Back on December 9, Blues winger Jaden Schwartz suffered a cracked ankle while blocking a shot during a 6-1 win at Detroit. After that game, the Blues were averaging 3.33 goals per game, and had a record of 20-8-2. Since Schwartz’ injury, the Blues have scored five regulation goals in five games, and have gone 2-3.
The link between Schwartz’ availability and Blues success is nothing new. As our Blues insider Jeremy Rutherford noted in a piece last week in The Athletic, in the last four seasons, the Blues are 137-65-14 (A .667 points percentage) with Schwartz in their lineup, averaging exactly three goals per game. Without him they are now 32-23-11 (.568), and average 2.3 goals per game. Schwartz was on pace for 38 goals and 96 points this season, so the team needs to find a way to get some scoring to make up for his loss.
The Blues were already dealing with injuries to Robbie Fabbri and Zach Sanford, and with diminished production from Alexander Steen. Neither Dmitrij Jaskin or Magnus Paajarvi has turned into the offensive players the Blues thought they would be. And nobody that they’ve brought up from the minors…Sammy Blais, Beau Bennett, Tage Thompson, Wade Megan or Ivan Barbashev…has worked out to the point of being reliable. Vladimir Sobotka is what he is…a solid third line guy. And so the Blues have Brayden Schenn and Paul Stastny as top-two-line centers, and Vladimir Tarasenko as a top-two line winger.
Steen, Sobotka, Jaskin and Paajarvi are getting their opportunities on the top two lines, but nobody has taken advantage of those opportunities yet. With Schwartz out for at least five more weeks, Fabbri out for the year and Sanford out until at least March (and he’s not a lock as a top two line guy), Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong needs to be on the lookout for help via trade.
It’s almost impossible to make a deal at this time of the year, but it’s always fun to take a look at who MIGHT be available and what teams might be a fit to deal with the Blues. Unfortunately, the Blues traded their first-round draft choice to Philadelphia in the Schenn deal, so if they want to make a move, they’ll have to deal from their depth of young players. Because prospects Sanford, Jordan Kyrou, Klim Kostin, Thompson and Rob Thomas should all be ready at some point next season, the Blues don’t need to look for a controllable player. They can be in the market for an upcoming free agent that’s motivated to get a big contract after helping the Blues win a Stanley Cup.
Who are the guys?
James Van Riemsdyk-Toronto: Van Riemsdyk leads the Maple Leafs in goals with fifteen, but he is a free agent after this season and reportedly will look for a huge contract. The Leafs have a wealth of forwards in their system, but are still looking for offense from their blue line. The Blues have youngsters Jordan Schmaltz and Jake Walman in the system. Perhaps their defensive depth could entice the Leafs, or another team, to part with a scoring winger.
Patrick Maroon-Edmonton: Maroon is a St. Louis native, having played high school hockey at Oakville. Like Van Riemsdyk, he’s a free agent after the season. He scored a career high 27 goals and 42 points last season, but has struggled offensively with the rest of the Oilers this year. Edmonton still hasn’t addressed their defensive production problems that prompted their interest in Kevin Shattenkirk before the Blues traded him, and with the trades of young forwards Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, the Oilers actually need to upgrade their forward position, too. And, they usually are reluctant to give the big bucks to their free agents. They usually trade those guys.
Evander Kane-Buffalo: Kane has had a productive first half for the Sabres, with fourteen goals and seventeen assists. In stops with Atlanta/Winnipeg and Buffalo, Kane has scored at least nineteen goals five times, netting 28 last year and turning in a thirty-goal effort in 2011-2012. Kane has had some legal problems, including an assault accusation in Vancouver in 2014 and a charge that he grabbed three women during a barroom brawl in Buffalo in 2015. The price will be high…the Sabres gave up a ton to get him…but Kane will be highly motivated and has the ability to fill the role the Blues need filled.
James Neal and David Perron-Vegas: It’s highly unlikely that the Golden Knights will move any stars, even those approaching free agency, because the team is so good. The Knights don’t have any glaring needs, and they already own the 2018 draft. But if the club falls off, it would be smart to think about their upcoming free agents.
One restricted free agent to keep an eye on is Ryan Spooner of Boston. Armstrong spent a couple of games scouting the Bruins last month, and Spooner would seem to be a guy that would interest the Blues. He’s an upside player that might benefit from playing in the St. Louis style rather than Boston’s.
With just five regulation goals and two wins in five games, the Blues are going to have to come up with a plan to succeed in Schwartz’ absence. Once we get into 2018, it’ll be interesting to see what their approach will be.