The streaking Blues have rescued their season and restored fans’ hopes for 2019 playoff glory.
“Well what do I do now?”
That’s surely the thought in President of Hockey Operations Doug Armstrong’s mind this week.
Just over a month ago, the Blues were three games under .500, were plagued by inconsistent performances, defensive breakdowns, and stretches where it seemed there was no will to compete. Fans and media called for ownership to make radical personnel changes, including trading any player of value. Mock trades, with little to no basis in reality, swarmed on Twitter. It seemed like a lost season.
Now, on February 9th, the Blues have won 5 consecutive games and sit nicely in the 2nd Wild Card spot, only 4 points behind third-place Dallas in the Central Division. The forwards are scoring, the defense is solid, and the goaltending is stellar. The Blues have turned the corner on their abysmal start in October, November and December.
While Doug Armstrong likely was fielding phone calls from other GMs during the holidays, sketching out potential trades that would change the look of the club, the calls he’s receiving now likely have a different script to them. With the Blues looking more and more like a team that will be in the playoff hunt, Armstrong won’t be looking to move major pieces for prospects and/or draft picks.
The chatter on social media a few weeks ago was that Brayden Schenn could be traded, as he holds significant value as a scoring-line center under control for next season at fairly reasonable salary. He could be even considered somewhat expendable, as Robert Thomas already plays at a high level, and has quite the high ceiling of potential. But with the Blues winning now, there is no reason to trade him.
In fact, there likely isn’t much reason to move even the unrestricted free agents after this season: Jay Bouwmeester and Pat Maroon. Even though you could argue that those players aren’t integral to the team’s cohesion and on-ice performance, the return on those players would, speculatively, not be high enough to justify their removal from the team. The price wouldn’t be that enticing to the Blues’ front office, i.e. it wouldn’t be a first-round pick or a high-level prospect.
So the Blues are unlikely to subtract from the roster. They’re also unlikely to add.
Even if Armstrong wanted to bolster the roster with a rental, there isn’t the salary cap space to do that. According to Spotrac, they have less than $1 million in space under the cap. So any additions to the club would have to be offset by subtractions, in equal or greater salary. That is to say, a hockey trade.
Those are the most fun trades, as they bring equal player value back. But they are difficult to execute if you’re a GM, and usually they aren’t made by teams that are winning.
All this is to say, the Blues probably are the team they will be at the end of the playoffs. Let’s hope it’s enough.