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A blockbuster for the appearance of improvement (What We Learned)

Ryan Lambert
Puck Daddy

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“It may only be a 5 or 6 percent upgrade, but it is an upgrade," said Blues general manger Doug Armstrong about the massive trade Friday that brought Ryan Miller (and to a far lesser extent, Steve Ott) to St. Louis. "That's how I feel you get better, in small increments.”

That seemed like a very curious quote, for a few reasons.

The first and most obvious of these is that an upgrade of 5 or 6 percent over the Blues' current performance would be massive. Prior to having made the swap, the Blues had 84 points from 59 games, or a pace for a little less than 117 points. Adding even 5 percent to that bumps them up to nearly 123, the equivalent of three wins. To make up those three wins, Ryan Miller will have to stop nine more shots over the remaining 23 games than Jaroslav Halak, for whom he was traded, would have.

St. Louis allowed just 26.6 shots per game heading into Sunday night's contest versus Phoenix, Miller's first with his new team. Based on that number, we can extrapolate that into, say 18 of the 23 remaining games. That's about 479 shots over those 18 starts, give or take; Halak's save percentage to this point indicates that he'd stop roughly 439 of those, and allowing 40 goals over 18 games isn't really that bad. Thus, Miller would need to stop 448 to meet Armstrong's apparently-meager 5-to-6 percent improvement. Unfortunately, if you stop 448 shots out of 479, your save percentage is .935, a whopping 12 points higher than the current number Miller has posted in 40 games behind the Sabres.

Is it reasonable to expect that he'll see an inflation of his save percentage? Sure it is. The Sabres are terrible and bleed high-quality chances, and the Blues are one of the most stalwart defensive teams in the NHL. Miller's save percentage rising to even .926 would likely be a boon and maybe win the Blues an extra game. Getting an extra win out of this trade would be huge.

But would it be worth the freight given up? And would that make it worth having done it at all? Let's not forget, the details of this trade are a little convoluted; the Blues get Miller and Ott, who presumably adds “grit” (and has a potentially negative impact on possession due to his not being very good), and the Sabres get Halak, Chris Stewart and his contract (at least for now), a well-regarded prospect, a first-round pick, and a conditional pick that might likewise end up being a first-rounder.

Another reason this was a curious trade is that it failed to address the Blues' real issue, which is to say that they're probably not doing enough offensively to convince anyone who's paying real attention that they're true contenders in the Western Conference, let alone for the Stanley Cup. Tyler Dellow had a post over the weekend about the quality of the various teams considered to be elite, and which are actual contenders based on the depth they bring to the table. In short, the Blues are scoring more goals at even strength than they actually deserve basically across the board, with their bottom six forwards enjoying a 56.9 percent goal share despite corsi of just 51.4 percent; that is to say, it's probably not sustainable.

Now, with that having been said, Armstrong getting into an bidding war for even a very-good bottom-six forward doesn't grab the headlines that this trade got on Friday night (it also probably doesn't cost him anywhere near five assets), and that would be an actual and incremental means of improving the team. That's where the Blues need help most. When it comes to corsi, they entered Sunday just eighth in the league at evens (52.2 percent), which is obviously pretty good but also not actually elite. Put another way, both the Stars (52.6 percent) and Canucks (52.1 percent) are remarkably close to their numbers, and they're still outstripped by Western giant Los Angeles (first in the NHL, 56.7 percent), Chicago (second, 55.6 percent), and San Jose (fourth, 54.2 percent). Their numbers are also trending down, symbolized by the fact that they'd lost a pair of 1-0 games at the time of the trade; how does Miller help there, allowing negative-1 goals? Guys who play a two-way game aren't exactly hard to come by and if you can get an improvement over, I don't know, Max Lapierre or Brenden Morrow, for a fifth-round pick that's something you have to lock in. A few teams are likely to be lousy with this kind of player on the chopping block over the next few days.

In the end, this feels like one of those trades you hear about sometimes where a general manager brings in a marquee guy, even if he's not necessarily needed, to reassure the troops that he has their back and he believes in them. Teams that make these trades tend not to be very good in the grand scheme of things; do you think the Blackhawks, for example, need reassurances that their management thinks they can win the Cup? They do not. They just brutalize every team they play. In what way does Miller push the issue in St. Louis's favor over the remaining quarter of the schedule?

There are now two teams really praying the Blues make the Western Conference Final: the Blues (obviously) and the Sabres (because of that conditional pick). However, this is a move that still requires some better teams being knocked off in the first two rounds for St. Louis to even get there, let alone be competitive in it. Forgive the pun, but hitching your wagon to a guy whose career save percentage is a point lower than the guy you traded probably doesn't get you over the hump, in general.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Remember when Kyle Palmieri was playing well? He's been healthy-scratched in three of the Ducks' last nine games.

Boston Bruins: Boston is on a two-game losing streak and people are upset. “We have to work and compete a little harder,” said Claude Julien. Giving up two power play goals to Alex Ovechkin likely doesn't help much either.

Buffalo Sabres: What a disaster.

Calgary Flames: More dreamy coverage of Flames prospect Johnny Gaudreau, who has points in 29 straight games and 30-34-64 in 34 games for Boston College is as good an indicator of any that everyone in Calgary has checked out on the season. With good reason. Even if they did beat the Oilers.

Carolina Hurricanes: Yeah, trade Cam Ward. Sure. Only three years too late, and his save percentage in .893 this season. Line will be around the block, for sure.

Chicago Blackhawks: Marian Hossa is out an indeterminate but short amount of time (a few games?) after getting hit in the Soldier Field game. It's so easy to forget he has 50 points this season. Just such a wonderful player.

Colorado Avalanche: Seems to me like this Landeskog kid is pretty good. This goal right here was his third point of the period on Friday.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The Jackets scored three goals on the power play and one shorthanded against Florida on Saturday. I would never have guessed that bumped them to 13th in the league in that regard (19.42 percent), but here we are.

Dallas Stars: How do the Stars' do when posting 40 or more shots on goal? They've done it nine times this season and lost eight of them. Hockey's fun.

Detroit Red Wings: Should the Red Wings target either a forward or defenseman at the deadline? Yes.

Edmonton Oilers: Losing to the Calgary Flames is as good a reason for an existential crisis as any.

Florida Panthers: Nice mask, Tim.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings appear to be in the market for Mike Cammalleri, which isn't a bad market to be in given their meager few issues this season.

Minnesota Wild: The Wild say they're going to be completely healthy very soon, and for the first time since almost the start of the season. They could be dangerous in the first game of the playoffs.

Montreal Canadiens: Oh, y'know, Peter Budaj's out there getting dirt on his uniform and hustling like no one's business, let me tell you. “I just need to try to help the team win a game,” he said, again. “You don’t want to play for the number on the back (of your jersey), you want to play for the logo on the front.” Boy howdy aw shucks.

Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: Barry Trotz on what the Preds can expect down the stretch: “That’s what I said to you guys right before we started this last 23 games ... there’s going to be games where you get your heart ripped out of your chest.” Woof.

New Jersey Devils: Martin Brodeur says he would waive his no-trade clause depending on the destination. You save percentage is .900. How about the retirement home, Marty?

New York Islanders: Yesterday, Frans Nielsen played in his first game since breaking his hand on Feb. 8, and if you want to keep your sanity, I urge you not to look at the center depth they brought into said game.

New York Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist probably wants this one back.

Ottawa Senators: The Sens aren't looking to rent anyone at the deadline. They'd much rather get Chris Stewart and his awful contract.

Philadelphia Flyers: The lesson here is, if you're down two goals headed into the third period, thank your lucky stars you're playing the Capitals.

Phoenix Coyotes: Here's Dave Tippett on the Coyotes' recent play: “You look at the last 10 games we’re 4-4-2. Middle of the pack in all kinds of stats. Middle. We’ve been a team that’s been able to overachieve from that middle, and right now we haven’t been able to get on top of that.” The Coyotes have to be the mediocrest team in the league, right? I don't know how you expect anything more out of them than you've already gotten.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Dan Bylsma and Ryan Kesler together again? What could possibly go wrong?

San Jose Sharks: Oh, don't worry, the Sharks aren't going to trade Tomas Hertl. I was very worried that they might not.

St. Louis Blues: For what?

Tampa Bay Lightning: The idea of anyone besides Jon Cooper winning the Jack Adams flew out the window so, so long ago for anyone paying attention. He's a shoo-in.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Yup, the lack of forward depth for Toronto “could be” a problem. Just like having Randy Carlyle as your coach “could be” a problem.

Vancouver Canucks: My favorite outdoor games are the ones that get played inside. Rain in Vancouver? You don't say.

Washington Capitals: Pretty sure you can't do this, Dmitry.

Winnipeg Jets: Jets outshot 40-20, “keep winning with Maurice in charge.” No signs of trouble at all. Nope.

Play of the Weekend

Looks like this Toews kid is alright. Nice defense by Brooks Orpik there.

Gold Star Award

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AP

I'm so glad Ryan Miller got out of Buffalo. I feel bad that he had to bring Steve Ott with him.

Minus of the Weekend

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And Pat LaFontaine was just two days from getting his pension!!!!!

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “GreatSaveJesus” gets the thumbs up from me.

To Tampa:
Dustin Byfuglien
2014 first-round pick
Paul Postma or Zach Redmond

To Winnipeg:
Jonathan Drouin
2014 third-round pick

Signoff

Oooo, mini-crossaints. No matter what I say, stop me when I've had 16.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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