The St. Louis Blues are focused on their own 2021 season. However, they have to make new plans as far as their prospects, yet again.
The St. Louis Blues and their fans should be excited about starting a new season and trying to get things back on schedule for the future. However, they cannot catch a break as far as their prospects go.
We’ve already discussed how 2021 will be a difficult year to judge player progress for those not in the NHL. It just got a lot harder.
The Springfield Thunderbirds, the team the Blues had signed as their AHL affiliate for the next few seasons, has opted out of the 2021 AHL season. Given the restrictions placed on people on the coasts, this makes sense from their franchise perspective. There’s no money to be made in the AHL if you have little to no hope of getting fans in the stands.
For the Blues, however, it’s just another blow in a string of developmental problems in recent years. The Blues just cannot catch a break when it comes to the AHL.
The Blues already went through an entire season without an AHL affiliate of their own when the Vegas Golden Knights swooped in and became the Chicago Wolves affiliate in 2017. The Blues had to share the San Antonio Rampage as an affiliate with the Colorado Avalanche for 2017-18.
This gave the Blues no control over who played or who got how much ice time. It was somewhat beneficial for Jordan Binnington as being loaned to the Providence Bruins gave him a chip on his shoulder. Nevertheless, it was not good for most anyone else.
The Blues thought they had things set up for smooth sailing with a deal to have San Antonio as their affiliate once Colorado promoted their ECHL team to the AHL. Vegas messed things up again, as their ownership came in and bought the Rampage and moved the team to Henderson, Nevada, which is a suburb of Las Vegas.
This time around, the Blues were determined to not let their be a gap. They quickly jumped on an affiliation with the Springfield Thunderbirds and all seemed to be right with the hockey world.
The Blues would not have total control, but it seemed like a very good partnership where the Blues prospects would get the most looks and the Thunderbirds would just supplement the team with their own signings where needed. It was supposed to be all the benefits of being in control without having to fit the bill for anything but player salary.
Even as the calendar turns, 2020 is not letting go of it’s maniacal grip on disaster. The Blues are now without an affiliate of their own and must play nice and share again.
An on-and-off rival has stepped in and allowed the Blues an opportunity to get at least some prospects a place to play. The Blues will now share the Utica Comets as an affiliate with the Vancouver Canucks.
This partnership is far from ideal. While next to no details were released by either franchise, other than the typical niceties of being proud to partner, blah, blah, etc., you have to believe that the Canucks will still take precedent.
Their prospects will get top-line minutes and the Blues will get the scraps. This really has to alter the Blues decisions as to who makes the taxi squad and who goes down.
Before this news, it would have made no sense for a player such as Scott Perunovich to be on the taxi squad. He needs to play games and get used to the pro game.
Now, that statement is not such a sure thing. Maybe it would be better for him to be on the taxi squad where he can get tutelage from the Blues coaching staff and practice against their players. Perhaps that is better than playing 26 games for another team.
Perunovich may very well be talented enough to still be in the top couple pairings for Utica. Not knowing what the Canucks have in the pipeline, it is hard to say.
That’s a gamble though, with the Blues not having a lot of control over how much he plays or what system the Comets use. Even playing top-pair minutes, it might be detrimental if their staff tried to box Perunovich (or any other Blues prospect for that matter) into a defensive shell when that’s not his game yet.
This is all conjecture, of course. For all we know, the Blues and Canucks have ironed out these little wrinkles and there will be a nice merger for one season.
Given the Blues’ luck with these sorts of things in recent history, don’t count on that. It’s better to have half a partnership than none, but this continual flux with the minor league partnership is going to catch up to St. Louis sooner or later, even if it is not their fault.