The St. Louis Blues are quietly climbing up the standings after three months of wildly disappointing hockey, but before the last few weeks, they were the most widely discussed team in the rumor mill. Reports surfaced that every player might be available and that the Blues would listen to any offer.
It’s hard to know what the Blues will or won’t do at the trade deadline, but don’t assume that a brief hot streak will change general manager Doug Armstrong’s plans. He took aim at his core group in the Nov. 20 press conference introducing his interim head coach, explaining that his patience with that core had worn down to nothing.
Now, with the deadline just under six weeks away, the Blues could go in a number of directions but some players are more likely to be traded than others. Let’s take a moment to discuss each player on the roster (and a few in the minor leagues) and decide how likely they are, on a scale of zero (untouchable) to 10 (guaranteed goner) to be on the move.
Jordan Binnington: 2
The 25-year-old goalie Jordan Binnington has taken St. Louis by storm, going 3-0-1 in his first four games and taking home the NHL’s second star of the week after his third win. He’s a breath of fresh air for a team that has struggled with goaltending throughout its history, but particularly since trading Brian Elliott at the 2016 NHL Draft.
But let’s not overestimate the value of a 25-year-old goalie who is only just making his first starts in the NHL. Binnington has put up decent numbers at points in his American Hockey League (AHL) career, but he only recently earned a reevaluation from the team.
He likely won’t be traded because he’s more valuable to the Blues than to anyone else. He’s not untouchable. A team could decide he’s the goalie who can really help them and offer to overpay for him at the deadline, but the chances of that happening are pretty slim.
Jake Allen: 2
The Blues are equally unlikely to trade their other goaltender, but for the opposite reason. Jake Allen’s inconsistencies are what brought them to start Binnington in the first place. He’s 15-14-4 on the season, with a 3.01 goals-against average and a .899 save percentage.
However, it’s Allen’s contract that will keep him from being traded. No one is going to trade for one of the statistically weaker goalies in the league, particularly with two seasons remaining on a deal worth $4.35 million.
There is a slim chance a team out of the running will believe they can rehabilitate Allen and take on his contract in exchange for an expiring one, even if the Blues have to include a draft pick in the deal. But that’s a pipe dream. It’s always possible, particularly if Allen goes on one of the hot streaks he’s become known for, but it’s just as unlikely as anyone paying up for Binnington.
Carl Gunnarsson: 4
Carl Gunnarsson is on an expiring contract, and veteran defensemen on expiring contracts are almost always tradable commodities. That said, the Swedish blueliner has struggled with injuries this season, so teams may want to look elsewhere for defensive support. He’s perfectly serviceable when healthy, but he isn’t a difference-maker, and while the Blues would part with him, there’s no certainty that anyone will be calling.
Vince Dunn: 1
Dunn has had a mess of a season, embroiled in the kind of sophomore slump the Blues seem to struggle with constantly. It was his disastrous turnover that eventually surrendered the game against the New York Islanders in overtime on Tuesday, and that’s one of several such mistakes on his 2018-19 resume. He has occasionally shown flashes of the player the Blues still hope he’ll become, but this could turn into a lost season if he doesn’t turn it around fast.
However, Dunn still has a high ceiling and is a young player at 22 years old. The Blues likely don’t consider him a real untouchable, but they also won’t want to trade him now with his value so reduced. They’ll hold onto him and hope to rehabilitate him during the remainder of the season.
Robert Bortuzzo: 1
Robert Bortuzzo isn’t analogous to Vince Dunn in many ways, but they’re equally unlikely to be traded. Bortuzzo is a good locker room presence and a flexible defenseman who is best served in a third-pairing role, but who can play up in the lineup if necessary? The Blues signed him to a three-year contract extension last month, so it’s apparent they aren’t looking to part with him anytime soon.
Jordan Schmaltz: 3
Jordan Schmaltz is looking more and more likely to be the Blues’ biggest, perhaps only first-round bust of the Armstrong era. He recently cleared waivers and returned to the AHL. If no team took a chance on him for free, it’s not likely any will trade to get him, but perhaps at the deadline, a team will find themselves desperate for depth and surrender a low draft pick to get him. If that opportunity arises, the Blues will pounce on it, hence the slightly higher grade.
Joel Edmundson: 4
Edmundson is an enigma. He’s arguably the Blues’ best left-handed defenseman, logging over 20 minutes a night on average for the first time in his career. On the other hand, he leads the league in minor penalties with 24. He’s a solid defenseman and brings great size at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds. At the same time, that’s no longer the mold of a top-pairing defenseman.
Edmundson is best suited for a second or third pairing role, as he isn’t a point producer and won’t be playing much on the power play. But he’s a restricted free agent this summer, and will likely be expecting top-pairing compensation. Will the Blues choose to give that to him or will they see what he can fetch in a trade?
His name has bounced around in the rumors, but what Blues’ name hasn’t? He’s not indispensable to St. Louis, but they’d need a good offer to let him go. He’s most likely staying.
Jay Bouwmeester: 7
If you’d asked Blues fans a month ago whether Jay Bouwmeester was a deadline trade candidate, you would have been laughed out of Missouri. But the veteran defender has completely turned his season around, and according to Elliotte Friedman in his 31 Thoughts blog, teams are now taking a second look at the former third-overall pick.
Whether he moves comes down to two factors: the Blues’ place in the standing at the deadline and his willingness. Armstrong likely won’t part with one of his top left-handed defensemen if he’s in the middle of a playoff race, but if the team is out of it, they’ll field offers.
Considering that Bouwmeester had never played in a playoff game before arriving in St. Louis, he’d likely be willing to waive his no-trade clause for the right team, if it gave him one more shot at a Stanley Cup. Bouwmeester is one of the more likely Blues to be on the move.
Colton Parayko/Alex Pietrangelo: 5
The Blues have two stellar right-handed defensemen in Colton Parayko and Alex Pietrangelo, each of whom has been involved in numerous rumors over the past several months. We’ve grouped them together because there is a good chance one will be traded, but no chance that both will move on.
The team needs to make a decision about whether Pietrangelo is the right leader for their locker room. If they want to commit to him as captain, then they’ll need to commit to a big contract extension, as he’ll be a free agent after the 2019-20 season.
If they lock their captain down, though, Parayko may meet the same fate as Kevin Shattenkirk did before him, being traded because they could not afford to keep two right-handed defensemen of that caliber on the roster.
If the Blues want to make a big splash in the trade market, one of these two defenders is the most likely candidate. It will hurt the team, but with Pietrangelo’s experience or Parayko’s contract, they’ll be able to get a haul from another team for either one.
Here’s the list of players who will not be traded: Ryan O’Reilly is in his first season with the team and has been their best player. Robert Thomas is a superb prospect who was growing exponentially before being injured. Jordan Kyrou is another prospect they’re very unlikely to move.
David Perron signed a very team-friendly contract to return to St. Louis for the third time and has been excellent this season, now on a 13-game point streak. Tyler Bozak is injured, and despite a bit of an upturn before a recent injury, had a tough time adjusting to his new team. His 3 year, $5 million contract won’t be appetizing to any teams looking for center depth.
None of Ivan Barbashev, Zach Sanford, and Oskar Sundqvist are truly untouchable, but all three, especially Sundqvist, have had resurgent seasons, and they’re unlikely to garner more value in a trade than the Blues perceive they have by holding onto them.
With that out of the way, let’s discuss some of the Blues’ forwards that might be on the move.
Robby Fabbri: 8
This is my belief more than anything that’s been rumored, but it seems possible that Robby Fabbri’s days in St. Louis are numbered.
The Blues and Fabbri have been through a lot, as he’s spent the past season and a half recovering from two consecutive ACL tears. While he’s looked okay this season, it’s natural that it’s taken him some time to return to speed in the NHL. He has just 5 points in 23 games.
More significantly, though, the Blues have had a number of young players come up that have lessened the need to hold on to the young winger who was once their top prospect.
Opposite to some of the players listed above, Fabbri likely has more value at this point to another team than he does to the Blues. While his value isn’t very high, I expect a team like the Edmonton Oilers, who are desperate for help on the wing, might like to take a look at him, especially if they can guarantee him minutes on their top two lines.
Brayden Schenn: 9
No one in St. Louis is eager to see Brayden Schenn traded, but it’s very likely that he’ll be the victim of a numbers game. The Blues have three centers locked up long term in Thomas, O’Reilly, and Bozak. Schenn has served them well as a center, and will likely want to stay when his contract is up after next season.
So the Blues have three options: they can extend Schenn, but that seems improbable unless they move other centers to clear space for him; they can hold on to Schenn and hope that they can make a deep playoff run with him on the roster, but that seems very unlikely this year and is a big risk.
Finally, the Blues can opt to trade Schenn. It won’t be popular, but it may make the most sense. If they go that route, they’ll want to learn from the mistakes they made with Shattenkirk and trade him soon. He’ll have substantial value with a year and a half left on his deal, and with the season heading in the direction it seems to be headed, now may be the time to capitalize on that value.
Alex Steen: 2
Alex Steen is the opposite case of Schenn: fans may want to move on from him, but it’s unlikely the team will. Management is probably willing, but it’s doubtful they’ll find a partner for Steen’s contract, which has two seasons after this one at a $5.75 million cap hit.
Even if they find a trade partner, Steen would have to approve the deal, and that’s a big question mark as well. He’s called St. Louis home longer than any other player on the roster and he may not be willing to relocate unless the fit is exactly right.
Considering the numerous barriers between the Blues and a Steen trade, it’s probable he’ll play out his contract here unless the team is desperate to move on from him.
Jaden Schwartz: 1
Jaden Schwartz has often been described as the engine that makes the Blues move, and considering how cold both he and the team have been this season, that may still be true. Schwartz has been an underrated player in the league for years but he’s struggled with injury, and this season particularly, he’s been unable to find the net.
It seems very unlikely the Blues will move one of their best players at his lowest value, especially if his decline is as directly related to the team’s decline as it seems to be. Getting Schwartz back on track is key to the team’s success, so it’s very doubtful they’ll send him packing.
Patrick Maroon: 10
Oh, what could have been. When the Blues signed Maroon for next to nothing last summer, it seemed like the return of the hometown kid was the cherry on top of the sundae that was the team’s offseason. But for whatever reason, it hasn’t worked at all. He has just 12 points in 38 games and is a minus-13 on the season.
Even with those numbers, someone will take a chance on adding Maroon near the deadline, as his size and net-front presence still offer value, especially for the price of the low draft pick it will probably cost to acquire him. If anyone wants him, the Blues will let him go, and end this fairy tale gone wrong.
Vladimir Tarasenko: 1
Let’s close with the big fish. Three months ago, Vladimir Tarasenko was such a fixture in the Blues’ long term plans that his score would have been less than zero. But he’s moved from being a fixture in their plans to being a fixture in the rumor mill, as the Blues are said to be dissatisfied with him.
Still, a trade remains very unlikely. Another team would have to offer a monster haul to tempt the Blues to even consider letting go of one of the best shooters in the league, and he’s beginning to rebound, with six points in his last seven games.
A Tarasenko trade is more likely now than it’s ever been, and if it’s going to happen, it will be before his no-trade clause kicks in over the summer. But even with those considerations, a scenario where the Blues part ways with their Russian superstar still seems like an unlikely alternate reality.
A Month to Decide
The Blues effectively have one month to decide on these players’ fates. By then they’ll know for certain whether their brief resurgence means they are once again contenders, or if they’re still on the outside looking in.
In either case, the Blues project to be one of the more interesting teams to watch at the trade deadline. Their surplus of offensive talent compared with their anemic performance this season means they’re bound to make some changes. All that remains is finding out what those changes look like.
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.