CALGARY, ALBERTA • After parting with goaltender Ben Bishop on Sunday, the budget-conscious Blues aren't expected to make any significant moves before today's NHL trading deadline, but it remains possible that general manager Doug Armstrong could make dollar-for-dollar deals to bolster the injury-riddled roster.
"I have a clear understanding of what I want to accomplish and if we can do that, great, and if we can't, we'll just move forward with what we have," Armstrong said Sunday. "I've tried to keep a realistic expectation that I think we have a good team right now and I'm quite comfortable that if this group of players are all together tomorrow at 1:01 Mountain time, we'll be happy."
The Blues sit fourth in the Western Conference heading into today's deadline at 2 p.m. (St. Louis time), followed by the third game of their six-game road trip tonight in Calgary at 8. The club is 2-0 on the trip with back-to-back 3-2 shootout victories over Nashville and Winnipeg, a development that has perhaps given Armstrong more confidence in his club.
But the question today is whether the Blues, who are 15 points ahead of the ninth-place team in the West with 20 games remaining, have enough firepower to be contenders in the postseason. While continuing to lead the NHL in goals-against average (1.92), the club ranks 22nd in scoring (2.48 goals a game) and 27th on the power play (14.8 percent).
The amount of offensive help in this year's trading market is limited, driving up the costs for marginal improvement, and the Blues are restrained financially in what they can do because of the ownership situation. The club remains unsold and is basically being run by the NHL until the sale is complete. Sources would not confirm whether the league had veto power over any potential moves the team tries to make at the deadline, but the bottom line is that adding payroll is not an option.
A group led by minority owner Tom Stillman is continuing its effort to buy the Blues. The NHL last week took away the group's exclusivity rights, meaning others are free to voice their interest, but the group still has a purchase agreement and sources say the league is still intent on selling to Stillman.
But with that unresolved, the Blues are left to find ways to improve the product without the needed resources.
"The reality is, we need to get our injured players back here in the near future because that will be a big benefit to us," Armstrong said.
The Blues are still without three of their top nine forwards in Jamie Langenbrunner, Alex Steen and Matt D'Agostini. Langenbrunner will miss about three more weeks with a broken foot, but the timetable for Steen and D'Agostini, who are both out with concussions, is unknown. Steen is headed to California for the next two weeks for treatment and D'Agostini hasn't returned to the rink.
"We're hoping to get them back, but quite honestly, a year ago we were sitting here hoping to get David Perron back for the end of last season and it didn't happen," Armstrong said. "The reality is that we have to be honest with our players that don't look around the corner for someone else to come in and do this job.
"If we're going to sit here and worry about what we don't have instead of what do have, we're not going to be focused on getting the points that we need."
Blues left winger Andy McDonald, who has five points in eight games since returning from a concussion, says the players believe they can get the job done.
"You look at our team and I know there's a question mark with some guys that are injured, but there's certainly a belief in the locker room that we can play into June and everyone is really upbeat about that," he said. "… We've really got a tight group. You don't want to disrupt that chemistry, but it's a tough decision for a general manager."
The Blues made one expected move Sunday, trading Bishop to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a second-round draft pick in 2013. Bishop, 25, would have been an unrestricted free agent July 1 and perhaps left without compensation.
"Well, when we signed (Brian) Elliott, we knew Ben's situation, but I was very content to have Ben play the season for us (in Peoria)," Armstrong said. "If we didn't get what we perceived was the proper value, he would have stayed in Peoria. But when Ottawa called and we were able to work something out that both sides felt was appropriate, it was an easy decision."
After the trade, Bishop signed a one-year, one-way contract extension with the Senators for $650,000.
"I'm excited now that it's over and I can go back to focusing just on playing hockey," he said. "I've heard a bunch of good things about (Ottawa) and they've got a great young team coming up. So I'm excited to be part of the organization."