Alexander Steen

Blues gift Laila Stanley Cup ring

7 Comments

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season begins with Wednesday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals when the Blues raise their 2019 Stanley Cup banner. Coverage begins at 6:30p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

There’s no denying that Laila Anderson was one of the emotional forces behind the St. Louis Blues’ run to the Stanley Cup last spring. Anderson, who battled a rare immune disorder called HLH, was going to playoff games, she was building relationships with players and she even got to lift the Stanley Cup on the ice after the Blues won it all. It feels like she’s part of the team because she probably is. Well, the Blues organization showed their appreciation to Laila by giving her another incredible gift.

When Alexander Steen and Colton Parayko showed up to Laila’s family home, the young Blues fan and her mom had no idea why they were there. Steen and Parayko were there to deliver a special package. Yup, Laila got her very own Stanley Cup ring from the Blues.

What a moment:

“She’s special to us,” Blues defender Colton Parayko said of Anderson back in June. “She’s taught me a lot of life lessons outside of hockey. We’re excited to see her get better and obviously see her at more of the games.”

To see the length in which the players and organization are going to make Laila feel like part of the family is so special. This is such an awesome story. Hopefully it inspired other teams to go the extra mile for some of their loyal fans that are battling through difficult times.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Why rebuilding teams should trade for players like Marleau

4 Comments

The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos, and others have discussed an intriguing possibility that the Los Angeles Kings might trade for Patrick Marleau from the cap-strapped Toronto Maple Leafs.

On its face, that seems like an ill-advised trade. Why would the already-old-as-dirt, expensive Kings seek out a near-40-year-old who carries a bloated $6.25 million cap hit?

Yet, in the cap era, it’s a deal that could make a ton of sense for both sides, if the right deal could be hashed out.

The Kings should go even bolder

While LeBrun discusses the Kings wanting to get rid of a different, cheaper problem contract to make the Marleau trade work (sub required), the real goal should be for both teams to acknowledge their situations. The Maple Leafs needs cap space; the Kings need to build up their farm system with picks and prospects.

Instead of trying to move, say, Dustin Brown or Ilya Kovalchuk, the Kings should instead find as creative ways as possible to bulk up on futures, while accepting the (admittedly grim) reality that they’ll suffer through 2019-20, if not 2020-21 and beyond.

In fact, if I were Kings GM Rob Blake, I’d pitch sending over Alec Martinez for Marleau, with the goal of really making it costly for the Maple Leafs. Imagine how appealing it would be for the Maple Leafs to move out Marleau’s contract and improve their defense, and imagine how much more of a ransom the Kings could demand if they’re absorbing all the immediate “losses” in such a trade? Could Los Angeles land yet another Maple Leafs first-rounder, say in 2020 or even 2021? Could such a deal be sweetened with, say, the rights to Andreas Johansson?

That trade might not work, but it’s a blueprint

The Los Angeles Times’ Helene Elliott believes that a deal probably won’t actually work out, and that’s understandable. There are a lot of ins and outs to a would-be trade that could send Marleau to L.A., particularly since Marleau would need to waive his no-trade clause to complete a trade.

But, really, this is just one example.

Rebuilding teams should apply similar logic to any number of other situations, while contenders can be forgiven for thinking more short-term.

Of course, a rebuilding team would also need to embrace the rebuilding reality, and not every team is past the denial stage.

Potential rebuilding teams

The Kings are in a decent position to absorb a tough year or two, what with being not that far removed from two Stanley Cup wins. The Ottawa Senators have already prepared fans for a rebuild, although they also need to avoid making things too brutal after an agonizing year. The Detroit Red Wings could be less resistant to rebuilding under Steve Yzerman than Ken Holland. Other teams should probably at least consider a short pulling off of the Band-Aid, too, with the Anaheim Ducks coming to mind.

What are some of the problem contracts that could be moved? Glad you (may have) asked.

Also, quick note: these mentions are based on my perception of the relative value of players, not necessarily how their teams view them.

Marleau-likes (challenging contracts ending after 2019-20)

  • Again, Marleau is about to turn 40, and his cap hit is $6.25M. His actual salary is just $4.25M, with Cap Friendly listing his salary bonus at $3M. Maybe the Maple Leafs could make his contract even more enticing to move if they eat the salary bonus, then trade him? If it’s not the Kings, someone should try hard to get Marleau, assuming he’d waive for at least a few situations.
  • Ryan Callahan: 34, $5.8M cap hit, $4.7M salary. Callahan to the Red Wings almost feels too obvious, as Yzerman can do his old team the Lightning a cap-related favor, get one of his beloved former Rangers, and land some much-needed pieces. Naturally, other rebuilders should seek this deal out, too, as the Bolts are in just as tough a spot with Brayden Point as the Maple Leafs are in trying to sign Mitch Marner.
  • Nathan Horton: 35, $5.3M cap hit, $3.6M salary. The Maple Leafs have been placing Horton on LTIR since acquiring his contract, but with his reduced actual salary, maybe a team would take that minor headache off of Toronto’s hands?
  • David Clarkson: 36, $5.25M cap hit, $3.25M salary. Basically Vegas’ version of the Horton situation.
  • Zach Bogosian: 29, $5.14M cap hit, $6M salary. Buffalo’s said the right things about liking Bogosian over the years, but with big spending coming up if they want to re-sign Jeff Skinner, not to mention get better … wouldn’t they be better served spending that money on someone who might move the needle?
  • Andrew MacDonald: 33, $5M cap hit, $5.75M salary. Like Bogosian, MacDonald’s salary actually exceeds his cap hit. Maybe you’d get a better return from Philly if you ate one year of his deal? Both the Flyers and Sabres have some added urgency to be better in 2019-20, after all.
  • Martin Hanzal: 33, $4.75M cap hit, $4M salary. The Stars already have a ton of cap space opening up while they made big strides during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. You’d think they’d be eager to get more room, earlier, and maybe make a run at someone bold like Artemi Panarin or Erik Karlsson? They were one of the top bidders for Karlsson last summer, apparently, but now they could conceivably add Karlsson without trading away a gem like Miro Heiskanen.
  • Dmitry Kulikov: 29, $4.33M cap hit and salary. Maybe the Jets could more easily keep Jacob Trouba along with Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor if they get rid of an underwhelming, expensive defenseman? Just a thought.

If you want to dig even deeper, Cap Friendly’s list is a great guide.

Two years left

Seeking contracts that expire after 2020-21 is a tougher sell, but maybe the rewards would be worth the risk of extended suffering?

  • Corey Perry: 36, $8.625M cap hit. $8M salary in 2019-20; $7M salary ($4M base; $3M salary bonus) in 2020-21. If you’re offering to take on Perry’s contract, you’d probably want a significant package in return. If the Ducks are in rebuild denial, then they’d get a fresher start if they managed to bribe someone to take Perry. Ryan Getzlaf‘s deal also expires after 2020-21 with similar parameters, though it’s less appealing to move him.
  • Kevin Shattenkirk: 32, $6.65 cap hit, cheaper salary in 2020-21. Marc Staal, 34, $5.7M cap hit, cheaper salary in 2020-21. The Rangers’ future is blurry now, as they could go from rebuild to trying to contender if they get Panarin. If they’re really gearing toward contending, maybe they’d want to get rid of some expensive, aging defensemen?
  • David Backes: 35, $6M cap hit, $4M salary each of the next two seasons. The bottom line is that Backes has been a pretty frequent healthy scratch, and the Bruins should funnel his cap hit toward trying to keep both Charlie McAvoy (RFA this offseason) and Torey Krug (UFA after 2020-21).
  • Alexander Steen: 37, $5.75M cap hit, cheaper in 2020-21. Paying this much for a guy who’s become a fourth-liner just isn’t tenable for a contender. He’s been great for the Blues over the years, yet if you want to stay in the mix, you sometimes need to have those tough conversations.
  • Lightning round: Brandon Dubinsky, Matt Niskanen, Artem Anisimov, and Jake Allen, among others. There are a lot of other, less-obvious “let’s take this off your hands” considerations. Check out Cap Friendly’s list if you want to dive down that rabbit hole.

***

As you can see, plenty of contenders have contracts they should try to get rid of, and rebuilding teams should capitalize on these situations.

Interestingly, there are fascinating ideas if rebuilders would take on even more than a year or two of baggage. Would it be worth it to ask for a lot for, say, James Neal, particularly if they think Neal might be at least a little better than his disastrous 2018-19 season indicated? Might someone extract a robust package while accepting Milan Lucic‘s positively odious contract?

It’s easier to sell the one or two-year commitments, which is why this post focuses on those more feasible scenarios. Nonetheless, it would be fun for the armchair GMs among us to see executives get truly creative.

Should your team seek these trades out? What level of risk is too much to stomach? Do tell in the comments.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

What Blues miss with Sundqvist suspended for Game 3

10 Comments

With Matt Grzelcyk injured, the Boston Bruins lose a valuable puck-mover. The St. Louis Blues, meanwhile, will miss the guy who injured Grzelcyk, as Oskar Sundqvist was suspended for Game 3 (8 p.m. ET on Saturday on NBCSN; stream here) of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

Like with Grzelcyk, you get a better idea of how much Sundqvist’s absence stings when you dig deeper.

While Blues coach Craig Berube is trying to keep things close to the vest heading into Game 3, Zach Sanford skated in Sundqvist’s spot alongside Alexander Steen and Ivan Barbashev on Friday, hinting at that being the possible trio. Berube spoke about what Sundqvist brings to the table, via the Blues website:

“You miss a lot (losing Sundqvist),” Berube said. “He’s a good player, does a lot of good things for us on both sides of the puck. Good penalty killer, plays center, wing, great defensively and has produced for us in the playoffs, too.”

[MORE: Berube instilled confidence in Blues when they needed it the most.]

Berube’s assessment looks pretty accurate, whether you dive deep or keep things simple.

Sundqvist’s averaged 15:55 TOI per game during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the sixth-highest average among Blues forwards. Sundqvist’s near-16 minutes of nightly ice time ranks comfortably ahead of Tyler Bozak (14:26) and Robert Thomas (13:19), which serves as a nod to Sundqvist’s versatility.

It’s pretty clear that Sundqvist has earned the trust of the Blues’ coaching staff, as his ice time really soared once the calendar year hit 2019. He’s been a steady penalty killer for St. Louis, logging 1:29 PK time per game, the third-highest total among Blues forwards (though right there with Barbashev’s 1:25 average).

Sundqvist distinguishes himself for more-than-breaking-even in deeper stats at Natural Stat Trick, even though he’s frequently been deployed in less glamorous situations. The sexiest fact might be that he’s been on the ice for 11 goals for versus just five against at even-strength so far during the postseason, but there are other promising numbers.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

And, even the simplest stats and considerations are positive. Sundqvist has four goals and five assists for nine points in 21 postseason games so far, which is impressive when you consider his so-so opportunities to score, and it’s not as though he’s enjoying absurd puck luck with just a 9.8 shooting percentage.

Sundqvist isn’t going to put up numbers that rival Alex Ovechkin like his teammate Vladimir Tarasenko, yet he’s a nice piece of a Blues team that enjoys a nice mix of top-end talent and depth. When you consider how deadly the Bruins’ power play can be, the PK might end up being the spot where Sundqvist is missed the most, although Sundqvist brings enough to the table that it’s open to debate.

Blues-Bruins Game 3 is Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET from Enterprise Center on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

More from the 2019 Stanley Cup Final

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Will the Blues make a big move this week?

17 Comments

We all wondered what would happen to the St. Louis Blues if they suffered another first-round loss.

And then they went ahead and did it.

While the fallout in St. Louis ultimately didn’t include firing the coach, we may find out in the next few days if there’s a significant trade to be made, possibly one involving a forward.

From the Post-Dispatch:

The Blues ranked No. 5 in the NHL during the regular season with 2.92 goals a game, but among the 16 playoff teams, they were No. 9 at 2.33.

The trio of Alexander Steen, David Backes and T.J. Oshie teamed up for 177 points in the regular season but went silent in the postseason, combining for just eight. 

It’s the reason that entering this week’s NHL draft, a time on the calendar in which several significant trades are made around the league, the possibility of the Blues moving one of their household names shouldn’t be dismissed.

In addition to their playoff performances, Steen, Backes, and Oshie are also trade candidates because of their contracts. Backes is only signed for one more year before he can become an unrestricted free agent; Steen and Oshie have just two more years before they can do the same. (For that matter, ditto for Patrik Berglund.)

Perhaps another position to watch is goaltending. Though Ken Hitchcock called it “the least of our problems,” it wasn’t exactly a strength in the postseason. Jake Allen finished with a .904 save percentage in making all six starts. And that was after Brian Elliott was supposed to be the starter, but had the opportunity yanked at the last minute.

Think Elliott was happy about that? This is a guy that’s been waiting a long time to go into the postseason as the number one. Not saying he wants out, but for a team looking for a veteran netminder with an affordable cap hit ($2.5 million), he could make sense to target in a trade.

All that being said, GM Doug Armstrong insisted in April that he was wary of making a move just for the sake of making a move.

“What I don’t want to do is hurt the franchise long-term,” he said. “I don’t want to do something that is going to be a good headline tomorrow, and that we’re going to regret for five or six years.”

So far, Armstrong hasn’t made headlines, other than retaining Hitchcock and telling Barret Jackman that he won’t be re-signed.

We’ll see if that changes this week.

Video: Tarasenko continues unreal run with sixth goal on nine shots

14 Comments

Vladimir Tarasenko has been amazing when it’s come to playoff hockey. Although the Blues lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the 2014 playoffs, Tarasenko found the back of the net four times in that six game series. Now 23 years old, he’s been doing even better against the Wild in 2015.

Tarasenko found the back of the net for the sixth time in the first round series early in Game 5 tonight. What makes that feat even more remarkable is the fact that he’s only needed nine shots on goal to reach that total.

Although to be fair, Alexander Steen deserves a lot of the credit for Tarasenko’s latest marker, as you can see below:

Tarasenko has been one of the main reasons for the Blues’ success in 2014-15 as he scored 37 goals and 73 points in 77 regular season contests.

As strong a series as he’s having though, it hasn’t been enough to put Minnesota on the ropes. The series was tied at 2-2 going into tonight’s contest and Minnesota’s Marco Scandella responded to Tarasenko’s goal roughly three minutes later.