Bernie Bits: Surging Blues, O’Reilly For the Selke Trophy, Carlos Martinez Contract Trap

Bernie Bits …

For Feb. 20, 2019.

Let’s go with some notes on The Note:

1. We’d have to say that Ryan O’Reilly ranks way up there on any unofficial list of St. Louis athletes over the last 25, 30 years who elevated their teams after being acquired via trade. (Free-agent signings not included.)

Here’s my ad-hoc list of the best players secured in trades by our town’s football, baseball and hockey teams since 1988:

St. Louis Blues: Brett Hull, Chris Pronger, Al MacInnis, Ryan O’Reilly, Keith Tkachuk, Pavol Demitra, Doug Weight, Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Steen, Jay Bouwmeester. Note: Wayne Gretzky, acquired in Feb. 1996, played in only 31 total games as a Blue including postseason.

St. Louis Rams: Marshall Faulk, Aeneas Williams.

St. Louis Cardinals: Jim Edmonds, Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday, Mark McGwire, Scott Rolen, Edgar Renteria, David Freese, Woody Williams, Darryl Kile.

I’m sure I forgot someone … but even so … O’Reilly belongs.

2. More on O’Reilly: He’s ranked No. 1 among NHL centers in the Defensive Points Shares metric … meaning that he’s among the best defensive centers in the NHL … and should be a leading candidate for the Selke Trophy which is awarded to the league’s best defensive forward.

2a. How consistent is O’Reilly at winning face-offs? I’m happy to show you his success rates:

Offensive zone, 56.6%
Defensive zone, 58.2%
Neutral zone, 58.5%
Home ice, 61.3%
Road games, 55.5%
Vs. RH opponent: 57.5%
Vs. LH opponent: 57.9%

3. During their 11-game winning rampage, the Blues have gotten goals from 16 different players … and 12 players have two or more goals … defensemen have combined for 11 goals and 15 assists… in their 11-game win streak the Blues have scored 75.51 percent of the goals in the competition when at even strength … the top line of O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko and Brayden Schenn have combined for 17 goals and 28 assists over the last 11 games … with the top line on the ice, the Blues have controlled 58 percent of the shots, 57 percent of the scoring chances and 61 percent of the high-danger chances over the 11 games … overall, the Blues have outscored opponents 43-16 (all strengths) in winning 11 in a row. That’s 72.8 percent of all of the goals scored in their last 11 games.

4. This is crazy, but during 5-on-5 play rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington has a goals-against average of 0.95 and a save percentage of .962 in his 15 starts (13-1-1 record.) And his .909 save rate on high-danger chances is 41 points better than the next NHL goalie on the list since Jan. 7.

5. For the Blues, a big key during the franchise-record 11-0 stretch is the team’s ability to ambush opponents early. Consider this: during 11-game winning streak the Blues have outscored their foes 14-3 in the first period, and 26-5 over the first two periods. And The Note hasn’t given up more than a single goal in the first period during the 11 games.

READING TIME, FIVE MINUTES:

So, Carlos Martinez didn’t follow the prescribed offseason rehab plan for his problematic right shoulder. He went his own way and failed to fulfill his responsibility to get physically ready for spring training. There’s no telling when he’ll be able to pitch in real games. There’s no way to know, for sure, if he’ll be able to pitch effectively in 2019. His shoulder is weak. His act is weak. You’d think Martinez would have properly responded to the alarms sounded last season when right-side injuries –including the shoulder — put him on the injured list three times.

But, no. Martinez, who was being paid $11.5 million guaranteed last season, didn’t have to learn any lessons about taking good care of his arm. He’d get paid, anyway. And now, moving forward, if you think Martinez can be counted on to do his part to honor his contract commitment to the Cardinals — which begins by making a mandatory effort to do everything possible to successfully rehab an injury… well, don’t get your hopes up.

Including this season, the Cardinals are obligated to pay Martinez $34.5 million guaranteed. And add another $1 million in buy-out money if the team declines to pick up his contract options in 2022, 2023. Let’s be blunt here: Financially speaking, Martinez, 27, has no real motivation to be at his best.

Happy Birthday! Former Cardinals pitching coach Derek Lilliquist (now the PC for the Nationals) is 53… Charles Barkley, the 11-time NBA All-Star, is 56… former St. Louis Rams tight end Jeff Robinson is 49. Robinson had a unique NFL career, starting out as a defensive end, then moving to tight end. From 1999 through 2001, coach Mike Martz turned Robinson into an effective receiver as part of the team’s exotic personnel packages; Robinson caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Warner late in the third quarter to give the 1999 Rams a 35-17 lead over the Minnesota Vikings in a divisional-round playoff game at the Trans World Dome. The Rams would win that one, 49-37, in the first home NFL postseason game in St. Louis history.

This Day in Sports History: In 1953, brewer August A. Busch Jr. purchased the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team for a reported sales price of $3.75 million. In addition Busch bought Sportsman’s Park from the American League St. Louis Browns for $800,000. This was a pivotal moment in St. Louis sports history; not long after the sale the Browns relocated to Baltimore and became the Orioles. Under Busch’s direction the Cardinals won three World Series (1964, 1967, 1982) and established financial health and stability by moving into a new downtown stadium in 1966. Busch’s hiring of Whitey Herzog as GM-manager reversed the Cardinals’ on-field decline, with the Redbirds going on to win three NL pennants and a World Series title between 1982-1987.) The Cardinals were rolling toward the NL pennant in 1985 when Busch died on Sept. 29 at age 90.

Trending Up: Jaden Schwartz and Tyler Bozak. During the Blues’ 11-game winning streak, Schwartz and Bozak primarily have played on the same line, the second line. And both have three goals and four assists, meaning that they’ve combined for six goals and eight assists in the 11 games. Schwartz and Bozak haven’t been as effective with Alex Steen on their line. But even with Steen on as the third man with Schwartz and Bozak the Blues have controlled 56.5 percent of the shots and have outscored opponents by three goals when it’s 5-on-5 play.

Trending Down: The Blues’ rivals in the NHL Central. The Note’s 11-game winning streak began Jan. 23. And by clicking off 11 straight wins, the Blues have gained 10 points on first place Winnipeg and nine points on second-place Nashville. And suddenly the Blues, with 69 points for the season, are within six points of Nashville and seven points behind Winnipeg. As for the other teams in the division, during their 11-0 run the Blues picked up 15 points on Minnesota, 14 on Colorado, 11 on Dallas, and eight on Chicago.

Here are the NHL Central records since Jan 23:

St. Louis, 11-0-0 … 22 points
Chicago, 7-2-0 … 14 points
Nashville, 6-4-1 … 13 points
Winnipeg, 5-4-2 … 12 points
Dallas, 5-4-1 … 11 points
Colorado, 2-5-3 … 8 points
Minnesota, 2-6-3 … 7 points

Writing at CBS Sports our friend Dayn Perry says the Cardinals and Cubs should jump in and pursue free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper, who remained unsigned as of 1 p.m. Wednesday. Here’s part of the take from Perry, the respected longtime baseball analyst for CBS:

“Now let’s narrow in on the two storied blood rivals of the division — the Cubs and Cardinals. These two have been exchanging barbs this winter, half-joking or otherwise, but that’s not really enough of an appetizer. Consider this a call for both St. Louis and Chicago to get in on the Bryce Harper derby, however belatedly. Consider it to be an even more urgent call now that Manny Machado is finally off the board. Sure, if the current buzz is any guide, then the Phillies are the heavy favorites to land Harper. Until ink is on paper, though, he’s available for hire. So even though camps are open and Cactus and Grapefruit League play is in the offing, the Cardinals and Cubs should shift course and set the plains afire in righteous pursuit of one of the most coveted free agents in history.”

Why the Cardinals? It’s all about the decline of right fielder Dexter Fowler.

“He was probably a bit unlucky last season,” Perry wrote. “But even if he’d put up his ‘deserved’ wOBA he would’ve still had a terrible season at the plate…the various and sundry projection systems are going to be more bullish on Fowler since his 2018 depths are lifted up by the remaining balance of his personal recent history. SportsLine, for instance, tabs him for a line of .217/.304/.375. That’s better, but it’s still not what St. Louis needs from this bat-first position. Harper would give the Cardinals a much-needed dose of left-handed power, and since St. Louis is roughly $45 million under the luxury-tax threshold they have enough room to sign Harper without incurring any penalties. Fowler is one of the genuinely good guys in the sport, but the odds are long against a return to high-level production. The Cardinals, with so much riding on 2019, need to eat his contract and spring for the upgrade. The addition of Harper would make them consensus NL Central favorites.”

Thanks for reading…

–Bernie