It cannot be denied that the greatest tales in human reckoning have all involved some form of deep and existential struggle. Noah fought the flood. Jonah fought the whale. Jim Lovell fought the oxygen tanks. Charlie Brown fought the football.
Doug Armstrong? Well, Doug Armstrong fought himself.
On July 1st, 2015, Armstrong signed Jori Lehtera to a three year, $14.1M extension. That deal has two years remaining at a $4.7M salary cap hit. Since that time, Lehtera has recorded 56 points in 143 games.
In that same time period, Brayden Schenn has recorded 114 points in 159 games. I’m naturally distrustful of humans whose names end in the “-aden” sound, but I recognize production when I see it. Mr. Schenn has it.
So when Gary Bettman announced from the podium that the Blues had traded Lehtera, the 27th selection in this year’s draft (Morgan Frost, as it turns out), and a conditional first round pick in next year’s draft for Schenn, I was shocked. Doug? Our Doug? He did this.
I’ve been critical, of course. All Blues fans have been critical. The money is being spent and the team isn’t winning championships, so dammit, YOU OWE ME MORE.
And yet, more was coming.
Ryan Reaves, a fan favorite and very gifted puncher of faces, was traded along with the 51st selection to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Oskar Sundqvist and the 31st selection.
Players of Ryan Reaves’s caliber (he scored 13 points last season) are not often the primary return in deals involving a first round pick. Sundqvist, a 23 year old center who was the 81st overall pick in the 2012 draft, recorded 46 points in 63 AHL games last season. He has 4 points in 28 career NHL games, recording a .1428 points per game total. This is slightly better than Reaves’s mark of .1217.
Oscar Sundqvist, of course, will not strike fear into the hearts of men or whales. He may not turn out to be much at all. But he seems to have at least some natural inclination toward scoring goals, which has controversially been suggested to be at the heart of winning hockey games.
The pick involved in that trade was spent on Russian winger Klim Kostin. Ranked the top European skater entering the draft by International Scouting Services, Kostin’s acquisition represented a recouping of the pick sacrificed to relieve the stress of Lehtera’s cap hit.
The plan, however, was not patchwork. Doug Armstrong spoke to Game Time from the floor of the draft on Friday evening, and confirmed the moves were long in the works.
“They’ve been in the hopper for a while,” said Armstrong. “We had an understanding with[...]what we wanted to do with our first pick and then we wanted to make sure that we acquired some younger assets.”
The youth movement was evident in the players acquired by the Blues on Friday evening, and Armstrong seemed ready to embrace the future when discussing potential changes to the lineup.
“We’ve gone down the path of getting younger,” he said, “and now obviously adding two first round picks this year, adding a young 22 year old [sic] in Sundqvist, and a young player in Schenn, all these guys are going to fit in that age bracket of players that we’re looking to support.”
The Blues are facing some turnover on their fourth line. While that was a popular collection of players in the 2016-17 season, the roster crunch has clearly struck that segment of the lineup. Reaves was traded and Scottie Upshall is an unrestricted free agent, creating some opportunities for younger players.
“There’s certainly going to be changes in the dynamic of how we play,” Armstrong said. “[Zach] Sanford’s in to our group now, obviously [Kyle] Brodziak’s back down the middle there, a guy like [Magnus] Paajarvi had a really good second half. It might be a little bit different looking, but we’re excited about the youth and a little bit of the size and speed.”
A change, clearly, is going to come. On one night in Chicago, however, Doug Armstrong managed to triumph over his demons and move the St. Louis Blues forward. In doing so, he proved this writer wrong, and drew nearly universal praise across the hockey media.
We can only hope his next move will be so bold.