NHL Trade Talk: 3 Teams That Should Pursue Blues Forward Chris Stewart
One of the most common needs among buyers at the NHL trade deadline each season is gritty, two-way forwards who play a physical game and put the puck in the net.
One person who does this on a consistent basis is St. Louis Blues forward Chris Stewart, who is currently having one of the best seasons of his NHL career.
He has scored 14 goals with 14 assists in 29 games this season and could finish the year as a point-per-game scorer for the first time in his career.
As an restricted free agent (RFA) in the summer, the Blues will have to make a decision on his future very soon. They have a lot of other good young players who are eligible for RFA status, including franchise defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, both of whom could earn over $5 million per season in their next contract.
Re-signing Stewart will not be easy if he continues to produce offensively at an impressive rate, so moving him before the trade deadline might be the best decision for St. Louis.
"Stewart's name is out there, and when a name like that surfaces based on how well he's played this year and he continues to produce, then you know that there's an expected high level of return," Dreger explained. "St. Louis and Doug Armstrong have been looking for a defenceman since basically the start of the year."
In one of my columns earlier this week, I explained why the Toronto Maple Leafs would be a good fit for Stewart, but they aren't the only team who should pursue him before the April 3 trade deadline.
Let's look at three teams who need Stewart's goal scoring and toughness for the postseason.
The Bruins will likely pursue a number of gritty, two-way forwards at the trade deadline to strengthen their third line and add some scoring depth to the lineup.
As the chart below shows, the Bruins' bottom-six forward group has not been productive offensively this season.
The list of players that general manager Peter Chiarelli could target to upgrade his third line includes Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow, San Jose Sharks winger Ryane Clowe and Calgary Flames star Jarome Iginla.
One player who would be a great fit in a third-line role with the Bruins is Stewart, whose defensive ability would be a great fit in head coach Claude Julien's defense-first style of hockey that power forwards, like the Blues winger, thrive in.
Stewart's physical play, willingness to block shots, size and goal-scoring ability would be valuable additions to a Bruins team whose first-line wingers Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic have been inconsistent this season offensively.
Horton is eligible to become a UFA at the end of the season, and if he isn't re-signed, Stewart would be an ideal replacement because he's younger, better defensively, less injury-prone and might be cheaper to re-sign.
To acquire Stewart, the Bruins would likely need to part with a top prospect. The Blues need a left-handed defenseman with a good shot from the point, which makes Bruins veteran Andrew Ference an option for St. Louis.
A prospect such as center Ryan Spooner or defenseman Torey Krug, as well as veteran center Rich Peverley, might also interest the Blues in a potential trade with Boston involving Stewart.
Peverley was a healthy scratch for Thursday's game against the Ottawa Senators, but he's good defensively, a fantastic penalty killer and great on faceoffs, which would make him a perfect fit in Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock's style of play.
The Bruins need a physical winger who can score goals on a consistent basis, and if Chiarelli is unable to acquire Iginla, Stewart should be his plan B.
Stewart is a great trade target for the Canucks because he would address two of the team's major weaknesses, which are a lack of size in the top-six forward group and goal scoring on the second line.
When the Canucks traded young center Cody Hodgson to the Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline last season for physical winger Zack Kassian, they expected the 22-year-old forward to add some truculence and scoring to the lineup.
Kassian has been a disappointment this season with just eight points in 27 games, and most of that offensive production was a result of the short amount of time he spent on Vancouver's top line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin early in the year.
Kassian's lack of production, David Booth's constant battles with injuries and Alex Burrows lack of scoring at the pace he did over the last two seasons has created a need for another goal scorer on the wing in Vancouver. Stewart would also upgrade the Canucks' power play (which ranks 29th in the NHL) as a scorer and a net-front presence.
As a 23-year-old who already has four years of NHL experience, Stewart is a talented young player who the Canucks could build around in the post-Sedin era. This team has to get younger, and Stewart is someone who could play a major role in the Canucks' success now and well into the future if they traded for him and agreed to a contract extension before next season.
Vancouver could offer upcoming UFA Mason Raymond as part of a possible deal for Stewart. Raymond is a good defensive winger with a small salary cap hit of $2.275 million and would also be a good fit on the Blues as a depth forward and on the penalty kill.
Young center Jordan Schrorder, right-wing prospect Nicklas Jensen and a 2013 first-round pick could also be used in a trade package for Stewart.
Acquiring Stewart would give the Canucks a boost of size, skill and physicality for their top six, which they desperately need for another deep playoff run.
Acquiring a defenseman is probably at the top of the Penguins' "to-do" list before the trade deadline, but the asking prices for big, physical blueliners who excel in their own end are usually enormous.
Since so many playoff contenders are trying to acquire defensive defenseman at the deadline each season, making a deal for one of these players is often a very difficult challenge for general managers.
With that said, adding a defensive forward with size such as Stewart would be a good target for Pittsburgh if they are unable to acquire a defenseman at the deadline.
Stewart would score 25 to 40 goals per season with superstar centers Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin on his line. The Blues forward is also the type of player who would enter the attacking zone and use his strength to drive to the front of the net, which would create space for Malkin and allow him to take more shots (he has just five goals this season).
Stewart's ability to protect the puck with his great size (6'2", 232 lbs) also makes him a good fit for the Penguins' puck-possession style of play.
Not only would Stewart give the Penguins a much-needed physical presence in the top-six forward group and additional scoring depth, he could also play a role on the team's penalty kill, which ranks 21st in the league with a 79.6 percent success rate.
What would Pittsburgh need to part with to acquire Stewart? As I mentioned in the Bruins section above, the Blues need a left-hand shot on the blue line, so Paul Martin is a player whom St. Louis could target in a potential deal for Stewart involving the Penguins.
Which team needs a player like Stewart the most?
Martin has played a lot of better in 2013 than he did last year, especially defensively, so it would be difficult for Penguins general manager Ray Shero to give him up when his team's blue-line depth is already weak, especially with No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang injured.
Matt Niskanen is another defenseman whom St. Louis might have interest in. His contract, which includes $2.3 million salary cap hit for this season and next year would be a very favorable one for the Blues, who are a low-budget club.
If Malkin's injury concerns are still an issue as the trade deadline approaches, don't be surprised if Shero makes a move to improve his secondary scoring, especially if he doesn't have any success acquiring a stay-at-home defenseman.
The Penguins have to win the Stanley Cup this season. They have an enormous amount of talent and Crosby is playing the best hockey of his career. Shero has to be bold at the deadline, and acquiring a player with Stewart's skill set could give Pittsburgh an advantage over the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL lead writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs. All salary information courtesy of Capgeek.
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