Lighting the Lamp with Rick Ackerman
The more battered and bruised the St. Louis Blues are during this NHL season, the more they meet adversity with resilience and determination. For the most part, the club has overcome these many setbacks and continues to pick up points on the way to playoff contention this April. Now with 223 man-games lost in 62 games, the Blues have still found a way to dominate and win games. For sure, they fell short against San Jose in a horrid 6-3 loss, yet previously the Note won five games in a row, including 2-1 overtime victories over Dallas and Los Angeles. They also won solid games against Minnesota and at Tampa Bay, as well as thrashing Florida and Arizona on the road with a flurry of goals. St. Louis is still an impressive 7-2-1 in the last ten games.
Monday’s game against the Sharks contained no miracles, especially any concerning the team’s most recent MVP, Brian Elliott. It turns out that his injury was indeed serious and, like Alexander Steen, he will be out at least a month. That puts the onus on Jake Allen, who did not look quite ready for primetime in the penalty-filled loss to the Sharks, the first really bad game the Note has played since a home loss earlier this month to San Jose.
Tonight’s marquee match up with the Eastern Division New York Rangers is the last home game before the trade deadline this coming Monday, so naturally it’s time to look at potential trading activity and consider what the Blues will or will not do.
Since neither rookie defenseman Jordan Schmaltz nor forward Dmitrij Jaskin played against the Sharks, it is rather curious they would be called up from the minor league Chicago Wolves and miss games in the AHL in order to sit in the press box in St. Louis. If not just called up for depth for the upcoming four game road trip, then it would appear the Blues are indeed going to trade a defenseman and a forward or two for some necessary help on offense. It is even possible that Jaskin and Schmaltz were called up since they might be spare parts in a major trade.
The best rental player (upcoming UFA) is 30-year-old winger Andrew Ladd of the Winnipeg Jets, a natural to replace Steen. Ladd’s $4.4 M salary cap hit would have to be offset (Berglund + Paajarvi would do it). Other top choices such as Carolina’s Eric Staal ($8.25M cap hit, 31-years old) and Vancouver’s Radim Vrbata ($5.0, 34) are either far too pricey or a tad too old. Obtaining a prized center such as Staal would require the Blues losing the injured, but skating, Alex Pietrangelo (or even Kevin Shattenkirk), another roster player and prospects and/or draft choices. Calgary has two UFAs of note, Jiri Hudler and former Blues Kris Russell (combined cap hit $6.6M). Yet, that, too, means sending comparable salary back to the Flames for an aging forward with only nine goals and a 28 year old shot-blocking defenseman with only 15 points and a minus-four rating.
Just say "No!" to Boston’s Loui Eriksson.
Looking at strictly hockey trades with teams out of playoff contention, the Blues best trading partners would be either Toronto or Edmonton. The Maple Leafs have centers Tyler Bozak or Nazem Kadri to offer, either of which would look good sporting the Note. Both have a cap hit of just over $4M. And if only he weren’t injured (broken foot) and not set to return to action anytime soon, it would be fun to drool over the prospect of James van Riemsdyk in a Blues jersey. Of course, that would most certainly mean sending Pietrangelo to the Leafs, as well as a decent roster player and/or prospects or draft picks. The same would hold true if the Blues could make a deal with the Oilers for winger Jordan Eberle or center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, both with a cap hit of $6.0. Pietrangelo (with a perceived higher value league-wide and significantly higher salary cap hit to offset the incoming hit) or Shattenkirk would go to Edmonton along with other players, prospects or draft choices.
Columbus’ Scott Hartnell ($4.75M cap hit, age 33) would be a great line mate for David Backes, and right wing Cam Atkinson ($3.5M) is supposedly available, yet his cap hit is $3.5M; the Blues would have to send at least $8.25M in salary back to the Blue Jackets in order to make a deal work. And since Hartnell and Atkinson are currently numbers one and two in scoring for the Jackets, it would take quite a package to land them. Finally, how cool would it be to trade for the Coyotes’ Shane Doan (22 goals in 50 games) so he can win his first Stanley Cup with the Blues! Too bad the 39 year old has a cap hit of $5.3M, eh?
With Elliott injured and Allen looking shaky, do the Blues need to pick up a veteran goalie? Carolina’s Cam Ward and Calgary’s Jonas Hiller have huge cap hits; Toronto’s James Reimer and Buffalo’s Chad Johnson are more affordable; would Florida part with Al Montoya? Perhaps recalled rookie Pheonix Copley is the answer and will make GM Doug Armstrong look like a genius for making the Oshie deal with Washington.
Bottom line, if the Blues do not want to part with either #22 or #27, then it is unlikely any significant deal will be made at the deadline, especially with the injury situation as it is. And the Blues have their own soon to be UFAs to deal with, including Backes, Troy Brouwer, Carl Gunnarsson and Steve Ott.
Monday can’t get here soon enough.