How Much Does Paul Stastny Signing Improve St. Louis Blues' Stanley Cup Chances?

Jonathan WillisNHL National ColumnistJuly 1, 2014

DENVER, CO - APRIL 17:  Paul Stastny #26 of the Colorado Avalanche skates against the Minnesota Wild in Game One of the First Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Pepsi Center on April 17, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. Stastny scored the game tying and winning goals as the Avalanche defeated the Wild 5-4 in overtime to take a 1-0 game advantage in the series.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

In one sense, the St. Louis Blues were big winners on July 1. In Paul Stastny, the team signed the top forward available in the summer's free-agent market, a player that a lot of general managers would have been willing to pay dearly for.

And while the Blues did have to pay in a fairly big way, they were able to add Stastny without giving him a massively long-term deal:

As exciting as it is to win the race for one of the summer's most sought-after players, the real question is what this does to the St. Louis Blues' Stanley Cup chances.

For three consecutive seasons, the Blues have entered the postseason as Cup contenders, only to run straight into either the Los Angeles Kings or Chicago Blackhawks and suffer an early exit.

ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 25: David Backes #42 of the St. Louis Blues skates against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Five of the First Round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Scottrade Center on April 25, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Mark Buckn
Mark Buckner/Getty Images

The acquisition of Stastny is aimed at addressing that and does so in two significant waysone direct and one indirect.

First, it adds an offensive centreman capable of playing against any opposition to the mix, which will help ease the load on No. 1 pivot David Backes. Second, it creates a logjam down the middle, which frees the Blues up to move one of their other excellent centres for help somewhere else.

Stastny broke into the league as a top-flight offensive talent, posting 78 points in 82 games as a rookie in 2006-07 and then topping the point-per-game mark in 2007-08. His scoring has dropped off in a nontrivial way since, and the 60 points he recorded in 2013-14 was the most he'd scored in four seasons.

But while the scoring dropped off, Stastny was taking on an increasingly heavy load defensively. With Joe Sakic's retirement, Stastny was the default power-vs.-power centre for the Avs. Colorado won the shots and goals battles with Stastny on the ice, but his personal scoring levels at five-on-five dropped off dramatically, and his strong power-play work was not enough to offset that reduction.

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 26:  Head coach Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues looks on from the bench during their NHL game against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena February 26, 2014 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.    Vancouver won 1-0. (Phot
Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

The beautiful thing for the Blues is that while Stastny is capable of playing against top opposition, he shouldn't need to do so regularly in St. Louis. Backes is one of the best two-way pivots in the NHL, and he's not likely to relinquish that role to the newcomer.

Instead, Stastny will almost certainly be used in a second-line role, which shouldeven under Ken Hitchcock's suffocating defensive systemfree him up to provide additional scoring.

It also gives the Blues a second line capable of playing against anyone. While St. Louis was already blessed with a number of great two-way centres, Vladimir Sobotka and Patrik Berglund simply aren't in the same class as Stastny offensively.

The great complaint about the Blues in the 2014 playoffs was their inability to go chance for chance with Chicago because the Blackhawks had better finishers. Stastny doesn't even up the gap with Kane, but he helps out a lot in that area.

St. Louis also has an opportunity here to further bolster its team. After Backes and Stastny, the Blues have Sobotka and Berglund, both easily capable of holding down the third-line centre job, and then Max Lapierre for the No. 4 position.

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 27: Vladimir Sobotka #17 of the St. Louis Blues grabs the puck in Game Six of the First Round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on April 27, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Bill S
Bill Smith/Getty Images

Sobotka, a 26-year-old restricted free agent, isn't a high-end scorer, but he is a brilliant penalty-killer, won more than 60 percent of his faceoffs last year and managed 33 points in 61 games. That's a pretty nice package for a third-line pivot, particularly for one who posts brilliant Corsi numbers year after year.

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 23: Patrik Berglund #21 of the St. Louis Blues watches for the puck in Game Four of the First Round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on April 23, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by
Bill Smith/Getty Images

Berglund, recently re-signed to a three-year deal at a $3.7 million cap hit, is also 26 years old and, at 6'3", 217 pounds, brings the size that teams love to see at the centre position. He once topped the 50-point mark but has mostly settled in as a lesser offensive threat. Like Sobotka, he's an excellent penalty-killer.   

Either player should command an excellent return in trade, and the Blues could move one and still have a better group of pivots in 2014-15 than they did in 2013-14.

With a dramatically improved second line and significant ammunition still to extend, the Blues' Cup hopes improved significantly the moment they announced the Stastny deal.

 

Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.

Statistics courtesy of NHL.com, ExtraSkater.com, BehindtheNet.ca and CapGeek.com unless otherwise noted.