This ain’t your re-building St. Louis Blues anymore…
Last last night, following the Blues 3-0 dominating performance over the Buffalo Sabres, General Manager Doug Armstrong was busy wheeling and dealing. Talking to the Colorado Avalanche about a old fashioned “hockey trade”. The outcome of said discussions being a blockbuster of a deal. Sending franchise defenseman Erik Johnson, forward Jay McClement and a conditional 1st round pick to the Avalanche for Blues killing forward Chris Stewart, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and a conditional 2nd round pick.
If the Eric Brewer trade didn’t signal a changing of the guard and that Army is above the “what should have been” bias, this trade does.
Erik Johnson, the top selection in the 2006 NHL draft has had a rough start to his NHL career. He was “rushed” to the big show for 2007-08 season after spending just one year at the University of Minnesota. He enjoyed a small measure of success along side Barret Jackman before a freak off season injury prior to the 2008-09 season began the downward spiral. Missing the entirety of the 08-09 campaign he came back for 2009-10 ready to prove he was healthy and still worthy of his draft pedigree. Inconsistencies since may be proving he is not.
His play style changed. No longer the free flowing mobile attacker, he became a bulky fulback on skates. His hockey sense diminished as he appeared to over think situations. His booming slapper rarely makes it past the first layer of defense because he is unwilling to cut down the back swing. That said, all the physical tools are still in Johnson’s bag. Once maturity and simplicity sink in, he will begin fulfilling his billing.
Jay McClement is a penalty killing specialist who can play a shut down center role. A job that has gradually been diminished under head coach Davis Payne. Who prefers to roll three lines that can handle all duties. There is no doubting McClement’s compete level, but the requisite skill to chip in a legitimate amount of offense is outside his realm. The addition of Vladimir Sobotka and his production during his few promotions to the top two lines makes McClement expendable. As does the potential reduction in payroll spent on the third center position.
Chris Stewart, the 18th selection in the 2006 draft, dominates the Blues. In 9 career games Stewart has 8 goals and 15 points. First hand knowledge of the power and speed in which the 23 year old attacks the offensive zone. His immediate impact is a needed one. In the last two season the 6’2, 228 lb. forward from Toronto has 44 goals in 113 games. A size and goal scoring touch the Blues don’t have outside of David Backes. The negative aspects of Stewart’s play can be frustrating at times. He is not known as a strong back checking forward and has consistency in effort issues. Given what first year assistant coach Scott Mellanby has done to help Backes, Patrik Berglund and Brad Winchester, he should be able to bring Stewart to new heights.
Rookie defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk could be the deal breaker. The 22 year old Greenwich, CT native was taken 14th overall in the 2007 draft and was considered the top prospect in the Avalanche organization by Hockey’s Future. Known mostly for his offensive prowess at even strength and the power play. Through 46 games this season the Boston University product has 7 goals and 26 points. Of which 2 goals and 8 assists have come on the man advantage. It’s not like he was being hidden by the Colorado coaching staff. Shattenkirk has averaged 19:50 TOI. The third most ice time per game on the team. Given the positive influence long time assistant coach Brad Shaw has had on another offensive defenseman, Alex Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk should be able to improve his defensive game as well as his play without the puck in St. Louis. (Stick tap to Aaron Musick of Hockeybuzz for some info on Shattenkirk)
The conditional draft picks break down as such. The Blues 2011 1st round pick will go to Colorado if they finish outside of the bottom 10 in the final NHL standings. If the Blues finish in the bottom 10, the picks roll over to the 2012 draft. If the rollover occurs, the picks being swapped remain the Blues 1st round and the Avs 2nd round.
Over the last five years trades have been made with one primary intention. Add assets for the future. That isn’t the case anymore. The deal was all about addressing needs to be more competitive today and tomorrow and using surplus to do it. The Blues have built outstanding depth on defense. Not only in the high picks like Johnson, Pietrangelo and Ian Cole, but also in long term building blocks like Mark Cundari, Nikitia Nikitin, Jonas Junland, David Warsofsky and Cade Fairchild. As Team President John Davidson once said (paraphrasing) “we can’t keep everyone”, the Blues haven’t. They’ve decided who they want to take the next step with and moved out those that are not going to fit the plan.
The Blues are not done dealing. Once Jaroslav Halak returns from injury (coming off IR on the 22nd against Colorado), Ty Conklin is officially back on the block. Other UFA’s like Winchester and Cam Janssen will also likely be moved. There is one specific player to watch for, Brad Boyes. The addition of Stewart creates quite a log jam on right wing. With Stewart, TJ Oshie, Boyes, Matt D’Agostini and BJ Crombeen. Boyes struggled offensively though all of 2009-10 and for the first two months of the current season. His value has been rebuilt since December and his $4 million could be used to ink key future pieces like Oshie and Berglund to their first big contract. I’ve said for two years he wouldn’t start the 11-12 season in St. Louis.
The writing is on the wall fror his departure and more. Stay tuned.
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.