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Blues' surge muddies the picture at the trade deadline

Blues' surge muddies the picture at the trade deadline

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The Blues flew to Minnesota on Sunday afternoon for a game with the Wild on Monday. It’s a quick trip, one night in a hotel, only an overnight bag needed. The team will fly home right after the game.

Though maybe not all of them.

Monday at 2 p.m. is the NHL trade deadline, which raises the possibility that before the Blues-Wild game that night, someone on the Blues will be traded.

Speculation always begins with pending unrestricted free agents, in the Blues’ case that would be Jaden Schwartz, Mike Hoffman and Tyler Bozak — players who will be out of contract at the end of the season anyway. Among other players, the name of defenseman Vince Dunn has turned up in trade rumors all season.

The Blues’ three-game winning streak has resuscitated their postseason hopes. While the situation probably isn’t enough to turn them from sellers into buyers, the Blues could have turned from sellers into holders.

The Blues inched ahead of Arizona by a point for fourth place in the West Division with their dramatic come-from-behind win on Saturday, but still face a difficult remaining schedule. After the game on Monday, the Blues’ third in a row against the Wild, they move into the Colorado portion of the schedule — with four of the next five games against the Avalanche. And the one that isn’t, against Arizona on Saturday, might be the most important of the bunch.

Based on history, the fact that the Blues have re-entered the playoff picture might not have changed anything. General manager Doug Armstrong once traded Kevin Shattenkirk and Paul Stastny while the team was in the playoff race — they were in a playoff spot at the time of the Shattenkirk deal — because he also felt the Blues weren’t among the top teams in the league that season. That looks to be the case this season too, though Armstrong also offered recently that maybe this team would be like the 2018-19 team and get healthy and hit its stride just in time for the playoffs.

The most likely Blue not to be on the return flight — and to have brought along more than one change of clothes, because he might not get back to St. Louis for a while — remains forward Mike Hoffman, the team’s $4 million free- agent signee turned healthy scratch. As long as Hoffman was watching from the press box, a trade was obvious. But all that changed substantially on Friday night when forward Robert Thomas got hurt. He is expected to be out for at least two of the final four weeks of the season because of an upper body injury.

Hoffman was back in the lineup on Saturday and scored two goals in the Blues’ 3-2 win. One game probably isn’t going to change Armstrong’s mind, but it highlights the situation the Blues are in: Hoffman no longer is a spare part and he provides a lot more potential offense than any of the other current in-house options. (Hoffman is fourth on the team in goals, with 11; Jacob de la Rose, the most likely option to go in the lineup if Hoffman is traded, has none.)

Without Hoffman on the ice, the Blues likely don’t get two valuable points on Saturday. If there’s one thing the Blues need, it’s scoring. If any Blue is primed to go on a scoring run in the final month of the season, it’s Hoffman. It’s the rest of his game that has led coach Craig Berube to keep him out of the lineup, and if Hoffman were on pace for 25 goals, it would be easier to overlook any defensive shortcomings. Hoffman is unlikely to re-sign with the Blues after this season, which only increases his chances of being dealt.

Schwartz is a different matter. The Blues drafted him in 2010 and he debuted in 2012, making him the longest-tenured member of the team. His energy and effort, as Berube said the other night, “drives our bus.” The Blues would like to re-sign him, but so far, the sides haven’t reached a deal. That’s another factor that could come into play on the status of Schwartz.

“Try not to think about the deadline too much,” Schwartz said Friday, “just try to focus on what I can control and that’s coming to the rink every day and doing my part, and doing my job. So that’s kind of what my focus is. . . . I love it here. I love the guys. Been here my whole career, so I know a lot of people in this city as well. The city and the team and organization has been nothing but good to me, so . . . I love this place and want some more shots at winning another Cup. So that’s definitely in the back of my mind.

“I’ve built a lot of good relationships and have had unbelievable teammates and some of my best friends. So yeah, nothing but good things to say and I’m proud to be wearing the Blues jersey for as long as I have. Just super happy here. I hope the feeling is mutual. I’ve always enjoyed being here.”

It probably would take a strong offer, and a pessimistic feeling on Armstrong’s part about reaching a new contract, to pry Schwartz loose. Bozak could be appealing to a team looking for a veteran centerman who wins faceoffs and is strong defensively, though his $5 million salary-cap hit is high. (The Blues are in position to retain some salary if needed.) Dunn would be appealing as an offensive defenseman who is a restricted free agent.

Any trade the Blues make probably would be for draft picks. They could use some as they look to restock their prospect pipeline after dealing away some picks and players recently as they have tried to extend their Cup window. The Blues presently don’t have a pick in the second and fourth rounds next season.

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