Buy, Sell, or Swap: Will the St. Louis Blues Deal Before the Deadline?
This year's Winter Olympics will create an NHL roster freeze on Feb. 12. Teams are likely to treat that date as if it's the trade deadline, even though the actual deadline is Mar. 3.
The freeze ends at 11:59 EST, Feb. 28, just before play resumes on Mar., 1. However, teams can resume practicing on Feb. 23. Getting five days of practice time for a new acquisition before ever playing a game is a rare opportunity.
Where are they now?
Under new coach Davis Payne, the Blues are 5-4-2 and 22-21-8 overall. They're currently 13th in the Western conference.
Right now it's hard to tell what direction the Blues are heading. Are they a playoff team dealing with another bad first half, or are they still rebuilding and just got hot last season? Dan O'Neill of the St. Louis Post-Distpatch addressed the issue recently.
Ideally, they'd like to go all the way up to the Mar. 3 deadline to address if they're buyers or sellers. Last year at the deadline, the question was if they would deal a veteran like Keith Tkachuck.
By that time they had at least climbed in the Western Conference standings and held onto Tkachuck. It showed their players they weren't throwing in the towel, and it was big boost for them on their way to finishing sixth in the West, going 25-9-7 in the second half.
At the start of this season there were playoff expectations from the front office and fans. Management was expecting to be higher in the standings, and hinted that they were open to dealing prospects to advance further in the playoffs.
But if a team makes an inquiry about a Blues player and offers a good prospect in the next week or two while their playoff picture is still muddled, should the Blues pull the trigger? I'm thinking it would depend on the veteran being inquired about, and the prospect they'd get in return.
They could deal one of the young veterans that haven't lived up to expectations in a swap that's neither a sell nor a buy. Patrik Burgland and Brad Boyes come to mind. It could be a swap similar to Lee Stempniak for Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo from last season.
They could also deal from depth for a prospect between now and Feb. 12. The Canucks are banged up on the blue line, an area where the Blues are deep. That puts a pending UFA like Colaiacovo on the block, or possibly Darryl Sydor and even Eric Brewer.
The Globe and Mail speculates that David Backes is Vancouver's target, since they have coveted him before. I could be wrong, but I don't see the mid-market Blues dealing a 25-year-old power forward just a season removed from scoring 30 goals. The Team USA member has another year on his contract at $2.5 million and is someone the Blues consider a potential captain of the future.
However, this is the second time we've heard about the Blues' interest in goaltending prospect Cory Schneider, who is blocked by Roberto Luongo but has outgrown the AHL. Reports of the Blues inquiring about the 23-year-old goalie surfaced on St. Louis radio roughly two weeks ago, around the same time John Davidson watched a game involving the Canucks AHL team.
A former goalie himself, Davidson has said before you can never have too many goaltenders in the pipeline. Chris Mason is in the last year of two-year deal, and backup Ty Conklin has one year remaining on the two-year contract he signed this past offseason.
Dealing for Schneider wouldn't necessarily mean the Blues have given up on Ben Bishop, who has done well in Peoria this year. But it would create competition and show Davidson thinks highly of Schneider.
If recent history repeats itself, and the Blues go on a tear as they did last season, they may add an offensive-minded veteran by the Mar. 3 deadline. But it won't be anyone that will cost them three or more prospects or more than $3-$4 million per year to re-sign.
So though we've heard the Vincent LeCavelier and Jeff Carter rumors, their price tag would be too high for the Blues. The same obviously goes for Ilya Kovalchuck.
However, the Carolina Hurricanes will be sellers at the deadline, making Ray Whitney and Rod Brind'Amour available. Ethan Moreau of the Oilers could be in the Blues' range. A few players in a potential fire sale by the Minnesota Wild would be an option too, such as Petr Sykora, Owen Nolan, Andrew Ebbett, Derek Boogaard, or my personal preference, Eric Belanger.
Unfortunately, there is the very real, and very likely possibility that the Blues could continue to play better hockey but can't climb in the standings. They could become sellers even if they climb out of the cellar.
Which wouldn't be the worse thing the world for the franchise overall. It would be a let down this year, but if you can't get a playoff push out of Kariya and Tkachuk, you might as well get a mid-level prospect or a second to fourth round pick for them.
So if the Blues are buying this season, don't expect it to be a big name. If it's an over-30 veteran with a scoring touch, they most likely have an expiring contract or won't cost much to resign. But for most of us Blues fans, we're hoping it comes to that.
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