[HUGE IF TRUE breaks down the plausibility of the week's biggest rumor.]
The St. Louis Blues have compiled a pretty impressive list of injuries in the last month and a half or so, and while they've carried with them varying recovery periods, the impact on the team has been significant simply because of who's been injured.
Since Jan. 9, Jay Bouwmeester, Paul Stastny, Roberto Bortuzzo, Colton Parayko, Alex Pietrangelo, and more recently Alex Steen and Brian Elliott have all missed at least some time. Pietrangelo is reportedly nearing a return after almost a month on the shelf, but Steen and Elliott are both out a month, and that has greatly reshaped the way in which GM Doug Armstrong must approach the trade deadline.
The Blues currently sit third in the Central Division, which is no small feat, and the hold isn't all that tenuous. They entered Wednesday night up 10 points on fourth-place Nashville, so there's not really much of a concern when it comes to falling backward. However, they were also just three points out of the first-place spot, and two back of second, so it is quite clear what the real prize is here.
Therefore, with a goalie and a top two-way forward on the shelf until almost the end of March, that means Doug Armstrong needs to upgrade just to keep pace with the teams currently in front of him.
Who's Going Where?
The question is: How does he do that?
In an illuminating piece on St. Louis's plans, Craig Custance notes repeatedly that everything they do is dictated by the fact that they have almost no cap space. In a way the injuries they've suffered have helped keep them cap-compliant for months. But that doesn't help when (if?) everyone is healthy again in mid- or late March.
Custance notes the rumors circulating that St. Louis might be interested in dirt-cheap and very-available Jonathan Drouin, and another GM connected them in a roundabout way to very-expensive and possibly-available Eric Staal. The former makes more sense for a cap-strapped team for obvious reasons, but Custance also notes that Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman might want someone to take back a bad contract in addition to their actual prize, which complicates things and would probably be a non-starter.
In an earlier report, Custance also mentioned a potential interest in Loui Eriksson, but who even knows how all that goes with his contract talks in Boston first?
Meanwhile, in an AMA on Reddit this week, Elliotte Friedman dropped a neutron bomb in response to a question about whom the Blues might target. After a brief explanation of the cap implications (he also noted all St. Louis trades must be “dollar-for-dollar”), there was just one actual sentence about that:
“I'd be very curious to see Kadri in a STL uniform.”
This is some “all hands on deck” stuff right here. Any time the Leafs are mentioned in a trade rumor — especially these days — that's going to set off a lot of klaxons around the league. And if Toronto is looking to trade Nazem Kadri, a very good top-six center option for just about any team in the NHL, then they really are in sell-everything mode. This is just me speculating, but does that also mean Armstrong might take a run at James Reimer, or perhaps a package deal for the two of them?
(Further speculation: Now that the Oilers have made it clear they're willing to trade just about anyone as well, does that make sense for St. Louis? I would say probably not, but one never knows.)
Kadri presents an interesting case, of course. He represents something like affordability — $4.1 million is almost exactly the middle ground between Drouin and Staal — and it's not like the Leafs care about taking back money these days. If they can pry a young defenseman from the Blues (Custance says someone from the blue line might be available) or a few more picks (St. Louis has picks in every round but the sixth), could something be worked out?
Kadri, whose deal is also expiring into restricted free agency, might further be useful because David Backes hits the UFA market this summer as well. People may not rate him too highly, but all the numbers suggest Kadri would be a very good player on almost any team.
As for the goalie, Friedman really only noted in the AMA that St. Louis is shopping and what they do might impact the whole goalie market. Teams like Calgary may be looking to sell, but who's buying what they're peddling?
But again, the deal has to be dollar-for-dollar, and that really handcuffs Armstrong. You look at the roster and don't see too many movable contracts weighing them down that the team would also be comfortable offloading without doing some amount of damage somewhere else in the lineup. While it's mostly a good thing that a team allocates its money reasonably well, in this specific case it becomes pretty difficult to find the specific confluence of need and actual flexibility that helps them going forward.
What all this means is that for the next four days, you're probably going to see St. Louis connected with any team looking to sell a goalie or center. And for good enough reason that you might not be able to discount them at first blush.
But as with any rumor, you'd really need to drill down on it and determine if the money and the Blues' motivations make any sort of sense.
Again, if they're trying to keep up with Dallas and Chicago to try to nab the top spot in the division, even “dealing from a position of strength” like getting rid of a depth defender could end up negatively impacting their pursuit of a No. 1 seed in the West.
In the Central, the difference between finishing second or third, and finishing first is massive. Finish second or third and you're doomed to play one of Dallas or Chicago in the first round. For just about anyone, that's playing a dangerous game that could get you sent home for the summer before April is over. But if you finish first, you play a Wild Card team, likely one of Nashville, Colorado, or Minnesota. You have a really good chance to advance out of that portion of the bracket, and then you just hope one of the other two really, really good teams in the division — Dallas, Chicago, and St. Louis's point totals are Nos. 2-4 in the league — is pretty beat up after a slog in the first round.
Therefore, the Blues will almost certainly be motivated to get something done, but what they might actually be able to pull off is going to be operating on thin margins. A lot of the potential moves you're likely to see soon probably just won't work.
This Is So Huge, If True: Is It True?
On a B.S. detector scale of 1-5, with one being the most reasonable and 5 being the least:
The Blues want to do something because they have to. But the potential constraints are such that they possibly cannot.
But Armstrong is a judicious GM and probably desperate enough to try just about anything here. As such, this gets a whopping:
I would be somewhat surprised if he can't figure out anything at all, but there exists the possibility that there simply won't be anything he can reasonably figure out in the first place.
Which would be too bad. The Blues are a very, very good team, and the fact that one of Dallas, Chicago, and St. Louis will be out after the first round tells you everything you need to know about how good this playoff format actually is.
(All statistics via War On Ice unless otherwise noted.)
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