Mike Johnson watches a lot of hockey. As an analyst on NHL Tonight, he basically has to pay attention to every team, every game. So it was nice of the fine folks at NHL Network to make him available to us recently for a long phone interview. He had some thoughts about the Blues, their chances to make some noise this season and the difficult Central Division.
I spoke to Mike last week, shortly before the announcement that Robby Fabbri will miss the entire season. But obviously injuries had mounted even before that. Mike said the number and severity of hurt players are a concern, but they can be overcome.
“One of the strengths of the Blues is their depth and the fact that they can put out three lines that can score and they can wear you out physically. They have a lot of talent throughout their roster,” Mike said. “It doesn’t mean they can’t win, but it’s going to be harder. It puts more pressure on your top players and your goaltender.
“If it’s only the first 10-15 games, they can manage it, but it can take a toll on your stars.”
So yeah, Fabbri being out for a long, long time is a concern. It will be interesting to see how quickly Alexander Steen and Jay Bouwmeester come back.
We talked about the goaltending. While he agrees that Jake Allen is not an elite goaltender in the NHL, Mike said he can make improvements.
“What he and every other player trying to go from pretty good to great is working on consistency. When you’re inconsistent and a goalie, those inconsistencies are magnified more than any other player,” Mike said. “He is 27, so it’s not like he’s a kid, but he hasn’t spent much time in the NHL as the No. 1 guy and all that entails — physically and also mentally and emotionally, being prepared for all the pressure that entails.
“I think he’s very good. I don’t think goaltending is an issue for St. Louis.”
So the Blues have that going for them, which is nice. If you take goaltending off the list, that just leaves:
- Secondary scoring
- Veteran leadership
- Lefthanded defensemen
- Inexperience on scoring lines
- Rock hard pretzels at the concession stands
- Bouwmeester’s contract for this year and next
Now that we’ve got that narrowed down, let’s look at the Central Division and how difficult a road the Blues have this season. Let’s just say it probably will not be a cakewalk.
“The Central Division is hellacious. So many good teams. It will be an interesting division to watch. Is Chicago as good as they once were? Can Dallas bounce back to where they were two years ago? Is Winnipeg for real this time? There are six excellent teams in the Central and someone is going to miss the playoffs.” Mike said. “Some team may have 95-97 points and miss the playoffs because they’re sixth in their division.”
I mean that’s not exactly breaking news. But to see a point total just under 100 missing even a Wildcard spot is kind of frightening. Get well soon, boys!
Now if you don’t remember Mike Johnson playing for the Blues, you’re probably not alone. He played 661 NHL games from The 1996-97 season to the 2007-08 season. But only 21 were with the Blues, his final season in the NHL. You might remember, that was the first season under scratchy-throated head coach Andy Murray. They finished fifth in the division with 79 points and was not a very good team. The crappy finish allowed them to draft fourth overall that summer. They picked Alex Pietrangelo in the first round.
Over his career, Mike played in Toronto and Montreal, hockey hotbeds. He also played in Tampa well before they won the Cup. He said often players will enjoy or dislike a city based on how well he plays. And while he had hopped to play better here in St. Louis, he enjoyed his time in the city.
“What I liked about St. Louis, and I didn’t know it well when I got there, but the Midwestern sensibility and kindness in people you hear about, I found it to be true,” Mike said. “Why do so many Blues retire there? Why do they have the biggest alumni association in the United States for hockey players? Being there for not even very long, you see how much that town embraces sports and the athletes who play there. That was a positive thing.”
Thanks to Mike Johnson and NHL Network for making him available. You can watch Mike on NHL Tonight throughout the season.