Pavel Buchnevich will reinforce the Blues’ scoring lines.
While the St. Louis Blues faithful waited for the NHL Draft, waited for the seemingly inevitable Tarasenko trade, waited for clarity on free agents-to-be Jaden Schwartz and Mike Hoffman, Armstrong made a stealth strike.
Just like in years past, when no one saw it coming, President of Hockey Operations Doug Armstrong did it again. He acquired an important player to shore up the team. Just like last year, as fans waited to see if Pietrangelo would come back only to see the Blues sign Torey Krug, Doug Armstrong went outside the organization to fill a need.
The Blues went into the offseason facing a lot of change. Most notably, the forward lines are likely to see a radical makeover. Left winger Jaden Schwartz, right winger Mike Hoffman, and center Tyler Bozak are unrestricted free agents. And star winter Vladimir Tarasenko has requested a trade, citing team mismanagement of his surgeries as his reason for wanting a different team.
Would Armstrong trade Tarasenko to acquire a scoring winger to replace him? Would he bring back Schwartz and maybe Hoffman and Bozak, basically keeping the bad together? Would he go deep sea fishing for preeminent prize Gabriel Ladeskog?
Any of those could still happen, of course. But Armstrong has started the Blues’ path with his Friday trade for RW Pavel Buchnevich, of the New York Rangers.
Buchnevich is a bona fide Top 6 forward. Last season, he had 20 goals and 28 assists in 54 games. On the Rangers, only center Mika Zibanejad had more goals (24). Buchnevich was a 3rd-round pick in 2013, and he has scored 79 goals in 301 total games played, all with the Rangers. He’s only 26. He will slot in on the first two lines, and provides an immediate upgrade to the scoring forwards.
He was pretty cheap, too. The Blues sent back winger Sammy Blais and their 2nd-round pick in 2022. For the Rangers, this trade was about aligning their roster for the future. They view young players like Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere, and Filip Chytl as their core pieces. Buchnevich is a restricted free agent, with arbitration rights, and will be a nice raise from his $3.25 million salary from 2020-21.
The Blues can afford him. Between Schwartz, Hoffman, Bozak, and Steen coming off the books, they have almost plenty of salary cap space. But whether they can go big in free agency might depend on if they can orchestrate a Tarasenko deal to their liking. Tarasenko’s cap hit is $7.5 million this year and next. With the salary cap being flat, that’s a significant salary for any team to take on.
Let’s assume that the Blues let all their unrestricted free agents go, and trade Tarasenko for prospects and/or draft picks. The forward lines could look something like this:
That is very respectable. But it does assume that Kyrou will take another step forward and that Kostin is ready for full-time NHL duty. But those are big assumptions. Robert Thomas hasn’t developed as quickly as the Blues, and their fans, hoped. They want him to be comfortable and productive in a 2nd-line center role, but he’s not there yet. The Blues would benefit from more skill and depth in their top 9 forwards.
So I expect Armstrong isn’t done. Free agency begins soon. More excitement is on the horizon.