Just after time expired on the St. Louis Blues’ 2020-21 season, the team and origination were left pondering their next move. The Seattle Kraken elected to bring defenseman Vince Dunn into the fold during their expansion draft along with veteran forward Jaden Schwartz via free agency. Fans were left with whiplash after star forward Vladimir Tarasekno requested a trade from the team but ultimately stayed on board. The team had holes in their forward ranks that needed to be addressed, preferably with that of proven scorers.
As fans of the organization have learned through a series of moves over the last few years, never doubt general manager Doug Armstrong. The team’s general manager re-signed key pieces in players Ivan Barbashev, Robert Thomas, Colton Parayko, and Jordan Kyrou. He also made several key depth signings of players like Charlie Lindgren, Dakota Joshua, and Tyler Bozak. However, he made three notable moves through the offseason that deserve further attention and review.
Before the start of the 2021-22 season, question marks surrounded the team and their often inept offense that ranked 13th in the NHL, averaging 2.98 goals per game. The team was unsure where goals and scoring threats may come from, with star sniper Vladimir Tarasenko’s future with the team left uncertain. Armstrong negotiated a trade for Buchnevich, who was a restricted free agent, in exchange for a 2022 2nd-round draft pick and forward Sammy Blais to address such a need. A few days later, the player and organization came to terms on a four-year contract worth $23.2 million.
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Over five seasons and 309 games for the New York Rangers, Buchnevich saw increased production along with his increased responsibility and ice time. At 26 years old, the time had come for him to take the next step in his career, but it would not be in New York. Armstrong was able to find his man and insert him into the top-six without issue or buyer’s remorse. The Russian currently has the third-highest point total on the roster with 14 goals and 35 points in 34 games. He is also ranked the fourth-lowest cost-per-point ($414,285) among forwards earning $1 million or more.
In addition to Buchnevich, the Blues were able to secure one of the top 10 free agents available in 2021. Seeing a rising trend in scoring, while a desire to remain responsible at both ends of the ice lingered, the organization went out and secured a familiar scoring winger in Brandon Saad. On July 29, 2021, he and the organization agreed to a five-year contract worth $22.5 million. The club was able to secure the forward at a $1.5 million pay cut in exchange for a no-trade clause in the first four years of his five-year contract. At 29 years old, the Pittsburgh native has spent his entire playing career in the Midwest, suiting up with the Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Colorado Avalanche before signing with St. Louis.
The second-line winger was brought in to serve as an interchangeable piece among the top-six forwards and a key contributor to the team scoring totals. With the return of Tarasenko and the emergence of Barbashev and Jordan Kyrou, Saad has not been as relied upon this season. He continues to score at a 30 goal pace this season and may see his highest point totals since 2015-16, when he scored 31 goals and 54 points with the Blue Jackets.
The organization elected to sign the veteran forward to a one-year, $750,000 contract with a low-risk roll of the dice in hopes that he too could provide some additional firepower. To date, the 34-year-old has not been underwhelming but has not shown up as advertised in the preseason after scoring four goals in five games. With only two goals and four points through 17 games, Neal was waived by the organization and was ultimately designated to the teams’ taxi squad as a viable depth option should the team need to call upon him. Since clearing waivers, he has appeared in two additional games, posting zero points.
Neal has not cost the Blues much but has not provided anything additional. He has simply shown up and added a veteran presence on the ice when needed. At this point, it is unlikely that he sees much action unless players require rest or injury and/or illness rises. The move by Armstrong was not a poor one and should not be looked down upon after an impressive preseason.
Armstrong’s series of signings and trades have helped propel the organization to a place of contention once more and provided an area of strength among the forwards on the team. COVID-19 illnesses and injuries have proven that depth is a necessity in the NHL and one that the organization can boast in.
Mike is a writer for The Hockey Writers and covers the St. Louis Blues since November of 2021. He has a keen love for statistical analysis, prospects, signings, and trades. Follow Mike on Twitter for further Blues or Central division hockey discussions, interview requests, or to provide content info.