Hockey is one of those mind boggling sports where you go through an entire season and playoffs and don’t know who is hurt with what until everything is done. The St. Louis Blues are no different than any other team in that aspect.
When the Blues won in 2018-19, we found out all sorts of guys were playing with bumps and bruises. Ryan O’Reilly played with cracked ribs and ended up winning the Conn Smythe trophy.
It seemed like the Blues, and the fans, knew about most of the 2021-22 injuries. Torey Krug missed time in the playoffs along with several other defenders.
However, nobody outside of the locker room knew anything was wrong with Alexei Toropchenko. Despite playing in every Blues playoff game in 2022, Toropchenko ended up needing surgery.
Toropchenko had shoulder surgery, joining fellow Russian Vladimir Tarasenko in having that procedure done. According to Doug Armstrong, Toropchenko will miss the beginning of the 2022-23 season and likely won’t be available until early December.
Of course, the worry is that Toropchenko has an adverse reaction to the procedure just like Tarasenko. Nevertheless, the reasoning from Armstrong was sound, overall.
"“It is a tough blow, but it is one of those ones where he could have potentially played with it and then if he got injured again, then you’re looking at a 4-5 month surgery. We just thought it was prudent to get it taken care of now so A) it’s strong and when he comes back, he doesn’t have to worry about it.” – Doug Armstrong on Toropchenko’s surgery"
Toropchenko may only have been a fourth line player for the Blues this season, but he still has the potential to be a middle-six type of forward. The skating, shooting and skill is there and he also showcased some toughness, fitting in very well with what the Blues asked of him on that fourth line.
Along with the player himself, Toropchenko figured to give the Blues some financial flexibility. He still has a year left on his contract that pays $750,000 at the NHL level.
You’re not going to sign a veteran for that kind of price, so the Blues will likely have to fill that spot from within. That may allow someone like Jake Neighbours to take advantage and, perhaps, not lose his spot this time around.
Whatever happens, it is a disappointing setback for Toropchenko. He had to have figured he was penciled into a roster spot, at the very least.
Now, he’ll be behind everyone in conditioning and contact work. That forces him to attempt reclaiming a roster spot in a non-camp setting, which is harder.
There’s less time to practice during the season. Thus, there’s less opportunity to show yourself if you’re not getting game time.
Also clouding Toropchenko’s 2022-23 future is the fact he will be waiver eligible. If/when the Blues place him on the NHL roster, he would have to clear waivers to be sent to the AHL. So, would the Blues place him in the AHL immediately and only use him for a call up or put him on the NHL roster immediately and hope the surgery takes?
Hopefully Neighbours is ready for action straight away since there isn’t much left for him to prove. If not, maybe the Blues give Zachary Bolduc a look, even if only for nine games like Neighbours the season before.
Let us all hope the surgery went well for Toropchenko. I don’t distrust the Blues medical staff, but the Tarasenko saga is still fresh in all our minds.