The St. Louis Blues announced that Jamie Langenbrunner will miss at least the next four weeks after examinations revealed he had a broken left foot. The news comes as a big blow to the Blues as Langenbrunner was a consistent force in the lineup on a nightly basis, providing priceless leadership for a squad of mostly young, inexperienced players.
The Blues currently have their hands full with injuries to Alex Steen, Matt D'Agostini and now the recently injured Langenbrunner. Previously, the St. Louis front office made it clear that they had no major intentions of making a trade prior to the February 27th trade deadline. Is this still the case with injuries mounting and a struggling Chris Stewart?
Langenbrunner's injury might have been the news that tipped the Blues from a team that would likely remain silent prior to the trade deadline to a team that might now make a deal. That's not saying the Blues have to make a deal in the next several days, simply it means that they are now in a position where their depth is being tested through a series of injuries to key players.
Additionally, the Blues have received poor play from Chris Stewart - a player that many believed would easily surpass 30 goals in 2011-12 and potentially even challenge the 40-goal barrier. Through 56 games, Stewart has just 11 goals and 11 assists for 22 points. By comparison, Stewart tallied 15 goals and eight assists for 23 points over the course of just 26 games with the Blues in 2010-11. The Blues have done what they could to try and get Stewart rolling by adjusting who he skates with and by even recently demoting him to the fourth line.
Add in some inconsistent play from Patrik Berglund and you have a whole wealth of key players that are either out of the lineup or have struggled to contribute at the levels they should be. Is a trade the answer?
Prior to Langenbrunner's injury, it appeared the Blues were satisfied with their depth and would be content to give Stewart the time he needed to get back on track. Now, with Langenbrunner sidelined for at least a month and Alex Steen taking longer to return to 100% than previously believed, the situation appears right to make a deal. The Blues do have some decent options in Peoria, their AHL affiliate, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a fan that would argue any of the potential players that would be called up would be ready for an NHL playoff push.
It's clear an upgrade, specifically an experienced forward or an experienced defenseman would be of great help to the St. Louis Blues. The question is - do they have pieces they can afford to deal away?
The short answer is yes, they do. The longer answer comes through Ben Bishop, an extremely talented goaltender that the Blues have all but ushered out of town after blocking his path to the NHL with Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott both having contracts that last through 2013-14. Bishop's contract with the Blues expires at the end of the current season and it doesn't make much sense for him to sign a new deal with the Blues given his desire to become a goaltender at the NHL level.
Seeing as it appears the Blues and Bishop will ultimately part ways at the end of his contract, it only makes that the team should deal him in order to get some sort of return from him before he is able to walk free. Given the current market (more on this later), it was assumed the Blues might wait until after the season ended to trade their goaltender but now injuries and poor production might cause them to force their hand.
The last piece of this equation is the market. Is the market right for the Blues to make a trade? Here is where we encounter a whole bunch of grey area. Currently, the 2011-12 market for trades is extremely buyer heavy. Few teams, outside of the Columbus Blue Jackets, have emerged and labeled themselves as sellers. This will likely change some as we approach the 27th as teams slip further out of the hunt, but the fact remains that more teams are looking for help than their our teams able to provide help. As a result, the pieces that are available on the market have an extremely inflated value, which will cause teams to pay more than they should for the piece they desire.
The Blues, a team that still doesn't have its owner situation figured out, isn't in the position to pay anything other than face value for an acquisition. They aren't in a spot to bring in large, bloated contracts and they aren't in the position to deal away valuable assets for a modest return as they won't have the funds to rebuild the assets they lost. Keeping this in mind, the St. Louis office has performed brilliantly. Last year, the Blues made several trades with the most noteworthy being a deal that sent Erik Johnson and Jay McClement in exchange for Kevin Shattenkirk and Chris Stewart. Regardless of Stewart's poor play this year, you'd have a hard time finding someone that believes the Blues didn't come out on top in that trade.
Now, in 2011-12, the Blues will again have to be extremely cautious in their dealing, making sure that they don't come out on the wrong side. Some teams might be able to sustain a lopsided deal - the Blues aren't one of them.
Now we wait. For the Blues, a trade would certainly help - if the price is right.
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I'm still expecting a situation where the Blues either stand pat, or make a small deal that involves getting something for the obviously-out-bound Ben Bishop. Between the ownership/sale situation, which still seems to be in limbo from all reports I've read, and the general build of the team, that being generally young and set for the long term, rather than striving to make that last push for the Cup right this very moment, I just don't see a whole lot of situations where the Blues would mortgage the future (even via trading something of the underproducing present) to make up the gaps caused by injury.
@miendiem As a wings fan my opinion is biased. The blues are having a great year. Only problem is they are not 5 mil under the cap like Detroit. Not sure what moves they can make without selling tomorrow. Would hate to see that AGAIN.
@MSP Aye. I'll admit that I'm glad that this ownership group didn't do what the last one did, and just blow the whole team up in an attempt to make it "more attractive" to a potential buyer? I never really was sure what was supposed to be so attractive about a cellar-dweller with basically no excitement and no hope. Good for driving away the casual fanbase, which is exactly the opposite of what a team in a middling market can afford if they want to continue to field a good team.
The long-term injuries aside, the Blues really are having a solid year. Coming out of this points-wise close to the 99-00 President's Trophy team is not out of the question yet, but it's going to require winning on the road. It really has been a decade since a Blues team was this good, and as a fan, it's fun to watch, if sometimes frustrating.