Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Blues call up Walker, sign Gillies as roster continues to be in flux

Team dealing with nine players out with injury, COVID-19 protocol feeling 
affects of CBA rules, ability to field full roster in light of being a cap ceiling team

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- The news just more and more complicated for the Blues, who by the way won a game on Tuesday for those that may have been caught up in the latest roster fog.

So Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, in a jovial mood despite the Blues' current roster influx, gave an update on the current goings on with the Blues.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Ryan O'Reilly (90) and the Blues found a way to defeat the Florida Panthers
on Tuesday playing three skaters short in the end.

"Since we talked last week, I feel like Dr. Fauci talking to you guys about medical issues here," he joked.

But here's the situation with the Blues, who pulled out a 4-3 overtime win over the Florida Panthers playing a skater short to begin the game and losing goalie Ville Husso to a lower-body injury and defenseman Jake Walman to an upper-body injury in the third period:
Being a cap ceiling team with little wiggle room, since the Blues played a skater short Tuesday, they were able to recall forward Nathan Walker from Springfield of the American Hockey League under emergency conditions, and they signed goalie Jon Gillies, who was with their farm team last season, to a one-year, two-way.

"Gillies is called up because Husso is out with a lower-body injury and Walman's out with an upper-body injury," Armstrong said. "They're getting tested today, so we'll have an update on them on Friday when we get all that information."

The Blues signed Gillies, 27, who played four games with Providence and Lehigh Valley of the AHL this season, because of the uncertainty of Husso, Jordan Binnington still in COVID-19 protocol and because they can't call up Joel Hofer, who makes more than the $850,000 threshold allowed under the CBA under these circumstances.

"For cap issues, both of our remaining goalies, because of their contracts where their bonuses take them slightly over $850,000, we had to sign somebody that's making $850,000 or less, so Gillies is playing in the American Hockey League on an AHL contract, so we signed him," Armstrong said. "He'll be in (St. Louis) tonight and be ready to partner tomorrow with (Charlie) Lindgren and we'll just take it day by day from there to where Ville is and we're hoping to get Binnington back early to late next week. 

"With Walker, because we played short last night, we were able to bring up Walker for (Thursday's) game, but because of the rules, (since) we got another injury, we have to play short for tomorrow, then if we have no injuries, we can be back to full strength on Saturday. As of now, it looks like we have to play short again tomorrow because of the way the CBA is written."

So what that means is when the Blues play shorthanded again on Thursday against the Detroit Red Wings, which by the way will be Robby Fabbri's first game back in St. Louis since he was traded to Motown, but that's a story for another day, the Blues can recall another player under emergency conditions for Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens if they so choose. 

Initially, Armstrong thought the rule read that when the Blues played their shorthanded game Tuesday, they could recall as many skaters to have a full roster as they wanted, but that isn't the case.

"Obviously I find it strange the way it's written," Armstrong said. "We played short last night. They allowed us to bring up a guy so we don't have to play short two games in a row but because another guy got hurt (Walman), we can't recall two guys. So let's say somebody else got hurt, we'll have to play short until we go through a game where somebody doesn't get hurt."

So under the current rules, when you're allowed to recall an emergency player to prevent from playing shorthanded, it's done for players making the league minimum ($750,000) plus $100,000 so nobody with a cap hit of over $850,000 can be called up, which explains why Hofer, who has a cap hit of $795,000 but a $132,500 performance bonus pushes his average annual value to $910,333.

"It was done in the last CBA so you didn't have to play short," Armstrong said. "Obviously the COVID situation has changed everything. The league treats COVID like a normal injury so it complicates things.

"On the COVID front, it's obviously been a slippery slope for us right now. With our minor league team inactive because of COVID, we have 13 employees (out) with COVID, (including) eight players, so when you look at our current roster right now with eligible players that could play hockey, 25 percent of our group's had COVID right now. We're working through it. We're trying to do the best we can to try and put a product on the ice that is competitive. I tip my hat to the guys what they did last night against a very good Florida team. Really what they've done since the COVID hit the guys on the last road trip, they've done a heck of a job."

Reinforcements are expected on the way soon, with veteran forward Tyler Bozak the likeliest to return the earliest, on Friday and be ready to come back perhaps as early as Saturday.
David Perron, out with an upper-body injury, and Robert Thomas, out with a lower-body injury, will not be available Thursday.

"David Perron is still day to day and same with Thomas," Armstrong said. "They're both getting more tests done. Neither of them are certainly going to play tomorrow."

Binnington, in COVID protocol with Bozak and Justin Faulk, could be ready as early as Monday at Dallas or as late as a week from Friday at home against the Stars.

"My understanding of the guys that are getting COVID in our group aren't getting severe symptoms, so we're hoping that maybe as early as Tuesday and at the late end on Friday," Armstrong said. "It's just going to be an energy issue and when he's going to face some shots. We can't  be penny wise, pound foolish with any of these guys coming back from COVID. There's no sense in getting them out there and having them get injured and then start rolling down this road again. So whether it's Bozak, who I think is the first guy to come off on the weekend. We've got to make sure he's mentally prepared and physically prepared to play. I think Husso took a couple extra days and (Torey) Krug jumped right in. It's just an indication where we think they're at. We don't want to put someone in a difficult spot. That's the issue right now. We're taxing, not just 18, now we're taxing 17 players on back to back nights and we don't want to put a guy in and then if he's not prepared to play and lose him for that game and maybe longer.

"We're hoping. If nothing changes, if nobody else was healthy and we don't have any injuries Thursday, because we play short, we can call another guy up from the minors, but if we play tomorrow and someone else gets injured, that player had to sit out, we can call another guy up and still have to play short. Is that clear as mud?"

The Blues GM is certainly learning all of this on the fly, as is everyone else, with the Blues (13-8-4) in the middle of it all.

"I would say I had general knowledge of it," Armstrong said. "When it affects you, you dig in deeper. Like the rule last night, I thought because we played short and we got an injury, we would be able to call up two guys. I was told that's not the case last night after ... again, right now we have nine players in St. Louis out, so it is what it is. You sort of learn on the fly. I think it steps back to the injuries we have and plus the COVID. COVID's treated like any injury. Some guys can play through injury, but obviously the league doesn't allow you to play through COVID.

"The COVID aspect of it is a little different for all of us right now. It's not long enough to put a guy on LTI, but it's four games or five games. When you get multiple COVID's and then you add that on to the six injuries that we have, it's a lot of money that ... and it's a positive thing. It's a positive thing that we only have of our six skating injuries, only two are on LTI. That's not a negative. Hopefully they're going to be back sooner than later, but it does handicap what you can do."

With James Neal and Klim Kostin on long-term injured reserve, the Blues were able to call up Logan Brown and Dakota Joshua. With Perron, the Blues don't want to risk putting the veteran on LTIR because he would have to miss 10 games and 24 days, and with the Blues' schedule compressed right now, Perron would have to miss 11 games, and with him being day to day, the Blues have that option but only if it gets closer to that threshold.

"If we get closer to it, but right now, yeah, to guarantee he has to miss 10 games is too big of a stretch to pull somebody up for this situation," Armstrong said. "He's too valuable, yes."

So for the interim, it will be Lindgren, who came on in relief of Husso and played the final 6:25 to pick up the win, his 11th win in the NHL in his 25th game.

"I called Charlie after the game and I said that had to be the easiest win he's gotten in his NHL career," Armstrong said. "It is what it is. We were able to sign a goalie and get somebody in, but obviously it's never good when your No. 1 and No. 2 goalie are out. But it's a great opportunity for Charlie and quite honestly for Gillies who wants to get back to the NHL. We have three games in four nights and it's a coach's decision on who plays and if Husso's not ready in that time, he may even get an NHL game."
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Dakota Joshua (54) has been one of the players recalled from the American
Hockey League to fill a void with the Blues roster in flux.

Lindgren said, "Yeah, he called me on the way home last night and we got a good chuckle about that. Only saw a couple shots, no Grade A's or anything but, I also want to point out too, just you how impressive 'Huus' was that whole game, keeping the team in the game and the last couple games I watched he's played excellent. You never like to see a guy go down like that and definitely hope for speedy recovery."

Lindgren, who is fourth on the goalie depth chart and was 8-1-1 with a 2.16 goals-against average and .926 save percentage with the Thunderbirds, is looking forward to the challenge but understands the circumstances.

"Yeah it's crazy," Lindgren said. "To be honest with you, I really have no idea what's going on with the cap and all that. I just hear what the guys are saying, but at the end of the day, I'm here, my job’s to play as hard and as well as I can for the Blues and that's all I can really focus on.

"I was definitely feeling really good down there. We got an excellent hockey team, great coaching staff and bottom line, we're having a lot of fun playing with each other and I got a few other 'Birds up here and just a great group of guys. We're having a ton of fun so I was feeling good personally and definitely want to carry that momentum up here."

1 comment:

  1. Who are the best forward options for calling up from the AHL now?