The St. Louis Blues are in chaos at the moment. It is their worst stretch of the season results-wise, as they are 2-6-2 in their last 10 games. Additionally, the sudden and unexpected loss of Jay Bouwmeester has thrown their blueline into disarray.
Unfortunately, the Blues find themselves in this situation just under a week removed from the NHL’s Feb. 24 trade deadline. That gives the defending Stanley Cup Champions and their general manager, Doug Armstrong, six days to decide whether they need to make additions to compensate for their poor form or the loss of Bouwmeester.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the top ten or so trade chips available according to TSN’s Hockey Trade Bait board. Taking each in turn, we’ll look at whether the Blues might be a match, what the potential trade package could cost, and whether it would be a worthwhile addition for Armstrong to make.
Chris Kreider (TSN Trade Bait 1)
One forward rises above the rest in this rental class. There’s no question that the Blues — or any team interested in adding a forward at the deadline — would love to have Chris Kreider. The speedy, gritty New York Rangers forward is on track for a career-high in goals, and there’s no guarantee that the Rangers would rather trade him than re-sign him. But if he is made available, he will be the top target of every team looking for offensive help, particularly after the Los Angeles Kings traded Tyler Toffoli Monday night.
According to Moneypuck, Kreider has 8.2 expected goals (xG) this season at 5-on-5, which would be second only to Jaden Schwartz on the Blues. Kreider would also lead Blues players in xG at 5-on-4, where his 7.7 dwarfs even Schwartz’s 6.3. The Blues currently have the fourth-best power play in the league, at 24.7 percent. But a power play can never be too strong, particularly as one recalls their poor performance there last postseason. There’s no question Kreider would be a valuable addition for the Blues, but at what cost?
What Might It Cost? The Blues’ 2020 first-round pick and F Jordan Kyrou
This particular trade package was proposed by The Athletic’s Pirre LeBrun (from “LeBrun: Six specific trade deadline moves that make a lot of sense,” The Athletic NHL, 02/03/2020). LeBrun admitted that “it’s a high price to pay,” but argued that with Vladimir Taraesnko’s status uncertain, it might be worthwhile, given that “Kreider is such a nice fit with his playing style on the Blues.”
Worth It? No.
LeBrun’s argument came two weeks ago. Since then, the Blues are 1-3-2. In that time, Kyrou has begun to improve at the NHL level as well. Plus, Tarasenko is beginning to skate and do light work with the team. Kreider would be a tremendous addition to the Blues if they were in peak form, but given their recent performance, it’s simply too high a price to pay, and LeBrun is right that with the demand for the Rangers’ forward, it likely won’t cost much less.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau (TSN Trade Bait 3)
Jean-Gabriel Pageau is the next-best forward available now that Toffoli is off the board. The Ottawa Senators’ center is versatile and in the midst of a career year. His 22 goals surpass his previous career high of 19. The Senators are knee-deep in a rebuild and certainly willing to sell, but should the Blues buy? There are concerns with the 27-year-old. He has just 15.1 xG this season, meaning he is outperforming his own expectations by 6.9 goals, the highest such outperformance on the Senators.
On a struggling team, that is especially worrisome, as acquiring teams would already be likely to expect a decline. As one Eastern Conference executive explained to The Athletic’s Craig Custance, “The problem you have with those guys is he’s putting up such good numbers but he’s on a bad team. He’s going to put up more numbers because of the opportunity” (from “NHL Trade Big Board 2.0: 23 players who could move before the deadline,” The Athletic NHL, 02/11/2020).
What Might It Cost? A Blues’ conditional 2020 first-round pick and Alexei Toropchenko
The price for Pageau would be less than the price for Kreider, but not dramatically less. They likely could protect their two top forward prospects (Kyrou and Klim Kostin), but they’d still need to give up a decent chip like Alexei Toropchenko, who has struggled in his first season in the American Hockey League (AHL) but was a terrific prospect before that. They could try to condition their first-round pick as well, but it would likely be a moderate condition at best.
Worth It? No.
Pageau would be a nice addition for the Blues, but he would certainly be a luxury, more so than even Kreider. The Blues have three strong centers already in Ryan O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn, and Tyler Bozak, and Robert Thomas is waiting in the wings (literally) as it is. While Pageau could certainly play wing, why would Armstrong pay up to do that? Pageau is a good forward, just not a good fit for the Blues.
Ilya Kovalchuk (TSN Trade Bait 7)
Ilya Kovalchuk has been resurgent since joining the Montreal Canadiens, and the Habs, who are unlikely to make the playoffs, would be foolish to not turn their lottery ticket into a big return at the trade deadline. The Blues were interested in Kovalchuk back when he returned to the NHL in 2018. Could they reignite that interest now?
The veteran has nine goals on 9.6 xG this season but has done most of that since joining the Canadiens. He hasn’t been overly-reliant on power play opportunities either. But the Blues are struggling on the penalty kill and defensively, neither of which are areas where Kovalchuk would particularly help them. Therefore, it all depends on the cost.
What Might It Cost? The Blues’ 2020 second-round pick and D Mitch Reinke
Like many Canadian teams, Montreal is on the hunt for affordable defensive help, and Mitch Reinke could be a good fit. The undersized-righty had a phenomenal rookie season with the San Antonio Rampage, breaking a club-record for rookie defenseman scoring originally set by Keith Yandle. It wouldn’t be prohibitively expensive for the Blues, but Reinke would be tough to give up.
Worth It? Maybe?
Kovalchuk isn’t a perfect fit for the Blues, but second-tier rentals rarely are. He would provide some scoring potential and perhaps some added fire to the team. It might make sense if the price was right and head coach Craig Berube had a specific role in mind for the Russian sniper, especially if Tarasenko’s return is farther away than expected.
Kyle Palmieri (TSN Trade Bait 9)
Kyle Palmieri of the New Jersey Devils isn’t a rental, as he has an additional season left on his contract. In some ways, he’d be a perfect fit for the Blues: his physicality would blend well with Berube’s style, he adds an extra scoring threat on the right side, and he is especially threatening on the power play.
The Devils seem to be motivated sellers, as the trade of Blake Coleman makes clear. But that additional season might actually be a sticking point for the Blues. They are already cash-strapped for next season, particularly if they hope to re-sign captain Alex Pietrangelo, so they cannot afford luxury additions against the salary cap. The Blues might like Palmieri, but if they wanted to get him, they’d eventually need to move a contract out to compensate.
What Might It Cost? The Blues’ 2020 first-round pick, the Blues’ 2021 third-round pick, and F Klim Kostin or D Scott Perunovich
The Blues might be able to protect Kyrou in a trade for Palmieri, but the return interim Devils’ GM Tom Fitzgerald got for Coleman and captain Andy Greene suggests they won’t protect much else. With another year left on Palmieri’s deal, the Devils will want a first-round pick and one of the Blues’ top prospects, which could be Kostin or defenseman Scott Perunovich, depending on their positional preference. The additional pick would compensate for protecting Kyrou.
Worth It? No.
The Blues can’t afford to keep Palmieri next season without additional moves. He’d be a perfect fit. Unfortunately, his contract would not be.
Andreas Athanasiou (TSN Trade Bait 10)
If Armstrong wants to make an unexpected move, Andreas Athanasiou of the Detroit Red Wings would certainly be that. He already has traction with the Detroit front office, judging by the Robby Fabbri trade that materialized quickly earlier this season. Athanasiou would be an off-the-board acquisition for St. Louis, but that doesn’t mean he’d be a mistake.
25-years-old and a pending restricted free agent (RFA), Athanasiou is a mystery around the NHL. He has blazing speed and seemed to break out with 30 goals last season, but is back to earth with just eight so far this campaign (though he did miss time with an injury). Still, as Craig Custance explains in the aforementioned Athletic Trade Big Board, “if you’re looking for speed, offense and don’t want to use valuable assets on a rental, Athanasiou is a fascinating option.”
The fit would be a strange one, but the Blues are aging fast and could use to add electric speed. Kyrou and Athanasiou share both game-changing speed and heritage, as both are of Greek origin. With the correct center, they could form a dynamic line. The blue-collar Blues fan contingent might not like their lack of physical play, but they would certainly be a difficult matchup for any NHL team. Still, the trade fit is more of a pipe dream than anything.
What Might It Cost? F Zach Sanford and D Jake Walman
This might not be enough to pry Athanasiou away from Detroit, but if both teams are looking to shake things up, Sanford would be a similar player. They’re the same age, and neither has found a permanent fit in his current lineup (though Sanford has been red hot of late). The addition of Walman or a similar B-level prospect might tip the scales enough to interest Steve Yzerman and the Red Wings’ front office.
Worth It? Who knows!
This trade would be fun and insane. A lot of Blues fans would hate it. Some would love it. Armstrong likely isn’t looking to shake things up, even as much as his team has struggled lately. They are the defending champions, after all. But Athanasiou would be a fascinating target if he really wanted to bring a different skillset into his group. The Red Wings’ forward certainly has sky-high potential. Now might be the time for a team to pounce and get a steal.
Mike Hoffman (TSN Trade Bait 15)
The final forward we’ll consider is Mike Hoffman of the Florida Panthers. There are persistent links between the Blues and Hoffman, and certainly, he would be a good addition, as he’s passed 20 goals each of the last six seasons.
There are questions about how Hoffman would fit in the room, given his personal history with Erik Karlsson and the entanglement between their significant others. Without speculating too much, Pietrangelo’s wife’s miscarriage might make his presence a disastrous fit. But if the team captain approved, there’s no question he would be a helpful addition on the ice.
What Might It Cost? The Blues’ 2020 third-round pick and D Scott Perunovich or Mitch Reinke
It’s no secret that the Panthers want to upgrade defensively. Both Reinke and Perunovich could help in that area, and either one might be ready to make an immediate impact on a defense-starved team. Reinke could even form a partnership with the man whose AHL franchise record he broke last season.
Worth It? Yes.
If Pietrangelo is alright with acquiring Hoffman — and that’s a complete unknown to those on the outside — this would be a palatable acquisition for the Blues. While they’re not long on defensive prospects, they’re also not long on openings unless Pietrangelo walks in the summer. And even if he does, that will require a much bigger solution than Reinke or Perunovich could provide.
Sami Vatanen (TSN Trade Bait 2)
The Devils hold a lot of the cards at the trade deadline, having already traded Coleman and Greene, with Palmieri and Sami Vatanen at least still potentially on the move. If they do decide to move Vatanen, rather than trying to keep him for the long haul, he will be hotly pursued.
Vatanen is a dream fit for a number of teams. As Custance points out, “how many legitimate top-four defensemen who can move the puck like Vatanen are there available? Not many.” The problem is, the Blues don’t really need a right-handed defenseman, especially at what it will cost.
What Might It Cost? The Blues’ 2020 first-round pick and Jordan Kyrou
With the demand for Vatanen, there’s no reason to believe he will cost significantly less than Kreider would. The Devils might potentially prefer a defensive prospect to Kyrou, but the first-round pick is almost a certainty, and they may even want additional picks or prospects.
Worth It? No.
Vatanen is a real talent, and he’d be a nice get for any team. But the Blues have plenty of right-handed defensemen. The Justin Faulk trade already seemed like a luxury, and it hasn’t worked out well so far. Unless the Ducks were willing to take Faulk back in the deal — which many Blues fans would be fine with — there’s no reason to think this is a trade fit for either team.
Alec Martinez (TSN Trade Bait 4)
We’ve already looked in detail at whether Alec Martinez or Brenden Dillon might be a good fit to fill the void left by Bouwmeester’s unplanned exit. In short, both would be terrific options. But we’ve yet to look at the potential costs for each.
Martinez has another year left on his deal after this season at a four million dollar cap hit, but that may not pose the same concern for him that it did for Palmieri. With Bouwmeester’s status uncertain, the Blues will need to find a replacement if he cannot return, especially considering he was a pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) to begin with. Of course, with an additional year comes additional cost.
What Might It Cost? The Blues’ 2020 first-round pick and Zach Sanford
The Kings already have one of the best farm systems in the NHL, so they might prefer a young roster player like Sanford in return for Martinez. For two years of a man with Martinez’s playoff experience, the cost will be steep, whatever it is.
Worth It? Probably.
It’s impossible to know exactly the price for the Kings’ defenseman. But the Blues do need a contingency plan in the seemingly-likely event that Bouwmeester won’t return to the ice. Having that extra year of flexibility would be a nice addition for Armstrong, assuming that it didn’t make the cost too prohibitive.
Brenden Dillon (TSN Trade Bait 5)
If you think the trade deadline isn’t emotional for players, you haven’t seen Dillon’s response when asked about what was possibly his last game with the San Jose Sharks, the team he’s played for since the 2014-15 season. It’s a stressful time for players and management alike.
Still, if you’re going to move, moving to the defending Cup champions isn’t a bad outcome. Dillon would be a perfect fit in St. Louis, offering grit, the ability to eat minutes, and more offensive upside than Martinez. Plus, he’s a pending-UFA, which means he’ll cost less to acquire.
What Might It Cost? The Blues’ 2020 second-round pick and D Niko Mikkola
The Sharks look to be in salary cap Hell for the foreseeable future, but they may not be willing to admit defeat yet and sell completely. Therefore, an NHL-ready, cost-controlled asset like Mikkola might be the perfect fit. And if the Blues aren’t willing to give him Bouwmeester’s minutes, then perhaps they’d be willing to trade him for a Bouwmeester replacement.
Worth It? Yes.
Dillon may be the single best fit for the Blues right now. The need to replace Bouwmeester was unforeseen, but it now should be their biggest priority. The Sharks don’t have the leverage to demand top dollar for Dillon, especially with just one season left on his deal. Dillon’s penalty-killing prowess would also be a boon for a St. Louis unit that is worst in the NHL since Jan. 15. If Armstrong is going to make one move this deadline, this should probably be it.
Michael Del Zotto (TSN Trade Bait 40)
If the Blues are looking for a dirt-cheap solution to their immediate Bouwmeester concerns, perhaps a reunion with 2019 deadline acquisition Michael Del Zotto is in the cards. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
Acquiring Del Zotto would not excite any Blues fans. It would not move the needle as far as the likelihood of a Stanley Cup repeat is concerned. But it would be cheap, and there are no concerns about how he’d fit in with the room. Plus, Del Zotto is good friends and former summer-hockey teammates (along with John Tavares, Steven Stamkos, Michael Hutchinson, and Cody Hodgson) with Pietrangelo, which can’t hurt as the Blues look to re-sign their captain.
What Might It Cost? The Blues’ 2020 fifth-round pick
It cost the Blues a sixth-round pick to acquire Del Zotto last season, but they don’t have a sixth-round pick in the upcoming draft. they do, however, have two fifth-round picks, and what’s one round amongst friends?
Worth It? Meh.
Del Zotto doesn’t move the needle at all. If the players like him and Armstrong isn’t going to spend more on defense, he’s a fine depth/emergency piece.
Standing Pat Is An Option
Blues fans are understandably passionate about their team’s championship window. When you wait 52 years for your first Stanley Cup, you don’t want to waste any opportunities at your second. But that doesn’t mean the front office needs to be reckless in the week ahead. Cup dynasties can become rebuilding projects very fast if poor decisions are made — just ask the Kings and Chicago Blackhawks.
So far, the cost of trade acquisitions has been high. The Blues are struggling, and have an unexpected hurdle in Bouwmeester’s situation. By all means, they should pursue additions if they make sense, particularly if they help the team in the longterm. But if the cost is too high, the Blues are still built to be competitive for many years. There’s no need to sell out the future for a quick fix, and Armstrong should be wary of doing so.
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.