Hockey

When a GM is in a job for over 10 years, as Blues GM Doug Armstrong will pass into this summer, it’s either a sign of an organization’s inertia or incompetence, or a sign of sustained success. Or in the case of the Hawks, both. And it may be that’s the case in St. Louis as well.

Armstrong ascended to the GM chair while the Hawks were on their way to their first parade, and as things always worked with the Blues, everything they did seemed to be not to measure up to the class of the division (it was Detroit in the past), but to be in opposition to it. Of course, the Blues set some of this in motion when former GM Larry Pleau took Erik Johnson instead of Jonathan Toews.

But while the Hawks and others were getting faster and more skilled, the Blues seemed determined to plod and crush their way to success, which had predictable results. They hired Ken Hitchcock, which only made them more defensive. We know they emphasized size and GRITHEARTFAAAAART. And while they have been a consistent playoff team, there was only one conference final appearance.

It was the kind of record that usually gets GMs fired, and so would have the coaching boondoggle of installing Mike Yeo as an heir apparent to Hitchcock, and then watching all of that go to shit when the players rebelled against both of them. It culminated with the Blues missing the playoffs in 2018.

But that kicked a new direction and sense of urgency for Armstrong, something we’d love to see around here. Maybe he knew his job was on the line. But they traded for Ryan O’Reilly and signed Tyler Bozak to give them the center depth that they’d lacked and the Hawks or Sharks or Predators had picked apart in years previous.

A shift in drafting before that though were the real tracks. Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, Vince Dunn, and an absolute theft of Brayden Schenn out of Philadelphia set the Blues on a path to be fast, dynamic, and skilled. All the things they hadn’t been before. And clearly, Armstrong was rewarded.

The final stroke, and perhaps the act of a man who was sure he was headed for printing up a bunch of CVs, was correcting the mistake of installing Yeo as coach after the players had turned on him and giving Craig Berube the job. Suddenly the Blues were playing faster and more aggressive, because with the speed Armstrong had installed in the lineup they could. We know how the rest goes.

Only Armstrong and his bosses will know how close he was to the axe, but everyone seems to think it was very much on the cards had the Blues not turned around at New Year’s last year. Armstrong deserves credit for realizing the mistakes of the past, seeing how his team had to adjust, and not being afraid to switch gears. Perhaps the Blues ownership deserves credit for letting Armstrong have the time to do it all.

Would that work here? Hard to say. Stan Bowman’s recent drafting record is already a strike against that. Recent player acquisitions would suggest they haven’t even diagnosed the problem yet. He’s made his coaching change. though Armstrong has been allowed three. And for every Armstrong who’s been allowed to dig themselves out, there’s Boston, Pittsburgh, Carolina and others who have found success changing things in the front office. There’s no set model for it.

What a state of affairs when you look down I-55 and wonder why things can’t be like that here. Life is meaningless.

Everything Else

 vs.

RECORDS: Blues 43-28-8   Hawks 34-33-12

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN

GROSS: St. Louis Gametime

It’s finally over, people. The Hawks desperate, somewhat sad though fun, and always futile lunge/leap/hail mary for the playoffs is now over. Death came a callin’ last night when the Avs won, and now it’s time for this season to journey to the other side. Peachy keen.

There will be plenty of time for the autopsy, for the criticism, for the investigation. For now, I guess we just stare and be somewhat surprised that it’s only the last three games that will be totally meaningless. Because there was a time when it sure looked like the last three months would be. Then again, that’s a criticism of just how bad the West was this year, because in a normal year the Hawks would have never sniffed a playoff spot, much less held one for about 45 minutes. For now, let’s just say that it was all in front of the Hawks, they had it in their own grasp, and they weren’t able to close their fingers around the easiest playoff spot to grab in a decade or more. Someone should pay. No one will.

Which makes for a distinct contrast to the team they face tonight. The Blues sat with the Hawks as the wooden-spooners of the entire league right after January 1st. They were last in the entire NHL. Since then they’ve ripped of a 27-9-4 to this point, which has them within one win of being tied with both the Jets and Preds. Think about that my beautiful babies. In three months, the Blues went from last in the league to being in with a shout of winning this damn division. That’s how mediocre the division has been, but that’s also how much they’ve turned things around.

A huge part of it is Jordan Binnington, whom the Blues handed the job in January in a true “what-fucking-ever” gesture after Jake Allen for the 18th straight year watched the role dribble under his arm and into the net. Binnington has gone .928 since, including a .936 in January and a .945 in February. He’s mostly responsible for this revival. Who knows if it’s real, but if Binnington doesn’t wake up anytime soon, and considering the state of the West, there’s really no telling how far this could go. There’s something to make your avocado toast come back up, huh?

But it isn’t all just Binnington. Interim coach (for now) Craig Berube has gotten the Blues back to their Hitchcock-levels of shot and chance-suppression, while not sacrificing offense totally to do so. Ryan O’Reilly, whom the Blues got for a fucking song the Hawks probably could have easily matched if they weren’t so busy thinking Anisimov and Schmaltz were fine down the middle, has freaked off for 38 points in 41 games in 2019, And he’s brought the give-a-shit of Vladimir Tarasenko from the red to the black, which is no small task as Tank seemed dead set on playing and bitching his way out of town.

Jaden Schwartz and David Perron finally finding some healthy has helped as well, and Brayden Schenn being able to move to ROR’s wing is another boost.

At the back, Berube finally figured out, which Hitch and Mike Yeo couldn’t, that Colton Parayko nor Alex OrangeJello are puck-movers, and moved Vinnie Dunn Bag O’ Donuts up to the top pairing to be that guy. He responded with nine points in March alone, and keeps Colton Burpo and Jabe O’Meester away from spots where they can do harm to themselves or society. When Dunn is out there the Blues can actually get up and go, which is a real change.

It’s not totally fair to compare the Blues to the Hawks. The Blues were built to compete this year in the summer, where the Hawks were built to take up space. But the Blues did identify a weakness, center, and didn’t just half-ass in trying to patch it up. They brought in O’Reilly and Bozak, who’s been fine. They saw a coach who wasn’t working and the team wasn’t listening to and finally canned him, but the new coach actually was able to implement some changes for the better. None of that has happened here, and it truly is a cold and scornful world where it feels like the Blues have more of an idea of what they’re doing than the Hawks do. But it’s hard to see it otherwise right now.

As for the Hawks, it’s time to just see it out. Corey Crawford will get a rest tonight, and it honestly wouldn’t be a surprise to see him sit the rest of the year. There’s really nothing to be gained from him playing, and now that the Hawks have finally got him healthy and at least in the area of being Crow again, what’s the point of chancing it? Dennis Gilbert has been called up to get a look-see, mostly to reward him for a good season in Rockford. And hey, he’ll keep you from having to watch Gustav Forsling tonight.

The only things that matter now happen at the draft and July 1st. Until then, we’re just killing time.

Game #80 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

It’s kind of amazing what happens when your organization shows urgency and never stops doing so. While John Cooper should win the Jack Adams Trophy for Coach Of The Year for presiding over a historically good team, Craig Berube is going to have a serious case. It was just after the new year when both the Hawks and Blues were at the bottom of the NHL. While the Blues have a better roster, one of them responded properly, One of them responded by goofing a power play for a matter of weeks. But it’s not as if the Hawks couldn’t have had Ryan O’Reilly if they so desired.

On January 5th, the Blues were 16-19-4. They’ve gone 27-9-4 since. And by every measure, they’ve greatly improved. If the argument is that it took Berube a couple months to instill his changes to Mike Yeo’s “system” (and we were never sure what it was), then this proves it. After six weeks, the Blues apparently had it down. Do the Hawks have Colliton’s? You know the answer to that one.

The Blues, before and after January 5th, are up or down as they should be in every metric category. They take more attempts, they give up less. They create more scoring chances and give up less. And perhaps most importantly, they are utterly dominant when it comes to high-danger chances, their percentage ranking best in the league and the amount they surrender ranking second. Systematically, the Blues are better across the board.

And yet…and yet…It’s hard to ignore that the Blues SV% at evens before that January 5th mark was .902, which is below league average. That’s when Jay Gallon was once again being crowbarred into the starter’s role he’s spent years trying to prove he’s not up for, like a toddler in ill-fitting clothes. Finally, they switched to Jordan Binnington, for lack of any other option. Since then, their SV% is .940. You can’t ignore that sort of thing.

And the question becomes is this just a coming-of-age from Jordan Binnington? Or a once-in-lifetime heater from a career nobody? The hunch is the latter.

Binnington had never showed anything like this at any level. He never showed much in his OHL career after being a third-round pick eight years ago. He dipped down to the ECHL for half of a season, where he put up a decent .922. But he never managed more than a .916 in the AHL until a 28-game loan to the Providence Bruins two years ago, where he put up a .926. He started the year in San Antonio just as strongly, and the Blues must have figured why not? They had nothing to lose at that point. Still, a .928 overall was just no something anyone could have seen coming.

And Binnington might already be straining a touch. After his unconscious January and February, Binnington sank down to a .912 in March. But of late he’s beaten the Lighting and Knights, so who knows what the hell is going on?

In reality, this is closer to what the Blues were supposed to be doing before the season than their bottomed-out performance for the first half of the year. This roster was engineered to make a run, and just spent the first half sputtering and wheezing. Perhaps it was just being free of Yeo and his unpredictable moods from day-to-day, or the connection he still had to Ken Hitchcock. He also allowed Vinnie Dunn to be the puck-mover the Blues simply have never had, and never even really considered having. Whatever it is, Berube has provided a structural change to the Blues, and then was in position to benefit from Binnington’s heater. Must be nice.

 

Game #80 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

PF Flyers vs oldschool

Game Time: 7:00PM
TV/Radio: NBCSN, TSN2, WGN-AM 720
Still Haven’t Sent Us Cheesesteaks: Broad Street Hockey

A lot can change in three and a half years’ time. And there might not be two more wildly divergent teams in that period of the NHL with regard to both asset management and results on the ice than those that competed in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. And tonight, the Hawks will welcome the Philadelphia Flyers back to United Center ice for just the second time since a 7-4 dong whipping in Game 5 of that series.