St. Louis Blues Avoid Flashy Moves as NHL Trade Deadline Passes

Jan 29, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; Saint Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong (left) looks on as Martin Brodeur addresses the media during a press conference at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 29, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; Saint Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong (left) looks on as Martin Brodeur addresses the media during a press conference at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports /

After three years of major deadline shakeups, St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong opted for a quiet strategy this time around.

As the clock struck 2:00 PM Central on Monday, February 29, the NHL’s window for wheeling and dealing closed for the 2015-16 campaign, and the St. Louis Blues were left having made just one trade this season: a weekend deal to acquire backup goalie Anders Nilsson from the Edmonton Oilers for fringe goalie prospect Niklas Lundstrom and a draft pick. General manager Doug Armstrong immediately faced criticism from angry Blues fans on social media, but when it comes down to it, there really wasn’t a whole lot that he could do.

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The Blues went into 2015-16 as a cap-strapped team to begin with (anyone remember the extra few days it took them to convince 35-year-old veteran Scott Gomez to sign a cap-friendly two-way, $575,000 deal?), and that status was only made more pressing by a historic outbreak of injuries that caused the Blues to have to utilize 11 different players who were not on the opening night roster. In addition, there weren’t too many players on the block who were clear candidates to solve the Blues’ lack of scoring.

There were rumors that the Blues would be able to acquire Boston Bruins winger Loui Eriksson, which would have been a nice boost to the offense considering that Eriksson has 23 goals and 25 assists through 63 games this season, along with five other 20-plus-goal seasons through his 10-season NHL career. With that said, the 30-year-old Eriksson is a free agent after 2015-16, and it’s near impossibility that the Blues would be able to give him the long-term contract he desires and keep him in the fold going forward, as they already will have to try to get Jaden Schwartz and Kevin Shattenkirk locked up long-term and make a decision on re-signing captain David Backes, all while paying Alex Pietrangelo, Paul Stastny, and Vladimir Tarasenko $7 million or more for multiple seasons to come.

Loui Eriksson Boston Bruins
Feb 16, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Loui Eriksson (21) against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. The Bruins won 2-1 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

With Eriksson rumored to cost at least a first-rounder and 22-year-old forward Dmitrij Jaskin, it’s seriously worth considering whether it made sense to go without a first-round pick for the third time in the past four years, while also giving up a high-upside power forward who scored 13 goals in 54 games a season ago before taking a step back this year. Eriksson would definitely be a nice chip to the offensive attack, but ultimately, is he really going to make that huge of a difference if and when the Blues have Vladimir Tarasenko, Alexander Steen, Jaden Schwartz, and Robby Fabbri all healthy at the same time? The Blues are 6-1 and averaging 3.14 goals per game in all seven (!!!) games that those four players have been healthy at the same time for this season, so if the Blues fail again in the postseason, it’s going to be because of devastating injuries to their core, rather than a failure on Armstrong’s part to acquire offensive firepower at the deadline.

Armstrong also opted not to pull the trigger on troubled young forward Jonathan Drouin, who hasn’t played in a hockey game at any level since January 18 since a trade request, a demotion to the AHL, and repeated signs of a lack of dedication on Drouin’s part soured his relationship with the Tampa Bay Lightning organization and forced a suspension. While Drouin’s already established himself as a great puck mover, he has just six goals over his first 89 NHL games–nine less than the Blues’ 20-year-old phenom, Robby Fabbri, has in 30 fewer games–so it’s perhaps unreasonable to think that his presence would help the Blues with their biggest problem, which has been getting the puck in the net. Considering Drouin’s attitude issues and his potential durability risks going forward at a listed 5-foot-11 and 188 pounds, it’s questionable how wise of a long-term investment he’d be.

Jonathan Drouin Tampa Bay Lightning
Nov 7, 2015; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin (27) in the third period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Minnesota Wild beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports /

While Drouin, the third pick in the 2013 draft, did do pretty well as a setup man in his rookie season, contributing 28 assists in 70 games, he’s shown no ability to be an impactful postseason performer–in fact, he did just the opposite, putting up a minus-6 rating with no points while sitting as a healthy scratch for 20 of Tampa’s 26 playoff games–and there’s no reason to think that he’s the player that would get the Blues over the top this season. Especially considering the fact that the Blues would be forced to give up an equally intriguing young player like Fabbri or an established NHL star like Kevin Shattenkirk to acquire Drouin, there were just too many question marks to take the risk.

It’s worth noting that Armstrong has made major moves in advance of the deadline in each of the past three seasons, yet every time, the Blues have been knocked out of the playoffs in the first round. So for the social media GMs who attack Armstrong’s lack of ability to pull off an impactful deadline deal this season and opine that it will surely be the cause of another first-round exit, it’s fair to respond by asking how much the trades for Jay Bouwmeester and Ryan Miller helped in that regard over the past several years.

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Back in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, there was thought that a trade for an elite defenseman could push the Blues over the top. When Armstrong acquired Bouwmeester, then 29 years old, he acquired a two-time All-Star, former Olympian, and holder of an ironman streak lasting longer than eight seasons who was, at the time, leading the Flames in minutes played while nearly averaging a point every other game during the lockout-shortened season. Bouwmeester played well the rest of the way, collecting seven points over the final 14 games with a plus-5 rating.

Unfortunately, Armstrong was cornered into a no-win situation with the decision of whether to sign Bouwmeester, who was acquired as a rental player, to a new contract. He surely would have been torn apart if he would have allowed Bouwmeester, who played in just 14 regular season and six playoff games during 2012-13, to walk in free agency after trading eventual NHLer Reto Berra, defensive prospect Mark Cundari, and a 2013 first-rounder for him. But by giving Bouwmeester a five-year, $27 million-dollar deal with a no-trade clause, Armstrong made the choice to pay Bouwmeester big bucks during his decline years, which helped back the organization into the salary cap issues (which ironically, many Blues fans now criticize Armstrong for creating) that prevented a major trade from occurring this year.

In 2013-14, with a dominant trio of top defensemen (Bouwmeester, Alex Pietrangelo, and Kevin Shattenkirk) and an emergent duo of impact scorers in Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko to complement established franchise cornerstones David Backes and T.J. Oshie, the only area left to find fault with was goaltending, where Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott had both dealt with some inconsistency issues. Armstrong attempted to remedy the situation by trading for former Olympian, All-Star, and playoff star Ryan Miller. Then then-32-year-old Miller and fourth-line forward Steve Ott, both of whom were impending free agents, cost the Blues Halak, forward Chris Stewart, another first-round pick, a third-rounder, and prospect William Carrier. Though that was a huge package of valuable pieces to give away for 19 games of a goaltender, it seemed like a reasonable price to pay for a goalie who carried the most star power and previous success of any Blues netminder since Grant Fuhr wore the ‘note in the late 1990s.

Unfortunately, the move didn’t work out too well as Miller lost eight of his final 11 (five straight) regular season games after avoiding a regulation loss through his first nine games in a Blues uniform. He played below average in the playoffs, taking the loss in the Blues’ last four games against the Chicago Blackhawks and finishing with a 2.70 GAA and .897 save percentage through six games. Predictably, the Blues were knocked out of the postseason in the first round again, and Armstrong this time elected to let the star walk as a free agent, cutting his losses and opting for the cheaper duo of Brian Elliott and Jake Allen instead.

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  • Though the Blues didn’t acquire anyone with the star power of a Bouwmeester or Miller in 2014-15, Armstrong still gave the Blues’ roster a major facelift at the deadline, acquiring defensemen Zbynek Michalek and Robert Bortuzzo and forward Olli Jokinen while subtracting defenseman Ian Cole and forward Joakim Lindstrom. Those moves came during a trade-filled season that also featured the trade of defenseman Jordan Leopold to Columbus in November and a swap of fourth-line centers in January, with Maxim Lapierre going to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Marcel Goc.

    For all the shuffling and potential damage to team chemistry that was created by the moves, Bortuzzo was probably the most impactful of the acquisitions, despite being the least-heralded. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound bruiser energized the team with his physical play, finishing with 25 penalty minutes, along with a goal and an assist, in 13 games.

    Michalek didn’t really seem to fully bounce back from the concussion issues that had slowed him earlier in the season, and though he had two goals, two assists, and a plus-3 rating in 15 games, he was caught out of position a fair amount and didn’t provide the elite shot-blocking ability that has been his trademark over the years.

    Though Jokinen was productive, scoring a goal with two assists for the Blues, he played very briefly in eight games of spot duty, while Goc had just one goal and two assists while playing subpar defense through 31 games in the Bluenote. None of those acquisitions made a difference for the Blues in the playoffs–Michalek was the only one who suited up for every postseason game, while Bortuzzo and Jokinen didn’t play at all–and the Blues were eliminated in six games, just as they had been for the past three seasons.

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    With this in mind, it’s about time that Armstrong just let the team ride it out after getting this far. After injuries have ravaged the team this much already, it’s improbable–though maybe easy to imagine–that the team is going to have more devastating injuries this season, so if the Blues can get back to full strength at forward, continue to get good play from their elite core of defensemen, and give themselves the ability to choose between Jake Allen and Brian Elliott in net, they should still have a fighting chance in the postseason. This might be a do-or-die year for Armstrong, so for once, maybe it’s good for him to just have faith in the team he assembled before the season to get the job done.