It’s never easy to analyze a trade, especially when players involved in the deal are still building their career resumes. A lot of things factor into a move like the one that saw the Brayden Schenn trade to the St. Louis Blues on NHL Draft Day 2017. What many seem to forget is that this wasn’t a one-for one-trade—the Flyers didn’t simply give Schenn away.
Since named to the All-Star Game, many seem to think trading him was a huge mistake. How does it really look in the grand scheme of things?
Why Schenn Had to Go
Flyers general manager Ron Hextall had no idea he was going to obtain the second overall pick in the NHL Draft Lottery. Once he knew he was going to select Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick (both centers), he knew he would have too many players down the middle. Schenn is a natural center but played on the wing most of the time due to the logjam of centers in the system. Trading him gave head coach Dave Hakstol the option to move one of Claude Giroux, Valtteri Filppula or Jori Lehtera to the wing, which worked out well for Giroux.
Now that they didn’t have to worry about playing Schenn in his natural position, they could easily roll with Couturier, Filppula, and Patrick as their top three centers.
For the Blues, they were looking to add someone who could take on the role of a first-line center. While he was never given that opportunity in Philadelphia, he did manage to produce on the wing with some talented players. Knowing he could be slotted between Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong knew Schenn could step in as the center. He pulled the trigger on the deal but gave up a lot in the process.
Blues & Flyers Acquisitions
The Schenn trade was not easy. A lot of people liked him as a player, but a lot disliked him too. He would often receive criticism for his lack of even-strength production, which was very apparent last season. Out of his 25 goals in 2016-17, 17 of them were on the power play, 28 of his 55 points were on the man-advantage and his ability to drive play was very weak.
The year before that, his production was not a concern; he tallied 59 points, 37 of them were at even-strength and he had 26 goals, 11 of them at 5-on-5. Most of those can be credited with playing with Claude Giroux, but he was still very good that year. Schenn was a liability defensively, turning the puck over at the worst times, missing his coverage in the defensive zone, not backchecking, etc.
For Schenn, the Flyers received Jori Lehtera, a player who had a strong first season in the league, but declined every year thereafter. His $4.7 million cap hit made the Blues offer more in the rest of the deal. Schenn had a cap hit of $5.125 million over the next three seasons and the Blues needed to dump a bad contract, which Hextall had no problem taking since he also took the Blues’ first-round picks for the next two years.
Now, you can put it any way you want, but there are very few players in the NHL that are worth two first-round draft picks, even if they are in the bottom tier of the round. Hextall was very patient and waited for the right deal to come through and it paid off by acquiring the 27th overall pick of the 2017 draft and a conditional first for the following year.
With the 27th overall pick, they selected Morgan Frost, who wasn’t the biggest name on the board but was regarded as a highly-skilled playmaker with a lot of poise, defensive instincts, and great skating. The pick was confusing at the time, considering Finnish sniper Eeli Tolvanen was still available, but Hextall had a lot of confidence in Frost’s ability.
Frost built a phenomenal OHL career with the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds, surpassing 100 points in each of his last two seasons in juniors. He debuted with the Flyers in November of 2019, and he looks to have a stellar NHL career in front of him.
In 2018, after the Blues had missed the playoffs, the Flyers got a higher pick than they might have expected. They used it, the 14th overall pick, on Joel Farabee, a native of Syracuse New York, who actually made his NHL debut almost a month before Frost. Farabee was a standout in the U.S. developmental program, and also looks to have a very bright future in the top league.
Can Schenn Lead the Blues?
It is very hard to assess a winner for this trade at the moment. The Blues look fantastic with Schenn in the lineup but gave up a lot to acquire him. He can bring a physical element to a game and he appears to be much faster and more confident with the puck, something that lacked when he played for the Flyers.
The ultimate victory for the Blues came in 2019, the year the franchise won its first Stanley Cup. Schenn played a big role, collecting 12 points in 26 games in his first postseason with his new club. He brought the Cup back to his native Saskatchewan in July, celebrating with his father, one of the community’s firefighters.
As for the Flyers, they gave up a player who could score goals on the power play, but added to their collection of prospects and picks in a big way. Frost is standing out this year and he could be a steal down the road. The biggest loss definitely came from acquiring Lehtera, but he was not expected to match Schenn’s offensive output.
This may well be a trade we look back on in 10 years as an absolute win-win. The Flyers seem to have drafted two studs, and now they’ve moved on from Lehtera’s bothersome contract. But for Armstrong and Blues fans, no price was too high to pay to see that Stanley Cup lifted for the very first time in St. Louis.