The St. Louis Blues made their first major move of the summer, acquiring forward Pavel Buchnevich from the New York Rangers in exchange for forward Sammy Blais and a 2022 second-round pick, according to reports.
The deal comes during a fraught offseason for Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong, who is facing the potential loss of three unrestricted free agents in Jaden Schwartz, Mike Hoffman, and Tyler Bozak, as well as contentious trade negotiations after star forward Vladimir Tarasenko requested a move out of St. Louis. In Buchnevich, 26, the Blues add a 20-goal scorer to a team that had just one player (Ryan O’Reilly) cross that threshold last season. The Rangers add grit in Blais, 25, as well as a second-round pick in a strong draft class. But early speculation suggests the move may be a salary cap clearing venture for something bigger down the line.
Buchnevich Fits Blues Perfectly
Immediately, Buchnevich slots into the Blues’ offense as a top-six left wing, particularly if Schwartz departs in free agency. Over the last three seasons, he’s managed 57 goals and 132 points in 186 games but seemed to be at his best last season, notching 20 goals and 28 assists in just 54 games. In a full season, that’s a roughly 30 goal pace, making him possibly the Blues’ best goal-scoring threat, particularly if Tarasenko leaves. Though he likely won’t break up the formidable partnership of O’Reilly and David Perron on the top line, he will be a good complement either opposite Perron, or alongside whichever of Brayden Schenn and Robert Thomas claims the second-line center role.
Buchnevich scored 16 of his 20 goals at even strength, where the Blues were especially weak last season, finishing second-to-last in expected goals for (xGF) and last in high danger chances (HDCF) across the league at even strength. But he scored three of the remaining four goals short-handed, adding an interesting threat should the Blues choose to use him on the penalty kill. First, Armstrong will have to negotiate a contract extension with the Cherepovets, Russia native, and those talks are reportedly already ongoing. According to Evolving-Hockey projections, Buchnevich may be due an extension in the five-year, $30 million range.
Rangers Add Grit, Cap Space
There is no arguing that the Rangers’ main concern in this trade was clearing salary cap space. Blais carries a $1.5 million cap hit next season, millions under the projected space required for Buchnevich. But he still provides value in short bursts. Blais became a regular in the latter part of the Blues’ 2019 Stanley Cup run, joining the everyday squad in a critical Game Six facing elimination against the Dallas Stars. He provided three points and a whopping 70 hits in his 15-game playoff stretch.
Since then, he has struggled to stay in the lineup and has only managed 28 points in 76 games across two seasons. But Blais adds depth and grit to a Rangers team still struggling with the aftermath of the Tom Wilson incident late last season. The second-round pick during a strong draft gives general manager Chris Drury another chip to use to build his team’s future, either through draft or through trade. But the $3 million-plus in cap space the Rangers probably saved is likely the bigger concern here.
Eichel on the Horizon?
With trade rumors swirling in advance of tonight’s NHL Entry Draft, the name Jack Eichel will inevitably enter any conversation about clearing salary cap space. The Rangers have long had interest in Eichel, but recent reports suggested talks weren’t close. Could dealing Buchnevich and acquiring assets potentially accelerate those talks? Deals often go down on night one of the Draft, and the Buffalo Sabres also made a major move dealing defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen today. The stage is potentially set for a night full of fireworks.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.