The St. Louis Blues have been the water that churns the rumor mill of late, with rumors swirling that no one is off limits in trade discussions. With players like Vladimir Tarasenko and Alex Pietrangelo potentially on the trade block, general manager Doug Armstrong is serious about making major changes to his team.
And yet, the idea that everyone is available is probably misleading. There are certain players whom the Blues will not trade because of low interest/value. But there are a few others that they won’t part with because that player has more value to the Blues than to any other team. Let’s take a look at a few players who fit in that category:
Jaden Schwartz has been described as the straw that stirs the Blues’ drink. Recently, Elliotte Friedman listed Schwartz as one of the few players the Blues would not part with. He said:
I know that’s a player that they really like there and they’ve always thought he was an important key to how they win. I don’t see him going anywhere. I’d be surprised.
Schwartz’s primary struggle has been injury, but even this year, the team has been better with him than without. He’s not scoring much, with just three goals in 20 games, but he has 14 points and is one of the few players on the team with a positive plus-minus.
Schwartz has shined most since the Blues acquired Brayden Schenn in a trade at last year’s draft, and with Schenn being one of the most likely players for the team to trade, given his contract, the team is in an interesting situation. Ideally, they would like to re-form their core around Schenn and Schwartz, but they’ll need to convince Schenn to stay on a team that’s been a mess much of the time since he’s arrived.
In either case, as Friedman said, Schwartz is a player the Blues would like to hang on to. He’s got two more seasons on his deal at $5.35 million, which is very team friendly, and it’s unlikely that anyone will offer enough value for him for the Blues to let him go.
The key offseason acquisition by the Blues heading into the season, Ryan O’Reilly has lived up to the hype and then some in his first season in St. Louis. He is just short of a point per game, and he’s a plus-3, tied for first on the team. He’s the hardest worker of the Blues’ forward group and has been the fan’s choice to replace Pietrangelo as captain if the latter is traded.
Leaving that argument aside for the moment, O’Reilly is the top six center the Blues have coveted for years. There is no chance they will move him anytime soon. He is one of the few players that they are certain to look to build around in the years ahead, and with four years left on his deal at $7.5 million, they are well positioned to do so.
The team’s top prospect, Robert Thomas, has been getting better and better as the season has progressed. He’s shown more confidence with the puck of late, delivering devastating dekes like the one that led to the controversial goal against the Edmonton Oilers:
Thomas is a potential number one center, and the Blues will not part with him in any deal that is likely to happen in today’s NHL. He’s still on his entry-level contract and has years of team control ahead of him, so he won’t be going anywhere.
Joel Edmundson is a valuable defender for the Blues, one of their stalwarts, even in this season when the team’s defensive unit has been in shambles. Edmundson’s size (6-f00t-4, 215 pounds) makes him one of the team’s more physical defenders, and he generally plays on the top pair.
Edmundson signed a one-year, $3 million contract this past summer, but will be locked up longer when the Blues gain more cap flexibility in the upcoming offseason. He has significant value to the Blues, and since defensive defensemen usually don’t collect much in a trade, he likely has more value to them than he does anyone else.
Let’s be reasonable: Oskar Sundqvist is not really untouchable. With that said, he’s probably got more value to the Blues than anyone will offer them in a trade. He’s a defensively responsible forward who has earned consistent playing time this year and has quietly become a fan favorite since recovering from Tom Wilson’s brutal hit in the pre-season.
Sundqvist has also surprisingly found a scoring stroke, recording his sixth goal against the Calgary Flames on Saturday. He’s nearly doubled his career high for points in a season, and before 2018-19, he’d only ever scored one goal in a single campaign.
The Blues would rather Sundqvist be farther down the list of even strength scorers and scorers overall than he is, but he’s been an unexpected bright spot for a team in turmoil. Like Edmundson, it isn’t that he’s untouchable, but no one is likely to offer Armstrong enough for him to let go of this handy utility player.
No One’s “Untouchable”
At the end of the day, no one on the Blues is truly untouchable. There is too much chaos surrounding the team for them to close any doors. But the players listed above are players that the team is likely to hold on to because they value the player more highly than the market will.
There are other players the Blues would like to trade that the market might not want. Alex Steen, who is on a hefty contract with a full no-trade clause, and Jake Allen, who has struggled with inconsistency his whole career and has several years left on his deal, will not be hot commodities, although the Blues are probably more than willing to part with them.
The challenge ahead for Armstrong is more than just getting good value for the players that he does trade. It is to make sure that the players he keeps and the personnel he acquires fit together better as a puzzle than the roster as currently assembled. The Blues’ locker room is in shambles, and the internal leadership clearly isn’t doing its job. Armstrong needs to fix that, and, despite a relatively new extension, he doesn’t have endless time to do it.
The Blues will be one of the more interesting teams to watch as the February trade deadline approaches, and likely will be busy this offseason as well. They have a lot to get done and the road forward isn’t clear, but for fans of big moves, the journey ahead should be very fun.
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.