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Doug Armstrong shows uncommon precision with Reaves/Lehtera deals

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NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at St. Louis Blues Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

“St. Louis Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong made a pair of smart deals at the 2017 Entry Draft Friday, stunning Blues faithful!”

If you had that headline saved in drafts heading into yesterday’s big day in the NHL, head over to the gas station, and buy a lottery ticket, because you know things.

As Blues fans were ready to hit the snooze button on their consistently disappointing GM Friday afternoon, he made a pair of deals that pushed the franchise forward, and set them up for instant success in the 2017-18 season.

In a trade that even the Oracle couldn’t see coming, Jori Lehtera was sent to Philadelphia along with a pair of draft picks for Brayden Schenn, who instantly provides the Blues with goal scoring punch at the center position. Along with giving Wayne Simmonds fantasy owners a heart attack that Lehtera may somehow find his way on a line with the prolific goal scorer, the deal helped the Blues shed a terrible contract.

Lehtera didn’t deserve the three year extension after a couple potent months back in 2014. Now, the Flyers get to pay him 4.7 million dollars over the next two seasons to shit NHL talent bricks in a bigger market.

Schenn has scored 20+ goals in three of the last four seasons, including 17 power play goals last season. For a Blues team constantly struggling to put pucks in the net, the Schenn acquisition was a huge gain while letting go of a bad Armie contract.

Let me put it into context for you: Schenn’s 55 points in 2016-17 were 15 less than Lehtera had given the Blues in THREE years (218 games). The loss of draft picks would be made up with Armstrong’s next move.

Before Blues fans could buy a round of drinks for their fellow Lehtera sufferers, Ryan Reaves was dealt to Pittsburgh for Oskar Sundqvist and the Penguins first round pick in last night’s draft, #31 overall. Pittsburgh’s SB Nation site trashed the move, scratching the keyboard almost as much as their head.

Sundqvist is a 23 year old kid who tallied 46 points for Pittsburgh’s AHL team last season, and has a lot of upside. A quick equivalent could place him on the fourth line in the near future. The draft pick though was the real steal, verifying Armstrong’s desire to protect Reaves in the Expansion Draft on Wednesday.

The deal had been in the works for a while, according to STLGT’s Jeff Jones, who was live in Chicago last night. Armstrong protected a 30 year old fourth liner in Reaves who was making just 1.125 million dollars so he could complete this deal. The Blues selected highly touted Russian prospect Klim Kostin. A shoulder injury dropped the 18 year old to 31st in the draft, but there have been comparisons to Evgeni Malkin, and he was the captain his Russian team-Dynamo-and can skate better than any other young European hockey talent.

Translation: The Blues got a 23 year old talent with some flair and an 18 year old legit prospect with huge upside for a fourth line player.

That doesn’t mean losing Reaves was easy. It was the Blues fan equivalent of a sucker punch to lose Lehtera and Reaves inside 30 minutes of wheeling and dealing, but the sports businessman savvy shown by Armstrong should calm the emotions of fans who lost a fan favorite. Reaves was a beloved player who not only knocked skulls around on the ice, but improved his game dramatically in 2016-17. He went from a thug in 2012-13 to a legit NHL player. Without that rise, this deal doesn’t happen.

The Reaves/Lehtera trades reminded me of John Mozeliak trading Joe Kelly and Allen Craig away in 2014, a move that shook the Cardinals clubhouse and fanbase, but ended up looking like a genius move. Reaves was beloved by fans and Lehtera was a very respected teammate, but the moves were necessary to rock the boat, and set the Blues up for success in the short and long term.

Now, Lehtera never centers a line with Vladimir Tarasenko for at least two seasons, hopefully ever. Schenn joins a group that needs net front presences and consistent scoring talents, and makes only a few hundred thousand more than Lehtera ($5.1 million to $4.7 million). Schenn is also just 25 years old, keeping the young renaissance movement within St. Louis going strong.

A year after failing to deal Kevin Shattenkirk at the draft, Doug Armstrong looks like a genius today. The Blues got younger, better, and stacked their future up. They picked up a 23 year old Sundqvist, an 18 year old Kostin, and a 25 year old Schenn. All they lost was Lehtera, Reaves, and a draft pick.

And I don’t think Armstrong is done. It’s not even July 1, so he may have another move up his sleeve. He could grab a veteran forward (fingers crossed for Ilya Kovalchuk), and spice up this roster even more.

For now, I’ll tip my cap to my fellow bald St. Louis patriot, and take most back of what I said about him in the past three years. Most of it.

Well done, Armie. Like Cousin Eddie warned Clark W. Griswald in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, I’ll have to get you something real nice.