The St. Louis Blues put 24-year-old winger Magnus Paajarvi on waivers Wednesday, likely intending to send him to their AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, where he spent the majority of the season last year.
It could be a shrewd move by Blues GM Doug Armstrong, if the intention is to have him clear waivers while most teams are still cutting players and not thinking too much about adding to their rosters. If he clears, the team could bring him back and not worry about waivers if they want to return him to the AHL within 10 games (or 30 days) of him having cleared.
However it’s more likely that they’re passing him through waivers to have him play in Chicago to start the season.
But he shouldn’t make it through waivers.
Paajarvi has had a couple of trying seasons in St. Louis since being traded for David Perron back in July of 2013. The Blues had him in the NHL for just 10 games last season and he put up a waiver-worthy one point in that time.
But, while he may never become the star many thought he’d been when put up 34 points in his 19-year-old rookie season with Edmonton, he is still young and there are signs that the mythical — often farcical — fresh start may do him good.
With the Wolves last year he posted nearly a point per game with 11 goals and 18 assists in 36 games. While he may require a good situation to thrive and regain his confidence at the NHL level, there are teams who could afford him that opportunity. Particularly teams who, though they’d tell you differently, aren’t playing for this season.
With a cap hit of just $700,000 and a single year left on his deal, the risk is low. The deal is a one-way, so the team will pay if they later waive him and send him to the American League, but a cash-rich team like Toronto could afford the risk.
If he succeeds, it’s found money. (Less the $26,250 it costs to claim him off waivers, according to ESPN.)
He’ll be a RFA next summer, meaning you just picked up a young winger who you can retain — though don’t have to — if he fits and his scoring can be rekindled by a change of scenery. That kind of change could change Paajarvi’s fortunes too, as the chances of him cracking the St. Louis roster are slim. They have a lot of depth and a lot of high upside prospects who are likely to get the nod before him.
Looking for the Reason
There are other reasons to believe that Paajarvi may be able to thrive in a new situation. He’s not a defensive powerhouse, but he’s taken either zero-sum or negative relative zone starts every year of his career and has only had a negative relative Corsi for percentage (CF%Rel) once in his career.
While he only played 10 games last season, he posted a positive CF%Rel in both of his seasons with the Blues, who were a strong possession team already. His raw CF% was 54% and 54.4% in his two years with the Blues.
In addition, if you want to boil those numbers against his expected production, he’s posted a positive dCorsi in all but one year of his career. (dCorsi is basically putting his actual on-ice shot attempt differential against his expected on-ice shot attempt differential based on usage.)
Interestingly, over the last four seasons, his CA60 of 49.64 ranks 201st of 857 players who have played at least 500 even strength minutes. He’s not at the top of the league by any stretch, but with 148 games over that stretch, a reasonable cap hit and no need to send a player, pick or prospect in the other direction, that’s notable. Particularly with a slightly positive relative Corsi for and slightly negative relative zone starts. He’s not being done any favors and he has shown the ability to be effective through his underlying numbers. The lack of production, in part, may come back to an erratic shooting percentage that has been in the double digits twice and as low as 2.5% in other seasons. (That’s excluding the 0% he shot last season.)
Margin of Error
The possibility that he’s a player who had a couple explosive seasons very young and then disappears from the NHL ranks remains. It happens. (See: Conacher, Cory.) But there are indications that something else is going on.
He rekindled his touch in the lockout season, jumping up to a 1.58 P/60, even higher than his standout rookie year. That lockout season was part of the reason that St. Louis acquired him in the first place. He’s also continued to show his scoring ability in the AHL.
The cost is low and a team with the cap space and room for an additional contract — possibly Edmonton, Toronto, New Jersey, Carolina or Arizona — could do a lot worse, and pay a higher price, than acquiring Paajarvi off waivers.
All advanced stats via War on Ice. All possession metrics are score-adjusted.
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.