After looking at the Arizona Coyotes last week in my “Devils Potential Trade” series, it’s time to take a look at another struggling team in the St. Louis Blues. Up until this season, the Blues have made the playoffs every year since the 2011-12 season. They reached the lowest of lows and highest of highs in the hockey world in the same season in 2018-19, as they famously went from worst-to-first and hoisted the Stanley Cup all in a span of eight months.
Unfortunately for St. Louis, good times don’t last forever in the NHL. After a few early playoff exits following their championship run, the Blues have had an injury-plagued 2022-23 campaign and appear headed for the draft lottery for the first time since 2017-18. Years of win-now moves have depleted their farm system to average at best, while questionable signings have limited the upside of the current team. It’s not ideal that they have a slew of players on the wrong side of 30....or guys that will soon be on the wrong side of 30. Brayden Schenn, Brandon Saad, Justin Faulk, Torey Krug, Colton Parayko, Nick Leddy, and Jordan Binnington are all signed through at least 2025-26. Perhaps more problematic? Some of those players aren’t all that great now.
The good news for St. Louis is that they have several big-name, high-end rental players available at this year’s trade deadline if they want to retool, regroup, and get a little younger. So let’s take a look at who they have available, what they might cost, and if they might be a fit for the Devils.
Vladimir Tarasenko - Rental Sniper For Hire
Vladimir Tarasenko is an 11-year veteran who has played his entire career with the St. Louis Blues. Listed at 6’0” and 225 pounds, the lefty-shooting right-winger is in the final season of an 8-year deal paying him $7.5M AAV and has a full no-trade clause, which simply means he can not be traded anywhere without his consent.
Tarasenko missed time during the two pandemic-shortened seasons due to multiple shoulder surgeries, but came back strong last season with a 34 goal, 48 assist season in 75 games. All-in-all, he has topped the 30-goal mark six times in his career. Perhaps most importantly, he has done that after the setbacks he has had with his problematic shoulder. He has 10 goals and 19 assists in 38 games this season.
Tarasenko missed some time earlier this season with a hand injury but returned to the lineup shortly before the All-Star break. Still, there’s little doubt that when healthy, Tarasenko is one of the elite goal scorers in the NHL.
The Devils have reportedly been linked to Tarasenko in the past, but for one reason or another, a deal has never come to fruition. He isn’t a perfect fit despite being linked to them again, as Tom Fitzgerald is reportedly looking for a top-six winger with some term as opposed to a pure rental. He is a player that may make some sense though if the Devils need to shift to a Plan B in case they miss out on, say, Timo Meier.
Like Meier, Tarasenko is a shot-volume heavy winger. If the Devils did acquire him, I’d like to see him on Nico Hischier’s wing with Jesper Bratt dropping to Jack Hughes’s line. I don’t think it makes a ton of sense to have Hughes and Tarasenko on the same line with how much they both like to shoot the puck, but the Devils have enough versatility upfront where I’m not too concerned about how Tarasenko would fit in their lineup.
Tarasenko has been a positive possession player throughout most of his career although those numbers have slipped the last few years. It’s tough to say if his slippage is due to a natural aging decline (he turned 31 in December), the rest of the Blues roster being in decline, lingering injuries, or bad luck as his PDO this season is at .966, but there’s probably some truth to all of those being contributing factors. I don’t know that I’d consider him a strong defensive player anymore either even though he has received some Selke votes in the past.
I think the Devils will have a hard time fitting Tarasenko onto the roster if they’re interested. His actual salary is only $5.5M, but his AAV of $7.5M is a big number for a Devils team that is already dipping into LTIR to go over the cap ceiling. Even if St. Louis retained half, it would hamstring the Devils ability to make other moves unless it was a “money in, money out” transaction or a traditional hockey trade. The Devils would almost assuredly need the Blues to retain 50% and take back a sizable cap hit such as Andreas Johnsson. Not impossible, but it makes a deal tougher to complete.
There’s also the question as to trade acquisition cost. Bo Horvat is a different type of player than Tarasenko, but the other sellers might be pointing to what the Islanders gave up and argue their top rental player is also worth something similar. There’s not a lot of players that will be available that are pure goal-scorers but Tarasenko is one of them. There is value in that. I’d go as far as to suggest the list of players expected to be available at the deadline that could command a first round pick is fairly small, but Tarasenko is on that list (along with Meier, Chychrun, O’Reilly, etc).
I wouldn’t be comfortable if the Devils gave up a big package for a pure rental, and I don’t know that I’d be all that interested in Tarasenko on his next contract anyways given his age and injury history. If the Devils are going to pay that type of price at the deadline, I’d prefer Meier or another top winger who has more team control.
EDIT (1:40pm - 2/9/23): According to Frank Seravalli, Vladimir Tarasenko has reportedly been traded to the New York Rangers.
Ivan Barbashev - A Middle Six Rental I Can Get Behind
Ivan Barbashev is a 7-year NHL veteran who has primarily played left-wing for St. Louis. A member of the 2018-19 Cup champion Blues, he’s listed at 6’0” and 187 lbs. Barbashev enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2021-22 when he scored 26 goals and 34 assists on 23.4% shooting, but has predictably regressed this season with 9 goals and 15 helpers in 51 contests. He is scheduled to reach unrestricted free agency this summer after making $2.25M AAV this season.
Barbashev is another jack-of-all-trades, master of none type of player that playoff teams will be lining up to try to acquire at the deadline. He does a lot of things well. He’s capable of playing all three forward spots, he finishes his checks, hes solid defensively, and brings physicality despite not being the biggest player. And like most of the Blues players mentioned in this article, he brings a lot of postseason experience with 50 playoff games under his belt.
If the Devils acquired Barbashev with the idea of him repeating his 60-point season last year, that would be ill-advised as I have my doubts that that’s the player he is at the end of the day. But if they acquired him with the idea that he could step into a number of roles in the lineup, not look out of place, and not be a whole lot of fun to play against? I can go with that. He’s not a black hole offensively, so it would be interesting if he was the beneficiary of playing on a line with Hughes, but I could see reasonably see him anywhere in the Devils Top Nine.
You may recall that Barbashev was once suspended for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final for an illegal check to the head of former Devils F Marcus Johansson. But he has delivered his share of big clean hits as well. The Devils will need guys who can dial up the physicality once the postseason begins. Barbashev could be that guy.
Jeremy Rutherford, who covers the Blues for The Athletic, speculated that Barbashev probably wouldn’t return more than a 2nd or 3rd round pick. A second round pick feels a little steep for me for a rental, especially when the player isn’t a big-time offensive threat, but Barbashev will be in high-demand for the reasons I pointed out already and has a team-friendly expiring contract. I think if the Devils offered a third round pick and a young player from their war chest of prospects, that would be something I can endorse. But I could also see another team falling in love with Barbashev and happily paying a 2nd rounder to get him.
Ryan O’Reilly - How Many Top-Line Centers is Too Many?
Ryan O’Reilly is a 14-year veteran and current captain of the Blues with previous stops in Colorado and Buffalo as well. O’Reilly was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner when St. Louis won the Stanley Cup. He has also previously won the Selke Trophy and Lady Byng Trophy. He is one of the best defensive centers in the NHL, perennially posts 60-point seasons, and wins a ton of faceoffs.
O’Reilly has been on injured reserve since late December with a broken foot after blocking a shot, but is expected back sometime after the All-Star Break, so he’ll get an opportunity to show contenders that he is healthy and ready for another playoff run. He does not have any no-trade protection but does carry a cap hit of $7.5M as a pending unrestricted free agent.
It goes without saying that I’m a fan of this player. He’s not the biggest player but he’s not small either. He gets to the front of the net and makes things happen. He plays in all-situations and is effective in all-situations. I think he shares a lot of similarities as a player with Nico Hischier, and the best way I could phrase it is that if Hischier ultimately has O’Reilly’s career, he’ll have done pretty well. And if I posed the question to you that I’d like to have another Hischier-type added to this roster, I think most Devils fans would sign up for that in a second.
It should be noted that O’Reilly struggled this season pre-injury with just 16 points in 37 games. He has been unlucky prior to his injury with a .939 PDO, but he also celebrated his 32nd birthday yesterday and there’s a lot of mileage on his odometer with 1039 regular and postseason games under his belt. Most importantly, he is still injured as of this writing and has yet to make his return to the lineup. While he’s expected to be back soon, to quote the great Bill Parcells, “Availability is your best ability.” O’Reilly won’t do anyone much good if he’s on the shelf.
Still, I expect O’Reilly to be in high-demand, and if I were the Blues, I’d be holding out for a return similar to the one the Canucks got for Bo Horvat. Maybe that’s not realistic as Horvat is younger and is having a career-best year while O’Reilly is injured and having his worst season, but I’d argue O’Reilly is the better player overall when both are healthy.
Ultimately, I would expect O’Reilly to go elsewhere or the Blues make a late push to extend him. The Devils are set at center with Hischier and Hughes down the middle, and while O’Reilly would be a massive upgrade at 3C, its a role that he feels overqualified for. I’d be interested in seeing him serve the Haula role on Jack Hughes’s wing, as he does everything Haula does well better, but I just don’t see the Devils giving up a first round pick plus for a player there’s almost zero chance they re-sign in the summer. As much as I love O’Reilly’s skillset, leadership, and intangibles, he would be a pass for me.
Pavel Buchnevich - A Top-Six Winger With Term (Who Probably Isn’t Available)
Tom Fitzgerald wants to acquire a Top-Six Winger with a few years of team control. If only the Blues had somebody who fit the bill there.
Enter Pavel Buchnevich.
Buchnevich is a 7-year veteran who has played for the Rangers and Blues. After St. Louis stole him from the Rangers in exchange for a 2nd round pick and Samuel Blais, Doug Armstrong locked him up with a 4-year contract extension worth $5.8M AAV. He is currently in the second year of that deal and has a modified no-trade clause where he can block deals to 12 teams. Buchnevich has always been talented but took his game to another level after the trade, as he has 114 points in 111 games as a Blue. He is currently on injured reserve after a procedure to address an infection in his ankle, and the Blues will reevaluate him soon.
Rutherford mentioned in a recent mailbag on The Athletic that Buchnevich is almost an “untouchable”, and I wouldn’t blame the Blues if that was actually the case. After all, the forwards I’ve already mentioned are far more likely to be traded and somebody is going to have to put pucks in the back of the net for the Blues moving forward aside from Jordan Kyrou. Buchnevich is still relatively young at 28 years old in April. He’s under team control until 2024-25. If the Blues view their situation as more of a retool than a full-blown rebuild, and they might with how pot-committed they are to long-term contracts, there’s no reason for them to just give Buchnevich away now for futures. He’s hasn’t been rumored to be available by any of the top insiders and isn’t on the Big Board for The Athletic, The Fourth Period, TSN, The Hockey Writers, or The Daily Faceoff.
Still, the Devils have a first round pick in a deep draft on the table. They have one of the best prospect pools in the NHL. St. Louis might not be publicly shopping Buchnevich, but Tom Fitzgerald has a tendency to strike out of nowhere and land players nobody is expecting, whether its John Marino, Ondrej Palat, Ryan Graves, Erik Haula, or Vitek Vanecek. Darren Dreger (hilariously) suggested Montreal power forward Josh Anderson wasn’t in play unless the Habs got an offer they couldn’t refuse. Unlike Anderson, Buchnevich is a player worth making that “offer you can’t refuse” where Doug Armstrong has to at least think about it. Maybe the Blues still say no, but Buchnevich fits the “team-controlled, top-six winger, doesn’t make more money than Hughes” supposedly self-imposed parameters that Fitzgerald reportedly craves.
Lastly, the thought of Buchnevich (in a Devils sweater) scoring the series-clinching goal in the World’s Most Overrated Arena to knock the Rangers out of the playoffs and get the ultimate revenge against his old team gives me a warm and fuzzy, “everything is right in the world” feeling.
Do The Blues Have Anyone Else Of Interest?
Noel Acciari is an effective, physical fourth-line center who is theoretically an upgrade over Michael McLeod. He’ll bring a little more offense to the table than the “M” portion of the BMW line and is a better two-way player, but the Devils would be giving up a little size going from McLeod to Acciari. He’s also on an expiring deal with a $1.25M AAV, so he’ll likely go for a mid-to-late round pick or an equivalent prospect. Vegas, Edmonton, and Boston are among the teams that have been linked to him. I don’t think the Devils necessarily trade for him, but I could see them pursue this type of player as a free agent in the offseason if the Devils want to make some changes with their 4th line.
Niko Mikkola might make sense as a defense-first, depth defenseman. We know that Fitzgerald likes his blueliners to have some size and while Mikkola might be a little lanky, he is listed at 6’4”. He has played over 16 and a half minutes per game the last two seasons for the Blues and brings some physicality to the table. Frank Seravalli profiled him for The Daily Faceoff if you would like more information, but Mikkola could be an inexpensive option for a team that might want someone more reliable than Kevin Bahl or Nikita Okhotiuk if they’re in a bind in games that matter. Remember, you can never have too much depth.
EDIT (3:03pm 2/9/23) - Mikkola has also been traded to the Rangers.
Lastly, the Blues have a couple soon-to-be UFA forwards in Tyler Pitlick and Josh Leivo. Pitlick is probably best-known for being the only player Seattle drafted and immediately traded to another team while they were botching their Expansion Draft. Aside from that brief stint in the Pacific Northwest, he has played 361 NHL games between Edmonton, Dallas, Philadelphia, Arizona, Calgary, Montreal, and St. Louis. There’s not much to say about him other than he’s your run-of-the-mill 4th liner/extra forward type. Leivo has previous stops in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, and Carolina in addition to St. Louis. If I had to pick one, I’d lean towards Leivo as he is more likely between the two of them to provide a spark if called upon. At least I can say that Leivo has had games this season where he’s been leaned upon to play big minutes. I wouldn’t go out of my way for either one though.
St. Louis has a lot of inventory as a seller. Barbashev would be an intriguing middle-six option who plays that gritty playoff-style of hockey that would be a welcome addition to a skill-team like the Devils. O’Reilly and Buchnevich are likely pipe dreams for two very different reasons. The Blues could also be where the Devils turn to for cheap quality depth if they want a little more reliability with further down the lineup.
You’ve heard enough from me though, so now, I turn things over to you. Is there anyone on the St. Louis roster that has your interest? Would you be interested in Tarasenko as a rental? Would you like to see Barbashev as Jack’s wingman? Did I miss anyone else from St. Louis who warrants discussion? Please feel free to leave a comment below, and thank you for reading!