As it turns out, John Tavares was never going to join the Blues. Or the Bruins, Sharks, Lightning or Stars. His list of teams may have numbered six, but in reality, it came down to his first NHL team, the Islanders, and his childhood team, the Maple Leafs.
When Tavares tweeted his decision on Sunday, it became clear that there really was no doubt from the outset, as long as Toronto made a competitive offer.
— John Tavares (@91Tavares) July 1, 2018
And so, with Tavares going to the Maple Leafs and 29-year-old James Van Riemsdyk getting seven years from Philadelphia, the Blues resorted to their Plan B, which for many teams in the NHL would have been a fine Plan A.
Plan B started in the morning, with the signing of former Toronto center Tyler Bozak and third-time-Blue David Perron, along with backup goalie Chad Johnson. Then the Blues finished things off with a stunning evening trade for Buffalo’s Ryan O’Reilly, sending veterans Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka, prospect Tage Thompson, plus a first round and second round draft choice to the Sabres.
Bozak isn’t a top-six center, but with the addition of O’Reilly he doesn’t need to be. In nine seasons, he’s averaged 50 points for every 82 games he plays. He’s a 6-1, 200 pounder that will hit and has been an OK passer during his nine-year Leafs career.
Bozak’s numbers scream “good number three center.” With Brayden Schenn, O’Reilly, Bozak and rookie Rob Thomas, the Blues have a potentially terrific set of centers. Depending on how quickly Thomas develops, Bozak can be a nice property to have. However, it’s hard to envision that he’s going to get much better overall than he has been in nine seasons. At $5 million a year for three years, Bozak’s compensation level is similar to players making that amount; $5 million-dollar forwards include Derek Brassard, J.T. Miller and Matt Moulson. Bozak is what he is.
Perron is a known quantity. This will be his third stint with the Blues. He has not been a productive playoff player…but we must point out that the Blues must make the playoffs before they can be unproductive in them. Perron was third on the Golden Knights in scoring last season and led their club in power play assists. He’s also…relative to many Blues players…a guy who has a high compete level and is a right-handed shot. Other wingers on the market included Van Riemsdyk and James Neal (who both, by the way, are left-handed shooters, which the Blues have plenty of). Like Bozak, Perron slots in with similarly successful players in regard to his salary. $4 million-dollar forwards in the NHL include Carl Hagelin, Mikkel Boedker and Victor Rask.
Just before 8:00, the Blues made the big splash, dealing five assets to Buffalo for O’Reilly and picking up his entire $7.5 million cap hit. O’Reilly has been an excellent setup man for some not-so-talented Sabres teams in the last three years, and should see his production improve dramatically playing with the likes of Vladimir Tarasenko and Robby Fabbri. He’s a definite 1 or 1-A center in the NHL.
The Blues were in a strange spot. They were a game away from making the playoffs last year, and aren’t a franchise that can or should tank to get the number one overall pick. They really couldn’t have gone the opposite of the way they went. The reason they CAN’T tank is that they need to draw fans to Enterprise Center. It’s not a franchise that makes huge sums of money from television and sponsorship and doesn’t NEED to sell tickets, like the Leafs, Rangers or Flyers. For the Blues to be viable, they need to have people in the stands, and to get people in the stands, they need to compete.
They SHOULDN’T tank because they had a nucleus of players either in or entering their prime that they can win with. Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Schenn, Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko, Joel Edmundson and Jake Allen are all players that have the ability to be part of the core of a good team. From a competitive standpoint, it would have been foolish to move those players that the franchise has invested so much in because of frustration over missing the playoffs.
One move…getting O’Reilly…should change the outlook. A team that missed the playoffs last year should feel good about their chances this year. He’s a talented two-way player that excels in the faceoff circle. In a game of puck possession, O’Reilly set a record last year for the number of face-offs won. While his leadership apparently has waned with the losing in Buffalo over the last couple of years, it was praised in his days in Colorado when that club won a division championship.
The Blues became a lot better on Sunday. At the end of last season Kyle Brodziak, Thompson, Berglund, Sobotka and Scottie Upshall…if they were healthy…were seeing lots of prime ice time. Those guys have been replaced by Thomas, Perron, Bozak, Fabbri and Nikita Soshnikov. Upgrades across the board. After the first announcements, the Blues were just OK, but with the trade for O’Reilly, there’s reason for real optimism at Enterprise Center.