A couple hours before the St. Louis Blues were sleepwalking their way through a 4-0 loss to the Nashville Predators – their second straight by that score and their sixth consecutive defeat overall – Jordan Kyrou was busy in Sarnia scoring his 93rd, 94th, 95th, 96th, 97th, 98th and 99th points of the season. Meanwhile, over in Hamilton, Robert Thomas was winning 18 of 28 faceoffs to bring his season winning percentage to 58 percent. Blues’ GM Doug Armstrong undoubtedly took notice.
Less than 24 hours later, Armstrong swallowed hard and traded Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets just before the NHL’s trade deadline. This was not supposed to happen. Certainly, nobody on the Blues envisioned this when the team got off to a 19-7-1 start in the first two months of the season. And Brayden Schenn was obviously none too pleased with the development. “Crazy,” Schenn said, per The Athletic's Jeremy Rutherford. “One or two points out (of a playoff spot), move a guy that does a lot for us. But at the end of the day, you know, that’s their decision. I guess we’ll see what happens.”
If Schenn and his teammates were so upset by the prospect of moving Stastny in the middle of a playoff race, perhaps they should have played a little better – check that, a lot better – and not made it such an easy decision for their GM. Armstrong saw his team and didn’t like the direction it was trending. He saw an opportunity to deal a 32-year-old center on an expiring contract to get a first-round pick and a very good prospect in return from the Jets.
He took it and good on him for doing so. Because Armstrong could have gone in a completely opposite direction on this. If he were really desperate, he could have moved one of his young prospects, such as Kyrou or Thomas, in an attempt to bolster his lineup with another veteran or two. That would not have made any sense and, in reality, had Armstrong not recently signed a four-year contract extension and was trying to save his job, that’s what he might have been forced to do.
But for the second year in a row, Armstrong dealt away a core player on an expiring deal at the deadline with his team in the thick of a playoff race. Last year it was defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who was moved to the Washington Capitals for three players and a first-round pick that was packaged with Jori Lehtera to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Schenn. The Blues made it to the second round of the playoffs before losing to the Nashville Predators. They may not be so luck this spring. In fact, the Stastny deal might turn out to be the death knell to their playoff hopes. But it was the right thing to do.
Too many times, NHL executives look at their rosters and get a little delusional. That was not the case with Armstrong, who knows this team is more than a player or two away from contending for the Stanley Cup. The Blues were at best a fringe player when it comes to the post-season tournament, a team that was trending in a very troubling direction. In losing Stastny, the Blues said goodbye to a character player who was actually quite beastly for the Blues in the playoffs last spring. Who knows? Perhaps he’s the guy who will put Winnipeg, a Central Division rival, over the top and win them a Stanley Cup. To be sure, he’ll come in handy in that possible second-round playoff matchup between the Jets and the Predators that everyone who has functioning eyeballs and loves good hockey will be watching. But it wasn’t going to happen for the Blues, with or without Stastny.
So Armstrong instead went out an made a terrific deal. The draft pick will be the 31st overall if the Jets win the Stanley Cup. If not, it would be 27th based on the Jets’ point percentage entering tonight’s games. In Erik Foley, they get a prospect who has been a point-per-game player the past two seasons at Providence College and won a gold medal at the World Junior Championship in 2017. If the Blues fail to sign him after his senior year in 2018-19, they’ll get a fourth-round pick.
It was a move clearly aimed at making an already impressive prospect list even better. That’s probably not what long-suffering St. Louis fans want to hear, but it’s the truth. The Blues are in a great spot, particularly if 22-year-old Robby Fabbri can find a way to stay healthy. Core players Schenn, Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and Colton Parayko are all 26 or under and have multiple years left on their deals. Ivan Barbashev is 22, Tage Thompson is 20, Vince Dunn is 21 and Joel Edmunson is 24. And then there are the prospects. The Blues might not like what they see today, but moves like the one Armstrong made are going to improve that picture immeasurably a few years down the road.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.