The St. Louis Blues entered the NHL trade deadline expected to stand firm and move forward with the team it had, and, for the most part, that’s what they did. General manager Doug Armstrong did make one minor move, acquiring defenseman Michael Del Zotto from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for a 2019 sixth-round pick.
The Del Zotto move is very minor, but it still has a few interesting applications for the Blues moving forward.
Del Zotto and Pietrangelo
Del Zotto may be new to St. Louis, but he isn’t new to the team’s captain. The two played together as peewees with the junior Blues, along with fellow NHL players Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, and goaltender Michael Hutchinson. They were both also first-round picks in the 2008 NHL Draft (Pietrangelo at No. 4, Del Zotto at No. 20).
Since that day, the two players’ careers have taken very different paths. Del Zotto got off to a strong start with the New York Rangers, but has not found a consistent home since then. He’s played for five other teams: the Nashville Predators, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Vancouver Canucks, the Ducks, and now St. Louis.
Pietrangelo, by contrast, became a top-pairing defensemen who finds himself consistently among league leaders in time on ice. He’s been the Blues’ captain since David Backes left after the 2015-16 season, and he’s still leading the team which his former peewee teammate now joins. That should make the transition to the new squad fairly easy on the veteran.
Serious Injury for Gunnarsson?
The Blues’ decision to acquire a depth defenseman to play on the left side indicates that Carl Gunnarsson is probably far from a return. That’s a shame, as the Swedish veteran has played very well in limited periods of good health this season. He has a Corsi-For percentage (CF%) of 54.1, and even has seven points in 18 games, well above his .224 point per game career rate.
Unfortunately, Gunnarsson has struggled to stay healthy this season in particular, something that has plagued him throughout his time with St. Louis. He’s played just 137 of 226 possible games the last three seasons, and his campaign ended early last season with a serious knee injury.
If he had remained healthy, he might have been the subject of extension talks this summer. He’s provided great value at a reasonable price to the Blues, when he can play at all. But Gunnarsson is back on the shelf, and might be staying there, judging by the Blues’ addition of Del Zotto. The latter’s role will be similar to the former, providing a veteran presence on the left side.
As the final 20 games of the season play out, it will be interesting to see how minutes on the left side unfold. The Blues have added Del Zotto to a group that includes Vince Dunn, Joel Edmundson, and Jay Bouwmeester. Will they split time? Or will Del Zotto remain more of an emergency depth piece?
Central Division Arms Race
The Blues’ one move is just a trickle into a full bucket of moves that were made by teams in the Central Division. The Predators added Wayne Simmonds and Mikael Granlund. The Winnipeg Jets brought in Kevin Hayes and a series of depth pieces. The Minnesota Wild began to rebuild, and even the Colorado Avalanche (Derrick Brassard) and the Dallas Stars (Mats Zuccarello) added pieces to help them contend for the playoffs.
The Del Zotto move does not compete with any of these in terms of an impact addition, but perhaps it reveals what the Blues think of their team. Armstrong seems content with what he has in-house and is satisfied with the recent wave of momentum his group has built. Either that momentum will carry them to a deep playoff run, or they will come back down to earth, but the front office didn’t seem to believe that the Blues had clear needs that they could address to make the team a stronger contender.
Blues Health is Key
The Blues do hope to have a few additions coming after the deadline: the healthy return of David Perron and Brayden Schenn. If both of those players come back soon, as the saying goes, it will feel like a deadline acquisition, especially with Perron, who last played on Jan. 17 and was red hot before his injury.
With a fully healthy lineup (minus Gunnarsson) the Blues will be ready for a playoff run, something no one thought possible on Jan. 1. Fans may have wanted more excitement before the deadline, but standing pat always made sense for St. Louis. They’re primed to be big movers and shakers over the summer, but they’re hoping to play a lot of hockey before then.
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.