Lighting the Lamp with Rick Ackerman
It has been quite the tumultuous season, eh? Beset with more injuries than normal, the Blues have lost 192 man-games in 53 games, around 3.6 players per game. And for several games the Note had as many as seven players unavailable due to battle damage. Also troubled by an anemic offense and inconsistent power play, St. Louis has nonetheless accumulated 66 points and the fourth most points in the NHL. This is largely due to the new system of added points for overtime and shoot out losses instituted in 2005. Yes, it has been over ten years since the NHL eliminated ties.
The Blues are currently 13 games over .500 with a record of 29-16-8, adding eight victories via bonus time, five in overtime, three in shoot outs. Under the old system of two points for a victory and one for a tie, the Blues' record would be 21-16-16 and 58 points, only five games over .500, eight points less than they have now. Chicago has only been involved in one shoot out, which they won, and 12 overtime games, eight of which they won. The Blackhawks record under the old system would be 25-16-13 for 63 points (nine less than they currently have), nine games over .500. Dallas is 3-3 in overtime and 2-2 in shootouts; under the old system the Stars would be 27-14-10 for 64 points (five less than they have now) and 13 games over .500.
So, under the old system, Dallas would be in first place in the Central, one point ahead of Chicago instead of three behind. St. Louis would still be in third place, six points behind the Stars and five behind the Hawks. Fourth place Colorado is below .500 in overtime (2-3) and won their only shoot out; under the old system the Avs would sport a 24-23-6 record, still fourth yet only four points behind the Blues instead of the current nine. Like it or not, clearly, the new format has benefited both the Blues and Blackhawks.
January was quite the interesting month. The boys lost seven of 12 games, yet accumulated 15 points due to the new format, thereby gaining ground on both Chicago and Dallas and staying well ahead of Minnesota and Colorado. Seven of those 12 games were decided by one goal, adding to the Blues' propensity to be involved in one-goal games, now 32 of 53 total games played. St. Louis is an amazing 19-2-11 in those matches.
February is still rather busy as after tonight the Blues play 11 games in 24 days, six at home and five on the road. Thankfully, there is only one back-to-back set when the Blues travel to Nashville and then Carolina the next night at the end of the month. However, the most significant date of the leap-year month is February 29. The Blues do not play that Monday, yet it marks the NHL trading deadline.
As always, there has been plenty of speculation concerning potential Blues' trades, yet it is most likely a savvy, experienced GM such as Doug Armstrong will not make a move until the injury dust settles and there is time to evaluate the Blues' situation two or three weeks from now. It is rather obvious that St. Louis is offensively challenged and has a surplus of defensemen, so the name Kevin Shattenkirk has been bandied about in trade rumors. The point-producing defenseman and mainstay of the power play currently has a base salary of $4.3M and gets a raise next year to $5.2M. However, he is scheduled to become a UFA after the 2016-17 season. His salary cap hit for both seasons is $4.25M.
UFAs (age, current cap hit) at the end of this season include David Backes (31, $4.5M), Troy Brouwer (30, $3.67M), Carl Gunnarsson (29, $2.95M), Steve Ott (33, $2.6M), Kyle Brodziak (31, $900K) and Scottie Upshall (32, $700K). Upcoming RFAs include wingers Jaden Schwartz, Dmitrij Jaskin, Ty Rattie, Magnus Paajarvi, defenseman Joel Edmundson and goaltenders Jordan Binnington and Pheonix Copley. The Blues have 14 players under contract for next season: seven forwards, five defensemen and two goaltenders.
Bottom dwellers pretty much out of playoff contention and most likely to trade include Toronto, Buffalo, Columbus, Winnipeg and possibly Calgary and Edmonton. So, what would it take to pry players like Dustin Byfuglien from the Jets or Brandon Dubinsky and/or Scott Hartnell from the Blue Jackets? How would the Oilers' Jordan Eberle look in a Blues' jersey? Or do the Blues already have enough talent to reasonably contend for Lord Stanley's Cup?
Speculation is that the Blues are supposedly in on the Steven Stamkos trade talk, yet it is most likely that if he is traded, it will be to the Detroit Red Wings for a package of players the Blues cannot realistically match. In addition, St. Louis does not have the deep pockets Detroit's owner Mike Ilitch has in order to sign the upcoming UFA center to a multi-million, long-term contract(if he is not traded before the deadline). Nevertheless, it is fun to play GM and intriguing to ponder offering Backes, Berglund and Shattenkirk ($12.5 current salary cap total hit) to Tampa Bay for Stamkos and upcoming UFA defenseman Brayden Coburn ($12 current total cap hit). And the Blues are about as interested in Matt Carle, age 31, as the Lightning are in Jay Bouwmeester, age 32. Both have a salary cap hit of $5.5M. One way or the other, though, Stamkos will sport a Red Wing jersey next season.
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