Jim Neveau, NHL Correspondent
Around 1am Central on Saturday morning, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch broke the news that a big trade had occurred between the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche. In the swap, the Avs picked up young defenseman Erik Johnson and forward Jay McClement, and in return they sent Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk to St. Louis. It was a move met with a lot of surprise, and pundits across the internet reacted with shock both about the players involved, as well as the timing.
An Olympian in 2010, Johnson is having a subpar season this year, scoring five goals and picking up 14 assists in 55 games. He really hasn’t been the same player since an accident involving a golf cart a few years ago cost him a broken foot and an entire season on the ice, but the move still came as a surprise to a lot of folks who cover the Blues as he was considered a key component of their future.
McClement is more of a defensive forward, and he will be looking to help the Avalanche in that department going forward. His six goals and 10 assists this season may not fit the mold of the forward that Colorado is generally looking for, but his arrival could signal a more defensive approach by a team that gives up more goals than just about any squad in the league.
The Blues are getting a couple of great youngsters as well. Stewart missed a good number of games this season with the Avs, but he still managed to pick up 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 36 games in Denver. He is a very solid two-way forward, and he will likely fit right in to St. Louis’ more defense oriented system.
Shattenkirk was being mentioned a lot earlier in the season as a potential Calder Trophy contender, but his play has fallen off as of late. In nearly 20 minutes a game with the Avs, he had seven goals and 19 assists, and he had started showing a propensity for solid play on the power play as well. At only 22 years of age, he is obviously far from a finished product, but he will definitely be a good asset to the Blues’ blue line corps.
As is the case with any trade, the inevitable question comes up about who got the better end of the deal. A lot of times this will end up in a stalemate, but it is important to evaluate the deal from both sides nevertheless.
How Did Colorado Benefit?
The Avalanche were busy on Friday, first shipping Craig Anderson off to Ottawa and then acquiring Johnson and McClement from the Blues. The moves demonstrated a clear desire by the team to start fresh in their crease, and also to pick up some high quality defensive talent to bolster a very weak area on the squad.
While Johnson may be struggling this year, he is nevertheless a gifted athlete with a penchant for physical play and an ability to make things happen offensively. He will undoubtedly be plugged into the Avs’ power play unit, a group that has only scored one goal in its last nine games. This bad streak has coincided with the team’s fall from the Western Conference playoff picture, and this move seems designed to get the ship righted in the short-term, but more importantly to set a new course for the future.
The additions of McClement and Johnson will also be crucial to Colorado as they look to improve their atrocious penalty killing unit. Operating at a 78% rate of effectiveness, this group definitely wasn’t getting the job done, and by picking up two of St. Louis’ most prolific penalty killers, they have addressed that need in a big way.
How Did St. Louis Benefit?
The Blues were also active on Friday, shipping out captain Eric Brewer to the Tampa Bay Lightning. There were some who believed that Johnson would be next in line for that captaincy, but obviously the Blues did not feel the same way about him. He has largely been a disappointment this season, and the trade definitely demonstrates that the team had lost faith in him to develop into the player they needed.
The pieces that St. Louis picked up in return are going to help them in several ways. This team is obviously predicated around guys like David Backes who fit the bill of the physical guy who can also turn the play up the ice on occasion when it is needed. Stewart definitely fits that bill for the Blues, and while he has been struggling as of late for the Avs, earlier in the season he was arguably one of the biggest catalysts to Colorado’s hugely successful offense.
Shattenkirk is a more interesting story, and is definitely someone that the Blues are going to have to be patient with. After a five game point streak going into the All-Star break, Kevin hasn’t had a point since, going eight games without a marker. His season stats are still respectable, and if the Blues can trim his ice time down a bit from the 20 minutes per game clip that Colorado was running him at, he may regain some of that offensive effectiveness that he’s been lacking as of late.
As Colorado improved their penalty killing unit in the swap, the Blues will be looking to bolster their 25th ranked power play unit in this one. Both Stewart and Shattenkirk saw a good amount of ice time for the Avs on their power play, and they will be looked to fill important roles in that area in St. Louis. Kevin’s 10 points and Chris’ eight on the man-advantage may not look that spectacular, but when you consider that Matt Duchene only has 10 of his own this season, you can see that they were among the more potent forces in that area in Denver.
So Who Wins?
As with most trades, the team that wins isn’t going to be fully decided until further down the line, but while both sides of the debate have strong arguments, it would appear that Colorado came out slightly ahead in this deal.
The main reason for that belief is that the Avalanche got more sheer NHL ready talent, and the Blues definitely won the potential side of the argument. Johnson is a player that wasn’t going to do much more in St. Louis, and so a change of scenery is probably going to do him some good. When you factor in he and McClement trying to boost the Avs’ atrocious penalty killing unit, you can see instantly where this Colorado team benefits.
The Blues picked up two struggling players in this swap, and they are going to have to bank on one or both of them snapping out of their funks in short order. Stewart is the type of guy who will probably get you 60 points a season, but Shattenkirk is more of a wild card. Will he live up to the potential that he displayed early in the season, or is this current cold streak he’s on indicative of a guy who has already shone brightly but is quickly fading away?
We’ll obviously have to wait for the picture to fully paint itself, but one thing is for certain: if the NHL trade deadline is going to be anything like the past 24 hours, then a lot of pundits are in for a harrowing and eventful ride.