ST. LOUIS — Statistically-speaking, the 2019-20 season was going down as one of David Perron's best in the NHL.
The 32-year-old was second in points to Ryan O'Reilly (61) with 60 of his own (25 goals, 35 assists) in 71 games with the chance to establish career highs in goals (28 in 2013-14) and points (66 in 2017-18) with 11 games remaining. Perron's 25 goals were also tied for most on the Blues with Brayden Schenn.
But like everyone else, Perron had to put his season on hold, and in doing so, would eventually put the brakes permanently on his regular-season stats. Those stats will go down as is, and it is a tough pill to swallow for someone who stepped into a more prominent offensive role this season in light of Vladimir Tarasenko's dislocated left shoulder.
Or is it?
"A little bit of both," Perron said from his offseason home in Sherbrooke, Quebec. "When you're having a good season, it's easier to carry the momentum game in and game out. You don't think about anything really. You just play because it seems like the harder you work, you're also rewarded with that and it's not just a grind for opportunities and things like that. You're going to have them just working. You just kind of manage the workload and all that stuff.
"I was also kind of at the point where some of the injuries that I've been dealing with were kind of overwhelming a little bit. They were starting to add up mentally in my head to me. I guess I was getting frustrated but kind of that it wasn't going away. I'm still kind of at that point where even though I've had a lot of time off, I still feel like there are some things where I wish were a little bit better. I'm a little bit surprised that I'm kind of still dealing with some of it, but at the same time, I've done some good work in the gym, some rehab here with some people that are helping me. When we get going, whenever that is, I'll be ready to go and prepared. There's no different expectation for myself and I know the team won't have different expectations. I want to be a difference maker and I want to get the job done out there and not have to worry about that."
Some of the nagging injuries may have led to a direct result of Perron's numbers falling off a bit the last 19 games (two goals, five assists). Bumps and bruises are a common occurrence for NHL players, especially as the season wears on and games get to be more a physical grind.
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Perron has been able to benefit using the time off to heal some of his injuries but not all of them.
"Yeah, some of them. For example, I got a puck in the face in Edmonton at one point in the year where I had two teeth in my mouth, broke my upper bone of the jaw and I had braces for six weeks," Perron said of the Jan. 31 game. "That's obviously one of the things. I got my braces off the flight before Anaheim I think. And finally, I was kind of almost fully healed from that, and now I am obviously. I had a couple other things obviously that didn't go well. But at the same time mentally, just getting a little bit of time off is always good in that standpoint. The only thing is it's tough to get away completely mentally just because even though it's been that much time, you still kind of week to week, day to day at that point, you still kind of hope we're going to get a call within three, four weeks. You're kind of like, 'Alright, let's get going again while the bodies are warm.' Now we've had time to cool off and at the same time mentally, I can't say that I've ever not expected to get a call in the way where it was going to be like, 'Alright, let's get going here.' It's not like you've completely unplugged from it. You have to kind of have to stay somewhat ready.
"Normally after the season, when you have a longer offseason, I like to really unplug the cord a little bit for a while and then once you get reconnected, you seem like you're so fresh. I guess I'm not fresh mentally, but I'm ready to go. I've always been ready to play hockey, but we'll see where it's going to go. We're still in the unknown. That's tough. We're June whatever and even though there's dates thrown out there, there was a date early May that Phase 2 was going to open up, it took another month. Now there's a date thrown out for camp. Who knows, maybe it's going to be another month. I hope the second (COVID-19) wave doesn't hit or maybe who knows, right?"
Perron had nine game-winning goals (four in overtime) this season, which shattered his previous high of set twice (2011-12 and 2017-18) and tied for second in the league this season with Buffalo's Jack Eichel (one behind Edmonton's Leon Draisaitl and Boston's David Pastrnak). He was shooting the puck more (166 shots on goal, an average of 2.34 per game), he was playing an average of more than a minute per game (18:19 to 17:06) compared to last season, and a lot of that had to do with getting more power play time and responsibilities from assistant coach Marc Savard, and playing with O'Reilly as his primary set-up man didn't hurt either.
"There's many reasons," Perron said of his success. "Obviously when you win, you want to follow it up even though it was a short summer. You feel like you're not quite ready to start even when it starts, but you're just throwing everything out there that you've got, you prepare as much as you could in that month and a half, two months that we got. I had the chance to deal with that the summer prior and it worked out pretty good obviously with our season last year even though I had a shorter summer. I had somewhat of a quiet confidence that I wanted to do it again with the season I had, which was pretty good. Finding the chemistry with O'Ry, I wanted to follow it up and show that it wasn't just a one-off. I had the chance to really prove that again with the opportunities from Chief again, and then more opportunities opened up when Vladi in a sense went down. I think the power play, we really kind of changed some of the units around. We were going to spread even kind of all the way through in two units before and now it's kind of loaded up. We had a successful unit, and obviously I got a lot more ice time than I ever got with the man advantage. It was nice that I could make a difference there and I know that when Vladi comes back things might change, so it is what it is. I just wanted to make the best of it and as a unit in the league, we had good resolve to convert (against) the other teams and things like 5-on-3, overtime, power play, those are things I never got before so when you do step out on the ice after 12, 13 years, you kind of are hoping for that. I guess I can't say I never had a shift in those situations, but now it was just my name was written on the board before the game. It was a regular thing that I could see and other guys could see. I was just trying to make the best of it and lucky enough that it went in a few times early. It kind of gave me even more confidence that you get to the point where you don't even look at the board anymore just because you know, or you're hoping you'll be out there. You keep working for that to work out.
"Having the chance to play with O'Ry was the biggest thing for me. Some of the plays he made this year, even though he scored (fewer) goals than last year, the number of assists he got, some of the assists he gave me ... those are the kinds of plays that he made all year again. The confidence from building all that and when he gets some of the matchups that he gets, the 4-on-4 situations and just kind of be tied with him there, it's definitely nice."
When it became clear that the pandemic was going to be longer than just a couple weeks, Perron decided to pack up and head home, which is something he hasn't done a while. His family was already there.
"I definitely knew I was going to feel comfortable here," Perron said. "I think for me, the last couple summers I didn't spend back home just because of going all the way to the end (to the Stanley Cup Final). It was nice to get a spring season at my house. I never witnessed a spring season here in a long time, and that's a good thing. My family was here already so it was kind of easy travel for me. I got on a plane by myself and got back. I was already doing the two-week (quarantine) that we needed to do and Canada extended that at least five weeks, if not more. We're still kind of not opened up fully so here we are."
Now that dates have been given for the NHL's Return to Play Plan for Phases 2 and 3, the next step is for Perron to get on the ice. He's been able to do regular exercising but as far as getting onto the ice, no such luck in Canada.
"No. With Phase 2, the CBA allows for guys that, say like a Patty Maroon that lives in St. Louis, to use the Blues facility and from what I am hearing, it doesn't sound like the Blues have opened up yet," Perron said. "I'm not sure entirely because I'm not there. I haven't talked to many guys (last) week. But we have been keeping in touch with guys and it's been pretty cool to see how much in our group, some back and forth guys are chirping the usual stuff that you get in the locker room. We stay in touch that way.
"I'm going to expect to skate in Montreal, but same thing, they didn't open up yet. I'm going to look to find out when the date is and we're going to make the time. Me, Sammy Blais, (Marco) Scandella, a couple other guys around here in a group of six, we can get that going."
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If the NHL is able to get going, Perron doesn't feel like it will be too tough for the Blues, who were first in the Western Conference at 42-19-10, to get going. The round-robin format for the top four seeds has been a mixed bag of reactions from players but for Perron and the Blues, it's dealing with the cards they've been handed.
"I think we'll be fine for sure. It's kind of interesting," Perron said. "We kind of hit a bit of a slower path, then again we were back on an upswing, momentum trending our way. We were getting wins in different ways, Vladi was going to come back, many things going our way. Scandy came in and played really good, really supported the d-core, many positives going our way. I think everyone was excited that finally it was going to be the end of a longer-feeling season when you win or when you go deep. The next 40-60 games, they feel like a little bit longer. You can't wait to get back in the dance again. We were finally getting to that point and it's tough. We'll see how we react to that, but I think with our group, we're relentless, we're deep. I think that's going to help us because the way our lines were created all year and all last year in the playoffs, many lines stepped up at different times, different guys. We're confident that way.
"As far as the format with the way it is, the only thing that is disappointing, we get that everyone's going to kind of feel like some teams will have an advantage but some don't, but it's just kind of disappointing where there's a couple teams that really weren't going to catch us at all no matter what was going to happen and now they have a chance in three games to kind of take over and then obviously on top of that, the teams that advance, they keep that seeding all the way through and they (reseed). I think Colorado and St. Louis deserve to be in the top two no matter what, but it is what it is. We're going to play the rules the way they made them now. There's nothing we can do. The only thing we can worry about is when we're on the ice, we're ready. Hopefully we find a way to preserve our spot because I believe it's going to be good to have that."
No matter what, Perron feels the Blues are good enough to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
"I certainly hope so," he said. "We were a good team and we are still no matter what happens. It doesn't always work out for you in a season, but the only thing I care about is doing with this group was so much fun. I include everyone in the organization from top to bottom. Our coaches have been incredible managing the rest last year and even training camp this year, that's as smart of a training camp I've ever got as far as rest and the way practices were. To me, it made a huge difference with how we started this year.
"When you asked about my season, I think guys needed to have a little bit of a smart training camp knowing we just kind of got off the ice with the Cup. We didn't get killed at training camp. It was done in an incredible way. I was really, really impressed by our coaching staff and everyone that took part in making those decisions."