It's been almost 24 hours since the Blues finished making three trades that shook the foundations of this franchise and completely overhauled what we believe about this hockey team. Shit, that first sentence was written Sunday night when I was drunk on wine and cheese fondue.
There are a couple realizations I think you should embrace before we go any further. These are my interpretations, but I'm usually right.
- When the Blues are healthy, this team wins. Remember January when they couldn't hardly lose a point? The team that hit the ice nearly every night during that streak was the team Doug Armstrong put together over the summer. Sure, there were some surprises like Dimitrij Jaskin playing on a third line with Patrik Berglund and Paul Stastny. That's a minor footnote. Otherwise, the team on paper is even better on the ice. When they have to make a patchwork lineup and Ken Hitchcock moves pieces around, that's when shit gets screwed up. Armstrong saw this, knows this. He wasn't screwing up the team he's built that's gotten them four points from first in the division (with one game in hand and soon to be two).
- Kevin Shattenkirk's injury is huge. I don't care what the league consensus is about Alex Pietrangelo or the 900 games played by hobbled Jay Bouwmeester, Shattenkirk has been the team's best defenseman all season. So they've had to figure out how to rebuild the rotation without him. The coaches prefer 27 and 19 to play together because they log so many minutes, 25 or more a game. If they split those two up, it exposes another defensemen or two to bigger minutes and more pressure. When Shattenkirk comes back (could be another full month), it will lock down the rotation and give the other guys more defined roles.
- Goaltending was set in stone. Even after Sunday night's game in Vancouver with the yank of Allen and Elliott.
- There is not a clear cut favorite for the Stanley Cup this season. That means there was big competition for good players/scarcity of players available. Too many teams trying to get better, only a few trying to jettison players. Blame three-point games or the salary cap or dumb general managers being dumb, most teams think they have a shot. Remember, an eighth seed can win it all. Damn Kings.
OK, on to the deals.
The Blues traded prospect Maxim Letunov to Arizona for defenseman Zbynek Michalek and a conditional third-round draft pick.
What the Blues gave up: Leaving the organization is a guy they drafted in the second round last June who is one of the best players in the USHL, which is a developmental league between high school and college. He's committed to play at Boston University next season. So the 19 year old will be a college freshman next year. He's got height at 6 feet, 3 inches, but he was 155 pounds when drafted and is still less than 170 pounds dripping wet. He could turn out to be a good center in the NHL. In three or four years and several double cheeseburgers.
What the Blues got: Welcome one of the more confusing looking names in the league and probably one of the best purely defensive defensemen available at the deadline. Michalek blocks a lot of shots and focuses on playing strong in his own end defensively first and foremost. He's not really big, but he doesn't back down from physical opponents. Think of him as the funny named Barret Jackman. There's one issue: he's concussed and hasn't played for a few weeks. So in case the concussion symptoms linger and he doesn't play a game with St. Louis, the Blues will receive a third-round draft pick. So they have some insurance if this doesn't work out, which is kind of a theme from Monday because Michalek serves two purposes. The first is insurance to play a decent number of minutes in case Shattenkirk can't. And second, adding him gives the Blues more options for mixing and matching offensive and defensive defensemen.
Comments: If the concussion doesn't go away, it's not a blown trade. If he plays to form, he makes the Blues more responsible in their own end and on the penalty kill. And after seeing the Blues allow five straight goals to the Canucks on Sunday night, I'm sure Armstrong wanted to trade for all the defensemen he could find. Also, this trade has some flexibility because Michalek is an unrestricted free agent after this season.
The Blues traded defenseman Ian Cole to Pittsburgh for defenseman Robert Bortuzzo and a seventh round draft pick.
What the Blues gave up: Ian Cole was the last of three players left in the organization drafted in the first round of the 2007 draft (Lars Eller is in Montreal and David Perron also plays for Pittsburgh). The former Notre Dame blueliner came up in the organization with a reputation as being a hard-nosed player with offensive upside. His reputation on the ice which was apparently held by the coaching staff was that Cole makes too many poor decisions with the puck and can be caught out of position defensively. On Twitter Monday, several people said he led all St. Louis players in the stat category of Getting Yelled At On My TV. Dude was drafted eight years ago. He's gotten lots of chances. It doesn't matter if he is still growing as a player, Hitchcock was not changing his opinion about Cole. Period. Classic case of a talented player and seemingly nice guy needing a fresh start.
What the Blues got: Hello Bortuzzo. He was drafted in the third round of the same 2007 draft. Over parts of four seasons he has 113 NHL games. He's a frequent watcher in the press box playing in 38 games this season. But even then, he still has 68 penalty minutes to go along with two goals and four assists. But when we're talking about Bortuzzo, we're talking about toughness. He's big, he gets in faces. He's grit personified. When the Penguins where here 10 days ago, he and David Backes had a little discussion that resulted in 10-minute misconducts for both. He's known as a guy who stand up for his teammates on the ice. In that same game when T.J. Oshie was checked down hard, Petteri Lindbohm was the only guy to step up and give out some retribution for his teammate. And he had just come back from the AHL. That could not have sat well with Ken Hitchcock.
Comments: If all the defensemen were going to be healthy in the playoffs (knock on wood), Cole wasn't sniffing the lineup. If all the defensemen now on the team are healthy, Bortuzzo won't sniff the lineup, though he did play in eight playoff games last season. You can call it a depth move. Down the stretch he might give Jackman a night off or one of the Europeans, especially when the coaches think some rough stuff might happen. But overall, negligible impact, kind of like acquiring a seventh round pick.
The Blues traded Joakim Lindstrom to Toronto for Olli Jokinen and a conditional sixth round draft pick.
What the Blues gave up: Virtually nothing. The 31-year old Swede was on his fourth NHL team with the Blues. He had been trusted to play in 34 games this season while watching several from the press box next to Ian Cole. He managed three goals and three assists with a minus-8 rating. They hoped he would strike up some chemistry with Alexander Steen who he is friends with, supposedly. But there were obviously reasons he only played 16 games in the 2011-12 season in Colorado, his last time in the NHL and 44 games in Phoenix in 2008-09, the last time he was in the league before that. Playing in his home country, he's an offensive dynamo. But move him to the smaller North American ice surface and he's just not the same. At 31 most players are not still figuring this game out. And if they are, there's a big problem. If no one traded for him, he was most likely not going to dress or he was going to be released.
What the Blues got: A guy who loves waffles.
<iframe width="420" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/0m4X_gJfQoM" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
Jokinen is 36. He's played in more than 1,200 NHL regular season games and has more than 700 career points. He won a gold medal at the Olympics last year. He's played in six career NHL playoff games. Let that sink in. His first season in the league was 1997-98. His only time in the playoffs since then was six games for Calgary in 2009. He's on his 10th team. That means eight of the 10 never made the playoffs with him on the roster. He was in his first season in Nashville this year after spending two in Winnipeg. On his way out of the country music capital, he said the Predators didn't use him the right way leading to him scoring three goals and three assists in 48 games. He notched one assist in Toronto. Armstrong in talking to reporters on Monday afternoon said that Jokinen doesn't have a role on this team at the moment and is insurance in case one of the top nine forwards gets hurt. But at least they got a sixth round pick. Which is nice.
Comments: When the general manager says, "We traded for him but we don't have a spot for him in the lineup at this time, check back with me in a few games," well that's not the most ringing of endorsements. He might not see the ice many times before he becomes a free agent after the season. And that's fine.
Bottom line, two things happened with these deals. The first is the Blues have an excess number of NHL-ready defensemen. When injuries are hopefully healed, here's who they could choose from on defense:
Obviously there's some stop-gap guys in case of injury at the bottom of that list. But let's think about the end of last season. If a rash of injuries hits in late March or April, they have bodies that aren't wide-eyed rookies coming up from Chicago. They need a replacement player or two, those guys are on that list and not in the AHL. That has to give the coaches an increased comfort level. Like I said, today is all about buying insurance.
The other situation emerging on the roster is the surplus of guys fit for the fourth line. That list includes:
- Cracknell (who was assigned to Chicago)
Last I checked, there are only three spots on that fourth line. They like Marcel Goc for faceoffs and his defense. Steve Ott is getting paid a lot of money to do what he does. Ryan Reaves has scored some goals and is playing as well as he has in his career even if he's not fighting very often. Chris Porter skates his fucking ass off every chance he gets. I'm sure Adam Cracknell would try his guts out if given the chance. And Jokinen will get that waffle eventually. By the way, Armstrong said Jokinen could play on a scoring line. Sure. But let's hope it doesn't come to that.
Again, the Blues have some spare parts in case of injury. I'd argue if they need to fill a hole on the third line that Ty Rattie would be a better fit than Jokinen, but let's be honest, Jokinen is a known commodity and with Rattie it's not clear if he's ready to compete at this level yet.
No the Blues didn't pull off a team-changing blockbuster. They didn't find a new starting goaltender to make the team 5 percent better. They didn't add a player who can score or who will be in the top defensive pairing. But those weren't the needs. The needs were to add defensive focus, a little toughness and a weird looking waffle lover. In that order.
So people, relax. Chicago had to make a move at center. Nashville made some small moves. Yet it's hard to argue either team is even 5 percent better. There are 19 games left on the schedule for the coaches to fine tune the lines and get the team ready for the playoffs. And the Predators are finally losing some games (thank you Rangers!). Let's see where this train takes us and enjoy the ride for a little while before we start binge drinking and worrying.