BLUES EXTRAS

Hockey Guy: Blues find goaltending strength in numbers

2012-02-19T11:55:00Z 2012-02-19T15:31:30Z Hockey Guy: Blues find goaltending strength in numbersBY JEFF GORDON stltoday.com
February 19, 2012 11:55 am  • 

Sunday's 3-1 Blues loss will renew fan demands for a goaltending-for-scoring trade. Goals have been hard to come for the Note on the road and this team has a lot of road games left.

But the value of employing two starter-quality goaltenders was underscored again this week, when Brian Elliott took charge for the Blues while Jaroslav Halak battled the flu.

Neither netminder ranks among the NHL's elite, but the duo leads the league in goals-against average. Why mess with success?

Eliott saved the Note earlier this season and pushed Halak to pick up his game. Halak responded and went on a tear. Now Elliott has reasserted himself as a critical time.

(Elliott deserved a better fate in Chicago, where poor David Backes doomed the Blues with an accidental own goal. Tough day for the captain.)

General manager Doug Armstrong recognized Elliott's value by giving him a contract extension. With his tandem locked up for two more years, he feels little urgency to trade from this strength to fill other needs.

No. 3 goaltender Ben Bishop may come into play as a result, as the NBC broadcast team noted during the network's "Hockey Day in America' extravaganza.

Scouts hoping to evaluate him in American Hockey League game action couldn't do so this weekend. Bishop spent back-to-back games on the St. Louis bench backing up Eliott with Halak in the sick bay.

But what more does he have to show in the AHL? He has 23 victories this season with six shutouts, a .929 save percentage and a 2.25 goals-against average.

Bishop is steaming toward Group 6 unrestricted free agency. He is unlikely to re-sign with the Blues as long as Halak and Elliott are in place.

Another team could acquire him and keep him off the market -- either by playing him down the stretch (unlikely) to negate his free agency or by negotiating a contract extension with his camp (more likely).

But would another team offer enough to convince Armstrong to diminish his depth? Since the Blues own the Rivermen, is Armstrong obligated to keep Peoria on track toward the playoffs?

Are other teams willing to wait until the summer to bid on Bishop, when he could hit the open market?

That storyline will be worth tracking as the trade deadline nears.

Here are some others:

  • The Predators hear the Blackhawks skating up behind them in the Western Conference standings. By adding defenseman Hal Gill, Nashville GM David Poile told his colleagues that he is in "buy" mode. He will worry about re-upping defenseman Shea Weber and Ryan Suter at a later date.
  • The Ottawa Sun wonders if Columbus senior advisor Craig Patrick is overseeing this week's Blue Jackets break-up. GM Scott Howson is making the rounds of NHL rinks doing leg work, but he could be a dead man walking. Will the franchise make a massive trade involving Rick Nash and/or Jeff Carter before the deadline? Or will the Jackets be more active this summer?
  • The Flyers added defensemen Nicklas Grossman from Dallas and Pavel Kubina from Tampa Bay, moving four draft picks and a prospect in the process. Is Philly GM Paul Holmgren plotting something bigger, like a play for goaltending help or Nash? Columbus would want a lot for Nash, perhaps goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky plus James van Riemsdyk and either Brayden Schenn or Sean Couturier.
  • The Rangers could make a big play for Nash, or the team could aim lower and add depth at center and/or defense. New York is playing very well and now might not be the time to subtract major pieces.
  • No round-up of trade speculation is complete without noting that veteran forwards Ales Hemsky (Oilers) and Andrei Kostitsyn (Canadiens) are headed to free agency and up for bidding. Hemsky should generate heavy bidding. Kostitsyn? Not so much.
  • By dealing Kubina and Dominic Moore (to the Sharks for a second-round pick), the Lightning turned on its blinking "sell" sign. Power forward Ryan Malone is the most obvious trade commodity left. Why GM Steve Yzerman didn't make a play for goaltending help earlier this season is one of the bigger mysteries of the season.
  • Many experts regard the Kings as a favorite to Nash or Carter away from the Blue Jackets. Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi is operating with an increased sense of urgency after his team was shut out in back-to-back games. Offensive defenseman Jack Johnson and goaltender Jonathan Bernier are two of his more attractive chips.
  • The Panthers are in "buy" mode, which is a welcome change of pace for long-suffering hockey fans in South Florida. GM Dale Tallon won't trade future assets for rental help or burdensome contracts, but he has demonstrated a willingness to make blockbuster moves.
  • The Devils want to add a defenseman. New Jersey could acquire Marek Zidlicky from Minnesota, since the veteran puck-mover fell out of favor with Wild coach Mike Yeo.
  • Colorado GM Greg Sherman is unlikely to retain pending free agent defenseman Shane O’Brien after this season, but does he want to trade him now? O’Brien is playing well, so Sherman would be foolish to move him unless he gets a solid asset in return.
  • Senators GM Bryan Murray won't deal prospects for short-term help, but he could move one expiring contract for another expiring contract to fill a particular need. Ottawa wants back into the playoffs, but Murray realizes there is still more rebuilding to do.
  • Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke won't sit still with his team suffering lopsided losses. Toronto has been terrible since the All-Star break. Burke wants to get bigger and tougher down the middle, but does he need to address goaltending and defense as well? Would trading defenseman Luke Schenn really be a great idea?
  • The Stars aren't sellers, per se, but GM Joe Nieuwendyk seems willing to listen to offers for Steve Ott and Mike Ribeiro in case another teams wants to overspend for help.
  • ESPN.com notes that Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has plenty of players headed toward free agency, including Jim Slater, Tanner Glass, Kyle Wellwood, Tim Stapleton, Johnny Oduya, Randy Jones, Mark Flood and Chris Mason. Teams looking for depth should keep that in mind.
  • Mounting injuries in Boston make the Bruins more likely to add help up front. Power forward Nathan Horton could sit out the stretch run with post-concussion syndrome and the loss of Rich Peverley also stings.

But Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said the trade market could be sluggish this year.

“It’s a combination of a bunch of factors,” he told the Boston Herald. “The tightness of the races, first, and also I detect just a hesitation among the managers to trade their players, whether they’re contending or not. Good players are hard to come by. I think we’re seeing more guys getting locked up (with new deals), so the player pool at the trade deadline may not be as big.”

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