The trade deadline is only 21 days away. The Blues are currently 6 points out of a playoff spot in the tightly packed Western Conference, so it seems fair that we as fans should start looking at how the organization will act when the deadline comes around. Spoiler alert: Not much is going to happen.
Why? A few factors come into play here: the organization's slow-and-steady rebuild stance, the relatively young age of our organization's players, and a low amount of deadline-bait players. These factors all lead to the conclusion that the Blues will play it safe, stick to what they have in terms of veteran leadership while making maybe one maneuver to cash in on a player's contract expiration.
First off, in order to guess at what moves the Blues could make we have to see who they can safely deal at the deadline. Players that get traded at the deadline tend to be veterans, at the end of their contracts (and will become UFAs), and somewhat valuable to another team's playoff run. The Blues have two players that fit this criteria: The World's Best Backup Goaltender™ Ty Conklin, and an Eric Brewer that looks like he could lift a thousand babies. If you want to be generous, you could add Brad Winchester to this list and write about what sort of spare change the Blues could get for him yourself.
Now, the organization needs to figure out whether Brewer and Conklin are worth more being moved out than keeping around for the remainder of the season (and possibly further on).
Brewer has shown what he can do in a contract year with a whole offseason of healthy practice for him: he has tied his career-high of 8 goals, and has 6 assists with a plus/minus of +3. Brewer has been reliable this entire season so far, has done great in both offensive and defensive situations, and has been mentioned quite a few times as being a leader in the defensive corps. His stock is high and could be worth a considerable amount in return, but at the same time moving him would both be difficult and a concern for the future of the organization. If the Blues moved Brewer, his replacement would most likely be Ian Cole -- take that how you will. If the Blues moved Brewer, the only veteran defenders on our roster would be Jackman and possibly Colaiacovo, while adding yet another young defender to the roster. What is probably the most damning factor against trading Brewer would be the fact that he has a no-trade clause and likely wouldn't waive it since his wife just gave birth a few days ago. As far as contract extensions go, the Blues likely could get a good deal to keep him around the next couple of seasons, enough to keep the prospect-pipeline flow going. Bottom-line, unless the Blues can't get Brewer to agree to an extension but can get him to waive his NTC, he'll probably be sticking around to lead the D-Corps.
Conklin, on the other hand, could easily be moved at the deadline. While it certainly helps to have a veteran like himself behind Halak, who is in his first season as a starting netminder, he isn't entirely necessary for the future. Behind him in the goaltender pipeline is Ben Bishop who, noting Jake Allen's outstanding rookie year, can be moved up without rocking the Rivermens' boat too much. Conklin is a veteran, has playoff experience, and if he's going to continue playing like he did against Tampa then he'd be in high demand. If Peoria can handle it then, pending a substantial return, moving Conklin might be the ideal deadline trade for the Blues. (NOTE: I wrote this post yesterday, and today I was greeted to Andy Strickland saying there might be a potential move of Conklin to Detroit.)
So, assuming the aforementioned happens and the Blues move Conklin but keep Brewer, what does the roster for next season look like?
The Blues have one or two lineup controversies for next season, these being the Janssen/Crombeen/D'Agostini RW and Tyson Strachan's struggle to stay our 7th defender.
Next season, assuming our important RFAs (Oshie, Berglund, Sobotka, D'Agostini, Crombeen, Polak, Bishop, Strachan) re-sign with the organization, Tarasenko makes it out of training camp, and Winchester gets another go-around, we're looking at a line-up like this:
This isn't a roster that's going to cause any controversy. If Brewer gets re-signed and Colaicovo isn't moved for whatever reason, Cole will spend another season in Peoria waiting for Colaiacovo's contract to run out. Strachan, while not the best player in the world, is a cheap player to keep as the emergency defender. Tarasenko will probably make the line-up out of training camp next season and would get anchored on the 3rd line to get some good minutes while adjusting to North American ice, all the while being a part of the solid Steen-McClement duo. Janssen will not be re-signed, and Crombeen will take his place as the 4th line RW (slight offense, penalty-killing experience, dropping the gloves, and an RFA status make him much more desirable than Janssen). Drazenovic and others will be passed over for the 4th line reduced-minutes role as Winchester gets re-signed to create a chippy and potentially offensive checking line that is centered by Sobotka. D'Agostini, while definitely showing a tremendous up-side this season, won't be able to beat out Oshie, $4M Boyes, and Tarasenko for the top-3 lines and isn't the right player for a 4th line job, but will be incredibly important down the road for a team that is lacking in offensive depth.
Again, I have to point out that an entire post-deadline season and off-season that involves only trading Conklin and letting Janssen go is probably disappointing, if not insulting to fans; however, we have to look at this season in retrospect: in the beginning of the season our team had the best start in franchise history, and only simmered out when our entire team was ruined by injuries. If the Blues can pick up some skilled offensive forwards in the off-season then by all means they will, but as it stands the best option for the team is to hold onto their developing pieces and smooth Tarasenko into the roster. The team will continue on, building a strong-defense, good goaltending, and an offense skilled enough to score goals without giving up a lot of chances.
As a last note, throughout the season there's been a lot of talk about the Blues trading for offensive-wingers; however, I do not think they would or will do this. This isn't an organization that will make impulse trades and signings, and I think that this entire season they backed down from moving developing or integral pieces of the group for a quick-fix that might already be remedied next season with Vladimir Tarasenko's offensive game. I might be wrong, but looking at this organization's build-from-draft mantra and the fact that we already made a "trade for offense" move when we traded Rundblad for Tarasenko's pick it seems the most accurate.