The start to the Blues season left the door wide open for young players. Injuries to veterans like Alex Steen, Jay Bouwmeester, Patrik Berglund and Robby Fabbri meant that some younger players might get an extended stay on the roster. While the forward groups have yet to have a young star emerge, the defense has. Enter Vince Dunn, a 20 year old Ontario native who hit the NHL in the mouth just like he did Kurtis Gabriel in the tunnel. Dunn has 2 goals and a plus minus 4 in his short time with the big league club. More than that, he seems to get better and better with each game. He reminds me of Colton Parayko, a defenseman who wasn’t expected to make the roster that suddenly exploded.
Alex Steen has returned to the lineup, Fabbri is done for the season, and Berglund is still months away. The lone question mark is Jay Bouwmeester. The club has remained tight lipped on when Big Bouw will be back on the ice. His return doesn’t seem imminent, but he is forecasted to return sooner rather than later. That raises the question, is Dunn done when Bouwmeester returns?
With Dunn still being only 20 years old, he has miles of development left in his game. It would make no sense to leave him on the team to ride games out in the press box. It is all but impossible to believe Bouwmeester will sit out any games when he returns. He is a top pairing defenseman who skates big minutes next to Alex Pietrangelo. Bouwmeester’s play has taken a nose dive in the last few years as his top tier skating ability has left him in his old age. He can no longer position himself perfectly on every play, and was often seen last season playing the body, something he never did when he first arrived. A very tall man, he is, a Roman Polak he is not.
Does that mean Dunn get’s sent down? What other options are there? A trade.
Trade’s are one of the hardest things to forecast in major league sports. Who would have thought Ryan Reaves would net a first round pick. So instead of attempting to predict the full trade, I will break down who might go.
In this situation, the Blues will need to move a defenseman, but which makes the most sense?
The case for Jay Bouwmeester:
Big Bouw has been a cornerstone of the Blues top line for years. He has played the big minutes against the big teams for a long time. There are those who feel he has been doing this for too long. Age catches up to all great players, and it seems to be closing in on Bouw. He is still a worthy defenseman and is still capable of playing the top pair, especially when he plays next to a talent like Pietrangelo. Bouwmeester has been dogged by a big contract that he never lived up to. He was the type of defender that Hitchcock needed. He needed a guy who was always defensively sound and always played it safe. Offense from a defender wasn’t needed. I think I can count on one time the number of times I saw Bouw take a slap shot. He would simply loft a weak wrister towards the net and allow bruisers like Backes, Brouwer, and Ott smash bodies to try and shove it in at the goal mouth. Now the Blues are playing under Mike Yeo. In case you haven’t heard the announcers talk about it all game every game this season, our defense is now scoring goals. This makes a stay at home defender like Bouw less valuable.
His contract is going to be the bigges factor in moving him. Bouw is signed for this year and next at $5.4 mill a season. For a reference, Jaden Schwartz makes $5.3 mil a season. As you can see, maybe the biggest upside to dealing Bouw is the salary cap relief. This gives the Blues a chance to really go after a big name with a big contract closer to the trade deadline. Even more so, it gives them room to play in the offseason. The problem is, to dump a salary, you often also have to part with valuable prospects or draft picks, that the Blues may not want to part with. Remember, at this time we still don’t have a 1sr round pick next season. We would also get next to nothing in return.
Moving Bouw may be the most beneficial to the team, but it seems unlikely. So, what’s the biggest road block? Bouw has a no trade clause he would have to waive in order for a deal to be made. Chances of that happening seem low. The big paydays are behind Bouw at this point in his career. Why would he leave a top team and a top pairing mate to play on a bottom team who would accept a salary dump? Simply put, he wouldn’t.
The case for Carl Gunnarsson:
Anyone who frequents twitter during games will know Carl from the famous #dammitcarl hashtag that often trends during games. Carl is another Hitchcockian defender, but has chipped in on offense this season. Carl came over from the Leafs and immediately made me miss Roman Polak, who we lost in the deal. He has grown on me since, but has still not played his way to an untouchable level on this team. His play is below that of Bouwmeester, and he is rarely seen on the top line because of it. He also isn’t paid like a top pairing defender. Carl is under contract for this season and next at $2.9 mill a season. His much lower cap hit, and his lack of a no trade clause make him a much more suitable candidate to be traded. He is a middling defender who could stick on any NHL club. While I would be sad to see big Carl go at this point, he does make sense. We could ship him to a team lacking depth on defense and get a mid round draft pick and maybe a prospect in return. Maybe the biggest reason to move Carl is, he shoots left handed, just like Dunn.
The case for Robert Bortuzzo:
While many fans chirp on twitter that Bortuzzo isn’t good enough, I beg to differ. He plays well enough for where he is positioned on the team. (let us all forget about him humping our goaltender out of the net) He is a gritty bottom pairing defender who often steps up into the play on offense. While he is rarely successful, even last season I noticed Bobby was stepping up and slinging pucks at the net before the others were. There is one thing that he brings that none of the other defensemen bring. He fights. Fighting is now controversial, but as of now it still has a place. Teammates still need to be stood up for, and anything that keeps Thorburn off the ice is great with me. (The ONLY reason I see Thorburn on the ice is to stick up for people. It sure isn’t his play) While I imagine in a few season Dunn will be the player stepping up, and Eddy seems to do it from time to time now, the mainstay of dropping the gloves on defense goes to Bortuzzo. He isn’t a Ryan Reaves, (side note: no one is) but he is more than capable of filling the “don’t touch my friend” role. Also, Bortuzzo is a right handed shot, opposite of Dunn. He does have the smallest salary cap hit of any viable defender at $1.15 mil a season for this season and next.
There are no cases for moving Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko, or Joel Edmindson. If you think there is, please jump off the Eads bridge.
The clear cut winner seems to be Carl Gunnarsson. Whether the Blues can find a suitor for a trade, is something completely different. There is always the chance Dunn is sent back down to the AHL to develop. The only problem I see is that as noted above, all of our current defensemen will still be under contract next season. Dunn will be more than ready for the NHL by then. So do they tackle this problem now, or wait until the offseason? Add your thoughts in the comments below.