With the trade deadline fast approaching, we will be taking a closer look at the situation for each team over the coming weeks. Where do they stand, what do they need to do, and what assets do they have to fill those needs? As we continue with the Central Division, here is a look at the St. Louis Blues.
Alex Pietrangelo? Vladimir Tarasenko? Colton Parayko? Sorry, but they aren’t going anywhere. The St. Louis Blues have quietly climbed within three points of a playoff spot and the early-season panic is over. Granted, the team is still in the middle of a cluster of teams fighting for just a few postseason berths, but the Blues have games in hand on the whole bunch and have been playing some of their best hockey lately. St. Louis is now a legitimate threat to slip into the playoffs and, once there, could do some damage. In fact, the potential on paper of this team is yet another reason why a fire sale is unlikely. There is no excuse for their first half failures, but many, including their own GM Doug Armstrong, have expressed optimism about what this core can do next season. They may have considered tearing it all down at one point, but that’s no longer a realistic possibility.
With that said, the Blues have fallen short of expectations all year long and no one would be surprised if they do in fact miss the playoffs this year. As such, they need to hedge their bets and continue to take offers as a seller. The team has a handful of impending unrestricted free agents they can trade, as well as others that they may entertain moving. The bulk of the St. Louis lineup isn’t going anywhere and will continue their playoff push, but Armstrong and company are likely to move out some extraneous pieces and play both sides of the market as the trade deadline approaches.
22-22-5, sixth in the Central Division
Deadline Cap Space
$7.2MM of full-season cap hit, 0/3 used salary cap retention slots, 46/50 contracts per CapFriendly
Upcoming Draft Picks
2019: STL 2nd, STL 3rd, STL 5th, STL 6th, STL 7th
2020: STL 1st*, STL 2nd, STL 3rd, STL 4th, STL 5th, STL 7th
* – Blues owe their 2019 first-round pick to the Buffalo Sabres as part of the Ryan O’Reilly trade, but have option to keep that pick if it is top-ten and send 2020 first-round pick instead
Brayden Schenn is a name that just won’t go away. Even as the Blues’ play has improved of late, Schenn’s name continues to bounce around the rumor mill. The 27-year-old center broke out for 70 points last season, but is back to his regular 50-point pace, if that, this year and has been an underwhelming presence this season for an underachieving team. Logic would dictate that if the Blues want to keep their core intact for another try next season, they’ll refrain from moving Schenn. However, if the market interest forces his hand, Armstrong will move the talented forward, who has one year remaining on his contract, for the right price.
The same goes for winger Jaden Schwartz. Once the epitome of consistency and clutch in the Blues’ lineup, Schwartz, 27, has been streaky and largely ineffective on offense this season. His 21 points thus far is one of the biggest disappointments of St. Louis’ season. Schwartz has quietly continued to be a solid two-way force for the Blues though, even if it doesn’t show up on the score sheet. Schwartz has shown immense talent previously and his trade value is at an all-time low. Maybe he does just need a change of scenery, but Armstrong is unlikely to sell low on the two-way forward this season.
Not every trade decision will be as difficult as Schenn and Schwartz. For example, veteran forward Patrick Maroon has been an utter failure this year for St. Louis and is all but gone before the deadline. Earlier this month, it was rumored that Maroon was likely to be dealt when his full no-trade clause expired at the end of January. In the nine games since the report, Maroon has one lone goal. Hometown product or not, the Blues are likely to move Maroon – who has proven before to be a deadline commodity – for the best offer. Veteran grinders Jordan Nolan and, to a lesser extent, Chris Thorburn could also have value on the market and their absences would mean little to the Blues.
Defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson have not struggled like Maroon, but are also likely goners as impending UFA’s. Bouwmeester, 35, is a respected veteran around the league but has undoubtedly slowed down over the past couple of seasons. He’s currently fourth among St. Louis defenders in time on ice and has the worst plus/minus of the group. Bouwmeester isn’t going to be extended by the Blues, but he’s also still a serviceable and experienced blue liner who could help a true contender. He’s worth more elsewhere than he is for this fringe St. Louis team. The same goes for depth defender Gunnarsson, who has actually been a quite effective possession defenseman in limited opportunity this year, but has a higher value as an added option to a contender than to a team that may not make the playoffs. Jakub Jerabek and Chris Butler are also impending UFA defensemen who may have some slight value on the market. Don’t be surprised if 25-year-old Jordan Schmaltz has his name thrown around too; the Blues have made no effort to get him NHL minutes and he could use a new opportunity.
One of the major issues of this St. Louis team is underachieving forwards and it’s not just the veterans. Sure, the Blues might like to move Alex Steen or Tyler Bozak, but no-trade clauses alone will limit that possibility. The team would be far more likely to find takers for some of their disappointing young forwards, of which there are many. Robby Fabbri, Zach Sanford, Ivan Barbashev, Nikita Soshnikov, and Sammy Blais are all getting too old to be called prospects, but have yet to prove themselves as difference-makers in the NHL. Each one is an impending restricted free agent this summer and the Blues likely don’t plan to bring the whole group back. St. Louis could benefit from swapping out a young forward or two of their own for other teams’ disappointing forwards in hopes that a new system can turn their game around.
1) Scoring Depth: Obviously, goaltending is the biggest long-term concern of the Blues, but that isn’t going to be addressed at the deadline this year. Next in line then is scoring. As previously mentioned multiple times, one of the fatal flaws of the Blues this season has been a lack of scoring and disappointing efforts from too many regular forwards. St. Louis is 22nd in goals for this season and, even if the veteran core returns to form this season, the fringe pieces lack some upside in the production department. As the team moves out forwards from the roster, old or young, the Blues could benefit from taking a waiver on other teams’ frustrated young forwards to test this season for whether there is a there is a fit moving forward. The Washington Capitals’ Andre Burakovsky, the Vancouver Canucks’ Nikolay Goldobin, or the Montreal Canadiens’ Charles Hudon could all be intriguing options. Finding another name to add to the blossoming next wave of Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, Klim Kostin, and Dominik Bokk should be a priority.
2) Top Prospect Defenseman: In the course of making possible trades of Schenn or Bouwmeester or a young forward, Armstrong would be smart to target a top young defender in the return. The Blues have some nice 25-and-under pieces on the NHL blue line right now, but the AHL unit lacks much upside and the organization does not really have a blue chip defenseman in the pipeline other than collegiate rearguard Scott Perunovich, who will already be 21 next season when he begins his junior year at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. St. Louis has many exciting, talented forwards waiting to take over a role in the NHL; the team desperately needs to add a defenseman into that group. If they can’t find one via trade, they should focus on the draft and adding picks to make up for their first- and fourth-rounders this year.