Doug Armstrong is Harry Houdini

In the early 20th century, the illusionist and escape artist Harry Houdini mesmerized audiences across the U.S. with his impossible tricks and death defying stunts. Fast forward to 2018 and Blues’ GM Doug Armstrong is pulling off miraculous illusions and escape acts right under the noses of other NHL GMs and Blues fans.

If you weren’t aware, yesterday was Free Agent Frenzy in the NHL. July 1st marked the start of the free agency period for the league and many of the big name free agents announced where they chose to sign. The Blues were quite active early in the morning and were able to acquire left winger David Perron (his third stint with the Blues, previously on Vegas), center Tyler Bozak (previously on Toronto), and backup goalie Chad Johnson (previously on Buffalo). This group of free agents had received mixed reviews from the box office that is the St. Louis faithful. Some heaped praise on Doug Armstrong while others were calling for his job. By 7:30 pm central time, it was looking like the Blues were done for the day and most likely for the summer.

ABRACADABRA!

The Blues traded for center Ryan O’Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres, and Blues fans went from calling for Armstrong to resign to singing his praises. It was one of the greatest escape acts in recent years for the Blues.

Keeping the magic puns going, let’s look behind the smoke and mirrors and break down all of the Blues’ big moves from yesterday:

  • David Perron, LW: Contract – 4 years, AAV (Average Annual Value) of $4 million
    • Coming into his age 30 season, Perron is fresh off a career year on the Vegas Golden Knights. He posted 16 goals and 50 assists for a total of 66 points in 70 games during the regular season. He also had a goal and 8 assists for 9 points in 15 games played during the playoffs. This will be his third time on the Blues. He was drafted by the team and debuted during the 2007-2008 season. He was later traded to the Oilers in 2013. The Blues re-signed him in 2016, but then lost him to the Golden Knights in the expansion draft. The right-handed winger will likely slot in on any one of the top three lines for the Blues this upcoming season.

When the signing of Perron was announced, many Blues fans were left scratching their heads. Why would a team get a player on to their roster for a third time? It is confusing at first glance, but this move makes a lot of sense for the Blues. When the Blues signed Perron in 2016, they were hoping he could become a top 6 winger to play alongside the likes of Tarasenko and Schwartz. He scored 18 goals and posted 46 points that season, which is decent production given the contract he was on. However, due to the expansion draft, the team had to make a tough decision about who to leave exposed. Unfortunately for Perron, he drew the short straw as the Blues had a lot of forward talent to protect. Vegas jumped on the opportunity to snag the gritty, skilled winger and it turned out to be a phenomenal pick. Perron proceeded to have a career year in Sin City and was almost a point-per-game player. Luckily for the Blues, Perron loved playing in St. Louis and he turned down many lucrative offers to come back. Getting 66 points of production at $4 million per year is an incredible value. For comparison, James Van Riemsdyk just signed a 5 year deal with the Flyers at $7 million per year. Also a left winger at around the same age (Perron is a year older), JVR posted 54 points in 81 games for the Maple Leafs last season. The Blues just got 12 more points of production for $3 million less. That’s a great opening act.

  • Tyler Bozak, C: Contract – 3 years, AAV of $5 million
    • The 32-year-old Saskatchewan native had been a staple in the Toronto Maple Leafs roster since he debuted in 2009. As a two-way centerman, he is known for his defensive zone awareness and consistent offensive production. Bozak is a 40+ point producer in the NHL and one can expect him to score about 15 goals per season. In the face-off circle he gets the job done, posting a 53.6% face-off winning percentage for his career. Bozak is a well-respected player around the league for his great attitude toward the game and for his leadership on and off the ice.

For his next trick, Armstrong went out and signed a carbon copy of Paul Stastny for $1.5 million cheaper per year. Bozak has been a reliable player for years in the NHL and he significantly improves the center depth of the Blues. If you want to succeed in this league, the best way to do that is build from the back and up the middle. You need a solid core of defensemen and centers to be a Stanley Cup contender. Look no further than the Pittsburgh Penguins, Nashville Predators, and Washington Capitals for evidence of that. The Bozak signing also helps offset the loss of Kyle Brodziak to free agency, and it provides more offense to boot.

Despite these two masterful performances of getting value in the free agent market without overpaying someone, Blues fans were ready to boo Armstrong off the stage. Luckily for everyone he saved his best trick for last.

After signing Bozak it looked as if the Blues were content with their depth at center and were ready to go for the summer. However, Armstrong had something else up his sleeve (that’s the last pun I promise). The Blues and Sabres had been talking for weeks about getting a deal done for Ryan O’Reilly but neither team felt comfortable with what was on the table. On Sunday night, though, the pieces finally came together and both sides were able to get the deal done.

Blues receive:

  • Ryan O’Reilly

Sabres receive:

  • Patrick Berglund
  • Vladimir Sobotka
  • Tage Thompson
  • 2019 1st Round Pick (Top-10 Protected)
  • 2021 2nd Round Pick

At first it looks like the Blues gave up a ton, but upon further review it actually looks like the Blues have the potential to win this deal. The trade really boils down to 3 main pieces: O’Reilly, Thompson, and the 2019 1st. Berglund is a solid 3rd line center and Sobotka can be a solid 4th line grinder, but both players were thrown in the deal by the Blues to shed cap to make room for O’Reilly (Berglund’s and Sobotka’s cap hits combined are roughly the same as O’Reilly’s). They Blues also didn’t lose a whole lot in those two players considering they just signed better replacements in Perron and Bozak. The 2021 2nd is meaningless to the Blues because that pick is 3 years away and can easily be replaced. This leaves the 1st and Thompson. The Blues went into the 2018 draft fully expecting to lose either their 2018 1st rounder or their 2019 first rounder via trade. Since they used the 2018 pick on Dominik Bokk, Armstrong knew that the 2019 pick would likely be gone. He was already committed to using that pick in a trade so the Blues don’t view losing their 2019 1st as a bad thing. Now on to Thompson. Armstrong knew that in order to get a high caliber player, one of the Blues’ “Big 4” would have to be involved in a trade. Thompson is a great player with high upside, but if you were to ask any reasonable Blues fan to pick one of the Big 4 to trade, most of them would say Thompson over Thomas, Kyrou, or Kostin. Armstrong agreed with that assessment (and luckily the Sabres really wanted him). Losing Thompson is unfortunate, but in order to get something in a trade, you have to give something, and that something happened to be Thompson this time around.

Zooming out, this trade is really O’Reilly for a 2019 1st and Thompson. If O’Reilly lives up to expectations, this deal is a win for the Blues and also opens up lineup space for Kyrou and possibly Kostin. With Thompson gone, it also creates a hole in the Big 4. We could see recent first round pick Dominik Bokk, former Winnipeg Jet draft pick Erik Foley, or defensive prospect Jake Walman fill this void in the future.

July 1st was the start of something exciting for this Blues franchise. Perron bolsters the offense and provides the team with a point-producing role player. Bozak and O’Reilly make the Blues deep down the middle. How deep? This tweet from Blues beat reporter Jeremy Rutherford pretty much sums it up:

Here is what the Blues’ lineup could look like on Opening Night (one of MANY possible combinations):

  1. Schwartz – Schenn – Perron
  2. Tarasenko – O’Reilly – Fabbri
  3. Steen – Thomas – Kyrou/Jaskin
  4. Barbashev – Bozak – Soshnikov
  1. Pietrangelo – Bouwmeester
  2. Parayko – Edmundson
  3. Bortuzzo/Gunnarsson – Dunn
  1. Allen
  2. Husso/Johnson

Get excited for the upcoming season Blues fans.

And bravo Doug Armstrong. Bravo.

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