Doug Armstrong’s end of the year press conference with members of the media focused on a few things, which were exactly what fans would expect: what is the team going to do about Alex Pietrangelo’s contract, what’s going on with Vladimir Tarasenko, and why did the Blues get bounced in the first round.
It’s an interesting read, especially the parts about why the Blues weren’t successful this post-season. Fans know that Armstrong can’t really speak in specifics about Pietrangelo’s contract negotiations, and other than “he’s out for five months,” news on Tarasenko will be sparse as well.
When it comes to why the Blues got bounced, however, Armstrong didn’t just focus on hockey specifics. Armstrong focused just as much on the extra-curricular hiccups and issues that could’ve factored into the team’s early elimination. While it might be disappointing to some fans that the Blues didn’t make it past the first round, others may be more forgiving of the quick exit.
Your view may vary based on your opinions of athletes’ responsibilities. Do you feel that they need to play first and be people later? Do you think that it’s ok if their family concerns creep into their professional lives? Can you remember that they’re human - which is not an excuse for poor performance, but rather potentially a way of explaining it?
Armstrong mentioned the growing Blues family - literally - as a potential cause for a lack of focus in the bubble Carl Gunnarsson and Tyler Bozak welcomed new additions before the end of the stoppage in play, and Ivan Barbashev had to leave the bubble to be with his wife for the birth of their child. It makes sense if their minds are elsewhere. This isn’t a new experience for members of the Blues - Alex Pietrangelo’s start to the 2018-2019 season was (along with the rest of the team’s) less than ideal. A bit of that more than likely could be chalked up to the appearance of triplets and a lot of sleepless nights and added responsibilities.
It’s difficult to fault players for worrying about their families when they’re traveling during a regular season or postseason, but when they’re in a situation where they potentially could be spending two months away from them makes those feelings more intense, especially when your wife just had a child. That’s a gap in support at home that many players aren’t comfortable with. They’re going to worry.
Armstrong also mentioned poor conditioning for some players as a cause of the early exit:
[W]hen they were quarantining, they couldn’t go to the gym or do certain things. It affected each player differently. Some lost a considerable amount of weight. They all felt some form of a symptom. It wasn’t that they had it and didn’t feel anything.
The Blues certainly weren’t the only team that had to deal with this issue, but they did delay the start of camp workouts out of an abundance of caution. How much some extra practice could’ve helped is unknown.
Finally, and possibly the biggest issue that Armstrong discussed, was that 20% of the active roster had COVID-19 at some point, and all players who had it had symptoms. In response to COVID-19’s impact on those players conditioning, and if it impacted it, Armstrong had this to say:
Yeah it [impacted it], just because when they were quarantining, they couldn’t go to the gym or do certain things. It affected each player differently. Some lost a considerable amount of weight. They all felt some form of a symptom. It wasn’t that they had it and didn’t feel anything.
Being sick is going to impact your ability to work out, especially with a virus that causes breathing issues such as shortness of breath and one that also adds GI issues to the myriad list of symptoms.
Each case of COVID-19 is different in every person, and there doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to how it impacts young, healthy people (which is an assumption, because we’re not privy to players’ medical information and frankly, it should stay that way). None of the impacted players have really come out to discuss their diagnosis or time being sick, but it’s safe to assume that it impacted their play. There has been speculation regarding a few defensemen’s performances and if there was a correlation between that and having the virus. Vince Dunn in particular was on the Unfit to Play list for a while before heading to the bubble, and his play during the post-season was markedly rough.
Pointing at residual effects from a disease known for them isn’t a cop-out.
Family and health issues aside, the healthy and un-distracted players on the team still played much of the post-season with an energy level that never clicked. Armstrong’s conference didn’t excuse their play as a team, but it does shed some light on issues they were having. The team as a whole looked disinterested, but they also didn’t have an opportunity to gel in the same way that they did last post-season. The fourth line never rolled like it could have with injuries and absences, and that reverberated up the line-up. The defense looked disjointed. Jordan Binnington’s performance was, to be polite, less than ideal.
The Blues didn’t get bumped in round one because of babies and a virus, but neither did the team any favors. Here’s hoping for a full recovery for the players who were ill, and for some good night’s sleep for those who are new dads. They’ll need it in December.