Though the dust has hardly settled on the St. Louis Blues’ Stanley Cup championship, the NHL offseason is in full swing, with the NHL Entry Draft taking place on Friday and Saturday. The champions do not have a lot of picks on Day 2, but they could make waves if they decide to make unexpected trades.
One potential trade candidate is center and top-six forward Brayden Schenn. An unrestricted free agent (UFA) after the 2019-20 season, would it make sense for the Blues to move Schenn now and grab assets for the future, or is it better that they keep him and potentially risk losing?
Schenn has only been a member of the Blues roster for two seasons, but he’s made himself a force in that short time. He arrived at the 2017 Draft, when St. Louis sent two first round picks and Jori Lehtera to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for his services.
Schenn made an immediate impact, leading the Blues in 2017-18 with 70 points, a career high. He played all 82 games, was a plus-10, scored 28 goals, and, most importantly, established himself as a top-six center, something the Blues had been missing.
The Blues missed the playoffs despite Schenn’s contributions, and three key offseason moves affected Schenn’s role on the team. First, they signed Tyler Bozak, another center, as a free agent. Second, they traded for Ryan O’Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres. Third, they allowed their top prospect, Robert Thomas, to advance to the NHL level.
With three new potential centers in the organization, Schenn’s playing time diminished by over a minute per game, and he regressed to a respectable 54 points in 72 appearances. In the Blues’ playoff run, he was not a force on the stat sheet, with just 12 points in 26 games, but he played an important role in the physical game with 83 hits. He helped St. Louis win the first Stanley Cup in their history, but does he have a role with the team going forward?
Schenn vs. Kevin Hayes
With three other centers signed on after this season, and Schenn having expressed his unwillingness to move back to the wing in the past, there isn’t an obvious role for him unless the price is right. But a contract signed this week suggests that keeping Schenn will not be cheap.
The Flyers traded for the UFA rights of Kevin Hayes this summer, before signing him to a seven-year contract with an average annual value of $7.14 million. That contract will become a functional floor for Schenn in negotiations.
This past season, Hayes and Schenn were virtually identical. Schenn had 54 points in 72 games, was a plus-3, and had 5.2 point shares, a statistic aimed at calculating your value to your team. Hayes had 55 points in 71 games, was minus-2, and had 5.3 point shares. On the whole, they have been similar players historically, as well. Schenn will be a year older when he signs his next deal (barring an extension this summer).
But Schenn has two advantages that should boost his value. He had one 70-point season, so the top-end of his skill range is higher than anything Hayes has shown. More importantly, he has a Stanley Cup victory, and NHL general managers will typically pay up for playoff experience. So Schenn’s contract should be in the range of Hayes’ and could surpass it.
Blues Center Overload
Are the Blues willing to pay that much to keep Schenn? Looking at their roster, it seems unlikely. O’Reilly established himself as the undisputed number one center this season by scoring 77 points, winning the Selke Trophy and the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP.
Tyler Bozak proved to be a perfectly serviceable third line center, with 38 points in 72 games and a 54.3 percent face-off rate. Robert Thomas established himself throughout the season as a budding star, driving the play from the wing on Bozak’s line throughout the playoffs, until a hand injury slowed him down in the later rounds.
For the Blues, it doesn’t make sense to commit seven or eight years and $7 – $8 million dollars per season on a player like Schenn who, despite his many strengths, will block Thomas’ progression to become a top-six center. It’s unlikely that Schenn will sign his next contract in St. Louis, but does it make sense to trade him now?
St. Louis’ Options
It’s difficult to say whether trading Schenn would be worth it, since we do not know what has been offered for him. Judging by the prices being paid for comparable players, it’s safe to assume that there would be plenty of demand if the Blues made him available.
The other option, of course, is for the Blues to hold on to Schenn and use him for another run at the Cup. That is a plausible path, and perhaps the more likely one if the Blues aren’t bowled over with an offer.
If the team struggles in the regular season, general manager Doug Armstrong has shown in the past that he’s willing to bite the bullet and sell at the trade deadline, which they could do again with Schenn.
With the first round of the draft in the books, where high profile trades often go down, it seems more and more likely that the Blues will hang on to Schenn. But Armstrong can be unpredictable. If the right trade comes along, sentiment will not rule the day. He will make the move he feels is best to help the Blues return to Cup competition again.
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.