Lighting the Lamp With Rick Ackerman
Welcome to the Day-Before-the-Trade-Deadline edition of Lighting the Lamp. When I realized the Blues would play the Oilers tonight, the day before the trading deadline, I knew that it would have made this column a lot easier to write if the deadline was yesterday rather than tomorrow. And that is because I finished the article Monday morning in order to get it to the editor/publisher in time for him to format it.
And then GM Doug Armstrong finally pulled the trigger on a Kevin Shattenkirk trade Monday night around 9 p.m., with the finalized transaction revealed around 10:30 p.m.
So, that has forced me to re-write my article now that Shatty is a Washington Capital.
Yes, the right-handed, high-scoring power play specialist who plays defense and is on the last year of his contract with the Note is gone. So, if you were previously asking should he stay or should he go? (and I’ll bet you mentally sang that hotel commercial on television when you read that. Thank you, Clash.), now you have the answer. He just went.
The top-rumored team that Shattenkirk was supposed to be traded to tomorrow was the Toronto Maple Leafs, with the New York Rangers lurking as Shatty’s presumably favored destination. Manhattan is just a hop, skip and jump away from New Rochelle, New York, Shattenkirk’s Westchester County hometown. Other rumored destinations have included Boston, New Jersey, Montreal, Tampa Bay and even Edmonton. It has been reported that Shattenkirk nixed a contract extension in a supposed deal with Edmonton last year (for winger Taylor Hall?), one with Tampa Bay this year (for new L.A.King goaltender Ben Bishop?) and a rumored deal with Toronto just this month.
The real problem for Armstrong was that Shattenkirk made his intentions of playing out this contract and hitting the free agent market abundantly clear. That was proven by his refusal to sign potential contract extensions with Edmonton, Tampa Bay and Toronto. He can get a better deal, both in value and in term, by simply finishing out his contract with St. Louis and becoming a free agent.
So, that made it clear that any trade engineered by Armstrong would have to be a rental, unless somehow the Rangers (or Boston, where #22 played college hockey) would have offered good players and/or prospects in a trade with a contract extension. And why would either team give up good players they need for a playoff run when they can simply wait and sign Shatty during the summer without giving up anything.
Therefore, Armstrong had to decide if a rental was better than just keeping him and getting nothing in return if he chooses to sign with the Rangers this summer as most experts believe he will. Obviously, Armstrong decided to take two high draft picks and a decent prospect (center/left winger Zach Sanford) rather than follow the route he chose with David Backes and Troy Brouwer, in which the Blues got nothing except a hearty handshake goodbye. Washington also gets goaltender Pheonix Copley back, while the Blues add center Brad Malone, a 27-year old veteran who has accumulated 13 goals and 30 points in 188 NHL games with Colorado and Carolina. The North Dakota alum had 7 goals and 20 points in 52 games this season with the AHL Hershey Bears.
If Washington does win the Stanley Cup this year, and with Shattenkirk on the power play with Ovechkin, Oshie, Backstrom and Niskanen it will surely be a lot easier, the Blues would get the No. 30 pick in the amateur draft this summer.
And it is entirely possible that the Blues could re-sign Shattenkirk this summer with a $7 million/7-year contract, despite the consensus of the experts that he will sign with the Rangers. That could be possible if somehow the new Las Vegas Golden Knights could be coaxed into selecting an unprotected Jay Bouwmeester ($5.4 million salary cap hit) or Jori Lehtera ($4.7 million cap hit) and trading Nail Yakupov ($2.5 million) to them for a bag of golden pucks.
The question now is whether or not this edition of the Note is a playoff contender. St. Louis currently holds down the eighth, and last, playoff slot, four points behind the Nashville Predators, who are currently in third-place in the Central Division. Ninth-place Los Angeles is two points behind the Blues. If the playoffs started tomorrow, St. Louis would play the first game of the opening round against the Minnesota Wild, currently leading the Western Conference with 86 points. That’s the bad news.
The “worse” news is that if the Blues pass Nashville to finish third in the Central, they would play the first game of the opening round in Chicago. The Blackhawks have amassed 83 points, 16 more than St. Louis. Oh, and if the Blues were to finish in the seventh slot, the opening round would begin in San Jose, home of the Pacific Division leading Sharks.
So, as the old cliché goes, pick your poison.
Therefore, it is not altogether unreasonable to (dare I write it?) hope St. Louis does not qualify for the playoffs this season. The lower the club finishes in the standings, the higher the first round draft choice will be, including better odds at winning the draft lottery and getting to pick first overall. Yes, it would appear that this season is not going to include a playoff run that we all enjoyed last year. The Note simply does not have the horses to win the race.
I must say, though, that if I were the GM of the Blues, I would have traded Alex Pietrangelo (how about to Toronto for Nylander, Brown and a first-round draft pick?) rather than No. 22. No. 27 would bring far more in value and save even more (around $5 million after my trade) on cap space making it doable to sign Shatty to his 7/7 contract right after the Blues are eliminated from postseason play or after the expansion draft.
And then I would choose Shatty as the new captain. But that’s just me.