In his latest chat feature appearing in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jeremy Rutherford tackles an array of reader questions yesterday. A popular topic for Blues fans are the ongoing struggles of center Jori Lehtera, who St. Louis made a healthy scratch for this evening’s game against Winnipeg.
Lehtera posted a strong rookie campaign in 2014-15, finishing with 14 goals and 44 points in 75 games. He followed that up with a 34-point campaign last season, a noticeable drop off in output but still enough to convince the Blues to ink the 28-year-old Finnish pivot to a three-year deal with an AAV of $4.7MM. As Rutherford noted, the Blues might have been better off waiting another year to prove himself but the team decided to get that deal done so as to allow themselves to focus on re-signing David Backes and Jaden Schwartz. With just seven points in 20 games this season it’s looking like that extension may have indeed been premature.
Rutherford also believes it’s more likely now that the team will leave Lehtera unprotected and available to be taken by the Vegas Golden Knights in next June’s expansion draft. He projects the Blues will choose to protect 10 skaters – seven forwards and three blue liners – but has Lehtera and Ty Rattie as two the team will leave unprotected.
Elsewhere in the Central Division:
- Mike Russo of the Star Tribune reports that Zach Parise is indeed healthy, according to the team’s bench boss, Bruce Boudreau. There was concern after the veteran winger blocked a shot in the first period of Minnesota’s recent loss to Calgary. Boudreau described Parise’s skating as “sluggish” and “methodical,” in post-game remarks, which led to the questions pertaining to Parise’s health status. The long-time NHL coach did sit down with Parise along with winger Charlie Coyle, and plans to do the same with center Eric Staal to discuss the line’s recent struggles. As Russo notes, the line is pointless in its last two contests and the trio combined for just two even-strength shots in the Calgary game.
- Lastly, Colorado GM Joe Sakic is sticking by the team’s core group despite a rough start to the 2016-17 campaign, writes Terry Frei of The Denver Post. The Avalanche are currently tied with Arizona for last place in the Western Conference and are seven points out of a playoff berth. With their season on the verge of slipping away, Sakic still expresses faith in his core – Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Semyon Varlamov, Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson and Nathan MacKinnon – and feels the team needs to play with more urgency in order to get their season back on track: “I have faith in them. But to me, the start is not a core thing; it’s a team thing. I think you see we’re trying to hold people accountable. We know we have certain guys who can give more, and those guys know they can give more, but it’s not like it’s a whole thing. We’re not as consistent as we need to be. We didn’t win two straight Cups and have that leeway. We have to play with that urgency every night on a consistent basis to be successful.” Sakic’s reluctance to break up the team’s core played at least some part in the division between the GM and former head coach Patrick Roy. Unless the Avalanche can turn things around relatively quickly, it’s going to look like Roy, and not Sakic, was correct in his assessment.