Nine days away from the NHL’s trading deadline, the deal-making is under way, and it appears the Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t bashful.
One day after Pittsburgh acquired Dallas captain Brenden Morrow, and then won its 12th consecutive game, the Penguins traded Monday for rugged San Jose defenseman Douglas Murray.
Morrow and Murray aren’t considered prime pieces to winning a Stanley Cup, but what Pittsburgh is doing, and what the Blues hoped to be addressing at this point in the year, is filling in holes in preparation for a long playoff run.
Instead, the needs in St. Louis are a bit more complicated.
The Blues remain in the playoff picture, nestled in the No. 7 seed at the moment. They went 1-2 on their recent road trip but might have outplayed their opponents in both losses. In those two games, the offense combined for 72 shots on goal but ran into red-hot goaltending in Vancouver’s Cory Schneider and Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff, and despite rallying from deficits of 3-0 and 2-0, respectively, they lost both by one goal.
Unless Blues general manager Doug Armstrong is looking for a make-over, it’s doubtful that with the team’s forwards now 100 percent healthy he would tinker with that group, whether it be swapping personnel or trading from the team’s strength.
Andy McDonald, 35, is the Blues’ most notable unrestricted free agent-to-be, but he isn’t expected to be moved because of his value to a playoff push. Chris Stewart has been mentioned as trade bait, but with 15 goals and 29 points in 31 games, the pending restricted free agent would seem to fit in the Blues’ plans unless they have concerns about the price it could take to re-sign the right winger.
Armstrong’s focus since last summer has been improving the left side of the Blues’ defense, and if he were willing to trade from his forwards to do so, a deal would have been brokered long ago.
In the meantime, a funny thing happened while Armstrong waited for opposing GMs to come down on the price of a defenseman — the left side improved.
Kris Russell has played 15 straight games and is a plus-7 with five points in that stretch. Wade Redden has strung together nine starts and is a plus-5 with three points. Barret Jackman has helped solidify the top pairing with Alex Pietrangelo, toting a team-high plus-8.
Adding Calgary’s Jay Bouwmeester, who ranks third among all defensemen with six goals this season, could be a potential upgrade. But with one more season remaining on Bouwmeester’s contract, at a price of $6.6 million, the ramifications could come into question heading into an offseason in which Stewart, Alex Pietrangelo, Patrik Berglund and Kevin Shattenkirk will all be restricted free agents and are likely to command sizable raises.
A list of healthy defensemen set to become unrestricted free agents this summer includes Ottawa’s Sergei Gonchar, the New York Islanders’ Mark Streit, New Jersey’s Marek Zidlicky and Edmonton’s Ryan Whitney. But of those players, two are with teams currently in a playoff seat and the Islanders are only two points back.
If any are available, the price may be steep even if Armstrong is willing to deal draft picks. For San Jose’s Murray, who is a minus-8 and has just three points in 30 games this season, Pittsburgh gave the Sharks two second-round picks — one in 2013 and a conditional second-rounder in 2014.
Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero said after Monday’s transaction that two second-round picks is today’s price for a “rental” defenseman. The Blues do own two second-round selections in 2013, including the one acquired from Ottawa in the Ben Bishop trade last year.
But would an upgrade on defense even cure what ails the Blues? The team doesn’t appear to be going anywhere until the elephant in the locker room, or the three-headed monster, whichever best describes the goaltending situation, is resolved.
Following his shutout in Edmonton Saturday, Jaroslav Halak was given a chance to build on the outing Sunday in Calgary. Instead, he allowed three goals on 17 shots, including the game-winner to Jarome Iginla with 7 minutes, 2 seconds remaining in regulation. Despite posting three shutouts, which is tied for the third-most in the NHL this season, Halak still owns a sub-par .887 save-percentage.
After taking a backseat Sunday while the Blues gave Halak some rope, rookie Jake Allen could be back in net tonight when the club hosts Edmonton.
Allen has been impressive in compiling a record of 8-2 with a save-percentage that has climbed to .915. With the ability to acquire a No. 1-caliber netminder at the trade deadline slim to nil, the Blues will be forced to either give Halak yet another chance to reclaim the job, or roll the dice with the inexperienced Allen.
When the new ownership group led by Tom Stillman took over the Blues last May, the main question was whether Armstrong would have the finances to give the roster a boost at the trade deadline. Now with that day approaching, there’s less focus on the available resources and more concern about what the team should do.
The one thing the Blues can’t afford is to be bashful.