On Wednesday, the Florida Panthers traded for Ben Chiarot, taking one of the most widely-desired targets off the market just days ahead of Monday’s trade deadline. Most experts expected the St. Louis Blues to be in the mix for Chiarot. There has been no shortage of rumors linking the Blues to defenders, and if a move is made, that is what most analysts anticipate general manager Doug Armstrong to prioritize.
Related: Blues Should Not Overpay for Canadiens Defenseman Ben Chiarot
But Armstrong hasn’t always played by the rules at the deadline. In the past, he’s made surprising additions and even unexpected subtractions, like when he traded Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets in 2018. The only constant with Armstrong’s deadline plan is that he will make the best move for his team’s present and future, regardless of what the media and initial fan reaction might be. With that in mind, let’s quickly run down three of the biggest surprise moves Armstrong could make at the deadline.
1) Trade for an Impact Forward
The Blues are almost exclusively linked to defenders in trade rumors. The idea that they might trade for a top forward like Claude Giroux or Jake DeBrusk hasn’t really been considered. And that is understandable: the Blues have one of the richest and deepest forward groups in team history, and invested major resources there over the summer, trading for Pavel Buchnevich and signing Brandon Saad.
But there is always an argument for adding strength on strength. In Giroux’s case, it would be a win-win: adding a top forward to your group, while keeping him away from your most likely playoff roadblock, the Colorado Avalanche, one of the teams considered most likely to acquire the Philadelphia Flyers’ captain. In the NHL, there are two kinds of defense: traditional shutdown defense that keeps the puck out of your net, or high-level puck control that keeps the pressure in the other end. Adding at forward, especially with a quality two-way player like Giroux, would be one way to strengthen the whole team without trading for a defender.
2) Surrender Ville Husso
This won’t be a popular option with many Blues fans, but the team really should consider trading goaltender Ville Husso ahead of the deadline. It is by no means a necessity, and there will be those who argue it would be suicide this season, as he has consistently outperformed Jordan Binnington. But Armstrong is caught between a rock and a hard place.
Husso is an unrestricted free agent after the season, and with the numbers he’s put up, it’s reasonable to think he’ll expect a significant raise next season. Unfortunately, the Blues signed Binnington to a lengthy extension last season, and adding Husso at anywhere near a starter’s salary will give them one of the most expensive tandems in the league. There is every possibility that, given what he’s seen this season, Armstrong will bite the bullet and do that, keeping both goalies until it is clearer what he has in each.
But the devil’s advocate argument insists that the Blues at least look for a trade. There are a few teams out there that may well be desperate for goaltending. The Edmonton Oilers have needed a goalie all season, and the Vegas Golden Knights and Toronto Maple Leafs have both seen their netminding fall apart in recent weeks. There aren’t many top-flight goalies available at the deadline, especially if Marc-Andre Fleury opts not to waive his no-trade close.
If there is a bidding war for the best goalie on the market, and that goalie happens to be Husso, Armstrong could cash in with the surprise subtraction similar to when he traded Stastny. Fans would be well-served to remember that without that trade, the 2019 Stanley Cup run likely would never have happened. Trading Husso is by no means a necessity, but Armstrong wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t explore every option, and if he finds a desperate team, he could strike.
3) Do Nothing
The final option is by far the least popular: Armstrong could choose to do nothing at the deadline. This seems unlikely. In the past, he has said his team’s performance dictates what he does at the deadline, and, despite some inconsistencies, the Blues are third in the Western Conference and second in their division. It would be tough to argue his players don’t deserve some reinforcements. And the need on the left side on defense is clear.
With that said, there is always an argument for not overreaching at the deadline, and Armstrong will never make a move just to make one. Blues beat writer Jeremy Rutherford and Montreal Canadiens beat writer Eric Engels both confirmed that he was not a finalist in the Chiarot sweepstakes because he knew the price would be too high. That same sentiment could carry the day unless there is a particular player that Armstrong wants to save his assets for.
Husso’s situation is uncertain. Vladimir Tarasenko likely still wants a trade after the season. The team needs cap space to extend Ryan O’Reilly, Robert Thomas, and Jordan Kyrou after next season. There are always a thousand moving pieces any NHL general manager has to juggle at the deadline, but Armstrong especially is never focused on just the short term. He will not make a move unless it’s the right thing for the team short term and long term. And that move might also include adding a forward or trading away Husso. Armstrong’s next move is anyone’s guess. But that’s what makes the trade deadline so fun.