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Gordo: If they’re selling, Blues must upgrade team now — not in long term

Gordo: If they’re selling, Blues must upgrade team now — not in long term

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Blues Blackhawks Hockey

St. Louis Blues defensemen Alex Pietrangelo (left) and Colton Parayko. (AP Photo)

Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Rival NHL teams covet many cornerstone Blues players, most notably defensemen Colton Parayko and Alex Pietrangelo as well as winger Vladimir Tarasenko.

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong always is willing to listen, particularly with his disappointing team lagging far behind in the playoff race.

As the NHL’s holiday roster freeze ends, he will open again for business.

The Blues’ two victories on their recent three-city Canadian tour were nice, but this player combination has failed to sustain the collective will to win. There is no reason to keep the band together.

But they are built to win during the next few seasons. Long-haul rebuilding makes no sense. Now is not the time to trade for more high draft picks and more prospects.

If the Blues trade proven talent, they must get proven talent back.

They have a strong group of core players in their prime, a nice group of young veterans with potential and plenty of interesting prospects in the pipeline. If they trade a nucleus player, they must get at least one nucleus player back.

Consider the case of Parayko, who recently came in No. 1 on the Trade Bait List of Canadian sports television network TSN.

He is an enormous asset.

Parayko is a big, strong, right-shot defenseman who glides on his skates and hammers 100 mph slappers. He logs big minutes and plays in all game scenarios. He has played for North America and the World Cup and for Canada and in the World Championships.

He is 25 years old with a low odometer reading, having traveled the college route. He is locked under a contract until 2022, with a manageable $5.5 million salary-cap hit.

Blues coaches implore him to be more physical and shoot more aggressively. He has seven goals in his first 34 games this season, so why can’t he get 15 per season?

He still has much room for improvement. But even as is, Parayko is a player every NHL general manager would love to have.

So what’s fair trade for him?

Edmonton traded winger Taylor Hall to get defenseman Adam Larsson — and all Hall did last season was win the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP.

Parayko is more valuable than Larsson, so what’s a fair price for him?

Please don’t say slow-developing Oilers prospect Jesse “The Body” Puljujarvi and a first-round draft pick, as one scribe suggested.

That’s absurd.

And what’s fair value for Pietrangelo? At 28, he is in his ninth full NHL season. He has suffered more wear and tear than Parayko, including his current hand injury.

He is under contract for one more season, with a $6.5 million salary-cap hit. While that lack of contract length is a negative from a trade standpoint, Pietrangelo arguably is one of the best all-around defensemen in the league.

He kills penalties, makes lots of defensive-zone starts and matches up against top forward lines. Like Parayko, he is a righthanded shooter at a position short on them. Like Parayko, he has proven himself on the international stage.

Pietrangelo has topped 50 points three times in his career, including last season. If he went to Toronto, he could help that long-suffering franchise win a Stanley Cup.

So what’s that worth to the Maple Leafs? One noted NHL Insider suggested supporting cast winger Andreas Johnsson would be a starting point. No thanks!

That same guy noted the Blues would have to take back Nikita Zaitsev and his $4.5 million salary-cap hit for five years. That would be stupid, like accepting Eric Brewer in a Chris Pronger trade.

Draft picks? That wouldn’t help in 2019-20. The same goes for prospects, however blue their chips.

Talented young forward Mitch Marner? OK, that’s worth discussing. This is Alex Pietrangelo, not a rental asset such as power-play specialist Kevin Shattenkirk or second-line center Paul Stastny in the final season of their contract.

Top wingers aren’t as valuable as top defensemen, yet Tarasenko also should command compelling offers. Although this season has been an offensive struggle for him, he has another four years left on his contract with a $7.5 million cap hit.

That’s just Jason Spezza money. That’s just Bobby Ryan money. That’s less than Corey Perry money. And as NHL salaries soar, No. 91’s contract will look better and better in the years to come.

Carolina is aggressively shopping for scoring, so Tarasenko can see lots of Hurricane warnings on social media. But the only Carolina forwards worth discussing in a trade of this magnitude are emerging stars Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov.

It’s hard to imagine Carolina trading either player. Martin Necas, Teuvo Teravainen, Michael Ferland ... the Hurricanes have other forwards with value, but Tarasenko is an upper-tier talent.

So while Armstrong seems willing to make a big trade to shove this team onto a better track, winning such a blockbuster deal would be difficult.

Seller beware.

Quick Hits: Timmermann on the Blues

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Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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