Already in the hearts of Blues’ fans, T.J. Oshie won over an entire nation of hockey faithful with his performance at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, scoring four shootout goals in Team USA’s triumphant victory over Russia.
If that didn’t do it, Oshie’s postgame comments did, telling reporters, “The American heroes are wearing camo. That’s not me.”
The coincidence was not lost on many Thursday, when it was learned that Oshie’s next stop in the NHL would be Washington, the nation’s capital, where his uniform colors are borrowed from the American flag.
In a move that long had been anticipated, the Blues dealt Oshie to the Washington Capitals in exchange for forward Troy Brouwer, goalie prospect Pheonix Copley and a third-round pick in 2016.
“I haven’t had too much time to think about anything else other than the shock and excitement of going to a new team,” Oshie said. “But I do think it’s going to be really cool to wear the red, white and blue.”
After Oshie was selected in the first round of the 2005 NHL draft and wore blue for seven seasons in St. Louis, the only question this offseason seemed to be where the club would be sending the right winger.
Change of high magnitude was expected following the Blues’ third consecutive first-round playoff exit, and Oshie’s name was attached to nearly every rumor.
The latest involved Pittsburgh at last weekend’s draft, but the Penguins held pat and then traded for Toronto’s Phil Kessel.
“I thought something would possibly happen at the draft,” Oshie said. “After a couple of days, I just figured that I’d be staying in St. Louis. I got a call from (Blues general manager Doug) Armstrong today and my initial reaction was a little bit of shock, even though that I knew it was a possibility.”
The Blues’ ongoing search for a deal ended in Washington, where they found a forward in Brouwer, who they believe better fits their style.
Brouwer, 29, is a rugged 6-foot-3, 215-pound winger who has 132 goals and 255 points in 531 games with Chicago and Washington. He tied a career-high in points with the Capitals last season with 43, including 22 assists.
“Troy is a power forward in today’s game ... plays the way the Blues are looking to play moving forward,” Armstrong said. “We’re getting a different style of player. We’re getting a consistent 20-goal scorer. Those are valuable in the league. We’re getting a big body that can play. His minutes are high. It’s a different style of player than T.J. We probably have more players in our group like T.J. and less like Troy. That’s probably the easiest way to explain it.”
Brouwer, like Oshie, voiced some shock over the trade, but said he’s looking forward to his new chapter as well and hopes the Blues will benefit from the move.
“I’m an honest player,” Brouwer said. “I’m a guy that works hard. I’ve got some skill, I can make some plays. I’ve been able to score some goals. But I’m a big-body power forward, I like to play in front of the net, in the corners, play a hard-nosed game, I’ll fight when I need to. I like to (think) I’m a pretty well-rounded player with the ability to score 20-25 — hopefully 30 — goals but still be able to finish my checks and be a very reliable guy.”
In the trade, the Blues also acquired Copley, 23, who was 17-4-3 with a 2.17 goals-against average and a .925 save-percentage in 26 games last season with the Hershey Bears, Washington’s top affiliate in the American Hockey League. Copley will play with the Chicago Wolves, the Blues’ AHL affiliate, next season.
“He’s a guy who will compete with (Jordan) Binnington and give us a little more depth in that area,” Armstrong said. “We have a couple young prospects that we like, but this certainly adds another one to the equation.”
The trade won’t drastically alter the Blues’ salary-cap situation. Oshie, who has two more seasons left on his contract, has a cap hit of $4.2 million in 2015-16. Brouwer, who has one more year on his deal before becoming an unrestricted free agent, is just below that at $3.7 million.
So was there more to this equation?
The Blues seemed intent on changing out at least part of their “older core” after another playoff failure. Oshie had just two points in the team’s six-game series loss to Minnesota and had nine points in 30 career playoff games, but he was one of several top forwards with that résumé.
“I did feel with the players in that locker room that we were falling short, but if we went back with the same team that we would have hopefully learned from some of our mistakes,” Oshie said. “But after I saw (Blues coach Ken Hitchcock) was coming back, I figured there would be at least one or two moves that Army would want to make.”
There was speculation that Oshie and Hitchcock had a strained relationship, but Oshie denied that Thursday.
There was a moment last season when Oshie told reporters after a game that he felt “refreshed” on the ice because he had missed meetings and video sessions the previous day due to the flu.
“I feel like the media blew out of proportion the thing that I said about being refreshed,” Oshie said. “I think fans thought that me and Hitch had a bad relationship or something like that. But, you know, changes had to be made ...”
On Thursday, one of the Blues’ most popular players in recent years became that change.
“It’s been amazing for me,” Oshie said. “Honestly the Blues fans, they took me in right from the get-go, even before I got there, when I was in college, and treated me really well all the way through. A big thanks to them for all their support, for the good times and the bad. If you would have asked me last summer, I would have said that I was going to retire as a Blue. But I definitely thank the fans and all the players that have given me the support over the last seven years.”