After St. Louis traded veteran Paul Stastny to the division-rival Jets last season, it looked as if they were going to start a mini-rebuild.
Instead, they were in the playoffs up until the last night.
Now, in a trade with Buffalo, the Blues have shown that they are willing to give up parts of their future and center depth to get a player who is ready to enter his prime.
Center Ryan O’Reilly was traded to St. Louis on Monday for veteran centers Vladimir Sbotka and Patrik Berglund, center prospect, and 2016 first-round pick Tage Thompson, a 2019 conditional first-round pick, and a 2021 second-round pick.
This sounds like a move a team that thinks it is ready to win and legitimately compete would make.
Not to mention that on that same day the Blues were able to bring back David Perron for four years, $16 million. Perron scored 66 points in 70 regular season games, as well as nine points in 15 playoff games with the Western Conference champion Vegas Golden Knights. Tyler Bozak was also brought in from Toronto. He has tallied 30 assists in the last two seasons, as well as 25 or more assists in four of the last five years. He was signed to a three year/$15 million contract.
Going back to O’Reilly, the Blues’ new acquisition has scored at least 20 goals in four of his last five seasons, while totaling over 30 assists and 55 points in his last five seasons. He only played for a playoff team once in that time span. He also doesn’t take many penalties, never having more than 18 penalty minutes.
O’Reilly does not have a very absorbent contract, either, owning a cap hit of $7.5 million through 2022-23.
So what does this mean for the rest of the Central Division?
Last year, the Blues were a team with low expectations entering the season. They got off to a hot start and eventually cooled off. After a loss to the Avalanche in the season’s last game, the Blues were eliminated from playoff contention.
Now that St. Louis has acquired a disciplined center who has been able to set up goals on sub-par teams, as well as more forward depth throughout the lineup, the Blues are definitely able to make the playoffs.
The Blackhawks and Stars have not improved much at all, especially the Blackhawks, considering they finished 16 points behind the next closest team in the Central. The Stars were in position to make the playoffs all of last year, and they should still be a competitive team for next year.
The Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild are decent teams who both made the playoffs last year but are also teams who the Blues can pass.
The Jets lost Stastny to Vegas in free agency, and Winnipeg lost a little bit of depth in right winger Joel Armia and backup goalie Steve Mason in a salary dump, but they didn’t have any major losses. As long as they get consistent goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck again, this should be a playoff team for this year.
The Nashville Predators are a team whose depth in all positions are impressive; it’s no wonder they won the President’s Trophy last season. The team has remained intact, and it looks like the Predators are threatening to claim the Central Division’s top spot again.
With the Blues being the most improved team in the Central Division (at least so far here in early July), a third-place spot seems to be a reasonable expectation for the Blues. At worst, they should be a wild card team, considering how close they were to making the playoffs last season. Dallas and Colorado should make it tough for St. Louis, but I think in the end, the Blues will have what it takes to make it back to the playoffs.