Addressing Blues’ Weaknesses at the Trade Deadline

The St. Louis Blues have hit quite a rough patch since the beginning of 2020. Recently for the club, they have won just two of their last 11 games (2-6-3). They sit at the top of the Central, regardless, at 74 points.

It feels as if Blues’ general manager Doug Armstrong needs to make a move or two at the trade deadline to give this team a boost. And with Armstrong’s recent trade record, I say he gives it a go and makes a move. The team has looked all out of sorts for quite a while now, and something needs to be figured out if they want to make another deep run.

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In order to find a move that works, we need to assess the Blues’ needs and what exactly could work for them.

Fixing the Defense

It seems like even before the unfortunate incident with Jay Bouwmeester, the Blues defense has just been all out of sorts. It doesn’t seem like they are on the same page and just have sloppy play in general.

There have been way too many times where we’ve seen the defense leaving goalies out to dry. While I will admit that the Blues’ goaltenders have struggled for quite some time now, the defense has just been bad.

I do think there is a player or two within the organization that can help the defense. The one that sticks out is Niko Mikkola, who played five games earlier in the season, and looked good. Mikkola was called up earlier in the week when Bouwmeester was placed on IR.

St. Louis Blues Niko Mikkola
St. Louis Blues defenseman Niko Mikkola (Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

Now it’s just figuring out who to take out of the lineup to put Mikkola in, and I’d say it is between Carl Gunnarsson or Robert Bortuzzo. Since this is a piece that mainly focuses on the trade deadline, let’s look at a trade option to help the defense.

There are two names that stick out for the Blues, those names are Alec Martinez from the Los Angeles Kings and Sami Vatanen from the New Jersey Devils.

Martinez is a 32-year-old defenseman with Stanley Cup experience. His best days may be behind him, but he could bring a veteran presence on the blue line that they need. He has another year on his contract after this season, and carries a $4 million cap hit.

With Sami Vatanen, he is a pending unrestricted free agent after this season, and is younger than Martinez at 28 years old. He has less size than Martinez, but currently brings more offense to table with 23 points in 47 games this season.

I don’t think it would take a lot for the Blues to trade for either of these two defensemen. However, I think it would be more realistic for them to try and plug Mikkola in and see how that plays out. Either way, the defense has been a major problem and needs to be figured out.

Looking for a Top-Six Winger

This is an area where Blues fans would really like to see Armstrong find an upgrade. Finding another top-six forward to plug in and help the team find their game could be essential for more success.

It’s hard to gauge the realistic options, but I’ve narrowed it down to three players. I’d look at Chris Kreider, Tyler Toffoli, and Andreas Athanasiou. However, it can get tricky when figuring out whether these players would actually get dealt.

Andreas Athanasiou
Detroit Red Wings center Andreas Athanasiou celebrates (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

I wrote back in January about three options for the Blues at the deadline, and Toffoli and Kreider were listed there. I think those two make so much sense.

We’ll start out with Detroit Red Wings winger Athanasiou. He is just 25 years old, and doesn’t seem like a great fit for the Wings, so maybe they entertain the idea of dealing him. He’s scored just 8 goals in 42 games, so it’s been a rough go for him.

Athanasiou comes in at 6-foot-2 and 177 pounds, a good size for a forward on the Blues. If he could clean his game up and try to become a more polished two-way player, that would only further his fit with this team. The more chances he gets, the better his numbers will be, and there is a distinct difference between the Red Wings and the Blues.

He holds a $3 million cap hit this season and hits restricted free agent status after this season. I think the Blues would likely have to move a good pick and young player in order to make their second trade of the season with Detroit.

Kreider makes so much sense for the Blues, I just don’t think the New York Rangers would deal him. He’s been scorching hot recently and is up to 23 goals in 56 games. Kreider’s two-way game would be a perfect fit for the Blues, he just seems like a Blue.

At 6-foot-3, he would boost the size upfront for the team, as well as possessing a skill set that can help him reach 30 goals for the season. With him already being at 23 goals, he would be tied for first on the team in goals with David Perron if he were traded here. If that isn’t a massive upgrade, I don’t know what is.

I have seen suggested packages that St. Louis could give up to acquire the services of Kreider, but they appear to be a bit steep for what I would look for. Trading Jordan Kyrou for a rental would be a mistake. This team prides itself on being hard to play against, just imagine how hard it would be if they added Kreider and got Vladimir Tarasenko back for the stretch run.

The Rangers aren’t too far back of a potential wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Maybe they should consider making a deal since Kreider will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.

Toffoli could be a nice fit, as he’s got some serious playoff experience and is still just 27 years old. He has a $4.6 million cap hit and would likely be a rental.

In terms of his play style, he could fit right in as he is known for being very good at drawing penalties, which would be huge. The Blues’ power play is up near the top of the league, and if they added a guy who can draw them like no other, that increases the production of goals.

You can also look at how strong he is on the puck, another thing the Blues pride themselves on. His two-way game is strong, he has more takeaways than giveaways this season, and was 33rd in Selke Trophy voting in the 2014-15 season.

Ever since the Kings started their rebuild, Toffoli’s numbers have taken a hit — he’s got 31 points this season. In 2015-16, he had 58 points, so maybe if he could be on a contending team again, his numbers could start to come back.

I think that if the Blues do make a move at this year’s deadline, this would be the area they would look at. Despite the fact that Zach Sanford has been producing lately, the team could still use a nice top-six forward to boost its lineup. These three options are serious fits if they look into it.

Fixing the Team

Whether it’s a move at the deadline, or just some soul searching, it is time for the Blues to start taking their play back to an elite level. The defense and goaltending have been huge problems recently, as well as their penalty kill. Some of these players I listed above can boost the overall defense or penalty kill.

The Blues have the worst penalty kill in the NHL since Jan. 15, and that is not good at all for a team with a style that emphasizes toughness and smart play.

St. Louis Blues' head coach Craig Berube
St. Louis Blues’ head coach Craig Berube reacts on the bench. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)

As for the goaltending, Jordan Binnington and Jake Allen have been struggling to keep pucks out of their net. They have a combined .860 save percentage (SV%) since Jan. 1. Like I mentioned earlier, some of it is just poor defense, but these trends are troubling.

Overall, the team has been struggling and that needs to be fixed. Whether it’s trading for a forward or defenseman, or just using organizational depth, they have to do something. I do think there is a strong chance that they make a fairly big move, but that remains to be seen.