With less than two weeks to go before the Feb. 25 NHL trade deadline, the St. Louis Blues find themselves as unexpected playoff contenders, winners of their last seven games. That creates many new questions for a franchise that looked to be certain sellers less than a month ago.
Let’s take a look at several of the biggest questions facing the Blues ahead of the 2019 deadline.
1) Is Kyrou Available?
If the Blues are looking to be buyers at the deadline, they must prepare to deal futures for assets. Without a first-round pick this summer due to the Ryan O’Reilly trade, the most valuable future in their arsenal is 20-year-old top prospect Jordan Kyrou.
Kyrou is one of the top prospects in the NHL, with his combination of elite speed and hockey-IQ. He currently has 33 points in 32 games with the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League and was chosen as an AHL All-Star earlier this season.
Though he has yet to find his stride in the NHL, Kyrou’s ceiling is sky-high, and he will undoubtedly appeal to anyone looking to sell rentals and rebuild at the deadline. The question is, are the Blues willing to part with him? The forward is the kind of “can’t-miss” prospect that could potentially convince teams to let go of highly valued rental pieces, but is that the right decision for the Blues at this juncture?
No one can answer that question, except for general manager Doug Armstrong. His history indicates an unwillingness to part with top prospects for rentals, and this would be a bizarre time to start. St. Louis is fortunate to have rallied and put themselves in a playoff spot, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense for them to sell out for rentals this season. They would need to survive a top-heavy Western Conference to make that investment worth it, and even as hot as they’ve been, the chances of that seem slim.
2) Is Binnington Playoff Ready?
This question goes hand-in-hand with number one, as an answer of “no” may force Armstrong’s hand in pursuing trades. Jordan Binnington is the hottest young goalie in the NHL, with all due respect to Carter Hart. Since his debut on Jan. 7, a shutout against Hart’s Philadelphia Flyers, Binnington has gone 10-1-1, with a save percentage of .927 and a 1.82 goals against average.
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) February 11, 2019
There aren’t a lot of questions left which Binnington hasn’t answered, but one big one remains: can he stand up to the pressure of the playoffs? He has totally supplanted former starter Jake Allen in the net, but the playoffs are a different animal. Are the Blues willing to trust an unproven starter in the playoffs? Or will they return to Allen? Or, will they choose option C – a trade?
St. Louis was linked to Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings earlier in the season, though those rumors have died down. Armstrong would likely also be interested in Columbus Blue Jackets’ goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky if he were made available. But there might be a wrench in the works.
Any trade for a goaltender would likely have to involve Allen, whose contract will make that difficult. Binnington has earned a permanent spot in the NHL, and the Blues might have to shed salary in a deal for a goalie. But few will be willing to take on Allen’s contract, at least not without significant compensation for the favor they’d be doing for the Blues.
All of this means that St. Louis will most likely ride the hot hand and stick with Binnington, even if it means entering the playoffs with that question still on their minds. But Armstrong has made more surprising moves in the past, so never count anything out.
3) Can Perron Get Healthy?
David Perron was one of the hottest scorers in the NHL before he went down with a mysterious upper-body injury. With his history of concussions, it’s a worrying concern for the Blues, as they will need his supplemental scoring to help them succeed in a playoff push.
Perron was on track for 30-plus goals and 60-plus points in a full season before he hit the shelf. Even adjusting expectations to counteract the hot streak he was on, that’s the kind of scoring that would be difficult to replace from within the organization.
Interim head coach Craig Berube has suggested that Perron is close to a return, but he keeps failing to join the team at each successive checkpoint. If the Blues can’t get Perron healthy in time for the playoff push, it may incentivize them to look at options on the trade market. Then again, on a seven-game win streak, they seem to be doing just fine without him.
4) Can O’Reilly Keep Up the Pace?
The final question has less to do with trades and more to do with planning the season. Since arriving this summer, O’Reilly has been an absolute revelation for the Blues. He’s currently averaging just over a point per game, and is a remarkable plus-23 on the season. He’s also been as dominant as ever on the face-off dot, with a win percentage of 57.7%.
Perhaps most impressively, O’Reilly has averaged almost 21 minutes a night on the ice, which puts him in the top-20 forwards in the league in that category. He is a workhorse upon whom the Blues rely heavily, but they must be careful not to overwork him.
O’Reilly has not seen a lot of playoff time in his career, and the club might be wise to manage his minutes in the buildup to the postseason. If doing so requires them to buy a depth forward who can win face-offs at the deadline, or some other player that can help relieve the burden on O’Reilly, they may want to consider it.
The Blues May Stand Pat
With all of these questions up in the air, one thing remains certain – the Blues are in a spot now that seemed impossible a month ago. That could convince them to go all-in and try and buy at the deadline, but that might be a mistake. The locker room chemistry seems perfect as is, and the futures that the Blues have are too valuable to surrender for rentals.
The best plan of action for St. Louis this deadline is to stand pat. Their future is bright, with a number of young players who can either supplement the current roster or be packaged to acquire pieces to fill needs they identify in the future. To sacrifice that future to try and extend a wave of momentum that has brought them unexpectedly back into the playoff picture would be a mistake.
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.