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The NHL’s current injury and cap compliance rules are hurting more than the Blues

The Blues are in a very bad spot thanks to Covid-19 and injuries.

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Chicago Blackhawks v St Louis Blues Photo by Scott Rovak/NHLI via Getty Images

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: one of the Blues is injured.

Robert Thomas missed practice today, and will also miss Tuesday’s game against the Panthers. According to head coach Craig Berube, it’s a “lingering thing:”

“(It’s) been going on for a little bit but he’s fought through it. Now it’s time he needs some rest.”

That’s not something that you want to hear from a team who had Vladimir Tarasenko question their medical team, and who had Colton Parayko possibly playing through a back injury much of last season. With Thomas fighting through this out of necessity or a sense of personal responsibility or whatever, you run the risk of further exacerbating an injury to a key player.

With Thomas out, this leaves the team with 17 forwards available for tomorrow night. If they were to call up someone, per NHL emergency call-up rules, they would not be eligible to play against the Panthers and would have to wait for Thursday night’s game against the Red Wings.

A call-up still wouldn’t give the Blues a full roster’s worth of forwards, but it would allow the team to at least roll seven defensemen to fill the gap. As it stands now, Berube is soldering on:

“Forwards are going to get a lot of ice time, that’s the bottom line,” Berube said of playing shorthanded. “You’ve got to play smart. You can’t force things, you have to have real good line changes, keep your shifts short. Discipline, staying out of the penalty box, we don’t need to be killing a lot of penalties. Then go out and play, compete hard and work hard. And (then) you give yourself a chance.”

That’s all that the team can do here. Right now, they will be missing Thomas, James Neal, Klim Kostin, and David Perron to injury. They’re also missing Jordan Binnington, Justin Faulk, and Tyler Bozak thanks to Covid-19 protocols. That’s seven players, all of whom are vital.

Many fans are focusing on “when the team gets healthy,” but that’s a slippery slope. The NHL’s rules right now make no exceptions for players on the Covid-19 list, and teams up against the cap like the Blues have no call-up wiggle room thanks to this. The only way to get games postponed a la the Islanders or Senators is apparently to have everyone who is out at a given time be on the Covid-19 list.

The “no exceptions” mentality has an unintentional consequence for teams and players: risking further injury. Do you irresponsibly rush injured players back to fill a hole, risking exacerbating an injury to the detriment of the player (and let’s be honest, the team)? Do you bring a player back as soon as possible from the 10 day Covid-19 hiatus? Ryan O’Reilly discussed having issues tracking play and thinking clearly on the ice, which hints at covid brain fog. How about heart issues? Both Josh Archibald and Alex Stalock will miss the entire season due to Covid-19 related myocarditis. Coming back before knowing the full impact of the lingering effects of the virus may have a detrimental effect on players’ health.

The NHL appears to be risking their players’ safety and health for cap compliance.

This is more complicated than putting a team at a disadvantage because they’re shorthanded. This is looking out for the wellbeing of their employees. The NHLPA cooperated with the league in working through their Covid-19 protocols, but they’ve been silent on this issue.

This would be a problem if any team was going through this situation right now, not just the Blues. Teams aren’t functional, players’ health and safety is at risk, and the league’s product is subpar. Injury and breakthrough infections are both going to happen, and the NHL knows that. The league adapted well in the bubble. They need to adapt outside of it, too.