The St. Louis Blues have made a move during training camp, trading forward Zach Sanford (26) to the Ottawa Senators for forward Logan Brown (23) and a conditional fourth-round pick that will be removed from the deal if Brown plays 30 or more games for the Blues this season.
The trade sends Sanford, who is on a one-year, $2 million contract and is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, to a team where he is likely to get consistent top-nine minutes, and even potentially some time on the power play. The Salem, MA native has scored clutch goals in his career, including the fourth goal in the Blues’ Game 7 Stanley Cup victory, and a four-goal game against the Vegas Golden Knights. In Brown, the Blues receive a former 11th-overall pick with ties to the St. Louis area. The 6-foot-6, 227 pound center was born and largely raised in St. Louis while his father, Jeff, played five seasons for the Blues in the early nineties.
Armstrong Clears Cap with Sanford Gone
While the Blues doubtlessly hope that Brown will live up to his potential in St. Louis, the biggest immediate advantage for general manager Doug Armstrong is the salary cap relief he’ll receive with Sanford’s contract off the books. In the flat-cap era, every dollar counts. The Blues have recently signed Tyler Bozak to a one-year, $750,000 contract laden with incentives, and they just inked Robert Thomas to a two-year contract with a $2.8 million cap hit. Those moves, combined with the inability to move Vladimir Tarasenko to a new home despite his requests, meant the Blues were slightly over the salary cap ceiling. Now, with Sanford gone, they are roughly $730,000 below that critical threshold.
That newfound flexibility gives them less to worry about as they go through training camp and evaluate options, and it gives them one more roster spot to play with as several key, young forwards battle for an NHL opportunity. Klim Kostin and 2020 first-round pick Jake Neighbours were already fighting for roles in the bottom six, and now Brown joins that group of hungry youngsters looking for a spot. But for now, the Blues won’t have to worry about cap considerations as they watch these players and decide who earns the opportunities.
Brown Could Sparkle in St. Louis
For his part, Brown is an interesting addition to the organization. The 23-year-old had grown disgruntled with the Senators’ organization after entering yet another season without a guaranteed NHL spot, despite his high first-round pedigree and standout AHL performance. Even despite GM Pierre Dorion’s insistence that “Logan is among the most talented prospects in our organization” and that “he possesses many of the tools that could ultimately help him find success in the NHL,” the team did not seem keen on giving him that opportunity consistently (from ‘The five biggest non-Brady Tkachuk storylines for the Ottawa Senators at the start of training camp,’ The Athletic NHL, Sep. 22, 2021).
Now, Brown joins a more competitive organization where playing time will be no easier to come by, but he at least gets a fresh start and returns to a town that is familiar to him. He will likely be incredibly hungry to prove his value. And for a big player whose physical potential is off the charts, he could be a perfect fit for head coach Craig Berube’s grinding system.
When The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler evaluated Senators’ prospects in February 2021, he spoke highly of Brown, suggesting he was ready to take on a consistent top-nine role even though forwards of his size often struggle to compete at the NHL level. He spoke glowingly, saying, “Brown’s an excellent stick handler considering his length… He’s also got a great deal of touch for his size… And while he’s never going to be a long-range scorer, his shot is powerful when he has time to get it off and then he’s useful on redirects and tips in front of the net.” (from ‘Wheeler’s 2021 NHL prospect pool rankings: No. 3 Ottawa Senators,’ The Athletic NHL, Feb. 8 2021). Now, it’s up to Brown to prove whether the Senators were right or wrong to hold him back. But St. Louis might be the best conceivable fit for him to do that.
Sanford Primed for Success in Ottawa
Sanford brings a valuable presence to Ottawa as well. The veteran of 209 NHL games has recorded 74 points in his career but has shown a tendency to score goals in bursts. That might be due to his shifting role in the Blues’ organization, being slotted in at times everywhere from the top line to the fourth line, receiving time both on the power play and the penalty kill. His true fit may be as a defensive forward, though, as he’s shown effectiveness over three seasons at shutting down opposing goal-scoring opportunities.
For the Senators, this is an ideal time to acquire Sanford. The risk is low, as he’ll be a UFA at the season’s end. If he becomes a good fit and finds a successful role in Ottawa, then he can re-sign and remain with the Senators for a long time. Sanford does have a history and close friendship with Colin White dating back to their time at Boston College (both are Boston area natives), so those two could form a strong line pairing in Canada’s capital city. Sanford adds experience and skill to the Senators at the cost of a player who obviously wanted out, so Dorion should be credited with a smart move here.
Big Decisions Remain for Senators, Blues
Of course, the fates of these two players were not the primary topic of discussion at training camp for either organization. The Senators are still grappling with contract negotiations for presumed future captain Brady Tkachuk, also a St. Louis native, which do not seem to be going well. And the Blues are wrestling with the presence of Vladimir Tarasenko, who is saying all the right things at camp but is well-known to have requested a trade out of town during the offseason. At this point, whether these teams resolve either situation before the offseason ends remains to be seen; however, with this move in the books, both have eliminated one distraction and can move on to more significant concerns.
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.