score goals in the NHL, there's no question. Hoffman, Tarasenko, there's few players that can score from distance. You have to go into the paint to score. I think one of the areas where we need to improve is our desire to go in there and not be half-committed. I thought Colorado made it a lot more difficult on Binnington to see pucks than we made it on the Avalanche goaltenders, and that's an area that we're going to have to improve.

Do you need a retool and not rebuild:
A rebuild, I guess define rebuild. Trade everybody and pick in the top four or five for five or six years? I don't think anyone has the appetite for that today. But then I need to sit down with the ownership group, Mr. Stillman, and talk about the window that I believe we created three years ago, give him my opinion on why it's still open. Obviously he loves hockey, he's got passion for the game, he understands the game, and we can digest and make a game plan. But when you talk rebuild, that's a long, long process. We're lucky that we have a great fanbase here in St. Louis that they understand it, but it can be difficult. As I went back to like the Colorado method of having four top-four picks, that's a lot of 60-75 point seasons, 80-point seasons. It's a process that when you sit here on a May day and say, 'We're going to start a rebuild.' It sounds like it's not that bad, but when you're in Year 3 of it, and you're team has had 65, 70 points, that's a rebuild and that's what I have to talk to ownership about. If their desire is to go that way, then we'll go that way. My feeling right now is it's not necessary to take that type of Draconian step.

Anybody else going to Worlds other than Tarasenko:
Not that I'm aware of. Some of these countries, they bypass the team and go right to the player. I haven't been told of anybody else leaving.

Are you OK with Tarasenko going:
Yeah, I was. I was excited because he wanted to play. The passion is still there, the desire to continue after not playing a lot of hockey. So, obviously you're a little bit nervous because he hasn't played a lot and it's a long trip over there. But I fall back onto it that he loves the game and he wants to continue to compete and he's going to get that opportunity.

Even after Tarasenko disclosed he had a groin injury:
You'd have to ask him. The player signed off that he was 100 percent healthy and ready to go play, so I take his word for it.

Binnington/Tarasenko testing positive before morning skate of Game 2:
Well, I was getting those updates about 4:30 to 5 every morning on the previous day's COVID test. So I got that one and I actually thought they were both going to be positive, just based on we had three other guys. So, the first three I thought were going to be negative because no one was getting COVID. And then these two I thought were going to be positive because that just seemed to be the way our team was going at that point. I talked to Bill Daly and he said that there could be a tainted lab issue. They had a number of people in management and players (test positive), and the NBA had people, too. That gave us a little glimmer of hope. I talked to the player. We ran a test, we took it right to a lab there in Denver and they were cleared by 1 o'clock, so it was a hectic five or six hours. I felt bad for the players because no one ever wants to wake up, turn their phone on, and (hear), 'It's the GM or the trainer give me a call ASAP.' Then their minds start working on 'OK, how did I get this, what's going on?' You try and tell them that there could be a false positive and you just work through it. But it was a hectic six hours.

What's been the challenge of building without this roster without top picks:
Well, you have to rely on the character of your team. That's how we stayed competitive, that's how we're going to stay competitive, bringing in the right people that are willing to sacrifice for the guy beside them. Just the little nuances of the game. Putting people in good position, when you leave the ice, when they come on the ice. Being a good teammate; even though you might get the ice you want, supporting the guy that gets it. And we have to be way better at home, too. Our home record was nowhere near good enough. So, the special teams have to improve. The power play did at the end. The penalty-kill stayed consistently near the bottom. I think if you go through the first round, if you add our power play and penalty-kill, that might be the weakest in the league. So we have to improve the special teams and our five-on-five play, and to me it all just comes down to commitment to each other and an understanding of how we're built and who we are. And if we don't do it that way, we're going to have a hard time playing against teams that are getting top-end talent year after year.

On comments made about NHL Player Safety needing help:
I'm looking forward to talking to the commissioner at some point, or Bill Daly, or both. George Parros, he's got the hardest job in hockey. Going through all of this, I said, there's not enough money in hockey to have me do that job. It's an awful job, quite honestly. But I think, as a league, from the players to the owners to the coaches to the managers, we can support George and give him more insight and help him do his job. As I said, it's always going to be a job that people second-guess. but I think that as a group we can all help him out ... because that's the one thing we all agree on, is player safety. Nobody wants to see anyone get hurt. Nobody wants to see anyone miss a game. And as a league I think we can help George and his group find areas where maybe it's not as gray, it's more black and white. So it's more of a 'Support George Parros and Player Safety' than criticize them. That wasn't what I meant to do. It was more that I think that group could use assistance from everyone in hockey because nobody wants to hear ... as a fan, you don't want to wake up the next day and talk about player safety, and they don't want that. I know George. He doesn't want to talk about this either. So we have to give him the tools and the vehicles and have everyone play a brand that's not going to have Player Safety to have an input.

Did the Blues get to 85 percent on vaccinations:
I think so, yeah.

On O'Reilly as captain and how he did:
I thought he did a good job. Again, it was difficult for him and for me, quite honestly, because you're traveling but I wasn't allowed to get the leadership together to take them out for dinner, to do things that I've done in the past with that group. Craig and I, or any coach and I, would take those guys out maybe once every couple months. Everything, it was awkward. I think he did a good job. I'm excited for his leadership style and leadership skills. I know he takes a lot of pride in it, and I know he's going to work very hard this summer to make sure that we come back as a 100-percent committed team. It wasn't the easiest task coming in under this environment, and I thought he did a good job.

Are you anticipating next year being normal:
God, I hope so. This is getting old for everybody right now. Just even watching the Canadian division in the playoffs, knowing what the Bell Center would sound like, just not having fans, it's different. When you see 9,000, 6,000, 12,000 ... the energy that it brings, you forget what 18 and 20 looks like. I'm hoping - I'm not an anti-vaxer - I'm hoping everybody gets vaccinated. I think it's a smart thing to do. I think it makes our society better. I think we can move on quicker and, once we do that, we're going to get back to the things that were normal. This is abnormal, and I hope it always stays abnormal. I want to get back to normal.

Do you need to find players to match coaching style:
I think, yeah, Craig and I need to sit down and talk probably in the next couple of weeks. You've got to let the dust settle a little bit. I think emotions are a great thing, and I think they can also be a detriment. I'm going to let the dust settle. Again, I want to hear from the management staff that I work with. I want him to get a good indication from his coaches. But I think for any organization to have success, you have to evolve. I think I have to evolve as a manager, I think he has to evolve as a coach and we talked about our players have to evolve in the areas where the goals are scored from. So there are growth patterns for everyone that are necessary, but I have to be in connection with Craig. There's no sense in going out and getting a player that I envision one thing and then it's a square peg into a round hole, so he and I have to continue to work on that.

Was player development hurt by COVID:
Yeah, I would say that we'll probably look back on this and say the Europeans had an advanced-development year than the North Americans. It seemed like there were more leagues going on over there, and there were more players playing. It was difficult for the North American players, even the American Hockey League, the way it was set up it was set up with no playoffs and you played a small number of teams. The emotion of hockey is about the postseason, it's about preparing yourself to be on the perfect level to hit that and then run for a championship. It's something that we call dealt with, it's no different, but yeah there's going to be a stagnation in growth for some players for sure.

Tough for taxi squad guys this season:
Yeah, I talked to the taxi squad guys when we had our team meeting yesterday. I think that those were the players that sacrificed the most, certainly in our organization. I don't want to speak for others, but I was so impressed with our taxi squad. They came to work everyday, they did their skill work that JJ had them do, they were prepared when necessary. Some of them drove back and forth from Utica on multiple occasions just to play, so the didn't have to quarantine, and they did it with a smile on. I owe them a debt of gratitude and I said that to them in front of the team yesterday. They were true pros in a time where it could have been easy not to be that.

What was the general theme of the team meeting you had:
Yeah, it was basically that we have to get back to being a pack, we have to get back to the team, we have to be the hardest, closest, fiercest team because our competition might have acquired better players through free agency or through the draft or whatever. So, our strength has always been the team, and it's going to continue to be the team. The excitement is I know the character of the guys that are going to be able to pull that in. So that was sort of the message, that I was proud of the group, the way that they went into that Colorado-Minnesota series ... had put ourselves not in a good spot, they won those games, we looked like we were getting healthy, we looked like we were coming on and we looked like we were going to be a tough out. Then we lost a couple more players. I was disappointed that we got ourselves in that spot, too. I just think our team has its greatest success when they're committed to the guy beside them. I'm not saying that they weren't, but being 98 percent or 96 percent committed is not being 100 (percent), and for us to have success, we have to be 100.

Not going out for dinner impeded team progress:
I think it did, but again, it's not like we were the only organization that were dealing with these issues. I think we talked about Kruger, and not being able to get his family acclimated into our organization. Clifford not having the family acclimated into the organization. And there's little things that this group has done, and really, quite honestly, it starts with the alumni, and it's been the staple of St. Louis Blues hockey club and the community. They welcome these people in with open arms and make them feel great about their choice to come to St. Louis. I think our community can't wait to do that again, not only for us, but for the Cardinals. St. Louis is about community. This team is about community. It's about having pride in St. Louis and it's very difficult to do that when you can't connect with your friends and your fans. That's why I say I'm really hoping that we can get back to it, when they come back for training camp that they're able to have BBQs, and we're able to take them out golfing and we're able to do lots of things that we couldn't do to expedite why we believe and trust and love each other so much, and that's how we're going to have success.

Do you expect all of the coaching staff back:
Craig and I are going to talk about that. I think we all need to improve. I don't sense that Craig has an issue with any of his staff. Again, I haven't sat and talked to him about that yet. There's really no rush. I think we have young coaches that are getting better, getting stronger. But we do have to get our special teams better, our five-on-five has to be better. I have to sit with Craig and find out how we continue to develop our younger players so they can have a great impact on our team quickly, and how we fix some of the areas that weren't up to par this year.

On Perron contract extension and his joking comment of needing an eight-year one: 
As long as I get one with him. No, David, he defies the actuary tables and we're lucky to have him. At this age, he's supposed to be going the other direction. I think Marty St. Louis might be the only player in 20-plus years that were having their best years into their 30s. I'm not surprised, though. He's passionate about the game, he works at the game, he's evolved with the game, his puck-protection skills are top level. His ability to create offense for himself is top level. He goes to the harder areas. He's here next year and as long as he wants to play, I don't know why the St. Louis Blues wouldn't want him. Eight years might be a tad long, though.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Blues center Brayden Schenn

ST. LOUIS -- When looking at the Blues roster of 2020-21, there always seemed to be a select few players that would be asked to multi-task. 
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues forward Brayden Schenn (left) has been a consistent all-around 
player for Craig Berube and will be an important cog moving forward.

Brayden Schenn would be one of the top choices for coach Craig Berube, whether it be to center a top line, love to the wing to change things up, be relentless on the forecheck, play a physical role, drive the net, and as we saw in Game 1 of the first-round series against the Colorado Avalanche, fight.

The offensive numbers weren't quite up to par for the 29-year-old Schenn, who finished with 36 points (15 goals, 21 assists) but was one of four players to skate in all 56 regular-season games.

But in the four-game sweep at the hands of the Avalanche that sent the Blues packing much sooner than they would have liked, or hoped for, Schenn was one of many whose offense dried up in that series, with the Blues only being able to score seven goals in four games. He scored a power-play goal and was a minus-6 in the series, but it was a Blues team decimated by injuries, not just in this series, but throughout the season, and one that was overmatched by Colorado.

Schenn closed out his final interview session of the season discussing the championship window, two years removed from winning the Stanley Cup, what went wrong against the Avalanche and other topics. Here's what he had to say:

Do you feel like the championship window is closing:
No, we feel that we can compete with the best teams in the league. We don't feel, as a group at all, that our window is closed at all. Obviously, I'm sure there will be some changes this summer, but we have good pieces here, a great goaltender ... there's no reason we can't be at the top of the league next year once we have a full, healthy lineup.

Team hasn't been the same since entering bubble, why:
Yeah, obviously we were a top two team in the league (and) since the bubble haven't been able to find that form. I think all year, obviously it's a different year with everything happening. I find it was a little bit harder to become a team and really get to know your teammates compared to previous years and I think that's what this team is really built on. It's built on culture, it's built on team game, guys playing hard for one another each and every night and that's starting with getting to know your teammates and laying hard for one another. I think we have to get back to that and kind of get back on the same page as far as building that back up again.

Identity tough to get to for this team this year, why:
Kind of hard to pinpoint it on one thing. I don't know how to answer that.

On the forecheck, tough defense not being the same:
I feel like, I've always said it, when you play against the St. Louis Blues as an opposing team and being a part of the team now, the team is built on  ... not superstars or guys that are going to be top two or top three in league scoring. It's built on guys that are very good players that accept roles and do what it takes to win hockey games night in and night out. That's kind of what's been happening here for the past 10 years and that's why they've been so successful making the playoffs. I think we have to get back to, like I said, the team identity of being hard to play against, hard defensively, and ultimately that wins you hockey games and ultimately that brings you success. It has in the past, and we've got to get back to (that). As a group, as an older guy on the team now, we have to make sure we're going to put full attention to that next year.

Think style needs to evolve from Cup team style:
I think personnel probably drives identity right. Yeah, you're losing hard defensive guys with Bouwmeester and Steener and Edmundson and guys like that. But at the same time, teams change every year, (and) personnel changes every year, and you have to find a way. It's going to be difficult every single year. Obviously it's a little bit different look to what we had since I've been here with a little bit more speed or younger guys with skill. But I think that's on us players and everyone - coaches and stuff like that - to help everyone buy into the Blues' style of hockey and identity. It's no fun losing, so I think that's important for us to keep on driving that culture around here.

Why did offense dry up in the series against the Avalanche:
You're looking at a series as a whole here, like we're talking they're a good team, they're Presidents' Trophy. But at the end of the day, you lose Faulk, you lose (Bortuzzo), you didn't have Vince Dunn, you don't have Oskar Sundqvist, you don't have David Perron ... those are five pretty big pieces that are going to help you win a series. Nothing against those guys that came in because they actually did a great job and played hard, but if you're going to make it to the next level and you want to advance deep, you need a healthy lineup and we just weren't able to be healthy all year. We didn't really have the pieces all in at the same time to kind of show what kind of team we were. We had Parayko out a lot, (and) he's obviously a huge piece for us. At times throughout the year you never got a look on what kind of team we could actually be. We weren't healthy at all, and going into the playoffs against a very good team, you need pieces to beat them and a full healthy lineup. We're definitely better than getting swept in that series. Obviously it would have been nice to put up a solid fight, but it's just tough, especially right before the playoffs when your leading scorer goes down with COVID.

On losing Perron:
I guess you're shocked a little bit, but it's kind of funny, we didn't really have any cases all year ... and DP obviously had a great year for us ... the power play was starting to come along and he runs it there on the half-wall for us. So yeah, it was uncertain times throughout the whole year. You never knew what exactly was going to happen, but it's tough hearing that news. You obviously always feel like you have hope and a chance, but as the series went on, you miss a big piece like that, that's able to score goals and put up points as well as bring a solid 200-foot game for us.

Should have playoff games been postponed because of Blues COVID:
No, not at all. I think the NHL is trying to get through this one and keep the schedule ongoing here because they have to worry about next year's schedule already. I mean, deep down, I don't think the NHL was even thinking about postponing playoff games and pushing it back.

On the team's net front presence:
Yeah, you know, I dried up at times. You're going to go through steaks throughout a 56- or 82-game season and playoffs. There's times where ... I'll just talk about myself personally, no sense talking about other guys ... but I just think you have to try and find ways to be better each year. Guys around the league get a book on you and kind of find your tendencies and stuff like that. So that's a job in the summer for myself to try and find ways to get better and keep on improving and pushing yourself. I guess from an offensive standpoint talking about our guys in the room getting to the net, I think it's just a mindset. It's really nothing more than that. You have to want to go to the front of the net to score goals and that's how goals are scored, especially this time of year. So it's nothing more than a mindset, I don't think.

Looking forward to normal off-season and 2021-22:
I think everyone is looking forward to it. I think it's nice to see, whether it's Florida or Nashville, they're almost full houses. It's nice to see that life is somewhat getting back to normal, especially in the States. Canada obviously is a little bit behind on that, but hopefully for the next season we can have a full season, obviously hoping nothing shoots back up with the (COVID) variants . But hopefully it's going to be a 21-22 season where hopefully we're back to normal.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Blues goalie Jordan Binnington

ST. LOUIS -- To say Jordan Binnington took the Blues and the NHL by storm two years ago is an understatement.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Jordan Binnington was 18-14-8 with a 2.65 GAA and .910 save percentage
this season but hasn't won a playoff game since Game 7 in Boston in 2019.

After all, Binnington was an unknown when he arrived on the scene for his first NHL start Jan. 7, 2019 but the ending to that story was, well, historic.

Two years later, it's hard to imagine Binnington is still without a Stanley Cup Playoff victory since that epic night in Boston, Game 7 of the Cup Final June 12, 2019.

But here we are after a four-game sweep at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche, Binnington is 0-9 with a 4.21 goals-against average and a .875 save percentage in the playoffs since. 

He just finished his second full season as the No. 1 netminder and will enter 2021-22 with a fresh, new contract with financial stability and longevity in tact, but as he enters another off-season, Binnington talked about the season he had (18-14-8 with a 2.65 GAA and .910 save percentage), the challenges the Blues faced this season, the false positive he had to endure before Game 2 against the Avalanche and plenty more:

On the day of Game 2 when Blues had weird positive false tests:
I wasn't that optimistic. I woke up, got the call and I was told it was a potential false positive. With the previous cases, I wasn't so optimistic, but thankfully, it was found we were in the clear mid or early afternoon. So I just tried to prepare like I was playing the whole day and thankfully, it was a false.

How tough was it to have a little bit of pregame and then out on the ice for a game:
It is what it is. At that point, I think other things I approach, it's just whatever comes up, handle it the best way you can. You can't really stress about it, so that was kind of my outlook on it.

Initial feelings after being swept out of the playoffs:
It's tough. Obviously it would have been nice to be a little more competitive in the series. I think we did battle hard and it's kind of a year where, you know, there are some, you can use some excuses, but it's not what we're about and it's not in our character. We were down some guys, but guys stepped in from the taxi squad up and the boys were prepared to jump in and competed. They're a good hockey club for sure. We've got some work to do and it's a good eye-opening experience. I think there was a lot of experience gained this season from young guys to new roles taken on and veteran guys. I think being in the playoffs and getting that feel, even getting kind of the atmosphere back with the fans and realizing getting a bit more of a taste of what the NHL's really like. I think it was good experience to get in there, but like you said, like we said, we obviously want to win every game, but getting swept is more frustrating.

Perron on COVID list the day you were leaving, what was the reaction:
Yeah, he's obviously a huge part of our team in the ice, off the ice, in the locker room, energy. He plays so hard, I think playoffs is where he enjoys it the most really. Obviously a big blow, but it is what it is and got to handle it the best way you can. Guys tried to step up and tried to come together for him and tried to hold on a little longer so he could come back and be with the boys again. It was a frustrating time.

The team's record since the bubble, why haven't the results been the same since:
Teams go through adversity, things change, environments change. I know that every guy's working hard and you want to be successful. I don't think it's anything in particular. I think it's been obviously a strange season and I think all we can do is look at it and focus on the positives, that it's another year of experience, we competed through a lot, guys got stronger and battled through some adversity. You've got to do the best you can. That's kind of how I look at it.

On Colorado's good net front, is something you can do a better job of clearing guys out and allowing you to see pucks:
If you look at the top three teams in our division, they all have a good net front presence and it's kind of they're symmetrical in how they're using their screens or net front presence, defections. I think it's kind of part of the game nowadays. it's not easy to do, but I think it's part of the game and I think it's something we're going to focus on going forward and even me personally with screens, handling them better and just finding a way to find the puck. We're all looking to always improve and keep growing. I think it's part of the game now so that's something that's going to be taken into consideration.

How much did you miss that stability on the blue line:
I think as a team as whole, guys coming in and out, it's tough to kind of play together all the time, but you've got to adapt. It's part of the nature here. Personally, I think if you lose big guys like that, like anyone that looks at it, I think it's a challenge and an opportunity to kind of be there, have an impact on the team's success. It's about stepping up and it's kind of what we enjoy about the nature of the game and competition. It wasn't easy, but i think we worked hard. I feel like I worked hard and did what I could, or tried to at least. You've just got to reflect and respond really.

Can you close the gap quickly between yourselves and the top teams this year:
Yeah, I think we've got a strong core here and some very talented young players. I think it's about becoming more connected, which happens with time and experiences. Yeah, I think we can compete with anyone. We'll see what happens this offseason, but I think we're in a good spot. It's on us to come together and improve and take care of our crafts over the summer and take care of the bodies. Just refresh and be prepared to play on time at the start of the season.

How do you evaluate your play, what you did well, what you need to work on:
I probably won't get into it technically, but looking back, right from the bubble, I wasn't happy with how it went and I kind of just went right back to work head down, just tried to prepare the best way I can and it was a new experience and maintaining the body and your strength throughout the season, the gym, the work here was good with the staff. I think reflecting, it's been a short time so far. I know I put the work in and I can feel good about that. I hope to just continue to bring success into this city, with the team and just come together and do great things, is really what I want.

Are you OK with not being popular to fans in other cities:
I don't mind it. I think I like to play hard and I'm competitive. We're competing out there, there's no friends. If things happen and emotions are high, that's kind of the beauty in the game to me. I don't really care, no.

Thoughts for the off-season, looking forward to a normal season next year:
That'll be exciting and I think it's just continue to grow. That's kind of the outlook for the summer and be prepared for next season, reflect and learn from experiences from this season and and prepare and go to work.

Any type of different off-season now that you have a long-term contract in front of you:
No, it's the same game plan. Just keep getting better and pushing myself, finding my motivations. It's nice to have that stability for sure, or security, but at the same time, things can change quick. It's a very competitive league and you're seeing the young talent around the league nowadays. I just want to do the best I can, be the best kind of player and athlete I can be and just go from there.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Blues captain Ryan O'Reilly

ST. LOUIS -- Having completed his first season as Blues captain, if Ryan O'Reilly didn't take it upon himself to shoulder things when they didn't go right before, he certainly did during 2020-21.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues captain Ryan O'Reilly (90) led St. Louis with 24 goals and a plus-26 
during the regular season but called his playoffs "pretty pathetic."

In the immediate aftermath of being swept by the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the playoffs, O'Reilly called his play "pretty pathetic," which was hardly the case, even though the numbers (no goals, three assists, minus-7) don't back those claims up.

O'Reilly was staked with the challenge of handling Colorado's top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen while maintaining an offensive output that was obviously too challenging for the undermanned and injury-riddled Blues.

But O'Reilly put up solid offensive numbers once again in his third season here, with his 54 points only behind David Perron for the team lead. His 24 goals and plus-26 were tops on the team.

The disappointment of a second straight first-round playoff loss didn't sit well with the captain, and he answered questions regarding that, how the Blues fell short of expectations despite the plethora of injuries, how they can get back to their identity and more:

How season ended and falling short of expectations:
It was a very disappointing season. I think everyone feels that. We didn't give give ourselves a good chance. We're all unhappy with it, but we're till reflecting, we're sorting things out. We're thinking about it. We've got to find a way to be better and it is what it is.

On the record of the team since bubble last season, team hasn't been the same since being top team in the West last season:
There's tons of things that go into it. There's so many different variables. Yeah, we aren't the team that we want to be. We weren't consistent and building something. We had these little spurts and it wasn't enough. We didn't grow our game and build our team game like we need to like it's been in the past with what guys have done here. That's the main issue we're searching for. Again, it starts with myself. This time's about reflection and finding a way to go through it. Again, it starts with myself, I have to be better and do things differently to build it and other guys as well. This is where we sort it out, take some time to rest and get the hungry back and go from there.

On the team identity, why it was so hard to find with this group:
It's a good question and it's something I don't think I can give a direct answer to. It's something I think we're all kind of looking for, how do we get that back and how do we find it. It's not easy to get that. One, I felt it was built, it wasn't just ... for years and years the way we've competed and finally you get bounces and you find a way to win it. Here, I think it starts with, I think I kind of said it before, building it and then competing and getting back to that team mentality that gives yourself a chance to win and compete against those top teams. There's not anything specific and a direct answer I can give you, but it's building it and learning how to find that competitive edge and building our whole team around that.

How do you blend together younger players that don't play the way you played to win it all:
You have the right things in place in the structure. Still, it's everyone buying into one way and doing it the right way and being disciplined in that. Yeah, we have different styles of players and it is a different team that it was a couple years ago, but there's still that discipline within the structure and a certain edge mentally that you have to have in order to be successful. It's finding a way. It's different, it's challenging, but it's building around that one feeling in that kind of respect for each other and competing for each other and the game grows from there and I think the identity comes naturally, if that makes sense.

Do you feel like teams are building teams to combat what you were in 2019:
Yeah, I think it's no secret when you watch playoffs, you see that grit and that heaviness that we kind of try to pride ourselves on. You see in playoffs that you have to have that. You don't stand a chance if you don't have it. Last year you see Tampa, the way they played and how they're structure is the way of the heaviness they had throughout their lineup. These teams, it's huge. To win in this league, you have to have that and it's got to be a staple. That's something we didn't have enough of, more consistent enough with.

Was your forechecking style missing or not consistently there this year:
I do agree with that. It's a staple and it's hard work. Yeah, we didn't have enough of that relentless forecheck that can be so effective and coming wave after wave. That's something that usually we have and gives us a chance to win a lot of hockey games and compete with all these teams. It wasn't consistent enough.

When you take Bouwmeester, Steen and Pietrangelo out, is that a tough transition, especially defensively:
Yeah, for sure. All three of those guys, you don't replace them, but also too, the other guys were a huge part in building this organization and this culture. You have to be able to take that and all of us grow and play like those guys and take what they've done. You don't replace them but you use the way they played and let it build something from that.

Gap in teams ahead of you, feel like gap can be closed again quickly:
Oh yeah. This organization does a fantastic job of getting pieces and competing and doing what they need to do in order to win. For myself, I have to focus on obviously being the leader and helping doing what I can do to contribute to that. We've got some unbelievable pieces here and yeah, we're close, it's there. It's not a huge thing and big adjustments. We're close and it's myself and everyone finding a way to grow their game, finding a way to grow and finding a new way to adapt and win. We're definitely close though.

The Avalanche was willing to go to the net, stay there; do you have those players:
It's a big thing. A lot of those goals they scored with the traffic, their speed getting to the net. For myself, being out there for a lot of goals against, you're trying to be aggressive defensively and the next thing you know, it's back to the point and it's at the net. It's tough. It's something we definitely need more of. It's being disciplined and doing the right things at the right time. If you want to win in this league, especially in the playoffs, you have to be able to do that and get to those hard areas.

Was playing in the West, albeit for one season, tougher than you thought:
It definitely wasn't easy. And on top of that, our injuries, banged up all year, the travel, it was very difficult, but I think we're all looking forward to getting back to that normal schedule, seeing the rest of the league as well. When things are going well, it's easy to ride the momentum. We were playing every team back-to-back nights, it's tough, it's tough to grind out two in a row and such. I think all of us are looking forward to having a normal season.

On the year in as captain, what was it like, was it more than you thought, exactly what you thought:
Honestly, I think it's both. I had some expectations, also some learning that needs to be done. It's a tough job, but it's a fun job too. I like having those responsibilities, but I look at it, reflect it and a lot of things I have to grow in order if we want to go win again, there's a lot of things that have to be better.

Even though it got better late, the defense wasn't the same this year of past standards. Why wasn't it there:
I think having a lot of new pieces, guys that have been here for so long obviously gone. It's tough, it's tough to just jump in for guys that haven't been here long, to jump into a new system and all of us to just be cohesive and defend well. I think it takes time. You can see it. We have great players, but it's just building that chemistry. The more we play together, the more we get more familiar and more guys are on the same page and being able to trust the system, whether it's new or not, that's how you defend well. I feel like next year that'll be something I feel we'll definitely clean up and be a lot better.

Chance to exchange messages with Faulk and Bortuzzo, how are they:
Both guys are doing good. Obviously disappointing. Those are two guys that are massive pieces for us that didn't get a chance to play at home. It was huge losses for the series, but talking to both of them, they're doing good, which is great to hear.

On comment we'll beat the Avs; any regrets:
No, I think I had the belief there. I thought we could. We didn't, which is disappointing. I don't think it was a crazy comment. I felt that I believed in this group. I don't think we got a lot of bounces and it was tough, but I think it just started steam-rolling and such, but I believed when I stepped on the ice it was there to beat them. It just wasn't good enough, it didn't happen. I will never question my belief in trying to win, ever.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Blues right wing David Perron

ST. LOUIS -- If these were normal times and David Perron would have been playing an 82-game season, 2020-21 would have been a banner, and career year, for the Blues right wing.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
David Perron led the Blues in points (58) and assists (39) this season but
had his season cut short for the playoffs after a positive CIVID-19 test.  

The first Blue to average more than a point per game (58 on 19 goals, 39 assists) in 56 games since Pavol Demitra had 93 points in 76 games in 2002-02 was arguably his most complete season, his 14th in the NHL.

And with the way Perron, 32, was heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, there was one guy that was more than looking forward to facing the Colorado Avalanche, this season's Presidents' Trophy winners.

Well, these haven't been normal times and Perron's banner season came to a crashing halt when on the day the Blues would travel to Denver for Games 1 and 2, Perron received the awful news that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and placed on the NHL's protocol list and missed the series.


Perron was obviouly disappointed in how it ended, not only for him but for the Blues as well, who were fourth in the West Division this season. 

Here are his thoughts: 

On finding out about the test results, was it crushing for you:
I found out like, we test every day, so I just got the result from Ray and many things were maybe leaning towards a false positive, but it ended up I had COVID so that's what happened and it was really hard to watch away from the team. I didn't realize how hard it would be to be away and to kind of ... I don't really get nervous about hockey playing games and stuff, but being away watching not being able to do anything to help was tough.

Have any symptoms:
Yeah, it was like not bad, just like a couple days the first 3-4 days and that was it really. I don't want to minimize it, but there's a feeling that I've played with worse things before and it's a situation where there's a protocol and obviously the way it can spread around and all that stuff. That's tough.

With the great season that you had, and for it to end like that, feel like a gut punch:
Yeah, I was just hoping at least the boys would get like one game, one win there, because there's a chance that I could have maybe play that game. I'm not sure if they would have cleared me, but I was doing everything in my power to get that done and what it was going to be like manage minutes or not. I just wanted to be out there, find a way out there, who knows what can happen, but yeah, it was really hard. Like you said, the season I had, I felt like I had momentum going the right way and sure enough, also as a team, we go the whole year cleanly or basically the only team in the NHL and we lived through some games that were like canceled and all that stuff. They moved the schedule around and then when it came our time, that didn't happen, so that was disappointing for me also.

On moving games in regular season, not in playoffs because of COVID:
Yeah, exactly. I don't know why in a way. It wasn't really playoffs also. There's one series that wasn't started for another four days maybe, take those 3-4 days, I don't know, it's over now. Obviously those are things that I'm sitting at home and everyone's hitting me up and trying to find out what's going on and because of the situation of the playoffs, I just didn't get back to anyone. I apologize if you reached out, anyone, and I didn't get back to you, but I just felt it was better to leave it like that. Obviously I appreciate some of the tests I got too.

Can you say if you were vaccinated:
Yeah, but like I've seen some tweets about that and I don't know why it's a big deal as much for guys. Like the three guys that got it, we were. It's unfortunate and it shows that it's not perfect and I get it, why people can ask. But in the room, I can tell you that we support each individual to make their own decision and it's a tough bounce for the three guys that got it.

Asked again to clear up if he could have played Game 5:
I don't know. That's me like deep down thinking that if there's a chance I could get out there, I will find a way to be out there, but I don't know if I could have done everything needed and maybe convince the doctors and all that to put me out there, but if you're asking me, I would have been out there. But I'm not sure. I don't know, sorry. I don't know, it never happened so we don't know, but I guess Game 5 would have been today and I feel like I could, yeah.

Feel like you were getting close:
I don't know, I didn't skate, but the last night basically that we lost, it was my last day in the protocol.

Confirm you were vaccinated:
Yeah, I don't want to talk about that anymore. I was, yes.

Difficult because you took so many precautions, vaxed and still got it:
Yeah, I think as a team we did. The thing that's tough like with the protocol, we were still testing every day regardless of your situation, it's ... I don't know, I think it was just a tough year for everyone mentally too, but it is disappointing to go through the whole time and that's when it happens at the end. With Wally, I think everyone was a little bit shocked because he was vaccinated as well and then same as Walks. Yeah, it's tough.

Any explanation from doctors, variant strains going on:
I'm not a doctor, but I think if you Google it and I googled so many things about COVID, you can still get it regardless. It's a tough bounce.

Torture watching playoffs, could have helped the team:
I think it was the whole thing. I feel like the last like, we had a couple good spurts of the season and one really tough part in the middle and the last part, I think we grinded out of our hole a little bit when Arizona was ahead of us. We played Colorado, we played Minnesota a bunch and we had good results against them so we had somewhat of a good feeling going into it. We had lines that were a little bit more set than they had been the whole year, those last three or four games when we played LA and Minnesota. It was really hard, yes. I know I could have helped in certain areas, but at the same time, I thought the guys got put into situations that some of them weren't there before or whatever. I thought some guys did a good job and they worked. They're a good team over there. It is hard for sure. It was the hardest thing I had to do in a while as far as just watching away. After games, the games were late enough that you think you can go right to bed after, but I was so mad and frustrated, all kinds of emotions that I feel I couldn't sleep.

Did you feel like there's differences between you and those top-tiered teams, a big gap:
First of all, we had like a turnover of players in the last couple years that have been impactful players, not only on the ice but in the leadership department and the culture department of this team, the identity to every single night, we know what to expect and I think obviously with JayBo, Petro and Steener, that's going to be a big difference there. I thought we did a good job last year before COVID hit, now it's up to us to challenge each other to really kind of grab that back, not let it slip much further than that. You can look at it, yes there was a gap, but at the same time, I'd like to see our team playing with Sunny playing, with myself playing, Faulker, those guys missing, Bortuzzo, even Gunny. See where we would have been at playing them like that. I think we could have had a chance, but it's up to us to show it next year and if we don't start showing it, we know what direction it could go as well. I think at times from playing and watching, I just felt like we weren't sustaining the momentum that one line would go out there and it would turn into a different game. We had to stay true to our culture, our identity. I think that's the way to have success moving forward.

On coach Craig Berube saying identity wasn't there at times this year, feel like newer players, younger players (rush players) feel like style is different than what coaches/management wants team to play:
It's a tough question, it's a good question. I think it's up to the coaches, it's up to the players to help those guys along to understand what we need. Obviously we can use every strength of every player, but at the same time, there's an identity here. It's more than just these coaches, I think it's been going on for longer that's been working and we had success not long ago doing it. You see there's other tams around he league that ... I just think you have more control over a game when you play deep in the zone, when you control the puck than trying to match rush plays against a team like Colorado. You also saw teams like Edmonton, they liked their rush game. I don't know if that's the way to win in the playoffs either. It's all about the playoffs for me. I want to win the Cup. I still think it's the way to win. We saw Tampa Bay last year, they had trouble getting over the hump, but they got some heavy guys in Pat Maroon, Coleman, those guys, Goodrow and they found a way to win it. I think those guys were really impactful to their success and I think we're going to see the same again whoever wins.

Is there enough here to still be a Cup contender:
Yeah, I think there is. Again, it's going to be up to us to show it but I do think this year, we need to kind of raise our team game a little bit. I thought you guys could see that one line would go out and then they would kind of fall off and pick it back up. That's the big thing Steener brought up over the years here, how important it is to set up the next guy, how important the team game is, the culture. That's been a staple on this team for a longer than even those coaches that we have right now. I think we're all on board in a way, but we have to show it.

Defensively, the team improved down the stretch, but over long haul, wasn't the kind of Blues defense we're used to seeing. Any thoughts on that:
There was an adjustment. Like I said, we lost some guys, like key pieces, so yeah, we can't expect to just be the same team. We don't have the same players. It takes a little bit for everyone to understand, get on the same page. Parayko was banged up for a good part of the season, if not the whole year. Even when he played, you could tell he was starting to get healthy at the end, but just him, JayBo and those guys, they were the staple of our defense like the year we won. Guys, I think, have done a good job of coming in, like Kruger on our power play, to start the way we did and to finish the way we did too as a power play unit at the end, that was impressive. We were 30th in the league for a while, I think, and we finished top-5, top-10. So I think some guys did a good job to grab some stuff back, but we can still raise many areas of our game.

On entertaining extension this offseason, want to finish career as a Blue:
Well then that would have to be an eight-year deal then to finish my career (laughing). I think it's definitely something that I love the city, I love the guys here, I love just the mentality of the team and everything about it. Definitely feel comfortable. I hope they feel the same about my game and the way it's going. I'm going to keep working as hard as I can to keep improving and to find little details in my game that can make me a little more complete as a player, trying to keep adding to the leadership department and all that stuff. Of course it's something that I hope we can get into, but we'll see how it's going to go. I think these are conversations that we're not going to have right now. We'll see. It's not in the immediate (future) how we're going to do our things, but we'll see. That would be nice.

Nice line, but you're serious, you're kind of player who thinks you can play until you're 40-41:
I said that to Panger after the last game of the season and I just feel like I'm scared of the end, so I want to keep getting better, I want to keep improving, I want to keep pushing harder in the gym to basically give myself the best chance to keep playing. You never know when this is over and yes, I do see other guys around the league that have been successful. I'm not the greatest skater, but there are other guys in the same situation and they are successful. You see guys like T.J. Oshie, those guys. He's not the fastest skater either, but he's got a lot of things that he does well. He's getting up there in age as well. I think absolutely I want to play as long as I can. It's got to make sense for everyone, but hopefully we can talk about that.