The St. Louis Blues injury issues are well document and the known cause for their downward spiral from a 9-1-2 start. Besides searching for internal answers in every square inch of the organization, the front office is scouring the trade market looking for help from abroad. Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun first reported last week that Doug Armstrong had come knocking at Bryan Murray’s door once more. Yet another Russian winger was apparently on his mind.
Alex Kovalev is a name that sparks heated reaction around the NHL. An amazingly gift player who lacks the drive to compete every night through the course of the season. Many teams covert the skill and fear the invisible stretches. The Blues can certainly use his talents, but is his offensive juice worth the squeeze?
The Blues are a tightly budgeted team. Working far closer to the cap floor than the ceiling. Based on Capgeek.com’s numbers, Kovalev has a little over $3.1 million left on the final year of his contract. If wiggle room in the payroll was available to the tune of $3 million or more, the Blues would have been much more active this summer in pursing an additional top six forward like Matt Cullen, Alexi Ponikarovsky or even Alex Frolov. The money just isn’t there.
As Garrioch points out in his article, the ownership issues look to be straightening out sooner than later in St. Louis. Managing Owner Dave Checketts made mention of a end of year 2010 time frame for one of three potential investors to take over TowerBrook Capital Partners 75% stake in the franchise. Since that time the ETA has been pushed back to January 2011, but the end result still seems to be in order.
Checketts and Team President John Davidson have repeated consistently that the ownership issues are not hampering the day to day operations. Given the deals Armstrong has made, trades and contract extensions, there is plenty of truth in the statements. Increasing payroll by nearly 7% is likely not in the budget.
Kovalev’s projected remaining salary on January 1st is roughly $2.6 million. A figure more manageable and/or easier to justify. Should the TCP replacement come in with deeper pockets, needed wiggle room too take the chance on the enigmatic winger. The Blues could also still be without David Perron, And y McDonald and sliding out of the Western Conference race at that point.
Speculating the Cost
The Senators are rapidly falling behind the 8th spot in the East. Now seven points back of the Atlanta Thrashers after posing a 3-6-1 record in their last 10 games. The 5th seed in the 2010 playoffs expected to come back and compete in muddy waters of the weaker conference. Goaltending issues and a lack of scoring have proven problematic. Is Murray moving in to an asset grabbing mode for any and all unrestricted free agents on his books or is he hoping that a change of culture in the locker room may spark the team back to a higher level of competition?
One thing is for sure, top prospects are not going to be involved in any discussions. Throwing away key long term pieces for short term rentals is something the Blues cannot afford to entertain. Fan speculation that Ian Cole will be the centerpiece of a trade to acquire a big name talent are more than a little far fetched. The brain trust has fully committed to building a sustainable on ice product in a mid sized market. That requires skilled depth waiting in the wings to be called upon to ascend to their NHL role. Depleting those reserves today will shave off years from the cup chasing window once it opens.
The Marco Sturm deal between Boston and LA may have set the market for Kovalev. The “past his prime” winger in the walk year of his bloated contract only fetched a conditional pick. Murray is surely looking for more as Ottawa isn’t just looking to avoid salary cap issues. An area the Blues can potentially assist with is penalty killing. Ottawa sits at 78.9% as of Monday, December 13th. The league’s 28th rated unit. BJ Crombeen could be added to the deal to provide a legitimate plumber line forward. Someone who brings size, energy and penalty killing experience.
Tyson Strachan is also rental fodder material. Over the last two seasons Strachan has been respectable in his NHL minutes, but hasn’t taken the next step in his development as hoped. The Blues were not expecting much, but his play didn’t grab attention in a positive manner while three everyday defenders were out for an extended period. If not for how Nathan Oystrick‘s waiver status determined by his contract, he would be in St. Louis and not Peoria.
Possibly not enough to get a deal done for either side, but the Blues aren’t going to overpay.
As seen with many of the Blues draft picks and signings, they value charecter highly. Whether it’s the alleged Saku Koivu vs. Kovalev team divide nonesense in Montreal or the more recent Corey Clouston demotion, complaining to Murray and return to top line minutes drama. Controversy follows Kovalev. The human element, how players interact with each other on and off the ice, will be a major factor in this rumor ever panning out.
Will Armstrong add someone who could further alter the team chemistry in a more negative fashion than the injuries already have? Will the blue collar fans accept someone who doesn’t bring a consistent work ethic? Davis Payne has put his skilled forwrds onnotice by demoting them to energy line work. Will he tolerate any possible pushback? Will Armstrong hear the complain and override his coach?
St. Louis is an interesting sports market. The fanbase is rooted in Midwestern culture and norms. The organization operates much the same way. There is likely to be little acceptance of a flashy player who doesn’t produce.
For now this rumor is debunked. Too many factors pulling the sides apart. That doesn’t mean that trade talks cannot be revisited as situations change. As of December 13th, there isn’t a deal to be made.
There is a better chance that the Blues would be interested in Mike Fisher much more than Kovalev. A two way center who can score and would provide assistance in the face-off circle. Discussion to to that end is a whole other blog.
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About the Author: Bleeding Blue from the IL side of the Mississippi, I've been a Blues fan since I can remember seeing the Blues take on the Oilers at the Arena when I was about 5. All I remember is that Brett Hull scored and I was hooked. Now I cheer on the likes of David Backes and TJ Oshie. It's a great time to be a Blues fan as this team rebuilds itself.