Jay Bouwmeester

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A hand injury will force Alex Steen to miss the rest of training camp

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Here’s some more bad news if you’re a fan of the St. Louis Blues.

On Wednesday morning, the team announced that veteran forward Alex Steen will miss the rest of training camp because of a left hand injury.

The 33-year-old suffered the injury during last night’s 5-3 preseason loss to the Dallas Stars. Steen will be re-evaluated in three weeks time, according to the release sent out by the team.

The veteran forward has been hit hard by injuries throughout his career. He hasn’t played more than 80 games since the 2008-09 season. Last year, he missed only six games, but he’s been out for 43 contests over the last four seasons.

The Blues open the season in Pittsburgh on Oct. 4.

It’s been a rough training camp for the Blues so far, as they’ve already lost forward Zach Sanford (shoulder surgery) for 5-6 months and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (fractured ankle) is also expected to be re-evaluated in three weeks.

Awful injury news for Blues’ Bouwmeester, Sanford

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Hockey’s training camps and exhibition games share a lot of similarities, big-picture wise, with other sports.

As much as they’re all about evaluating players trying to make rosters and rule tweaks heading into each season, the “winners” of a pre-season may just be the teams that make it out without any significant injuries. The St. Louis Blues aren’t one of those winners.

The team announced unsettling injury updates for defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and forward Zach Sanford on Tuesday.

Sanford is expected to miss five-to-six months after undergoing shoulder surgery. That virtually wipes out an important season for a guy who was still trying to stake his claim to a full-time roster spot.

Bouwmeester’s situation is probably more troubling, potentially, as he’s already a key defenseman for the Blues (averaging more than 22 minutes last season, which was a slight decrease from recent work). The team announced that Bouwmeester suffered a fractured ankle and will be re-evaluated in three weeks.

As tormenting as day-to-day updates can be, “check back in three weeks” makes for even greater anxiety.

It does open up some opportunities for other players in the Blues organization, for whatever that’s worth.

This news comes shortly after the Ottawa Senators announced that Colin White will miss multiple weeks with a broken wrist.

You almost wonder if we’ll start to see fewer practice updates like these:

Celebrate Labor Day by pondering the ‘hardest working’ NHL defensemen

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It’s Labor Day (or Labour Day), so hopefully you’re getting those last summer nights/hot dog grillings out of your system.

(Not just talking to you, Phil Kessel.)

With the holiday in mind, it seems sensible to get into the theme of things and ponder the “hardest working” players in hockey. For the record, these lists are based on stats, so feel free to project your own opinions about hustle/grit/other things that would show up on a John Cena t-shirt.

If nothing else, it’s refreshing to discuss some stats that don’t get as much attention.

Defensemen tend to be some of the biggest workhorses in the sport, so this first post will be devoted to them.

For forwards and goalies, check out this post.

Sheer volume

In maybe the least surprising development imaginable, Ryan Suter continues to stand out as a guy who just logs an inane amount of ice time.

Suter headlines a list of five players who’ve logged at least 8,000 minutes of regular-season ice time from 2013-14 through 2016-17.

1. Suter: 9,201:55
2. Drew Doughty: 8,906:33
3. Erik Karlsson: 8,897:18
4. Shea Weber: 8,116:20
5. Alex Pietrangelo: 8,055:50

(Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Roman Josi are very close behind them.)

Killing penalties is one of the toughest jobs, and it can be a very specialized one. Using the 2013-14 to 2016-17 standard, only one defenseman logged 1,000 penalty minutes. Meanwhile, six players logged at least 900.

1. Andy Greene: 1,115:48
2. Alex Pietrangelo: 996:28
3. Zdeno Chara: 986:38
4. Karl Alzner: 935:08
5. Jay Bouwmeester: 945:03
6. Francois Beauchemin: 900:15

(Big-minute guys Doughty and Weber also ranked up high in penalty killing.)

For a significant defenseman, Pietrangelo carries a considerable workload. Consider how much tougher his role has become over the last few seasons.

2013-14: 52.3 percent offensive zonne starts vs. 47.7 defensive
2014-15: 48.4 offense, 51.6 defense
2015-16: 46.9, 53.1
2016-17: 43.1, 56.9

Pietrangelo still manages to produce offensively, so the 27-year-old is quite the all-around gem.

Gritty leaders

However you feel about certain “grit” stats and how helpful they actually are for a team, it’s easy to admire players who put their bodies on the line.

Using the framework of 2013-14 to 2016-17, Kris Russell easily leads the NHL in blocked shots with 907, even doing so in 277 games while Dan Girardi comes in second place with 719 in 300 contests. Russell blocks a hearty 3.3 shots per game.

It’s easier to understand Girardi slowing down when you consider the bumps and bruises he likely endures. Girardi blocked 719 shots during that span, and he also delivered 690 hits. (Shea Weber is a similar bruiser: 637 blocked shots, 644 hits in 313 games.)

Karl Alzner piles up those grit stats while spending a lot of time on the PK, which is predictable but also commendable.

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These stats don’t guarantee that the listed defensemen work “harder” than others. Still, it’s easy to get lost in possession stats and other considerations, and lose sight of how much effort goes into the dirty work in hockey.

If you’re bored and hockey-starved on this holiday, consider clicking around the above links to notice certain names that show up consistently. It might give you a greater appreciation for players you otherwise might have dismissed.

Blues are locked into many salaries, but mostly in a good way

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This post is part of Blues Day on PHT…

When considering the future of the St. Louis Blues, especially looking at their Cap Friendly page, the immediate thought is that they’re really “locked in” to their current core group.

So … let’s start this Blues cap analysis by looking at that very core group.

Mostly ripe core

As of this moment, nine key players are signed through at least the next three seasons at a total cap cost of $47.425 million:

Vladimir Tarasenko: $7.5M through 2022-23
Alexander Steen: $5.75M though 2020-21
Jaden Schwartz: $5.35M through 2020-21
Patrik Berglund: $3.85M through 2021-22
Vladimir Sobotka: $3.5M through 2019-20
Alex Pietrangelo: $6.5M through 2019-20
Colton Parayko: $5.5M through 2021-22
Jake Allen: $4.35M through 2020-21

Now, there are some quibbles with that group.

Steen, at 33, might see some steep regression. Some might be a bit underwhelmed at Sobotka and/or Berglund, at least when it comes to such term.

Even those issues are debatable, though, and the overall look is quite intriguing. You might grimace at the idea that $7.5M is “cheap,” but that really might be fair in assessing Tarasenko. Since 2013-14 (his first full season), Tarasenko scored the fifth-most goals in the NHL with 137. Only Alex Ovechkin scored more during the past three seasons.

Allen seemed like he was getting a respectable deal early on, but considering how his numbers skyrocketed once Mike Yeo replaced Ken Hitchcock, that $4.35M could be a Cam Talbot-ish bargain.

It stings to lose Kevin Shattenkirk, but for all we know, Parayko may eclipse Pietrangelo as the Blues’ best defenseman before their contracts expire. Considering how nice a bargain Pietrangelo is, St. Louis has some very good things going for them in the high-end.

Speaking of that defense …

Things get more interesting when you consider contracts that will be up sooner.

In particular, there could be decisions to make after 2018-19, at least if GM Doug Armstrong isn’t as proactive as he tends to be. Here are some notable defensemen who only have two years left: Jay Bouwmeester ($5.4M), Carl Gunnarsson ($2.9M), Robert Bortuzzo ($1.15M), and Nate Prosser ($650K). Joel Edmundson, meanwhile, is slated to be an RFA after this season.

Edmundson seems like a keeper, but beyond that, the Blues must ask some tough questions about players like Bouwmeester. J-Bo already reached the 1,000 games plateau, and he’s just 33.

Such choices might end up being tough, yet at least the Blues have options. That’s especially true if Vince Dunn eventually makes the leap and Jordan Schmaltz can reach some of that first-round potential.

Who else will join the core?

Considering his $7M price tag, Paul Stastny hasn’t always lived up to his billing in St. Louis, placing him under pressure to earn a new deal with his current contract expiring after 2017-18. Even so, there’s also pressure on the Blues to decide what to do with Stastny; what would be a reasonable price to re-sign him or would they move him for assets much like they did with Kevin Shattenkirk?

Robby Fabbri is another key contract year to watch.

The Blues would honestly be smart to sign the 21-year-old for cheap, as there have been more than a few flashes of brilliance already with Fabbri. If they don’t, though, the 21st pick of the 2014 NHL Draft could easily parallel Viktor Arvidsson – in production, if not style – this coming season.

***

A greedier Blues fan might be a little frustrated to see the team take the careful approach over the last few years, including letting David Backes and Troy Brouwer walk.

To an extent, St. Louis seems to lack that “surplus” scorer that really drives pre-season hype through the roof. It’s also up to Mike Yeo to build on the work Ken Hitchcock left behind.

Still, when you consider the lack of albatross contracts and the handful of good-to-brilliant deals on the books, the Blues seem like they’re in a pretty good place. The question is: can this group do better than that?

Under Pressure: Paul Stastny

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This post is part of Blues Day on PHT…

On the opening day of free agency in 2014, the Blues signed free agent center Paul Stastny to a four-year, $28 million contract. It instantly made him the highest-paid forward on the team — since surpassed by Vladimir Tarasenko — and, in announcing the deal, GM Doug Armstrong raved about Stastny’s hockey IQ and how he “thinks the game strong.”

It was expected the gifted playmaker would become St. Louis’ top-line center.

But things haven’t exactly gone to plan.

The Stastny era is now three years old, and the major theme throughout has been health — specifically, his lack thereof. He’s missed 42 contests over that time, and failed to crack the 70 games-played plateau in each of the last two seasons. Unsurprisingly, his production has tailed off. After racking up 60 points in his final year in Colorado, he’s gone 46-49-40 with the Blues, and now heads into a contract year facing a number of major questions.

Among them:

Is Stastny a No. 1 center?

Blues head coach Mike Yeo certainly thinks so, describing the 31-year-old as such when Stastny got hurt back in February.

“He’s usually the first guy over the boards for a power-play faceoff or the first guy over the boards for a penalty-kill faceoff, and those are key,” Yeo said, per the Blues website. “He’s a very important player for us. You don’t take out a top-line center from too many lineups where they don’t feel that.”

The Blues certainly paid him like a 1C. At $7 million per, he’s making more annually than the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Nicklas Backstrom, John Tavares and Jeff Carter. What’s more, the Blues don’t have much depth down the middle. Patrik Berglund has proven to be a decent, if unspectacular, option that scored 23 goals last year, but his ceiling is a 3C that can be pushed into the 2C role in a pinch.

Jori Lehtera, who underwhelmed last season, was flipped to Philly in the Brayden Schenn trade, but the Blues might have the same problem with Schenn that the Flyers did —  is he a center, or better suited on the wing?

Youngsters Robby Fabbri and Ivan Barbashev can also play the middle, but aren’t yet considered full-time guys. Fabbri’s coming off a torn ACL.

So is Stastny a No. 1? Traditionally speaking, maybe not. In St. Louis, maybe so.

Do the Blues want to keep him?

Given what we just laid out, probably. But it would have to be at the right price.

Next July, Armstrong has some work to do and not a ton of cap space to do it with. The most pressing contracts will be for a pair of young RFAs — Fabbri, and d-man Joel Edmundson — while Stastny’s the lone UFA of note.

If Stastny’s willing to take a significant haircut, his return could happen. Signing with St. Louis back in ’14 was essentially a homecoming, as he grew up in the city and went to Chaminade College Prep School. Both his father and brother previously played with the Blues.

The real question, it would seem, is if Stastny fits with the direction of the club. Armstrong hasn’t been shy about turning his team over to the younger generation over the last few years, while cutting ties with veterans in a myriad of ways.

Just consider what happened to Stastny’s former running mates up front. Lehtera was traded Philly, T.J. Oshie was flipped to Washington, while David Backes and Troy Brouwer were allowed to walk in free agency.

Could this be another Kevin Shattenkirk situation?

Two years ago, Armstrong opted to keep Backes and Brouwer — both UFAs — past the deadline, and the Blues responded with a playoff run to the Western Conference Final. But that summer, both assets were lost for no return.

Last year, Armstrong took a different tact, opting to flip Shattenkirk, a pending UFA, at the deadline for a package that included promising forward Zach Sanford and a first-round pick (the Blues later used that pick to acquire Schenn).

“We are not in the business of trading good players for prospects when your team has a chance to win the Cup,” Armstrong said at the time, per the Post-Dispatch. “This team now has to get in on its own. It’s going to be more difficult, but if we get in, you always have a chance to win.”

One wonders if last year’s experience might’ve changed Armstrong’s outlook.

All things considered, the Blues fared well following Shattenkirk’s departure. They finished third in the Central Division, and upended 106-point Minnesota in the opening playoff round before bowing out to the eventual conference champ, Nashville, in Round 2.

The big difference between Shattenkirk and Stastny, though, is the depth at their respective positions. Parting ways with Shattenkirk was made easier by the presences of Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester, and the emergence of Edmundson and Colton Parayko.

At center, the Blues don’t have such options.