The St. Louis Blues have sent their fans on a roller coaster in recent days. After a bitterly disappointing seven-game losing streak, Jordan Binnington helped the team gut out a win with 50 saves. Then, the Blues beat the Minnesota Wild in back-to-back games, devastating them 9-1 in game one and coming from behind in the dying moments to win in overtime in game two.
All of that has thrown the Blues’ trade deadline plans into serious question. A few days ago, it was clear that the team should sell. Now, they are back in a playoff position, holding a one-point lead on the Arizona Coyotes with an incredibly intense schedule to close the season. With Monday’s 3:00 PM Eastern trade deadline looming quickly, it’s unlikely that general manager Doug Armstrong changes his team dramatically, especially on a three-game winning streak. But for various reasons, he still ought to field offers for Jaden Schwartz, a pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) at season’s end.
Blues Struggle to Score
Schwartz has long been considered a critical player for the Blues’ offense. But this season, that offensive unit has been decidedly lackluster. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Blues currently rank 27th in expected goals for (xGF) with 66.5 (compared to the league-leading Toronto Maple Leafs, who have 83.51). They are 29th in high danger chances for (HDCF), with 284 (the New York Islanders lead the league with 415). And their xGF%, which measures their xGF against the expected goals they allow, is 47.74, ranking them 21st in the league. Put simply, head coach Craig Berube’s squad struggles to score, and their 117 goals this season (16th in the league) is actually an overperformance.
Schwartz hasn’t necessarily been the problem with the team’s offense, as he has 14 points (with just four goals) in 25 games. But his shooting percentage is just eight percent, calling to mind his snakebitten 2018-19 season, in which he shot a paltry six percent. Schwartz has always been a metrical darling, with strong individual and on-ice xG numbers. And he’s doing it again this season, according to Evolving-Hockey, as he has a 50.21 on-ice xGF%, good for fourth on the team. But he’s always struggled to finish, and his four goals this season are problematic. But even so, the primary reasons to consider trading Schwartz are due to circumstances beyond his control.
Why Trade Schwartz?
The value in considering a Schwartz trade is clearly not because the Blues will be better off without him. But two major factors weigh heavily in the mind. First, the Blues need to consider their long-term future. Glancing at their roster construction, the team already has several lengthy contracts for aging players, including matching $6.5 million cap hits through 2026-27 for Brayden Schenn, Torey Krug, and Justin Faulk (Schenn’s contract goes through 2027-28). Plus, Armstrong just signed Binnington to a six-year, $36 million contract extension. In those four players, the team has committed $25 million against the cap for a long time, and Schwartz is sure to command money similar to Schenn.
Moreover, the Blues will need to weigh extensions for restricted free agents (RFAs) Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou this summer. Then, they’ll need to decide the futures of Colton Parayko (UFA, summer 2022) and then Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko (UFAs in 2023). Signing Schwartz now gives them a lot less flexibility to sign those extensions in the future, and it gives them much less room to make changes to their offense this summer if they feel it is warranted. Plus, Schwartz will be another player they’ll need to protect in the upcoming expansion draft should he remain with the team.
The second, related reason to consider a Schwartz trade before the deadline is more practical: after losing team captain Alex Pietrangelo for nothing last offseason, it would be a bitter pill to swallow for the team to lose another critical piece with no compensation this summer. Armstrong has shown no hesitation to trade key players at the deadline before, even with fringe playoff-contending teams, with the trades of defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and center Paul Stastny in back-to-back seasons. Those trades helped lay the foundation for the Stanley Cup championship the following season, so there is clear justification for decisive action, but it would have been a much easier sell to the fans if the team had not strung together three wins against top opposition.
Will Armstrong Trade Schwartz
With all of this said, it’s fair to say that a deadline trade of Schwartz is still extremely unlikely. Had the losing streak continued, it might have been more likely, but with the team winning again, Armstrong will be hard-pressed to justify pulling the trigger. It’s still not impossible, though, particularly if he can sell a contender on Schwartz’s playoff experience. But there are likely only two scenarios where Armstrong will move his top free agent: if a team is willing to pay top dollar, or if he can find a hockey trade that adds immediate cost-controlled value with term to his team in exchange. That could be a bigger trade like the Erik Johnson trade Armstrong once manufactured, which, with the confusing performance of the team lately, isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility. But it is still highly likely that Schwartz remains with the Blues after Monday’s deadline.
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.