ST. LOUIS -- For those wondering which forwards Blues coach Ken Hitchcock will suit up when everyone is healthy, join the group -- a group that includes the players themselves.
Hitchcock hasn't been forced to make many difficult decisions yet because of the extended absences of Alex Steen and Matt D'Agostini because of concussions. Also, 18 games after returning from his concussion, Andy McDonald went back out of the lineup with a shoulder injury.
But with Steen rejoining the Blues on Sunday, and D'Agostini and McDonald on the verge of coming back, Hitchcock soon will have 16 bodies and only 12 spots he can fill. In perhaps a sneak peek of what could lie ahead, B.J. Crombeen has been a healthy scratch the past two games and Chris Porter was displaced Sunday when Steen returned.
"It's not a bad problem to have," D'Agostini said. "When you look at it from the team's perspective, we've got I'd say the deepest team in the NHL right now. We've got 5 1/2 lines that can play in the playoffs. But I don't know what's going to happen."
The Blues were back at practice Monday following their seven-game trip, and McDonald and D'Agostini were among the forwards on the ice.
McDonald, who has missed three games because of a shoulder injury, didn't sound optimistic about returning for Tuesday night's game against Nashville. D'Agostini, who has been out since early February because of a concussion, put his availability for Tuesday night at "50-50." Hitchcock acknowledged that there's a chance that both could be back by the end of the week, as the Blues travel to Chicago on Thursday and then host Columbus on Saturday.
The recent roster decisions, however, might not be indicative of what actually happens when the Blues reach the postseason. Hitchcock warned the lineup will be based on performance and specific elements players can provide.
"When you get into a situation like this, the players have had six months to give us the evaluation ... it's not like it's overnight," Hitchcock said. "They've given us six months to make up our minds. We're basing it on performance, not reputation. It's how you're playing. We're in the 'now' period. If a guy is not performing, no matter who he is, we'll go a different direction because we do have depth."
Porter, who has just seven points in a career-high 47 games this season, has provided speed and consistency.
"Every time they've called my name this year, I've just tried to go out and play my game and play physical and brings some energy to the team," Porter said. "Whatever they've asked me to do, I feel like I've been able to provide that for the team."
Crombeen has three points in 39 games, and Ryan Reaves has four points in 56 games, but they offer a physical presence -- outside of dropping the gloves -- that will be necessary in the playoffs.
"The coaching staff and my teammates know what I bring," Crombeen said. "All I can do is work my hardest and leave those decisions to the people that make them. To be a top team in this league, you've got to have guys that are willing to do whatever they're asked. That's something our team has really embraced and that's a big reason why we are where we are."
Now, those three players are dealing with another option in rookie Jaden Schwartz, who has three points (two goals, one assist) in four games.
"A guy like Schwartz has come in and surprised everybody with his good play, so he's trying to grab a spot too," Hitchcock said.
But before fans pencil in skilled players into every slot, realize that Hitchcock is a believer that role players are essential in the postseason.
"It depends on what the other team is putting out there," he said. "The other thing is, roles change. Somebody that is a 15- or 16-minute player, maybe becomes a 10-minute player. Maybe you need more physicality from him, so he has to ramp it up. Somebody that was more of a scoring player that's got size, you need more of a physical role from them. To me, I've always said this about the playoffs ... it's all about quality over quantity."
The Blues are on the verge of having both.
"With the return of guys, we've got internal competition and it's going to drive the guys that are playing right now," McDonald said. "That's what we've been lacking in the past. The organization did a good job this year of signing guys to give us added depth and it's paying off right now. We're going to have everybody healthy for day one of the playoffs and it's going to be great."