After starting the season winning their first three games, the St. Louis Blues have lost eight straight. They’re now in one of their worst stretches in franchise history as the team sits tied for dead last in the NHL. Nobody in St. Louis saw this coming after a summer of locking down a couple of their core pieces to mega contract extensions. Now general manager (GM) Doug Armstrong is contemplating his next move as the Blues will be looking to retool on the fly.
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Enter the Toronto Maple Leafs. A team who also went through a brief rough patch early on this season but has since turned it around and recently took five of six points against three elite teams. Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas won’t be shy this season and is expected to make multiple trades to upgrade his hockey club and get them situated for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Here are three Blues players who could be on the Maple Leafs’ radar:
Blues winger Ivan Barbashev is off to a slow start this season, however the same can be said for just about everyone on the Blues roster. He’s a pending free agent who makes $2.25 million against the cap, a number that’s going to appeal to Dubas and the Maple Leafs.
Barbashev, 26, is a speedy winger who loves to play a physical style and use his body to impact the game. He’s someone who can help the Maple Leafs’ second power-play unit, as he’s shown in the past he can provide some secondary scoring. Last season he recorded a career-high 26 goals and 60 points in 81 games.
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So far this season, the Blues winger has only lit the lamp once and chipped in with three assists in 11 games. Being a pending unrestricted free agent, and with the Blues’ struggles this season, the team could be looking to flip Barbashev for an asset or two before the trade deadline.
The only knock here on Barbashev, to me, would be the fact he has appeared in 44 Stanley Cup Playoff games over the course of the past four seasons and has only scored three times. Was his career season a one-off? Regardless, the asking price is likely going to be feasible for Dubas and the Maple Leafs, so Toronto should have him on their radar.
Currently the Maple Leafs are using Alexander Kerfoot and his one goal with Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews. Management needs to consider making an upgrade as Kerfoot is out of place on the team’s top line. Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko would be a much better-suited winger for the Maple Leafs’ star duo.
The 30-year-old winger is a pending free agent making $7.5 million against the salary cap. He also holds a no-trade clause and would need to approve any deal. Considering he’s in a contract year and would get a chance to play with Marner and Matthews, this is a trade Tarasenko would likely approve.
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The Maple Leafs don’t have a ton of cap space to work with, so the Blues would have to retain some salary, which is a scenario we’ve seen over and over again throughout the league. Toronto’s GM has a closet full of prospects who could entice other teams, but he’ll need to move a roster player or two to make the money work. Perhaps one of Pierre Engvall or Kerfoot would be in play?
Tarasenko’s been one of the bright spots for the Blues so far in 2022-23, recording nine points in 11 games. He’s a proven sniper coming off a 34-goal season and his 90 Stanley Cup Playoff games is winning experience the Maple Leafs dressing room could use more of. He would check a lot of boxes for Toronto and is a player Dubas and company should keep a close eye on.
‘The Factor’ Ryan O’Reilly is a player the Blues may approach about a trade this season. The Blues’ captain is a pending free agent making $7.5 million against the cap and if the team is clearly out of the playoff picture, the trade chatter is going to pick up in a major way.
O’Reilly doesn’t hold any trade protection, however, given what he’s done for the Blues’ franchise, management is likely going to consult him about some desired destinations. Having spent a little bit of time with him this past summer, I feel like Toronto would crack the list of approval.
O’Reilly would slide into the Maple Leafs’ number three center hole and give them one of the best shut-down centers in the game for their playoff push. Having Matthews, John Tavares and O’Reilly down the middle would be quite the set up. He’d help the second power-play unit and also the Maple Leafs’ penalty kill. ‘The Factor’ is a former Conn Smythe winner and it would need to be a significant package to get the Blues to agree to a trade. Toronto also has several prospects who could sweeten the pot enough for the Blues to retain 50 percent of their captain’s salary.
It’s not often a player of this stature is on the trade market, but with the Blues struggling this season, here we are. Dubas has swung and missed before as we’ve seen with the Nick Foligno trade deadline deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets, however, he shouldn’t get gun-shy here. O’Reilly would provide the Maple Leafs with another weapon on both sides of the puck and his personality in the dressing room would have a tremendous impact on the team.
Toronto and St. Louis are emerging as potential trade partners this season as the Blues’ struggles could propel them into making some big moves before the trade deadline. The Maple Leafs have tried to make several trades so far this season and to this point have had no luck. For me, the Leafs should be keeping an eye on O’Reilly. The shut-down center can impact the game in so many ways and this type of addition would go a long way for the Maple Leafs’ Stanley Cup aspirations this season.