Injured Blues Looking to Veterans for Playoff Push

The St. Louis Blues have been hit hard by the injury bug. Early Monday morning (Jan. 2), the team announced that both forwards Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko would be sidelined and placed on the injured reserved list. Roughly 90 minutes later, general manager Doug Armstrong addressed the media via Zoom to answer questions regarding the status of their injuries and plans moving forward.

Armstrong Viewing Injuries as Opportunity

For the Blues, January has quickly become one of the most impactful months of the season. When asked about the injuries to two of the franchise’s top players, Armstrong agreed that it will be up to the veteran players to help guide the ship. He said:

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“The reality is some of the players aren’t playing to the standards that they set for themselves in the first 30-plus games, and the challenge for them is to get their game back on par and then lead us. And then we have opportunity for younger players. I think (in) pro sports, injuries are part of the professional part of the game and winning people and winning organizations don’t dwell on what they don’t have – they look forward to working with it and the things that they do have, and I’m looking forward to seeing Parayko, Faulk, and Leddy on the back end, and Saad and Schenn get their games up to the standard that they demand of themselves. I think once they do that, we’re all going to be able to pull behind, and a great opportunity for other guys that have been pining for more ice time are going to get it.”

St. Louis Blues Doug Armstrong
St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff Roberson)

Through 37 games this season, the Blues have six players that have eclipsed the 20-point mark, while two have surpassed 30. The offensive performance from these players is a far cry from 2021-22, with nine players scoring 20 or more goals and eight players producing more than 55 points. With the injuries dealt to the team, the announcement of forward prospect Jake Neighbours rejoining the team was made as a result.

Related: Blues Should Be Cautious to Keep or Extend O’Reilly & Tarasenko

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The expectation was that he and forward Logan Brown would be inserted into the lineup ahead of the team’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday to begin their four-game road trip. However, the plans changed once more as Brown was reportedly injured during practice, resulting in an additional call-up of forward Nikita Alexandrov from their minor league squad.

Salary Cap Complicates Blues’ Trade Options

Armstrong was asked point blank about replacement options for O’Reilly and Tarasenko and whether he was speaking only of internal options rather than outside the organization. The decision is complicated. He cited players like Scott Perunovich and Marco Scandella, who have resumed skating, and Torey Krug, who are all expected to return this season t and must fit under the salary cap. The three players who are currently on the team’s long-term injured list will need to be factored into any decision the organization makes. Instead, the Blues will defer to the team’s internal options, taking the next steps forward in their growth as NHL players.

Armstrong’s Upcoming Deadline Decisions

With the March 3 trade deadline inching closer, Armstrong was asked if the injuries to both players made his decisions regarding trades any easier. The general manager did not agree, citing the lack of big trades around the league. Any decision will ultimately be determined by the team’s record at the deadline and how they will react to trade offers at that time. Looking at the situation optimistically, he said that should they go on a “heater”, getting back healthy, rested players like O’Reilly and Tarasenko, along with Krug, Perunvich, and Scandella would only benefit St. Louis in their hunt for a postseason berth.

Vladimir Tarasenko St. Louis Blues
Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The problem that the Blues will find themselves in stems back to the beginning of the season, and that is the overcrowded blue line. When the trio of Krug, Perunovich, and Scandella return, the team will have nine players (excluding Tyler Tucker) to fill six defensive slots each night. With the offensive output from Calle Rosen, mixed performances from players like Colton Parakyo, and a lack of hard-nosed players like Robert Bortuzzo, the decision of who to play on a nightly basis, not to mention who to sign to contract extensions, will become increasingly more difficult for Armstrong.

The general manager’s hand may be forced, whether he likes it or not, at the deadline. If Tarasenko and O’Reilly have not yet returned from injury, fans may again be looking at one or two high-profile players that could leave the team without any assets retained. However, even if the team is beginning to perform well, Armstrong may be forced by public pressure to receive at least a small return for one of his cornerstone pieces.

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