Here we are at the end of January and there are only nine games left on the Blues' schedule before the NHL trade deadline on March 3. Thanks, Olympics!
In those nine games, the Blues will have a couple decisions to make. They'll have to decide what to do with Keith Tkachuk, Paul Kariya and Chris Mason. All three will be unrestricted free agents at season's end. All three are part of the core veteran group on the roster. All three could be seen as useful players on other teams. All three could be part of another late-season frantic push for the playoffs.
First of all, on 101 ESPN radio in St. Louis this week, team president John Davidson told host Bernie Miklasz that the standings will ultimately determine what the Blues do at the deadline. Keeping or trading players will be based on the team's level of play in these last nine games. If you remember last year the team was on the verge of sending Tkachuk to another team for the second time in his career before ultimately keeping him. If the team struggles in the next nine, it could be a different story. Let's break it down by player.
Chris Mason will be 34 in April. Like his predecessor Manny Legace, Mason has been a backup most of his career. He didn't find a starting job until the 2006-07 season in Nashville. He enjoyed that for one season and then was traded to St. Louis. He only has nine games of playoff experience, but he did show flashes last spring of being able to handle the pressure of carrying a team down the final stretch of the season. He might be in some demand. But if Mason is considered a player that can be traded, do the Blues really have enough faith to make Ty Conklin, another career backup, the starter the rest of this season? And what about next year? He'll be in the second year of his two-year contract. Youngster Ben Bishop probably isn't ready in Peoria. Making a change in Mason would have ripple effects over the foreseeable future making any decision involving him an important one.
Tkachuk has some value as a gritty center who can play in front of the net (even after visibly flinching when another T.J. Oshie shot climbed the ladder on him Thursday night). He's got a good reputation in the dressing room. He doesn't have much time left in the league and probably wants at least one more chance at a Cup. And he could always re-sign him in the summer if the Blues want him back one more year. The question is how much he has left in the tank. What the Blues could get in return, I don't have a clue.
Kariya is an enigma. He shows the speed and hands of old, but not the scoring touch. He could make most power plays around the league better and provide a boost to team speed. His line needs some size to help his unit get the puck out of the defensive zone, but Kariya can still play at a fairly high level. That said, I'm not sure what his reputation is around the league. He's fallen off the radar for the most part after spending most of last season on the injured list. I doubt the Blues will attempt to retain him beyond this season regardless of the Blues trading him at the deadline. If they're still competing for a playoff spot, they would risk losing some credibility with the fans by trading him in early March.
I hope the Blues are in position to compete for a playoff spot come deadline day. If so, maybe they try to add a piece. I would love to see a rugged stay at home defenseman added to the roster. But if they fall out of it, goodbye Big Walk, see you later Paulie.
I don't know what the Blues will do. Tell them what you think they should do and we'll see how this turns out.