Brayden Schenn

Associated Press

PHT Stanley Cup Tracker: Cup heads to the Canadian prairies

The PHT Stanley Cup tracker will keep tabs on how the St. Louis Blues spend their summer celebrating.

We’re back once again and on the trail of the Stanley Cup, which is traveling around the world this summer in the hands of the St. Louis Blues.

According to the Blues, the Cup will travel nearly 29,000 miles across three continents and five countries over the next two months.

This week, the Cup was in Western Canada, visiting head coach Craig Berube’s’ quaint hometown in Alberta and in Regina, where Brayden Schenn and Co. took the mug to Mosaic Stadium, the home of the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The Cup made its way to Busch Stadium two weeks ago as several of the Blues players hoisted it in front of thousands of St. Louis Cardinals fans.

And here’s Conn Smythe winner Ryan O'Reilly throwing out the game’s first pitch.

Brayden Schenn got his day with the Cup in Saskatoon on Friday and took it right to the place where his father has worked for 28 years as a firefighter.

Schenn was seen wearing a firefighter helmet during the Blues’ parade with the Cup back in June.

“You always think if I win the Cup, you put the thoughts in your head of what I would do with it,” Schenn told the team’s website. “My dad is a firefighter, so this was important to me. I’m trying to do my best sharing it with a lot of people today.”

He also took it Royal University Hospital where he met with sick children, including 16-year-old John Bossaer.

The Cup then headed a few hours south, where Tyler Bozak and Jaden Schwartz shared their day with the Cup with the city of Regina on Saturday.

The duo planted a Blues flag on the Saskatchewan Legislative Building.

They then headed to where people where melons on their heads: Mosaic Stadium.

There, they paraded the trophy in front of thousands of Saskatchewan Roughriders fans who had assembled for the Canadian Football League’s game against the Calgary Stampeders. There wasn’t much to cheer for during the football game for fans — the Roughriders lost 37-10 — but Bozak and Schwartz, along with Schenn, got the crowd into a frenzy.

Earlier in the week, the Cup was a province over in Alberta.

Craig Berube, fresh off a three-year extension as bench boss with the Blues, took the Cup back to his hometown of Calahoo, Alta.

It’s not a big place — the thriving metropolis boasts a population of just 85 — but they were all out to congratulate Berube.

“We all grew up here,” Berube told the team’s website. “My dad and brothers lived on this farm or just down the road. We were grain farmers, cattle farmers, we had it all here, that’s how we grew up. It’s changed now, but still my dad lives here with his brothers and my uncle built a 9-hole golf course on the property over there.

“Every summer I come back once or twice, and when we play Edmonton I come back and visit if I have the chance. But this is the most special trip so far for me.”

His mother, meanwhile, was just as thrilled.

“I never dreamt it. Unreal,” said Ramona Berube, Craig’s mother. “I never thought of something like this (happening). It’s just great for everybody who was down at the arena to see it. You can see how much it means to everybody.”

Colton Parayko, meanwhile, got his day with the Cup in St. Alberta, a city northwest of Edmonton.

Parayko’s day also included an emotional moment as he, along with his grandfather and family, toasted his grandma, who died last November after a battle with cancer.

According to Parayko, a deal was made between grandmother and grandson that if the latter made the NHL one day, the former would take a shot of peach schnapps at her home in St. Albert any time he scored.

With her passing, the family honored the tradition on Wednesday.

“She was a special girl and she means a lot to me and my whole family,” Parayko said. “With me not being in St. Albert here and playing in St. Louis, the shots were a way we could frequently connect (during hockey season). In the summer when I came home, she begged me to score a few extra ones for her.”

“We had such a wonderful life together. I wish she was here to see this.”

Meanwhile, the mayor of Boston, Martin Walsh, made a nice gesture to Laila Anderson this week, congratulating her and the Blues for their Stanley Cup win.

“Dear Laila – We have never met, so let me begin by introducing myself. My name is Marty and I am a passionate, lifelong Boston Bruins fan,” Walsh wrote. “I am writing to you because a couple of weeks ago, I was at home, watching pre-game coverage of game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals, when I saw a story about you, your love of the St. Louis Blues, how the Blues players’ love you in return, and how you inspried an entire city and fan base. After watching the segment, I turned to my partner, Lorrie, and said, ‘This stinks! I love the Bruins and I want them to win! … But I really want Laila to win, too!’

“I don’t know if you or your family plan to come back to Boston anytime soon, but if you should return please let me know as I would be very glad to meet you and your family and show you some more of Boston. I certainly can’t promise you a cooler experience than standing on the Garden ice kissing the Stanley Cup, but Boston’s a great city and would love to have you back.”


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Binnington’s next contract is a challenge for Blues

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As the champagne is still drying for the St. Louis Blues, let’s consider a good problem to have: how much will they pay Jordan Binnington, the 25-year-old goalie who emerged from relative obscurity to save their season, and then help them win their first-ever Stanley Cup? And for how long will they pay Binnington?

It’s a challenging situation, even if the NHL’s other 30 teams won’t spare the Blues a Kleenex.

Let’s break the situation down, including what’s going on around Binnington.

RFA, not UFA

One of the biggest factors to consider is Binnington’s RFA status.

As Puck Pedia notes, Binnington needs two more seasons of play to become an unrestricted free agent.

That’s a fascinating cutoff point, as Jake Allen – the former Blues starter Binnington dislodged – will see his $4.35 million cap hit expire after the 2020-21 season. Later on in this post, we’ll get to Allen and other contextual factors, as the Blues’ overall cap situation certainly impacts the situation.

One other key note is that Binnington is arbitration-eligible. That mitigates some of the advantage the Blues have with Binnington becoming an RFA, as Binnington checks some pretty big boxes that would likely stand out to an arbitrator:

Binnington’s numbers, and background

Despite already being 25, Binnington’s NHL sample size is small. Yet, what Binnington lacks in quantity, he makes up with brilliant quality.

In 32 regular season games (and 30 starts), Binnington managed absolutely splendid numbers: a 24-5-1 record and .927 save percentage. While his playoff save percentage was more modest (.914 in 26 games), Binnington was tremendous in Game 7 against Boston, and ended up finishing second in the Conn Smythe voting.

So, Binnington only had an abbreviated regular season, yet became a Calder Trophy finalist, then almost won the playoff MVP as he earned all 16 playoff victories during the Blues’ championship run. Yeah, that’s the sort of stuff you can lead with in contract negotiations, unless Binnington’s reps just want to show a Game 7 highlight reel, then lean back in a rolling chair.

(Contract negotiations should always include rolling chairs, right?)

No doubt about it, that’s still a small sample size, but Binnington isn’t directly comparable to a flash in the pan like Andrew Hammond. While Hammond’s stats at other levels weren’t very promising before his Hamburglar run, Binnington’s largely put up strong numbers at the AHL and other levels; he simply hasn’t always received opportunities to prove himself.

Also, Binnington has some decent pedigree as a third-rounder (88th overall in 2011), especially when you consider that goalies rarely go in the first round any longer.

Not a ton of comparable situations

A comparison to Matt Murray is probably the most natural. It’s not totally 1:1, mind you. Murray was younger, and the Penguins signed him to an extension heading into the season where his rookie deal was expiring. Also, while the Blues have an expensive veteran (Allen, $4.35M per year for two more seasons) and the Penguins had one (Marc-Andre Fleury), the situation is much clearer in St. Louis than it was in Pittsburgh. Binnington is The Man, and if Allen remains with the team through his current contract, it could be due to a lack of willing trade partners, not a belief that Allen is actually the real No. 1.

(If Allen ended up being that top guy after all — don’t forget, goalies are wildly unpredictable – he’d become the Craig Anderson to Binnington’s Hammond.)

Bridge or something longer?

There are reasons point to, but also away from, a shorter “bridge” contract.

To an extent, something in the two or three-year range would make sense for both sides. The Blues could mitigate the risks that come with investing in a goalie who has a limited sample size at the NHL level, while Binnington could salvage most, if not all, of his UFA years with a shorter deal. A brief contract might make it easier for Binnington to digest a smaller AAV; theoretically, he could really make the big bucks if he proves himself for a couple extra years.

Yet, there are reasons to chisel out a longer pact, too.

For Binnington, he’d gain the financial security that comes from getting hefty term, which is something that must really resonate with a player who’s had to fight to prove himself as a professional hockey goalie. Binnington might be OK with potentially leaving some money on the table for added peace of mind.

Let’s face it, too. The Blues have been looking for a go-to goalie for ages, particularly since Jake Allen hasn’t panned out as the guy, as they had hoped.

It will likely boil down to the details that maybe are only discussed behind closed doors, or perhaps occasionally leaked to the media. Will the Blues be tough negotiators, prompting Binnington to lean toward a shorter deal, as to get the added power of UFA status? How much more or less money would Binnington receive if the term went longer?

That all boils down to the priorities for both sides.

Cap considerations

Cap Friendly estimates that the Blues have about $18.73M in cap space heading into the offseason, with 16 roster spots covered. Again, the Blues may prefer to get Allen’s $4.35M off the books, but that’s likely easier said than done.

While the Blues have some choices to make as far supporting cast members with Patrick Maroon among their UFAs while Joel Edmundson and Oskar Sundqvist stand out among several RFAs other than Binnington, the other biggest decisions linger after 2019-20.

Alex Pietrangelo ($6.5M) will command a hefty raise. Brayden Schenn won’t be as cheap as $5.125M after his contract year, either, and Jaden Schwartz‘s friendly $5.35M cap hit expires after 2020-21. There are also quality young players who will get more expensive in the near future, from Vince Dunn to Robert Thomas.

So, Blues GM Doug Armstrong must weigh all of those considerations while pondering what to pay Binnington, and for how long.

***

Again, this isn’t a bad problem to have. And, if you look at the salary cap era, other teams have faced far more agonizing cap crunches than the Blues face this summer.

Still, just because this isn’t the most challenging situation, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a puzzle for Armstrong to solve.

MORE BLUES STANLEY CUP COVERAGE:
• Jay Bouwmeester finally gets his Stanley Cup
• Blues fan Laila Anderson gets moment with Stanley Cup
• Ryan O’Reilly wins Conn Smythe Trophy
• Berube helped Blues find identity after early-season struggle
• Blues latest team erased from Stanley Cup drought list

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Chara to play Game 5 vs. Blues; Bruins go with seven defensemen

NBC
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Zdeno Chara clearly is injured, but the captain is going to play through it to help the Boston Bruins in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues Thursday night (8 p.m. ET; NBC; live stream).

He reportedly suffered a broken jaw when Brayden Schenn‘s shot struck him in the face during Game 4 on Monday. He returned to the bench, but was forced to sit out for the third period. It seems that’s the extent of the time he’ll miss though. Not only is he going to dress for Game 5, but he’s one of Boston’s starters.

The fact that he’s willing to soldier through it is huge for Boston, which is already dealing with the absence of defenseman Matt Grzelcyk. He hasn’t played since being hit from behind by Oskar Sundqvist and while Grzelcyk was listed as a game-time decision on Thursday, he ultimately wasn’t out with his teammates for the pregame warmups. The silver lining there is that he did skate Thursday morning without the non-contact jersey he had previously donned.

Boston will also dress Steven Kampfer tonight, giving them seven defensemen. That might be a move to put a little less pressure on Chara and to that end, it will be interesting to see how much time each blueliner gets tonight.

To make room in the lineup, former Blues captain David Backes will not play for Boston against his old team. Backes has averaged just 9:44 minutes per game in the 2019 playoffs and was on the ice for 9:09 minutes in Game 4.

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Why the Blues get better late in every series

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If we have learned anything about the St. Louis Blues through the first three full rounds of the playoffs it’s that they may just now be reaching the point in the Stanley Cup Final where they really start to find their game.

The Blues enter Game 5 against the Boston Bruins on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC; Live Stream) tied at two games apiece thanks to their big Game 4 win on Monday night. Thursday’s game is obviously a pivotal one because it’s going to bring one of these teams to within one win of a championship.

All postseason the Blues have excelled in this exact position and have consistently gotten stronger in every series they have played.

So far they are 6-1 in Games 5 through 7 of each series, with the only loss in those games being a 2-1 defeat in Game 5 to the Dallas Stars in a game where the Blues still carried most of the play.

It is not just that they have won almost all of these late series games, it is that they have legitimately played better. It is a near perfect confluence of process and results.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

For example, the table below shows the Blues’ 5-on-5 shot attempt (CF%), scoring chance (SC%), high-danger scoring chances (HDSC%) and goal differentials for Games 1-4 in each series versus their performance in Games 5-7 in each series.  There is obviously a pretty drastic difference in the two performances.

One argument for this could centered around the Blues’ style of play where they try to wear teams down over the course of a series. They do have some bigger forwards and a bigger roster and can play a grinding game with an aggressive forecheck.

“Heavy hockey” if you wanted to call it that.

“We just try to play a grinding style of hockey,” said center Brayden Schenn. “It’s not fancy. It’s not pretty. But when we’re chipping pucks and we’re forechecking and we have a good F3 and we’re back checking hard, and it allows the D to have good gaps. We feel it’s a pretty good recipe and hopefully we can keep that going and be effective.”

Team captain and top defender Alex Pietrangelo echoed that same sentiment.

“I think we can see it throughout games and throughout series,” he said. “It’s tough minutes to play against our forward lines when they’re playing the way they can. Not necessarily anything to look for, you can see the momentum we create by our line changes in the offensive zone, we’re just using all four lines. If I was a defenseman, that would be tough to defend against.”

There is always a common theme and talking point whenever a team with size goes far in the playoffs where the conventional wisdom is that they wear teams down. But this is the NHL, it is still at its core a contact and collision sport where every game is going to have its share of physical play and hits. Everyone gets worn down to a degree the deeper they go in a series and the playoffs. Is an extra 10-15 hits per game spread out throughout the roster really going to speed that up? The argument against the mindset is that some of the most successful teams of the salary cap era (Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, the 2006-2009 Detroit Red Wings, and even the Tampa Bay Lightning team that went to three of the past five Eastern Conference Finals) did it with rosters that weren’t big or overly physical (especially at forward). Old school hockey folks love to romanticize the physical aspect of the game and the blood and guts reputation of playoff hockey. But the most consistently successful teams of this era didn’t really fit that mold. At all.

There is also this: simply writing it off as the Blues winning a battle of attrition every series and advancing because they are bigger and stronger and overpowering teams does a disservice to their coaching staff and the talent they have on their roster, all of which are excellent. Especially when trying to overpower the Bruins physically may have gotten them into some trouble earlier in the series when it came to their discipline.

From the moment Craig Berube took over behind the bench the team’s style changed. It used a more aggressive forecheck, they opened up more offensively, they immediately become better defensively in all phases.

The thing about playoff hockey is that coaching can tend to make more of a difference that it sometimes does in the regular season as teams spend more time game-planning for opponents and trying to find and exploit their weaknesses.

There is only so much advance game-planning you can do for one game out of 82 in the regular season when you usually only have 24-48 hours to prepare for a team after playing a completely different team with a completely different style. You are obviously doing some prep work, but not anywhere near as in-depth or detailed as you do in the playoffs.

In a best-of-seven series where you play the same team, with the same personnel, with the same playing style every night you are going to be more in tune with what they are trying to do and better able to find what they can do. And perhaps even more importantly, what they can’t do.

“I think we finally realize that we have to get to our game,” said forward Patrick Maroon. “When we get to our game, we’re a good hockey team. It takes us some time, I guess. Figure out how they play, how we need to play, what we need to do. How we can focus on it every shift, every night.”

“Yeah, I think it’s pretty common,” said Schenn when asked if there is a feeling out process the team has gone through early in each series.

“You kinda see what the team is gonna give you, how they’re gonna play, what adjustments they’re gonna make. I’m sure Boston’s gonna make some adjustments as well and so are we.”

The Blues are one of the bigger teams in the NHL and they do play what can probably be described as a “grinding” style. Even their biggest superstar, Vladimir Tarasenko, is such a force with the puck because of his strength and how difficult he is to knock over. They will play physical and they will hit your defense on the forecheck. But they also have a lot of talent throughout their roster and a coaching staff that has consistently done a great job adjusting all season.

Without the latter points, none of the former would matter or be much of a factor.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

Game 5 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final airs Thursday on NBC at 8 p.m. ET (stream here).

MORE BLUES-BRUINS GAME 5:
Bruins’ Chara to be game-time decision
Report: Chara has broken jaw
Blues vs. Bruins: Three keys to Game 5
The Wraparound: Bruins need more, especially from second line
Looking at Bruins’ potential defensive options

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Bruins’ Chara to be a game-time decision

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(UPDATE: Chara will start Game 5 for the Bruins.)

If the Boston Bruins’ medical staff give Zdeno Chara the green light, then the only other hurdle he’ll have to make is his own.

Chara is set to be a game-time decision for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final Thursday night (8 p.m. ET; NBC; live stream), according to Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy.

“The doctor has to give him the green light, then it’ll be his call. If the doctor doesn’t then he has no say in the matter,” Cassidy said.

If the green light is granted, you’d expect ‘Big Z’ to be out there on home ice at TD Garden for Game 5.

Chara did not meet with the media after the skate but was asked two questions from the Professional Hockey Writers Association and his answers were provided via the Bruins PR staff.

“At this time of the playoffs, everyone has injuries and there are challenges that you have to overcome to play,” Chara said. “I’m no different than any player on either team.”

When asked about weighing the risk of further injury if he does indeed play, Chara responded, “You don’t think about that. You think about playing. You don’t go into a game thinking you might get hurt.”

Chara’s jaw was reportedly broken when Brayden Schenn‘s shot rode up his stick and into his face in Game 4, relegating the big man to the bench for the entirety of the third period. He took the optional pre-game skate this morning, sporting a face shield.

According to Cassidy, the 42-year-old defenseman was only ruled out for the final period of Game 4 and has been considered “day-to-day” once the possibility of a concussion was ruled out.

“He’s an incredibly tough man. He’s willing to play through anything,” said Bruins forward Brad Marchand. “It just shows so much character in him with what he’s been through. The fact that he’s out there this morning, there’s a reason why he’s still playing the game, why he’s going to be a Hall of Fame player. He’s willing to do anything, put his body through anything to win, especially this time of year. When you see your captain doing that and playing through injuries like that. It’s incredible to see. I have a lot of respect for him.”

Cassidy said the Bruins could go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen in the game. Fellow defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, who hasn’t played since he was drilled from behind by Oskar Sundqvist in Game 1, is also a game-time decision.

The good news on the Grzelcyk front is that he shed the non-contact jersey he wore in yesterday’s practice in Thursday morning’s pre-game skate.

With files from Sean Leahy

Game 5 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final airs Thursday on NBC at 8 p.m. ET (stream here).

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck