As of right now, the St. Louis Cardinals are scheduled to play their sixth and seventh games of the 2020 season on Saturday. But, given recent events, at the very least, it is probably time to plan for contingencies.
On each of the last two Fridays, Cardinals games in the coming weekend were cancelled, and, call me cynical, I’m assuming this will happen again. Until Major League Baseball gives me a reason to believe this patchwork pipe dream of a half-hearted attempt is going to work, I’m not buying it. Maybe I’m wrong. I hope I am.
But in the meantime, the St. Louis Blues are almost certainly going to play two games this weekend–this super-late-afternoon, at 5:30 p.m. St. Louis time, and at the psychotic start time of 9:30 p.m. on Sunday. And while the local hockey team probably thought they had maxed out their bandwagon potential during their 2019 run to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup championship, they at least had to compete with Cardinals games. This year, they might be alone on the major St. Louis sports scene.
I enjoy writing about baseball, a sport with a long and cherished history of advanced statistical analysis, more than I enjoy writing about hockey, where far too much of its literature is yelling at guys for not wanting to win enough. But, man, hockey is so much fun. And as great as playoff baseball is, playoff hockey is out of this world. I want everybody to enjoy it. Let me help you.
For those of you who are not very familiar with the roster of the St. Louis Blues but have an interest in learning, I have prepared for you Cardinals-centric comparisons for the players on the Blues roster. No comparison is perfect, but this might give you an idea what your Twitter timeline is trying to convey when communicating about certain players.
Twenty months ago, Blues starting goaltender Jordan Binnington was anonymous. He had made one spot relief appearance in the NHL in 2016 and was considered a non-prospect. But then in January 2019, he was promoted to the NHL and merely had a league-best goals against average and gave his most Herculean effort of the season in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Given his lack of pre-2019 credentials and how cartoonish his ascent was, it was widely assumed by North American hockey knowers that he was a total flash in the pan. But he settled in in 2019-20 and while he wasn’t as good as he was last season, he was still an above-average, All-Star goalie. Think 2012 David Freese–he had no chance of duplicating what he had just done the year before, but the fact that he didn’t get overwhelmed by the pressure to try deserves some kudos.
As for backup goalie Jake Allen, the optimal St. Louis sports comp might be Trent Green–somebody who admirably and magnanimously acquiesced a starting position and provided valuable mentorship to the late bloomer who had taken his gig. Baseball brings a good analogue, too, though–2006 Jason Isringhausen. Like Izzy, Allen was frequently maligned with the lesser of his somewhat inconsistent performances frequently overshadowing his occasional greatness, and like Izzy, who mentored rookie Adam Wainwright when he became the team’s closer, Allen gained the respect of even a lot of his critics for his off-ice (or field) leadership.
Captain Alex Pietrangelo is a little boring–he is too good offensively to be a “defensive defenseman” and his offense isn’t good enough to be regarded as an elite weapon on the attack. But every year, he’s really good. He has never been a finalist for the Norris Trophy, handed out for the league’s top defenseman, but he will surely receive votes for the seventh time in his career this season. The understated leader has a definite Matt Holliday quality to him.
For years, even when operating on the team’s bottom defensive pair, Blues fans were adamant that Colton Parayko was a burgeoning star. More than anything else, he looked the part. Tall, strong, and possessing a bazooka of a slap shot, Parayko eventually began to draw plaudits for his excellence. The Cardinals comparison for a big guy who started off strong and kept on building up to something big is Lance Lynn.
The metrics don’t suggest that Vince Dunn is an egregious non-entity on the defensive end–by Defensive Point Shares, he trailed only Pietrangelo and Parayko on the team, and his possession numbers are among the very best on the team. But man oh man did he look like a turnstile during Game 1 on Wednesday? A guy that advanced metrics love who looks awful defensively even when the numbers don’t suggest he’s that bad? I mean, you’ve seen Matt Carpenter.
Justin Faulk has the unenviable position of being one of very few St. Louis Blues who doesn’t have the glow of being a Stanley Cup champion, having been acquired in the off-season after a title. He has been an esteemed player, having played on the United States Olympic hockey team in 2014, but his reputation had taken a bit of a hit even before coming to St. Louis. And he was brought in as an offensive threat–any defensive strength you would get from him was considered a bonus. His offense hasn’t quite materialized like his baseball comp, but he was basically the 2019 off-season’s version of Carlos Beltran.
Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson was a veteran when the Blues acquired him via trade for the guy who was objectively the worst player on the roster. He provided the Cardinals precisely one memorable postseason moment. He’s way too friendly for this to be a fair comparison, but presumably John Lackey would be content with it.
When he was a member of the Minnesota Wild, Marco Scandella was obnoxious to me. I don’t even know why, exactly–it’s not like he was some goon or personally offensive. He just had an ability to get under your skin. But when the team’s popular veteran leader was incapacitated, the Blues were willing to put aside any past animosity for a month or two of his services. He wasn’t nearly as productive, but Marco Scandella was the equivalent of 2000 Will Clark.
It is arguable that by the time Vladimir Tarasenko is done, he will be regarded as the greatest forward in St. Louis Blues history. He’s more well-rounded than Brett Hull, he’s more dynamic than Bernie Federko, and also RINGZZZZZ. He also followed up his participation in a thrilling Stanley Cup run by contributing very little to the next year’s team. Granted, Tarasenko got hurt, and Albert Pujols just left, but Tarasenko is so good that a Chris Carpenter comp seemed insufficiently grandiose.
That Ryan O’Reilly had skill wasn’t denied, but the star defensive forward arrived in St. Louis and suddenly looked like a true superstar. His acquisition by the Blues looks comical in hindsight–the Blues swung their Stanley Cup hero, who won a title his first year in town, for a package headlined by a veteran who had fallen out of local favor. He isn’t as flashy as Ozzie Smith, but really, who is?
A shockingly difficult comp is concocting one for David Perron, which is a shame, because few local athletes could ever deserve one more. David Perron is a guy who loves being in St. Louis–he was drafted by the Blues, then traded for salary cap-related concerns, and then he re-signed with the Blues, and then he was left unprotected in the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft, and then once he became a free agent again, the Blues picked him up again! Obviously, Yadier Molina never left, but I don’t know if there’s another Cardinal who can compete with Perron’s “really, really seems to like it here”-ness.
Brayden Schenn is a solid two-way player who began his career with promise in Los Angeles, but by the time the Cardinals dealt a veteran who had clearly peaked (and other things) for him, Schenn was regarded as something of a second-tier player. But as it turned out, Brayden Schenn had his best season(s) in St. Louis, eventually signing an extension, and although his addition didn’t immediately pay dividends in the way of championships, he was a major piece who was a forebearer of things to come, not unlike when the Cardinals acquired Jim Edmonds.
Not unlike Alex Pietrangelo, Jaden Schwartz is a paragon of consistency, with one major exception–ironically, the 2018-19 season. Last year was easily Schwartz’s worst full-time NHL season, with just 36 points in 69 games. But then, the postseason happened. He eclipsed his 11 regular season goals by his 18th postseason game, courtesy of three goals (his second “hat trick” of the postseason) against the San Jose Sharks. A few months later, Marcell Ozuna repeated the trick of being a bit of a regular season disappointment who became one of the team’s most feared offensive threats once the stakes got higher.
When the Blues acquired Zach Sanford, he was something of an afterthought, having been acquired for a couple months of Kevin Shattenkirk. Guys who are brought in as savlage value for pending free agents aren’t usually expected to do much, but Sanford has become a solid player who had a memorable moment in Game 7 of last year’s Stanley Cup Final, tallying a goal in front of the fans of his hometown team. I see no reason I should only be allowed to use David Freese once.
Tyler Bozak is correctly regarded as a good third-line type forward in St. Louis. Maybe he could be on a second line for an adequate team, but absolutely not as a first-line player. But that’s what he was early on in his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs. But then, with his long-time team increasingly committed to a youth movement, Bozak was squeezed out, so he went to St. Louis, where he won a championship in his first season in the city. You have to fudge the timeline of the Houston Astros rebuild slightly, but late-career (i.e. “Cardinal”) Lance Berkman fits the bill.
I don’t know if Robert Thomas is ever going to be a legitimate NHL star. But he’s really, really fun to watch, largely because of his incredible speed. He isn’t one of the team’s high-volume scorers, but he occasionally does some of the coolest stuff I’ve ever seen. He might become a superstar, but even if he doesn’t, there’s a Vince Coleman touch to his style.
Oskar Sundqvist was acquired for a hyper-aggressive dude, and even though the hyper-aggressive dude got his team to the championship round not longer after he left St. Louis, Sundqvist’s talent and favorable salary structure easily outapces that of Ryan Reaves, just as Jack Flaherty is superior to John Lackey. Comparing a bottom-six forward to maybe the best pitcher in baseball is reasonable, right? I think this is reasonable.
The present-day version of Alex Steen is not great. In fact, it’s quite bad. But at his peak, he was really good, and I dread the thought that any of you jumping on the bandwagon would disrespect Steen, formerly a very well-rounded player that any team would love to have in its game day lineup. Please, respect him. Don’t be like me, person who only experienced latter-day Willie McGee and just doesn’t get it. I am not a good role model.
A new addition to the Blues playoff bubble coming soon will be Ivan Barbashev, who is coming off paternity leave in what probably at the time seemed like a well-timed pregnancy. I feel that I have done a pretty good job of avoiding bad Paternity Leave takes with regards to Barbashev, but given that some weirdos got mad at Trevor Rosenthal for missing a few days in a regular season, I assume the takes exist for a guy missing out on playoff games.
The legacy of Troy Brouwer’s original run with the Blues came down to one big moment–a go-ahead goal in Game 7 of a playoff round against the team’s hated rival, the Chicago Blackhawks. It was an emphatic exclamation point on a playoff hurdle that, despite coming three years earlier, seemed like a necessary step on the road to the team finally lifting the Stanley Cup. Like Matt Adams, Brouwer was a slow bruiser who had a penchant for the dramatic (bat flipping doesn’t hurt). Like Adams, Brouwer is back for a second run with the team, and even if it doesn’t result in much, it’s fun to see an old friend again.