With less than two weeks before the NHL's trade deadline teams are already making moves to change their near and long term futures. Ottawa and Toronto are willing to trade everything down to the team bus in an effort to rebuild their faltering franchises. The Philadelphia Flyers added a guy who helped beat them in the Finals last year in Kris Versteeg as they load up to compete for another trip to the championship round. Even teams that don't know what they are right now, like the Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers, are swapping players to try to boost their lineups.
But what about the Blues? Once again they have seemingly sunk themselves into a pit too deep to climb out of to make a playoff appearance. And yet, mathematically, they could make themselves relevant by stringing together a few wins. Odds are that by Feb. 28 the Blues will know whether they have a legitimate shot at a playoff spot or not. If they do, don't expect any trades short of the kind of minor league deals they've made in the past.
If, however, the playoffs remain a longshot by then, odds are that the Blues will make at least a move or two. As GM Doug Armstrong has said, he's always looking to improve his club. What better day to do it than when plenty of other GMs are feeling the pressure to make a move and are more likely to overpay or make a short-sighted deal?
That said, Armstrong probably only has a couple of trades to make on or before the deadline. There are the easy to make trades of players who are unrestricted free agents at the end of the year and who could be coveted by other teams for their playoff runs. There are also a couple players who are under contract but would be wanted by other teams; these guys would take a stronger push from the other team's GM to get a deal done. Finally, there are trades that could be made, but would take major overpayment to make happen. These, obviously, are the least likely to happen, but we'll address them just for the sake of being thorough.
Most Likely To Be Traded.
Conklin is an unrestricted free agent this summer, is unlikely to be re-signed by the Blues and is a commodity that teams want before the playoffs: a strong backup goalie who knows exactly what his role is, can step into bad situations on a moment's notice and play well and a guy with a reputation for being "good in the locker room."
The Blues have Ben Bishop in Peoria who could come up and assume the backup role for the rest of the season, so they would not require a goalie back in any deal. The Blues would likely want a young player with promise back in the deal, but will probably have to settle for a draft pick of some sort. Several teams could use a backup goalie, so playing them off one another might be the best way to maximize the pick received as compensation.
Cribbing from Kevin McGran's breakdown of team needs, a few clubs could be looking for a backup goalie like Conklin, including Anaheim and Detroit (when was the last Blues-Wings trade? Federko/Oates?)
As for Brewer, he's an unrestricted free agent who may or may not be re-signed by the Blues this summer, but trading him doesn't necessarily exempt that from happening, as we've seen with Keith Tkachuk. Brewer has a no trade clause in his contract, but the draw to compete for a Stanley Cup is a big motivator and Brewer might be willing to waive it to go chase one (newborn child at home or not).
For the Blues, trading Brewer is a classic example of selling high. Brewer has struggled his entire time in St. Louis, due mainly to injuries which, we're told, are finally all cleared up. He is having a career season, having already tied his career-high goal total (8) and is a plus-rated player for just the second time in his career (yes, that's true). To the outside world, he is a big, mobile defensive defenseman who can move the puck up ice and has a hard, if not terribly accurate shot from the point. He has tons of NHL experience with over 700 NHL games played and he has been the team's captain for years, so he brings leadership to the mix too.
Teams looking for those qualities could be interested in Brewer and given those credentials, how would you say he stacks up against the credentials of a player like Mike Fisher, who garnered a 1st round pick when he was traded?
The Blues would probably love to get players rather than picks at this point, and players with offensive upside over defensive players (which the system is overstocked with already) but will likely find teams dangling pick packages rather than players. using the same list as before, teams thought to be looking for defensive help include Vancouver, Nashville and Chicago (never happen, though trading Brewer to the Blackhawks would make a lot of Blues fans smile).
A Player Who Could Be Traded.
Boyes has frustrated fans and management for two seasons now and for the better part of those years fans would have been happy to see him move on to a different team. Only no other team wanted an overpaid, underachieving winger who can backcheck but doesn't do a lot else when he's not scoring.
Now, of course, Boyes has gotten on a hot streak and has moved up to third on the team scoring list this year. He has managed to contribute to the offense by setting players up when he's not scoring and teams looking for some depth scoring (and hoping for a jump from a change of scenery for a notoriously streaky scorer) mighht be willing to take a flier on Boyes, who is still under contract next year for another $4 million cap hit.
With the market for scorers of even mediocre skill (Kris Versteeg - 14 g, 35 p; Fisher - 14 g, 25 p) set at a 1st round pick (plus), asking that for Boyes and his 11 goals and 36 points isn't even that outrageous any more. The Blues, again, will be trying to squeeze a potential scorer out of any team calling for a deal, but that'll be hard to come by unless someone gets desperate.
Players Less Likely To Be Traded.
Brad F. Winchester
The first two of these players are unrestricted free agents this summer, but probably don't have much use to teams in the playoffs. Winchester can stand in front of the net and let pucks bounce off him and into the net, but his nine goals aren't likely to attract a lot of attention from many teams. He'd be used more as a fourth liner and a power play specialist with most of those teams and most of those teams already have their power play unit set.
Janssen has proven to be a fighter and little else. While his fights are wildly entertaining and there's no questioning the guy's heart in his willingness to go with anyone at any time for his teammates, no playoff team has a need for a fighter.
Crombeen could be desired by a playoff team looking for grit, but that'll be pretty low on most team's want lists. He's a restricted free agent this summer, but his play is admired by the team and trading him isn't likely to help the Blues in any significant way.
Players Who Won't Be Traded.
Of these players all but one have been committed to long-term by the Blues within the last year and it's a bad message to send to your teams and potential free agents if you sign guys and then immediately trade them. They also represent parts of the team that would be bad public relations to give away: the team's starter and hopeful franchise goaltender in Halak, the team's de facto and likely future captain in Backes, the team's heart and hardest worker in Steen and the potential franchise cornerstone defenseman in Pietrangelo.
The other player, T.J. Oshie, would be a PR nightmare if traded. One of the team's most popular player and a fan favorite, he is an engine that revs the rest of the team when he is in the lineup. He's due for a new contract this summer, but he hasn't done enough to demand an unreasonable contract, so the Blues will be able to afford to keep him and keep him in the lineup.
Whatever return that could be gotten for these players wouldn't offset the hole created and negative feelings created if they were moved.
Players Who Teams Would Have To Overpay To Get.
These players represent a core group who are not untouchable, but will be more expensive to teams who want them either because they are players still considered important to the rebuild of the franchise (Berglund, Johnson), are established players who contribute consistently and are veteran presences on the team (McDonald, Jackman, Colaiacovo) or are young guys who are contributing and progressing and expected to be better next year (Sobotka, D'Agostini, Polak, Nikitin). As for McClement, he would likely attract attention from teams if made available because of his defensive prowess, young age and reasonable contract. His skills are needed by playoff teams and he'd likely garner interest, but if the Blues were to trade him, they'd immediately have to try to find another player to fill that shutdown center role and would therefore create more problems than solutions with that deal.
All that said, these players could probably be considered. Johnson and Berglund have both struggled this year, but both have shown flashes of becoming better, more consistent players. If traded, they'd bring back the biggest return of anyone on the team aside from the players denoted as 'untradeable' above, but giving up on Johnson, especially, is a move that would likely come back to haunt Blues fans and management.
Teams might very well place some feeler calls to the Blues on McDonald, Jackman and Colaiacovo, as they all probably are attractive to playoff teams. If the Blues were to move any of them, the return would likely be impressive. Any offer for these guys would have to be a 1st round pick and players based on how the market is currently set.
As for Sobotka, et al, they wouldn't pull down first round picks, but trading them for other middling assets doesn't do the Blues any good as they have all stepped up and had years that could be desribed as emerging. There's no reason to believe they won't be better next year, so why would they be moved for a package that would be middling at best?
In summary, the Blues have some decisions to make in the next 12 days. It's a guarantee that they'll field some calls from GMs who covet some Blues players. Some of the offers will be easy to accept and some will be easy to reject. But there will likely be a couple that could alter the look of the franchise for years to come. What will they do when they get those calls? What would you do?