St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong was understandably caught between a rock and a hard place. Just under two weeks before the NHL’s trade deadline, Jay Bouwmeester, a beloved team veteran, and top-four defenseman went down on the bench after suffering a cardiac event. With longterm implications still uncertain a week later, Armstrong had decisions to make.
On Tuesday, he made one of those decisions by acquiring Marco Scandella from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for a 2020 second-round pick and a conditional 2021 fourth-round pick. This came after the Canadiens acquired Scandella from the Buffalo Sabres earlier this season for a 2020 fourth-round pick.
While the Blues obviously pounced at the wrong time price-wise, this is an affordable addition for them to make in a difficult circumstance. Let’s take a look at the player they’re getting in Scandella.
Who is Marco Scandella?
Blues fans will likely be most familiar with Scandella from his lengthy tenure with their division opponents, the Minnesota Wild. He played 373 career games for the team that drafted him in the second round in 2008, collecting 89 points in the process. From there, he moved to Buffalo along with Jason Pominville, before Buffalo traded him to Montreal earlier this season.
Scandella offers the Blues size: at 6-foot-3, 208 pounds, he stands on roughly the same frame as team captain Alex Pietrangelo. He will offer the Blues some added physicality over Bouwmeester, but not a lot. Scandella had 63 hits and 53 blocked shots in 51 games, compared with Bouwmeester’s 42 hits and 68 blocks in 56 games.
Scandella offers slightly more offensive upside than the man he’s replacing, but again, not by a wide margin. Bouwmeester had one goal and eight assists this season, whereas the new arrival sits at four goals and eight assists. The one significant difference between the two defensemen so far this season is that Bouwmeester has played an average of over four minutes per game more (21:34 compared to 17:00) than Scandella. That indicates that the new arrival will need to split that extra time with other Blues’ lefties.
Even so, there’s no question that the acquisition is a direct replacement for the hole Bouwmeester leaves in the lineup. We looked earlier this week at the Blues’ options to fill that void, and while we did not specifically discuss Scandella, he checks many of the same boxes as, say, Breden Dillon, whom the San Jose Sharks traded immediately before the Blues made their move.
What Scandella Offers
Whether the Blues saw Scandella as a fallback from Dillon or not, there is reason to believe he has something to offer them beyond simply being an extra body to eat a significant share of Bouwmeester’s minutes.
Advanced statistics love what the lefty brings to the Blues, and suggest he is in the middle of a resurgent 2019-20 season. The middle graph in the tweet above shows a spike in Scandella’s wins above replacement (WAR) this season, generated primarily by substantially elevated expected goals above replacement (xGAR) on both offense and defense.
Essentially, this chart shows us that Scandella has been a significant positive for his two teams so far this season in generating goals on offense and suppressing them on defense. he is even something of a positive on the power play, although it’s unlikely the Blues will use him much there. He’s a below-average penalty killer, which is unfortunate, as the Blues have struggled there lately. But it’s difficult to know how much that number was influenced by Scandella’s teams, both of which also have poor PK units.
Taken out of a vacuum, Scandella is also a clear improvement over Carl Gunnarsson, the Blues veteran who saw a significant uptick in minutes after Bouwmeester left the lineup. Scandella has better metrics in every category, which is fortunate news for Blues fans.
The Bottom Line
Scandella provides exactly what the Blues needed: a seasoned veteran that can come in, eat most of the minutes Bouwmeester leaves behind, and steady a defensive unit that has struggled in recent weeks. As an added bonus, he’ll have some familiarity with the division, given his tenure with the Wild.
The price Armstrong paid is inflated both by dire circumstances and by the looming trade deadline. They could have had Scandella for a fourth-round pick earlier this season, but they had no need for him then. In unfortunate circumstances, this trade steadies the lineup at an affordable-if-exaggerated price.
The Blues have addressed their biggest need with a week to go before the deadline. Now Armstrong can sit back, survey the field, and let the chips fall where they may.
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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.