In the wake of Mike Yeo’s firing by the Blues in mid-November, every bit of conventional wisdom suggested that St. Louis was destined sell at the trade deadline, and the trade chatter started early. There was speculation two months back that Vladimir Tarasenko could be trade bait, talk about moving on captain Alex Pietrangelo, and Brayden Schenn, Jay Bouwmeester, Patrick Maroon and Carl Gunnarsson were among those whose names came up in the rumor mill and have remained there ever since. Make no mistake, all signs pointed to the Blues heading towards a potential deadline day blow up.
But with the trade deadline less than three weeks away, one can’t help but wonder if that should still be the case.
At the time the trade talk was at its height, St. Louis was in a tailspin, sliding so far out of contention that it seemed nothing short of shaking up the roster would be able to wake the Blues from the shocking slide to the bottom of the standings. But it shouldn’t be ignored how the situation in St. Louis has changed over the past several weeks.
Since coach Craig Berube came aboard — and thanks, no doubt, to the ineptitude of the teams in the Western Conference wild-card race — the Blues have managed to sneak back into post-season contention. In fact, as they wake up Tuesday, St. Louis is only three points out of the final berth in the conference with three whole games in hand on the second wild-card Vancouver Canucks. And that means the Blues, almost inconceivably, are well within striking distance and an honest threat to surpass earn a post-season berth this season.
There are a number of reasons to have faith in what St. Louis has done since Berube stepped behind the bench, too. Once considered a sitting duck who was nothing more than a stand-in while the Blues hunted for a permanent fit, Berube has come in and turned the on-ice performance around in stunning fashion. The Blues have been better in every noteworthy underlying statistic since Berube came aboard, and the margins are of the night-and-day variety. At 5-on-5 across the past 31 games, St. Louis’ Corsi percentage is up 5.8 percent, shots percentage has increased 4.9 percent, scoring chance percentage has risen by 6.3 percent and high-danger chance percentage has gone up by more than 11 percent. The result is an increase in goals percentage of nearly seven percent, according to NaturalStatTrick.
It’s not just that the numbers have risen under Berube that’s impressive, though. Rather, it’s where the numbers since his hiring put the Blues in the bigger picture.
Though Berube — who will stay patrolling the bench all season and looks like a prime candidate to stay put next season — has only stood behind the bench for 31 games to the 50-plus the majority of his counterparts have coached this campaign, St. Louis’ place in the advanced-statistics picture shouldn’t be ignored. Under Berube, the Blues’ 53.2 Corsi percentage at 5-on-5 ranks fifth in the NHL. Likewise, St. Louis ranks third in shots percentage (53.9), fourth in scoring chance percentage (53.8) and first, by more than a 2.5 percent margin, in high-danger chance percentage (59.4). Those numbers put the Blues among several teams considered serious Stanley Cup contenders, such as the San Jose Sharks, Vegas Golden Knights, Nashville Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning and Calgary Flames.
It’s no wonder St. Louis has been able to piece together this kind of in-season turnaround, either. Consider the roster GM Doug Armstrong set about building this summer. In one of the off-season’s biggest blockbusters, Armstrong pushed a lot of his chips to the middle and flipped a 2019 first-round pick, 2021 second-round pick, prospect Tage Thompson, Vladimir Sobotka and Patrik Berglund to the Buffalo Sabres for first-line center Ryan O’Reilly. Armstrong then proceeded to have what many considered one of the best summers of any GM, filling out holes on his roster by inking depth center Tyler Bozak and wingers David Perron and Patrick Maroon, who has been the only truly major swing-and-miss of the group. All of those additions supplemented a group that already included Tarasenko, Schenn, Jaden Schwartz, Alex Steen and Colton Parayko, among others. There’s a reason the Blues were considered a pre-season favorite to challenge the Predators and Winnipeg Jets in the Central Division.
And now that they’re finally starting to turn it around, now that St. Louis sits a mere three points out of a playoff spot with some of the best possession numbers in the NHL since Berube came aboard, why we should consider them nothing other than sellers?
If anything, what the Blues should be considering with their newfound life in the wild-card race is a budget buy or a money-in, money-out swap that can be beneficial for both sides. There’s no question, either, that St. Louis could benefit such a move, particularly one that brought a goaltender the Blues’ way. While Jordan Binnington has performed admirably, it’s only in his past eight starts that the 25-year-old has seemed like a potential answer in the crease. That’s a limited workload for St. Louis to hang its hat on. And it’s become clearer with each passing season that veteran Jake Allen simply isn’t the keeper the Blues had so desperately hoped he’d be. Despite the stunning possession numbers, Allen has turned in a .899 save percentage across 22 games since Berube’s hiring.
The options exist for St. Louis to upgrade, too. Detroit Red Wings veteran Jimmy Howard could be a potential rental addition, especially given how well he’s performed this season. Semyon Varlamov is another veteran on an expiring deal that might be of interest, though the Colorado Avalanche likely have no interest in helping out a fellow wild-card club. Same goes for the Edmonton Oilers and Cam Talbot, though some in St. Louis will likely bristle at the suggestion the netminder can be of much help. The top choice among Blues fans would likely be Sergei Bobrovsky, but with little chance he stays in St. Louis, it might not be worth the price they have to pay.
However, what about goaltenders with term? Jonathan Quick’s name has been floated in trade talks, and maybe the Blues could swing a deal with the Los Angeles to acquire the two-time Stanley Cup winning netminder. Maybe the Kings would be willing to take Allen in such a swap if St. Louis sweetens the pot. Other veteran options could include the Ottawa Senators’ Craig Anderson, Dallas Stars backup Anton Khudobin or even Boston Bruins backup Jaroslav Halak, though the latter two teams would need St. Louis to fill an important need in order to part ways with netminders who have played incredibly well this campaign.
The Blues certainly have the pieces to move in any kind of deal that could bring them a worthwhile goaltender, too. Bouwmeester is probably still on the block, an expiring asset who is no longer the top-pairing rearguard he once was. And there’s little doubt that Armstrong would flip Maroon to the highest bidder or add him to any package if it helped bolster the Blues’ lineup. He’s trade bait, though and through.
As for St. Louis’ top players, though? Well, it would seem as though the situation has changed. No one could have fathomed the Blues would be in this position when Yeo’s firing came down more than two months ago. That they are, though, could mean that St. Louis needs to change its deadline-day plans.