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Cap constraints & COVID protocol hurting Blues

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After a roaring start to the season, the St. Louis Blues have been unable to play their best lineup for the better part of a month. Several players entering COVID protocol combined with a rash of injuries have left the Blues worse for wear. In fact, it has gotten so bad in the last week, the team could not even field a complete lineup in their game against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night, and will once again be shorthanded against the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday.

When the NHL and NHLPA came together on an agreement on the return to play protocols after the initial league shutdown from the COVID-19 pandemic, it was agreed that players who enter COVID protocol would still count against the salary cap. For a team that spends to the cap like the Blues, this has become a serious problem because the team is missing players and has no cap space available to be able to call up reinforcements. In order to be able to call up a player even under emergency conditions, a team has to play one game shorthanded, which now that the Blues have, they were able to recall Nathan Walker from AHL Springfield on Wednesday. However, both goaltender Ville Husso and defenseman Jake Walman left Tuesday’s game with injuries, so the team once again will have to play a game shorthanded before making another emergency call-up.

What’s going on in goal

Along with Walker, the team signed goaltender Jon Gillies to a one-year, two-way deal on Wednesday as a replacement for Husso, who he himself had been thrust into the starting goaltending job after Jordan Binnington entered COVID protocol. Gillies had previously been in training camp with the Blues back in September and has most recently been playing in the American Hockey League. Charlie Lindgren came into Tuesday’s game in the third period when Husso went off injured and is expected to make his first start for the Blues on Thursday with Gillies backing him up. According to Blues GM Doug Armstrong, Binnington is expected to return to the team next week while there will not be an update on Husso’s status until Friday.

Holes throughout the lineup

Joining Binnington in the league’s COVID protocol are center Tyler Bozak and defenseman Justin Faulk. Along with missing their starting goaltender, the Blues have sorely missed the minutes Faulk eats up in five-on-five play, power play, and penalty kill, while the penalty kill has also suffered from the absence of the veteran Bozak. Bozak entered protocol two days before Binnington while Faulk was added to the list shortly after, so both players will likely remain out until at least next week.

Along with COVID problems, the injury bug was once again struck the team at the worst possible time. Forward David Perron has missed several games with an upper-body injury while center Robert Thomas is considered day-to-day as well. Meanwhile, forwards James Neal and Klim Kostin are both injured, though they both have been placed on long-term injured reserve and thus do not count against the salary cap. Add in the new injuries to Husso and Walman and all of a sudden, the team is severely hamstrung with its lineup.

The Blues are not the only team to be struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic this season. The San Jose Sharks were missing several players early in the year while the New York Islanders have recently been without a significant portion of their lineup. In a time in which health and safety protocols throughout all aspects of life are constantly adapting, it may be time for the league to come together and amend some of their rules in regards to salary cap flexibility, as it is becoming extremely taxing for teams to play multiple games shorthanded.

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