Let’s Talk About the Trade Deadline

The Dilemma

The Blues need a winger on the O’Reilly/Perron line:

Zach Sanford has occupied that spot for most of the year, and has stepped up in a big way recently. Since the calendar has flipped to 2020, Sanford has 16 points (10 goals, 6 assists) in 17 games.  The numbers become far more interesting in February alone (7 goals, 1 assist in six games).  But those numbers are bolstered by a 4-goal game during a fire-wagon loss to the Vegas Knights. Now, let’s not take away from the run Sanford is on, but by the same token, let’s not forget the rest of his season. Recent success notwithstanding, there are reasonable questions about whether Sanford is someone who the team can rely on to play productive top-six minutes through an extended postseason run, or is simply someone who can provide a spark from time to time. 

The Blues still have questions about Tarasenko:

Let’s make that several questions about Tarasenko.  

First, we really aren’t sure when Tarasenko will come back. Maybe the Blues are, but we aren’t. Let’s assume for the first part of this argument that no one is sure. 

Next, we aren’t really sure what kind of player Tarasenko will be when he returns. Shoulders are tricky. And while the shoulder will presumably have a smaller effect on Tarasenko’s hands and shot (compared to the other muscles involved in shooting mechanics), the greater concern is with how Tarasenko’s shoulder will hold up to contact. Both injuries to that shoulder happened with routine hits. Now, yes, benign hits can catch someone at just the right spot to do some severe damage (as we’ve seen with Tarasenko both times), but with Tarasenko, we just don’t know how he’ll handle any kind of contact even after being cleared. As I said, shoulders are tricky. 

The Blues defensive depth will be tested:

First and foremost, the Blues and Jay Bouwmeester will make the decisions that will best benefit Bouwmeester’s life long after this season ends. How to do that right now is anyone’s guess. We as fans don’t know the details behind Bouwmeester’s cardiac event, and perhaps never will. We don’t know what his next steps are. We don’t know anything about what his life will look like in the next couple of weeks much less the next few years. What we do know is Bouwmeester is on IR now. We know that the penalty kill has struggled without Bouwmeester.  And we know Niko Mikkola is now the team’s 7thdefenseman. We know that if another injury occurred on the backend, the Blues would be looking at one of Jake Walman, Mitch Reinke, Derrick Pouliot, Jake Dotchin, or Andreas Borgman to fill that spot. We don’t know how any of them would fare in an extended NHL stint. 

The salary cap presents an issue this season, and the next:

Let’s talk about this season first:

And to do so, we can refer back to the Tarasenko question.  If he comes back before the postseason, then the Blues have basically no cap space to make moves next Monday. If not, they’ll have plenty of cap space THIS SEASON. The next eight days present a challenge for Doug Armstrong and Co. to learn all they can about Tarasenko’s rehab, and decide what to do at this season’s trade deadline with that information. 

The rental market is interesting. The gem seems to be Chris Kreider. After him, teams will need to decide between J.G. Pageau, Tyler Toffoli, Wayne Simmonds, and a bunch of maybes from bubble teams like Ilya Kovalchuk, Mikael Granlund, and Mike Hoffman. (For the record, I do not consider pending RFAs rentals since they more than often come with some kind of cap commitment the following year.)  With the exception of Kreider, the rentals are cheap, and not likely to yield first-round picks in packages to their respective teams. 

So, what about next year (and why does that matter)?

There are plenty of other options with term available. Too many to count, or know.  But they’re available, and they’re expensive. Look no further than the Jason Zucker trade. Pittsburgh gave up a haul in Alex Galchenyuk, highly-rated prospect Calen Addison, and a first-round pick. Critics may say that Pittsburgh overpaid. Critics are overlooking just how valuable players with term are. Recent history has led to a paradigm shift in how contenders value players with and without term. 

It would be hard for the Blues to pay to acquire a player with term at the moment. They have a first-round pick, and a couple of prospects. They certainly could make the deal for THIS SEASON. But what about Alex Pietrangelo? 

It’s Pietrangelo’s right to choose to sign whenever he wants, but every day he doesn’t sign this season leading up to the deadline is another day that Armstrong and the Blues cannot commit too many dollars to next season’s cap. By all reports, the preference is to re-sign Pietrangelo. It has to be.In order to keep enough space open for Pietrangelo, Armstrong will have to be careful with the dollars he commits to next season’s cap. 

So…

That’s the question, right? The Blues can go the rental route, and pay lower prices for limited rental returns without adding to their cap.  Maybe they’ll look to make a considered and expensive move for a player with term. Will they go for a winger, or a defenseman? Will they attempt to find both and fit them under the cap this year? And what about Tarasenko?

By next Monday, Doug Armstrong will have to decide how to navigate the above issues to enhance this year’s team without interfering with the remaining years of the very finite windowthat Armstrong created this summer. 

What’s in a rental?

A topic of conversation in the hockey universe right now is the value of rentals for playoff-bound teams. 

I took a look at the significant trades for rentals that Cup-winning teams made in the cap era. Admittedly, I was a little loose with defining “significant.” 

Carolina 2006: 

Doug Weight for a 1stand two prospects, 

Mark Recchi for a 2ndand two prospects 

Anaheim 2007: 

None

Detroit 2008: 

Brad Stuart for a 2ndand 4th

Pittsburgh 2009: 

Bill Guerin for a Conditional 5th

Chicago 2010: 

None

Boston 2011: 

Tomas Kaberle for a 1st, 2nd, and prospect

Los Angeles 2012: 

None

Chicago 2013: 

Michal Handzus for a 4th

Los Angeles 2014: 

Marian Gaborik for Matt Frattin, 2nd, conditional 3rd

Chicago 2015: 

Antoine Vermette for a 1stand a prospect. 

Kimmo Timmonen for 2ndand conditional 5th

Pittsburgh 2016: 

Justin Schultz for a 3rd

Pittsburgh 2017: 

Mark Streit for a 4th

Ron Hainsey for a 2ndand a prospect. 

Washington 2018: 

Michael Kempny for a 3rd

Jakub Jerabek for a 5th

St. Louis 2019: 

Michael Del Zotto for a 6th

One thing that stands out: A successful rental enhances, or provides depth for, an already established contender. Teams that attempt to add an essential element (top centers, top scoring wingers, starting goaltenders) through the rental market simply will not have much success based on the history. 

Thanks for reading.    

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