This story first appeared on Page 5 (The Five Hole) of the Feb. 20, 2020 edition of the St. Louis Game Time paper, sold outside of every Blues home game. For more information or to subscribe, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Six weeks ago, the Buffalo Sabres traded Marco Scandella to Montreal and received a 4th-round pick in return. Montreal just traded Scandella for a 2nd-round pick and a conditional 4th-rounder in 2021 (if the Blues re-sign him or reach the Conference Finals, and Scandella plays in half of the Blues’ games in the first two playoff rounds.) A lot of us — and many angry Sabres fans — are wondering why the Blues had to pay a higher price.
We can scratch “a stretch of exceptional play” off the list: In 20 games with the Canadiens, Scandella scored one goal and had two assists. That’s not to say he wasn’t good in those 20 games. In fact, Sean Tierney, who writes for The Athletic and really knows his shit, wrote:
Scandella's enjoyed a productive year. He's a plus in shot rates (both in BUF & MTL) and he's maintained a positive xG share throughout the year. He doesn't score but Sznajder's tracking data suggests that he's setting up shots for teammates and exiting with control when needed. pic.twitter.com/sg9mTolfyG— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) February 18, 2020
All of which bodes well for the Blues, but doesn’t likely account for the difference in trade price; I’ve yet to see much evidence that Doug Armstrong uses things like expected goal rates and controlled zone exits in his decision-making. (Colleague Gabriel Foley went deeper into the numbers here.)
The Canadiens retained $2 million of Scandella’s $4-million cap hit, too, and Scandella’s salary this season is actually greater than that: $4.75 million. The retention no doubt made up a big part of the difference in trade return, but with the season almost 75 percent over, Montreal will only be paying Scandella about $600,000 over the next two months.
The salary retention definitely adds flexibility for the Blues, but indications are that Armstrong is done dealing. At the same time, the Blues’ ownership group has not been shy about spending money — even less after the financial windfall of winning the Stanley Cup. It’s hard for me to see that $600,000, either in real dollars or on the salary cap, was worth the Blues paying 2nd- and 4th-round draft picks, instead of just the 4th that Buffalo received. More than anything, I think it shows that assets have different values to different people at different times, and that value is never fixed. The Blues were desperate, so they were willing to pay more than they strictly needed to.
Whether the Blues needed to be desperate is a different question. Vince Dunn is a top-notch, left-shot defenseman, in the prime of his career. For some reason, he’s playing not only a full minute less per game than he did last year, but is also a full six minutes per game below what Colton Parayko played in his third NHL season. Nikko Mikola looked promising in his five NHL games. Carl Gunnarsson is healthy
Scandella is an improvement over those two — especially the way he’s playing right now. But he’s turning 30 soon and has never scored more than 23 points in a season. The upside doesn’t seem high, here, especially compared to what Vince Dunn could provide if given more ice time.
Five thoughts, while leaving home in Tucson, Arizona for some California grass.
1. Ivan Barbashev is absolutely perfect. He’s why, especially in the second round of the draft and beyond, you err on the side of upside. As the cliché goes, shoot for the moon because even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. Barbashev hasn’t turned into a top-line player or anything, but he’s cheap, productive, and still only 24.
2. Armstrong went in the opposite direction with the Jacob de la Rose trade. He’s played one game in the month of February. He has five points in 32 games with the Blues. Maybe Robby Fabbri was never going to figure it out here, but he’s got quite a bit more upside: 28 points in 44 games with Detroit.
3. Blues-Coyotes is a tasty first-round playoff matchup. As of this writing on Wednesday afternoon, if the season ended today, it would happen. There’s no less scary team in the Western Conference playoff picture than Arizona.
4. Jordan Binnington made a hell of a save on Wayne Simmonds at the end of the second period on Tuesday. Zach Sanford turned the puck over in his own zone, which always creates problems for a goalie. Whereas, facing a rush or o-zone pressure, a goalie has time to set and adjust his depth, off a turnover, he’s more in scramble mode. To boot, Binnington had faced only 10 shots all game. Even a split second’s boredom or hesitation there, and Simmonds would’ve tied it.
5. That’s back-to-back strong outings for Binnington. His play since December has been bad, but I don’t think he or Blues fans are or ever were nervous.
If you enjoyed this story — and even if you didn’t — you should check out my book, Ticketless: How Sneaking Into The Super Bowl And Everything Else (Almost) Held My Life Together.