For plenty of NHL teams during trade deadlines, the “buy or sell” question comes down to the present (contending in the short term) or future (a full rebuild). But what about teams in the middle? It’s a question the Blues pondered before, and their past experiences should guide them during the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline.
Blues have been medium sellers during past NHL trade deadlines of uncertainty
When I think of shrewdest instance of a team stuck somewhat in the middle becoming medium-sized trade deadline sellers, thoughts instantly gravitate to the Sharks in 2013. The Sharks aimed to “reset on the fly” by selling high on Ryane Clowe, Douglas Murray, and Michal Handzuš. They didn’t burn everything down — they brought in some players, though for lesser assets — and fell in a Round 2 Game 7 series to the Kings.
It’s an impressive moment that stands out, but the Blues don’t need to use the Sharks’ 2013 trade deadline as a template. They have their own experiences.
Back in 2016-17, the Blues made the difficult decision to trade Kevin Shattenkirk to the Capitals. That trade netted the Blues high draft picks, and Zach Sanford. St. Louis managed to reach the second round, too.
A year later, they once again made the necessary choice to trade a key pending UFA in Paul Stastny for a package including a first-rounder. While the Blues didn’t make the playoffs that season, they won their first-ever Stanley Cup in 2018-19.
Clearly, the Blues didn’t gut their entire core in walking away when they had to. That goes for trading T.J. Oshie and letting David Backes leave via free agency, too.
Considering the fact that the Blues made a massive, risky investment in the Jordan Binnington extension just this month, they likely don’t want to blow everything up. But they might want to channel the spirit of those previous trades.
Tricky free agent decisions to make, and to consider around deadline time
When you look at the Blues’ roster, you’ll see several lengthy contract commitments. Binnington, Brayden Schenn, Torey Krug, Justin Faulk, and to a lesser extent Marco Scandella all have serious term. Such contracts might make the Blues that much more reluctant to consider a full rebuild.
Between possible trade targets and the need to budget against a flat salary cap, the Blues have some looming free agent situations that could force some juggling.
It’s probably easiest to highlight some of the contracts expiring after 2020-21, or next season.
(As usual, Cap Friendly served as a key resource for these contract details.)
Pending UFAs/RFAs after this season
- Jaden Schwartz, 28, is the type of player the Blues probably don’t want to trade. That said, he’s dealt with injuries here and there. He also might want a substantial raise from his $5.35 million AAV. Could those factors make Schwartz the next Stastny/Shattenkirk?
- Speaking of looming raises, 21-year-old Robert Thomas has become important to St. Louis. Even as an RFA, he could be pricey.
- Mike Hoffman, 31, raised eyebrows as a recent healthy scratch. The way he was scratched won’t exactly entice buyers.
Craig Berube on sitting Mike Hoffman tonight: "I just made a decision to not play him. I want more out of him."#stlblues pic.twitter.com/eVC7anv4dS
— Bally Sports Midwest (@BallySportsMW) March 29, 2021
His $4M AAV might not help, either. Unless it was an interesting piece of a Tetris-like puzzle to make various moves work?
- Speaking of problem prices with an outside chance at being building blocks, Tyler Bozak, 35, carries a $5M cap hit.
- Along with Hoffman, the Blues haven’t exactly put together a great sales presentation for 24-year-old defenseman Vince Dunn. Perhaps it boils down to the Blues wanting more than is being offered for the pending RFA? He’s one of those blueliners who inspire mixed reactions, like a budget version of Shattenkirk during his Blues days.
Vince Dunn is on the trade block according to @FriedgeHNIC.
He's a total analytical darling, with excellent playdriving numbers at both ends. But he's been deployed very very hesitantly by the Blues, with low quality of teammates and miniscule quality of competition. #stlblues pic.twitter.com/o4fxydbw6F
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) January 27, 2021
Two years or more
- Currently on LTIR, Colton Parayko, 27, is headed for a big raise once his $5.5M expires after 2021-22.
- David Perron, 32, will cost more than $4M following next season, too.
- Vladimir Tarasenko, 29, and Ryan O'Reilly, 30, both carry $7.5M cap hits, and both of their deals end after 2022-23.
So, in the short and longer term, the Blues must factor those situations while managing the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline. Of course, there’s also the Seattle Kraken circling the waters headed into the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.
How will murky playoff outlook impact Blues’ view of trade deadline?
On March 26, Craig Berube insisted that it’s not panic time for the Blues, as The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford reported (sub. required).
“There’s no quit here,” Berube said after the first of two recent losses to the Ducks. “This team’s not going to quit. They’ve got good, character people, good leadership. We’ll fight through it.”
Yes, the Blues might go down fighting. Yet, even with great efforts, they still face serious risks of missing the playoffs.
Just look at their terrifying April schedule.
|Fri. 2||at Avalanche|
|Sat. 3||at Avalanche|
|Mon. 5||vs. Golden Knights|
|Wed. 7||vs. Golden Knights|
|Fri. 9||vs. Wild|
|Sat. 10||vs. Wild|
|Mon. 12||at Wild|
|Wed. 14||vs. Avalanche|
|Sat. 17||at Coyotes|
|Tue. 20||vs. Avalanche|
|Thu. 22||vs. Avalanche|
|Sat. 24||vs. Avalanche|
|Mon. 26||at Wild|
|Wed. 28||at Wild|
|Fri. 30||vs. Wild|
Yikes. There aren’t many great times to draw the Avalanche six times in one month, but the Blues face them on a tear. Six games against the Wild probably won’t make Blues scorers feel particularly uplifted, either. The Golden Knights remain a power in their own right, and the Coyotes may still be battling the Blues for a playoff spot by April 17.
None of this guarantees that St. Louis is doomed.
After all, the Blues won a Stanley Cup after just about everyone counted them out. Perhaps a make-or-break stretch might just propel them to another run?
The most likely scenario might be a familiar one: somewhere in the middle. If so, the Blues should treat the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline like ones not that long ago, and make the sort of brave decisions other teams are too afraid to make.
After all, they’ve done it before under Doug Armstrong. In fact, they’ve done it two years in a row, and not that long ago.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.