In a move that no one saw coming, the Blues traded Paul Stastny to a division rival. In return, the Blues receive a 2018 first round pick and forward prospect, Erik Foley. This move shows that Doug Armstrong had no intent of resigning Paul Stastny this summer, and with his departure looming, Armstrong decided to flip the aging center for future assets. I believe the Blues parting with Stastny is a blessing in disguise, because the tail end of Stastny’s next contract is going to look pretty bad whenever he’s making a $5-7 million cap hit whenever he’s in his late 30’s. Not to mention, in my opinion, the Blues received a better return for Stastny than the Sabres received for Evander Kane. It might be the unpopular opinion right now, but that is good asset management. Doug Armstrong acquired not one, but two valuable assets for 19 games of an asset that was walking in free agency in the offseason all along. Erik Foley, one of the recently acquired assets from Winnipeg, was Jake Walman’s teammate at Providence College and Tage Thompson’s teammate at World Juniors. He’s a guy that can play a hard nosed game and adds skill to the lineup. He has a good hockey IQ in all three zones of the ice, along with above average hands. From the people I have talked to on the Winnipeg side, they think he’ll turn out to be a solid NHL player. He is likely to leave the NCAA next season, and it is very likely the Blues sign him to his entry-level contract. Although Foley is a promising prospect, it is likely he begins the year in San Antonio with the Blues new AHL affiliate. Not only is Foley a good add to an already elite group of forward prospects, but the most important part of the deal was getting back into the first round of the draft. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Blues will use the pick, but it gives them a lot more flexibility than they had before. I’ll get more into that “flexibility” now.
The “splash” that got delayed:
Even after trading Stastny, the Blues remained heavily active on the trade fronts. Armstrong’s approach was interesting to me, and should be a sneak peak of what could possibly happen in the offseason. The Blues were actively shopping three key names: Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, and Jay Bouwmeester. It was reported that Columbus had some interest in Sobotka and or Berglund, but ultimately couldn’t reach an agreement on a “hockey trade”. Jay Bouwmeester was a name that flew under the radar on deadline day. I did some digging and the most I could get was this quote from a well trusted analyst: “A team in Florida could make a lot of sense. The Panthers are in on McDonagh and if they fall through, there could be a homecoming with Bouwmeester. The Lightning could make sense also, if their talks with Ottawa or New York fall through. Bouwmeester could be a solid plan B.” Interestingly, even though the Blues seemed to be shopping four key players in Stastny, Sobotka, Berglund, and Bouwmeester, they were still looking to add to the team. I spoke to a former NHL scout around noon yesterday, and he seemed very optimistic the Blues were not done. One nugget from our conversation was: “From what I hear, Armstrong is being very aggressive. I think there’s about to be a big splash in the market.” He mentioned Mike Hoffman’s name multiple times, along with some others. At times, it sounded like the Blues and Senators were getting close on an agreement, but at the end of the day, Armstrong stuck to his words and wouldn’t budge on Robert Thomas, Klim Kostin, Jordan Kyrou, or Tage Thompson. He was, however, willing to flip the Jets first round pick. I talked to the same former scout later in the day, after the 2:00 PM deadline. He speculated that he could easily vision the Blues and Senators talking again in the offseason. “The price for Hoffman will likely come down a bit in the offseason.” He said. As for rentals such as Pat Maroon, Thomas Vanek, and Evander Kane, Armstrong seemed to have stuck to his words again, and wasn’t interested in acquiring a rental. I’m not sure how I feel about this mindset, just because of how little the return value was for players like Maroon and Vanek. A third round pick and a low-medium prospect would have likely added either player. Something to replace at least some of Stastny’s production, but that brings me to my next segment.
The Blues currently sit 1 point out of the second wild card, and 5 points out of the third seed in the Central. 19 games remain, and things are so close in the West, the Blues could technically finish anywhere from second in the Central, to missing the playoffs entirely. However, there are a few questions heading into the stretch. First off, how are the Blues are going to need to replace Stastny’s ice time? I think the Blues will rely heavily on two young guys in particular, Ivan Barbashev and Tage Thompson. This is a golden opportunity for these two, especially knowing there will be a top 6 center position available for the taking in the offseason. With that being said, I do think we see Tage Thompson play center at some point this season for the first time in his NHL career. The next question heading down the stretch is, where are the offense going to come from? The Blues offense has simply gone beyond cold. It’s currently frozen. The Blues have been shutout in back to back games, and have gone over 140 minutes without scoring. Obviously the Blues will rely on their game changers such as Tarasenko, Schwartz, and Schenn to lead the way at different points down the stretch, but I think we have to look back at what made the Blues so successful in the first quarter of the season, the defense. I would like to see the defense get heavily involved in the play, whether it includes stepping up on the blue line to keep the puck in the offensive zone, jumping into the rush more often, or simply putting more pucks on net. Guys like Pietrangelo, Parayko, and Dunn are three names that could help spark the Blues defense, offensively. I already mentioned the increased role for Barbashev and Thompson, who will be looked at to help produce offensively, but how about one last “ace in the hole”… Nikita Shoshnikov is supposed to be playing with Schwartz and Schenn tonight. This is one thing the Blues have obviously yet to try, and I like it. Shoshnikov will be a big key for that line tonight. I think he will free up space for Schwartz in the offensive zone since Shoshnikov can get down low and win puck battles, something Schwartz usually does most on his line, just because he excels at it. Shoshnikov also provides speed and skill on the wing, something Schwartz and Schenn have really only had while playing with Tarasenko, and we all know how well they produced together. The last, and in my opinion, biggest question heading down the stretch is goaltending. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that is our biggest problem during this losing streak, but I am saying this. Goaltending will be the most important variable in the Blues run to the playoffs, and any success they may have once/if they get there. I have said time and time again over the past two weeks that it is all about getting hot at the right time, and I believe that includes your goaltending. I think Jake Allen will be the guy heading down the stretch, and he is due to finally get in a rhythm at least during some point here soon. Simply put, if the Blues can’t find a way to keep the puck out of their net, then they’re doomed. They need to tighten up defensively to reduce the number of quality scoring chances they have been affording to the opposition. That being said, the Blues are going to need Allen to steal a game or two by himself down the stretch. We saw how he became hot last year heading into the playoffs, even after a cold slump, so we know it’s possible, and the Blues are going to need it. Bottom line, 19 games remain with 38 possible points on the table. Tonight’s game against Minnesota is huge, due to the fact that if the Blues win, they’ll be just 1.5 games out of third in the Central. It’s time to sink or swim. Literally.
Thank you to everyone interested in all of my deadline coverage, received a lot of good feedback yesterday and i appreciate it. Thanks for reading, tweet me your comments, thoughts, and opinions @Palazzola_RTN. I’ll respond to as many as possible.