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Silver Linings — In Hockey Terms Only

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Jay Bouwmeester’s Cardiac Event was terrifying, but it comes with some positives for the Blues’ on-ice product.

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Vancouver Canucks Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

I've been ill, so apologies for not including this note earlier. Please see this tweet thread for editorial comment.

Thanks,

Hildy

This story first appeared on Page 5 (The Five Hole) of the Feb. 15, 2020 edition of the St. Louis Game Time paper, sold outside of every Blues home game. For more information or to subscribe, email gtbradlee@gmail.com

I got a cup of coffee in The Show today: I got to write the front page. But since the second game of the 2014-15 season, 750+ of my words have appeared here on Page 5, and I wasn’t about to let that streak die.

This was supposed to be a run-of-the-mill afternoon game against a non-playoff team, so I figured I’d pour all my energy into the front page and just quote from some of my favorite columns of the past. And then, on Wednesday afternoon here in Spain, I sat down to watch Tuesday night’s tilt in Anaheim, pulled up NHL.tv, and saw “PPD” where there should’ve been a link to the game. Suddenly, I had so much more to say.

You’re not gonna like it. You’re gonna hate it, in fact. And I want to clarify that I’m absolutely and completely relieved that Jay Bouwmeester is in stable condition. Health issues that have no explanation and show no warning signs terrify me on a personal, visceral level: I have always, for no reason that I can come up with, understood how fragile the human body is. Even as a young kid, I had to look away when movies or TV shows zoomed in on someone’s eye because I had this sense of how delicate and intricate the human eye is, and how, if one microscopic little … anything in there gets out of whack, BOOM, lights go out, you’ll never see again.

So don’t call me cold-blooded. It gives me no pleasure to say this. I know that, by all accounts, he’s a good guy, teammate, and family man. His longevity is impressive as hell. But look: Ever since he arrived, Jay Bouwmeester has been a shell of the player he was in Florida and Calgary. This hockey team is better, on the ice, than it was before Tuesday’s postponed game because of what happened during it.

Bouwmeester’s reputation as an elite, Team-Canada-Making defenseman has always preceded him. And so Ken Hitchcock, then Mike Yeo, then Craig Berube played him at top-pairing minutes. Doug Armstrong re-signed him twice, for more money than he was worth. The numbers bear it out: If you look at his heat maps from 2017-19, you’ll see a lot of red, very close to the net, on his side of the ice in the defensive zone. That is to say: When he’s been on the ice, opposing teams straight-up feast on him. On the other hand, in the o-zone with Bouwmeester on the ice, the Blues produce very little offense.

And while the perception has been that Bouwmeester plays against top competition, as data analyst Micha Blake McCurdy has said, “His quality of teammate is substantially better than his quality of opponent, despite the very slight excess time he spends playing against top lines.” In other words: Yeah, he’s played against top lines a bit more than average. But he’s also gotten to play with Alex freakin’ Pietrangelo and Colton freakin’ Parayko.

I know it’s awful to think this way, and I’m sorry if it’s too soon. But the fact is: In addition to removing a liability from the lineup, Bouwmeester’s going on long-term injured reserve (assuming he winds up there) means four good things for the Blues — and one bad thing. Five thoughts, while searching for a heart of gold.

1. The salary difference between Bouwmeester and Niko Mikkola or Jake Walman would save about $2.4 million on the cap. That would mean the Blues could add a forward at the trade deadline without leaving Vladimir Tarasenko on LTIR until playoff time.

2. More Vince Dunn. Because of his reputation as an “offensive-minded risk taker” or whatever, Dunn has never gotten the minutes he deserves. He’s now the top option on the left side.

3. More Carl Gunnarsson. Boom Boom is incredibly underrated. He has a better career WAR (Wins Above Replacement) than fellow 2007 draftees Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez, Carl Hagelin, Wayne Simmonds, James van Riemsdyk, and Kyle Turris. If he can stay healthy — a big IF — more playing time for Boom Boom is a plus.

4. Mikkola and Walman might get real looks. Mikkola was decent in his five games. Walman seemed to be running out of track because he, too, is seen as too much of a risk taker. But the league is trending toward so-called risk takers on the back end, and Walman deserves more than one NHL game.

5. The bad: more Robert Bortuzzo. There’s the Gordie Howe Hat Trick, obviously, but Bortz pulled off the Bortuzzo Hat Trick on Thursday: He took a bad penalty that led to a goal, missed a clearing attempt, and missed the net with a slapshot from point-blank range.

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If you enjoyed this story — and even if you didn’t — you should check out my book, Ticketless: How Sneaking Into The Super Bowl And Everything Else (Almost) Held My Life Together.