Blues Made the Right Move Despite Thompson’s Strong Season

Given Tage Thompson’s dominance this season, we can now reassure the St. Louis Blues‘ fanbase. On July 1, 2018, the Blues traded Thompson to the Buffalo Sabres for Ryan O’Reilly. They also sent Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund, a 2019 first-round pick, and a 2021 second-round pick to Buffalo. I’m not here to re-visit the trade and how all pieces panned out.

Gary Bettman Ryan O'Reilly Conn Smythe Trophy
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman presents St. Louis Blues’ Ryan O’Reilly with the Conn Smythe trophy. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

This trade has become an exciting and somewhat controversial topic, and it’s getting more intense as Thompson has overtaken the league highlight reels this season. While it’s great to see him having success, others are wondering how he might have developed in St. Louis.

Thompson’s Historic Season for the Sabres

After Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, Thompson ranks third in the NHL in points. His seven-year extension begins in 2023-24, so his current cap hit makes him the league’s greatest bargain at $1.4 million. His cap hit will rise to $7.142 million for the next seven seasons after 2022-23. With the salary cap likely rising over the next seven seasons, this deal could be an all-time steal for the Sabres, an up-and-coming team with Thompson the face of it all.

Through 32 games this season, he has 26 goals and 24 assists. A lot of his goals are similar to the clip above. He’s become a human highlight reel, the only player who has more highlight-reel plays than him is McDavid. He’s one of the most dynamic players in the league due to his size and skill – it’s rare for a 6-foot-7 player to have as much offensive skill as Thompson, and it’s not surprising that he’s become elite, but it’s mesmerizing to watch.

Latest News & Highlights

It’s also no surprise that Blues general manager Doug Armstrong knows how to draft talent, and I give credit to current Arizona Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong for his role in this during his time with the Blues from 2004 to 2020. Among their 10 picks in the 2016 Draft, the Blues drafted Thompson and Jordan Kyrou. They followed that up with Robert Thomas as the 20th pick in the 2017 Draft. They’ve been hit or miss on first-round picks over the years with players like Klim Kostin and Dominik Bokk, but they almost always get something valuable out of a draft.

Tage Thompson Buffalo Sabres
Tage Thompson, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Thompson is an incredible player, and having him on the Blues would be amazing, but there’s a reason the organization made this trade, and it worked out in their favor until the last two seasons. The Sabres have established themselves as the second winner in this trade with Thompson’s success. His development shows that, for some, it can take time to become a star – it took him 145 games across four seasons before he figured it out.

Blues Won the Cup Because of O’Reilly

Winning a Stanley Cup changes everything for a franchise. In 2019, the Blues were led by O’Reilly in his first season after the trade, which automatically makes it a win, given the Cup victory. It was a lopsided deal in favor of the Blues until Thompson broke out, and it’s easy to forget how impactful O’Reilly has been in his five seasons in St. Louis. While he hasn’t been great in 2022-23, every season before that was terrific.

Related: Revisiting the Blues’ Trade for Ryan O’Reilly

In the 2019 NHL Playoffs, O’Reilly was injured and not playing all that well before the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks. He had just two goals in 13 games in the first two rounds and only one goal in the six games against the Sharks, but his play was noticeably better. When the Stanley Cup Final came around, he took his game to another level and dominated the seven-game series against the Boston Bruins. He had five goals and four assists and scored the first goal in multiple games of the series, including the Game 7 icebreaker. His shooting percentage was an absurd 31.1, with five goals on 16 shots.

Ryan O'Reilly St. Louis Blues
Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

His run during the 2019 Stanley Cup Final was an all-time great one. He became the first player since Wayne Gretzky to score goals in four consecutive Stanley Cup Final games. He earned the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP and was the biggest reason they won the series. Of course, Jordan Binnington’s Game 7 performance was the reason they won that game, but O’Reilly’s value to the 2019 Blues was astronomical.

Blues Should Not Regret This Trade

This is a trade that the Blues should make 10 times out of 10. Despite Thompson becoming a star at 25 years old, the Blues won their first Cup in franchise history with O’Reilly. In five seasons, O’Reilly has finished top-five in Selke Trophy voting in four of them, and a win in 2018-19. On top of this, the team got rid of $7.35 million in salary, with Berglund and Sobotka heading to Buffalo. The draft selections for the Sabres haven’t worked out yet either, but there’s still time.

Sign up for our regular 'Blues Newsletter' for all the latest.

I know it can be hard for fans to see Thompson tear the league apart at times. But there’s no guarantee that he could’ve developed this much in St. Louis. This could be the final season for O’Reilly as a Blue, but that doesn’t change a thing. All that matters in this trade is, in the end, the Blues won the Cup, and the Sabres got a superstar forward. All is well with this trade for both sides.