St. Louis Blues: Doug Armstrong Scouting Trade Suitors

Doug Armstrong, St. Louis Blues GM, has lit the burners on the Note’s hot stove this last week after attending multiple games at Nationwide Arena and Consol Energy Center, according to tweets from CSN’s Kevin Kurz and The Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline.

Though these visits could be innocuous, Armstrong’s attendance seems to confirm that the St. Louis Blues are kicking the tires on potential trade targets, like we first noted last week.

The initial question is who exactly the St. Louis Blues are willing to part with. With years of mounting playoff failure and a roster depleted by injuries, the Blues are stuck in a strange purgatory where no obvious weaknesses are visible, but players which have not as of yet performed in the postseason could be moved for new pieces.

With the emergence of Colton Parayko, the Blues are suddenly looking at an abundance of defensemen on their roster, especially considering that they have Petteri Lindbohm waiting in Chicago. The Blues could be shopping Gunnarsson as a rental, but rumors persist that Kevin Shattenkirk would be available for a king’s ransom.

At forward, fan favorite Ryan Reaves has looked ineffective all year and has found himself as a recurring healthy scratch, even with all of the team’s injuries. In addition, David Backes is in the last year of his contract, but would have to waive a portion of his no-trade clause in order to enable a trade. Finally Patrik Berglund though currently injured, has been linked as a trade target in years previous.

Between the pipes, Jake Allen has emerged as a dominant starting goaltender, much to the chagrin of Brian Elliot, who once again finds himself benched before he even had a chance to lead the St. Louis Blues into the playoffs. Could the Blues move Elliot if their confidence in Allen continues to grow?

And our potential suitors: both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins are struggling Eastern Conference teams, both thin at defense. The fact that they play in the east means that any dangerous former Blues would be far, far away from the Central Division, preferable for a GM looking to move impact players. Finally and most telling, each franchise needs a dynamic offensive defenseman and a physical veteran forward, which the Blues could deliver, albeit at a cost.

Armstrong has attended three straight Blue Jacket home games, and the Blue Jackets are among teams currently seeking defensive help, according to Michael Russo of the Star Tribune, who suggests that Cam Atkinson and Kerby Rychel would be potential pieces to acquire.

If the Blues were to be interested in either of the young forwards, the Blue Jackets may ask for a serviceable defenseman such as Carl Gunnarsson in return, though in Rychel’s case, a forward prospect like Ty Rattie might have to be included in the deal to make it happen.

However, if the rumors are true and Shattenkirk is on the market, a bigger name is available in Columbus.

John Tortorella walked into Columbus to save their season, and quickly found himself mired in the controversy that seems to follow him wherever he goes.  In ‘Torts’’ first week in Columbus, Tortorella started to limit star Ryan Johansen’s minutes, allegedly due to the mercurial Johansen being out of shape. Johansen has floated in and out of the lineup since.

Memories persist of Johansen’s nasty contract negotiation last year, and Columbus may have found itself a way to improve their team while simultaneously trading away a problematic player. Johansen for Shattenkirk would cause massive upheaval for both squads, but an addition like Johansen would allow the Blues to permanently shift Backes to right wing and provide absurd scoring depth to the Blues forward core, at the expense of St. Louis’ best power-play point man.

2009 seems like a long time away for the fans in Pittsburgh. What seemed like a dynasty in the making has turned into a series of playoff disappointments that rivals only those of St. Louis’. Marc-Andre Fleury is playing out of his mind, but it still hasn’t been enough to push the Penguins over the edge, especially when Sidney “best player in the world” Crosby has accumulated a grand total of 11 points in 20 games this year.

A reasonable package of Gunnarsson and a forward, such as Patrik Berglund or Troy Brouwer on a rental, could net a solid 2nd line player, such as Patric Hornqvist or Nick Bonino. Just like in Columbus, however, a bigger fish may be available, but this one is a Conn Smythe winner.

Over the off-season, rumblings flew out of Pittsburgh that Conn Smythe winner Evgeni Malkin would be shopped if the season was falling apart, which currently seems to be the case. If Shattenkirk, another forward and a high pick could tempt Malkin to St. Louis, his playoff experience and playmaking ability would make St. Louisans positively salivate. Such a deal, however, comes with considerable risk, especially considering that Malkin, while a mercurial talent, has missed 86 games due to injury in the last three years.

Besides, the Penguins went out and traded for Phil Kessel over the off-season, a sign that they thought the time was nigh for their organization to make a run. It would be a massive paradigm shift in Pittsburgh for them to turn around and send their second-best player packing;I’d expect a coaching change long before such a trade. Put the sweet dream of Malkin and Tarasenko rushing together on a two-on-one on hold for the time being.

Huge deals such as these are video game-esque prognostications, but with the tremendous roster flexibility that the Blues have, the sight of Malkin, Johansen or even Duchene wearing the Note aren’t just flights of fancy. All available rumors from Columbus and Pittsburgh illuminate St. Louis as an ideal trade partner, depending on what the front offices are willing to give up.

Doug Armstrong’s confidence in the current Blues roster remains the X-factor concerning forthcoming trades. The question is which will come first: confidence in the Blues’ roster or success on the ice. Reviewing the past few years, any cynicism on Armstrong’s part seems justifiable.

I find myself daydreaming of a thickly-bearded David Backes lifting the Stanley Cup before a sea of exuberant fans, tears of joy streaming down his fatigue-creased face. Yet with each vision of a glorious future comes a flashback to nightmarish recent history. The saddest and most frustrating part, at least for me, is not knowing whether a swap like those being considered will kill that dream forever or ensure that it does indeed happen.