NHL fans are prone to making rash generalizations and suggestions for their team at the first sign of trouble. It’s the nature of being a sports fan. But, that temptation to armchair GM should take a break during the NHL’s current playoff bubble tournament.
The St. Louis Blues are the shining example on why you shouldn’t read too far into the bubble tournament when it comes to long-term decisions. The Blues crashed out of the tournament in the opening round against the Vancouver Canucks, ending their Stanley Cup defense. They looked terrible in their round-robin games and just slightly better in their 4-2 series defeat. It was an ugly performance.
Shortly after their exit, Blues fans and hockey fans in general were calling for Jordan Binnington’s head. Binnington, who was one of the key catalysts in the team’s Stanley Cup run, looked like a shade of his former self. His 4.72 GAA and .851 save percentage in the games since the NHL resumed play made some question if the Blues should even call him their top netminder.
Let’s take a step back.
NHL players resumed play after months on the sidelines. Many couldn’t maintain their normally high level of training while quarantining. Some players even had to deal with COVID-19 personally. That’s all to say that this is a one-of-a-kind situation. Drawing firm conclusions based on a handful of games after months off is foolish.
Back to the Blues.
Blues GM Doug Armstrong thinks COVID-19 impacted his team. “Coming into Phase 3, there was a lot going on with our organization. Of our regular players, I think like 20% of those guys had COVID at some point.”
Said COVID concerns about family weighed on Blues before bubble.
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) August 26, 2020
There’s a lot more going on inside the bubbles than meets the eye. These unprecedented times have to be viewed with a grain of salt. Are the Pittsburgh Penguins really as bad as they looked against the Montreal Canadiens? Have the Chicago Blackhawks surpassed the Edmonton Oilers in overall talent? Was the Cup run by the Blues a total fluke? No on all accounts.
The Blues quickly proved they haven’t looked too far into what happened inside the bubble, pulling off a trade of goaltender Jake Allen.
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) September 2, 2020
Now that’s showing your faith that Binnington’s play of late isn’t an accurate representation. Binnington and Ville Husso will hold down the Blues’ net in whatever format the next season takes. Though this is likely a salary cap move (will Alex Pietrangelo stick around?), the Blues wouldn’t move on from Allen – who played extremely well of late – if they had serious questions about Binnington.
It goes without saying that these are not normal times. It’s impossible to evaluate players competing in these conditions in the same way they were pre-pandemic. Nor is it fair to the players who are currently dealing with more than any of us know. As fun as it is to GM from the sidelines, save the knee-jerk reactions until some sense of normalcy returns to the NHL.