Prior to, and sometimes during, the NHL offseason, much of what we all read is just people throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. Even when trusted sources claim the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning were on the verge of a trade, you have to take it with a grain of salt.
I have no doubt the teams were working on something. The fact Ryan McDonough is now in Nashville proves that even the guys with the blue checkmarks on Twitter don’t get it right all the time.
With that in mind, coming across the idea of a couple trade prospects for the Blues and the Toronto Maple Leafs was initially met with a heavy scoff and a chuckle. Shane Seney of The Hockey Writers suggested that the Leafs might try to send Jake Muzzin or Rasmus Sandin to St. Louis in exchange for Robert Thomas or Ivan Barbashev (one for one, not all four included).
I can tell you now that the Blues had better be getting something better than either of those two names if they’re giving up on Thomas. His defensive abilities are not where you’d like, but there’s still too much upside. We saw how much quality Thomas could provide when he finally gained the courage to put the puck on net himself.
Even the idea of trading Barbashev was seen with heavily skeptic eyes. However, when I considered it more, this might actually make a ton of sense.
Just about all Blues fans love Barbashev. The guy plays the exact way this team would like all their players to play.
He’s physical and quick and gets in on the forecheck. He led the team in hits in 2021-22 – 160 total statistical hits, plus who knows how many that don’t get counted.
The guy happily took over the role of human missile after Sammy Blais got traded. It’s the Blais trade that makes me think a deal to send Barbashev away would actually be beneficial.
Many Blues fans worried that the team would be missing a big physical edge when Blais left. The 30 goals scored by Pavel Buchnevich eased al our minds about that. The fact Blais missed almost the entire 2021-22 season helped the cause from the Blues perspective too.
Without Barbashev, who picks up the physicality? Who knows, but who cares.
We knew Barbashev was willing to throw hits, but nobody knew he’d pass up his previous career high hit total by 16. So, someone else would just step up to fill that void.
Maybe it’s Dakota Joshua. He’s already shown he’s more than willing to take a physcial role.
Perhaps Alexei Toropchenko takes over for his fellow Russian. Coming off shoulder surgery, that’s not ideal, but the guy has shown he is willing to put his ego aside and do what it takes to stay in the lineup. That’s exactly how Blais and Barbashev found their homes on the roster.
You want Jake Neighbours to be skilled, but he can still hit. If you bring back Klim Kostin, he’s shown a nasty side at times too.
The bottom line is you can find guys to fill that void more easily than you might think. You can’t find what the Blues are in need of, which is defensive help.
I really like Nikko Mikkola and Scott Perunovich, but it’s a stretch to count on them to be a true, top-four defender in 2022-23. Perunovich has a ton to improve on defensively and Mikkola just seems better suited to a third pair right now.
I’ll take Muzzin all day long in this potential deal. Sandin has much more upside, but even though he’s not small at 5’11, he’s still too similar to what the Blues already have on the left side.
Muzzin is already on the back side of his career, but 33 isn’t old. The worry would be that he’s had concussion problems, but so did David Perron and he eventually found a way to play so that he minimized his potential for re-injury.
Muzzin is not a perfect player and won’t solve every problem the Blues have, but he fits the bill for what they need. He’s big at 6’3 and over 210 lbs, he can play with a nasty streak and he’s proven. The guy won Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings before heading to Toronto.
Having a guy like him puts other guys in spots that they are more suited to.
Suddenly you can go with Justin Faulk and Muzzin for the top pair and then Colton Parayko and Torey Krug. If Parayko still has some issues, you put Muzzin with him and Faulk takes Krug as a partner.
That allows you to either keep Perunovich in the minors to start the season and get him game time, or interchange him with Mikkola or Marco Scandella as the situation demands. Perhaps you even play Scandella/Mikkola and Perunovich together if you don’t need the righty/lefty combination that Robert Bortuzzo provides.
Another reason this would be a fantastic trade is that the Blues would be striking while the Barbashev iron is hot. What the guy provides is fantastic, but nobody should expect another 26-goal, 60 point season. T
he guy has the talent to play higher up the lineup, but those just are not totals that anyone can count on from him. Maybe he hit his prime and he’s capable of that consistently, but I’d rather take a known quantity on defense than bank on Barbashev hitting those numbers again.
As with everything, the money situation makes things cloudy. This trade would still be quite doable.
Working with generalized numbers, let’s say you give David Perron $4 million. That knocks the salary space down to just over $5 million open.
Muzzin currently has a cap hit of $5.625 million. That’s a hefty sum, but with the $2.25 million from Barbashev off the books, you still have a little over $3 million left.
That’s not a ton available to sign two RFA’s and a backup goaltender, but it’s doable. It also gives Doug Armstrong the freedom to trade Scandella away and not have to get equal value. If you’ve got a clear-cut top-four defenseman, Scandella is expendable.
Ultimately, I would not get my hopes up for this kind of deal. There’s been lots of rumors between Toronto and St. Louis in previous years and I’m pretty sure the last deal to actually get done was Carl Gunnarsson coming to the Blues.
Who knows if this actually interests Kyle Dubas. It isn’t an official rumor, but more of an idea.
Credit to Mr. Seney though, because it’s actually a gem of an idea. It would suck to lose Barbashev, but I think this would be a great sequel to the trade that sent Blais away.