With the NHL regular season entering the final stretch, there’s one more major hurdle to overcome and that’s the impending NHL trade deadline. Every team probably begins the season in October with their general manager circling the annual deadline date and this season that date circled is March 3rd. Key trades have already occurred and many more will no doubt happen in the next two weeks (or a team will wait until summer to wrap up their wheeling and dealing.)
This brings me to a point in time where each NHL team this season can be categorized based not only on their perfomance so far bu ttheir franchise outlook. There are certainly teams heading off to the Stanley Cup playoffs and teams just biding their time and waiting to go fishing this summer at home. I’ve broken down teams into the following categories (not all teams fit nicely into these grouping but I’ve made the obvious categories):
- The big-time Stanley Cup contenders: These teams are playing for a chance to hoist Lord Stanley’s cup come this June. The teams that immediately come to mind are the Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes, Dallas Stars, Vegas Golden Knights and possibly the New Jersey Devils. Yes, there may be more teams to add but these teams are in the driver’s seat right now and in charge of their own destiny.
- The teams looking past the first round of the playoffs: The obvious category for teams like the New York Rangers, Winnipeg Jets, Los Angeles Kings, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs. The Rangers and Maple Leafs have been some of the biggest trade participants so far with the Rangers acquiring Vladimir Tarasenko and Nikko Mikkola from the St. Lous Blues and the Maple Leafs picking up Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari from the Blues as well (I’ll talk more about the Blues later.) These teams want to go as far as they can and maybe there’s a path to the Stanley Cup finals for them. Stay tuned and don’t rule these teams out.
- The playoff hopefuls: This is a big category and many of these teams will no doubt pick up wild card spots but how deep will they go in the playoffs? The Edmonton Oilers, Colorado Avalanche, Seattle Kraken, Calgary Flames (with all their recent drama they may go on a final season tear), Washington Capitals, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins and Minnesota Wild all come to mind, The Islanders have already been involved in big trades by picking up team captain Bo Horvat from the Vancouver Canucks and Horvat’s already making an impact with his new team. Making the playoffs is one thing; advancing is another story.
- The bottom feeder-NHL draft pick contenders: I hate to use this category and it seems so harsh but let’s face it, despite whatever Gary Bettman says, there are teams trying to tank their season and cash in on the Connor Bedard sweepstakes. You know the teams – the Ducks, Blue Jackets and Blackhawks are racing as fast as they can to the bottom of the heap just to reap the top draft picks this summer. I don’t mean to say these teams are deliberately losing but their seasons are wired for lost causes and they look it. The upside is that all three franchises have talent and with their right draft picks, these teams could be competing for playoff spots-quickly.
Where do the St. Louis Blues fit into these categories?
II purposely left out one distinct team category in order to explain where the St. Louis Blues are and where they seem to be heading the rest of this season. I’ll call this last category the hockey Purgatory – neither heading to the playoffs nor living in the darkness of the NHL basement. The Blues typify this category as they sit at exactly .500 with a 26-26-3 record which screams mediocrity. Joining the Blues are teams such as the Vancouver Canucks, Nashville Predators, Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators all come to mind. These teams are not good nor are they bad; in fact, all of these teams minus the Canucks at least have a ,500 or better record. Those winning records probably won’t matter as these teams will likely miss the playoffs this season.
There is a path out of hockey purgatory and the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators are young teams building on the future. If there’s another wild card team out there right now, the Sabres look to be that team if they can continue winning. At least they aren’t a nightly disaster. Unfortunately for the St. Louis Blues, this season has been a proverbial roller coaster ride with winning and losing streaks the norm rather than the exception. The thing that has eluded the Blues this season has been one simple thing: consistency.
I have to correct myself a bit since the Blues have been consistent about one thing – trading away players before the March 3rd deadline. Gone are team leaders such as Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan O”Reilly among other players such as Nikko Mikkola. The Rangers and Maple Leafs were willing to go to great lengths to get these players and it seems as though they’re already on the plus side with these trades. What did the Blues get out of these deals, you may ask? Cleaning out cap space and sending players who are in the second phase of their careers (Tarasenko and O’Reilly) in exchange for draft picks and prospects along with some good pickups such as Sammy Blais (who has two goals in four games with the Blues, more than he had in two seasons with the Rangers) makes sense down the road.
With a tight race in the Central Division, unless the Blues start on a run these last weeks of the season, they will be watching the playoffs from their living rooms. More than likely, GM Doug Armstrong has conceded this season and looking for the future of the franchise with these trades. In all reality, as soon as Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou were extended this past summer, the writing was on the wall that O’Reilly and Tarasenko would be counting down their days wearing a Blues sweater this season so their trades come as little surprise. If anything, the willingness of the Blues to trade away marquee players puts pressure on other teams such as the rival Chicago Blackhawks to decide what to do about their marquee players – Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.