Blues Should Make Provorov a Priority Target

There are few worst-kept secrets in the NHL than that the St. Louis Blues are interested in adding a defenseman before the trade deadline. Throughout the season, every name that is known to be available has been discussed. Rumors suggest the team is interested in Ben Chiarot as well as Jakob Chychrun, and there’s little question that the shopping list extends much further. The cap situation makes things difficult, but motivated teams typically find a way at the deadline.

Related: Blues Should Seek Only Rentals at the Deadline

On a recent episode of 32 Thoughts: The Podcast, Elliotte Friedman suggested that the Philadelphia Flyers’ decision to extend Rasmus Ristolainen could be just the first step in an extensive defensive restructure. Shockingly, he suggested that said restructure could involve trading the young blueliner once thought to be the centerpiece of the franchise: Ivan Provorov. If that rumor is true, the Blues need to pursue a trade for Provorov over any other option on defense.

Flyers Dealing at a Discount

It goes without saying, but no team trades a player like Provorov unless that player is underperforming, and he certainly is this season. Normally an offensive threat and top defensive goal scorer, he has just 20 points with five goals. And while he has made a name for himself as a top-tier power play quarterback on the left side, he has just four points with the man advantage. To make matters worse, he carries a minus-9 rating, and his expected goals for percentage (xGF%), a key marker of whether the flow of play goes in a player’s direction when he’s on the ice, is just 42.41 percent, ranking him in the bottom 25 percent of defensemen who have played 400-plus minutes.

Ivan Provorov Philadelphia Flyers
Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia Flyers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Additionally, according to Friedman, Provorov is weighing his own future and whether he would prefer to remain a Flyer long term. When both the player and the team are debating whether they have a solid partnership, it is safe enough to say that they do not. Hence Provorov’s name popping up in the rumor mill at all. Otherwise, a 25-year-old defenseman drafted high in the first round on a manageable contract that controls much of his prime would never be made available in the first place.

Blues Need to Reshape Defense

There is no question the Blues need help on the left side of defense. In fact, Friedman’s co-host Jeff Marek said as much later in the discussion when they were talking about Travis Sanheim, another defenseman general manager Doug Armstrong should ask about if the price for Provorov is too high. Marek suggested that every time he hears about a potential defenseman on the market, he thinks about the Blues, and it’s not tough to figure out why. The franchise has historically been built on a defensive identity, but in recent years, the Blues’ identity is shifting. They have become a much more offensive team, with one of the League’s strongest power plays and a barrage of young skill players making a major impact, including Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas, and Pavel Buchnevich.

With a group of players at or below 25 forming a new core of the team, the team’s defense is not only deteriorating but aging rapidly. Torey Krug, Justin Faulk, and Colton Parayko all now have long, expensive contracts that will carry them deep into their 30s, the kinds of contracts that can quickly become an albatross for teams that want to continue to evolve. That might be easy enough to overlook if the results this season were outstanding, but they are not: the Blues are bottom-third in the league in xGF%, Corsi for percentage (CF%), and high danger chance percentage (HDCF%). They need help on the left side in particular, and Parayko needs another top-tier partner who can shoulder his burden and eat a lot of minutes.

Provorov an Ideal Fit

Despite the Blues’ obvious need, I’ve argued in the past that the Blues shouldn’t pursue a young defenseman like Jakob Chychrun because he wouldn’t single-handedly solve the team’s issues and he would cost them a small fortune. So what makes Provorov different? First and foremost, at his best, Provorov is an elite all-around defenseman, not just a puck-mover and goal-scorer. That isn’t to write off Chychrun’s defensive skill, but Provorov has spent more time playing defense at a higher level on a more competitive team, eating more minutes. Moreover, the Russian blueliner is incredibly durable. Until COVID protocol forced him to miss three games earlier this season, he had played his entire 403 game career without missing a single contest.

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Finally, the circumstances and the potential matchups of general managers should make Provorov easier to acquire than Chychrun. Though the Coyotes are clearly in a “burn it down” rebuild, they still are under no pressure to trade Chychrun. They will eventually, but it could be this summer or next season at the deadline. If Provorov is actively unhappy and the Flyers want to reshape their defense, they need to move him soon before his value goes down even further. And what better place could he go to feel at home and get his swagger back than the team tied for the most Russian players in the NHL? That alone isn’t enough to trade for Provorov, but it’s tough to deny that Buchnevich, Ivan Barbashev, and Vladimir Tarasenko are all having outstanding seasons and have become fast friends.

Jakob Chychrun Arizona Coyotes
Jakob Chychrun, Arizona Coyotes, is a top-level defender, but he’ll cost a ton at the trade deadline (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Additionally, while Coyotes’ general manager Bill Armstrong has proven to be a shrewd negotiator, and knows the Blues’ pipeline like the back of his hand, Flyers’ general manager Chuch Fletcher, to be blunt, has not represented himself or his team well in trade deliberations. Doug Armstrong (no relation) has the upper hands in most trade talks: he’s a seasoned pro who rarely loses his deals. But trading with Fletcher for a player he’s desperate to move could be almost unfair.

Can Armstrong Make It Work?

Despite the obvious fit, the possible discount, and the clear desire for the Blues’ to improve, executing this trade will be difficult. Unless the Flyers are willing to make a “hockey” trade for a player like Tarasenko, who is still rumored to be looking for a trade, the salary cap implications will be difficult. One off-the-wall option would be a deal that includes one of the Blues’ current top defenders going back to Philadelphia. It seems like an odd suggestion, but both teams need a significant change on defense, and sometimes new faces in new places can spark a turnaround quickly. It may be difficult, but if Provorov really is available, then Armstrong needs to be “all in” on investigating the deal and doing his best to make it a reality.