The St. Louis Blues have found their footing with rookie Jake Allen in net and are once again looking like a safe bet for to make the postseason. They wouldn't immediately appear to be a team looking to trade players, but that's a scenario that they could be looking at.
When you look ahead to next season, when the salary cap will drop to $64.3 million, the Blues have a lot of work to do. Yes, they have only $30 million committed for next season. But of the 26 players on their cap at the moment, 14 will be free agents in some capacity after this season.
Just among the restricted free agents you have Allen, Kevin Shattenkirk, Ian Cole, Alex Pietrangelo, Matt D'Agostini, Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart. That's a list full of players who will be due some pretty nice raises. That doesn't even get to the unrestricted free agents like Andy MacDonald.
So it has, in turn, raised questions of whether the Blues can afford all of them. Remember, this team was sold recently and isn't necessarily swimming in a bottomless pool of cash. As it stands, the Blues actually have the lowest payroll in the NHL.
That has led to some wondering what the Blues might do as the trade deadline approaches. They certainly wouldn't want to lose any of their key players, but it's possible they won't be able to afford them. That would explain why the name Chris Stewart is being floated as a possible trade target despite being the Blues' leading scorer with 28 points in 28 games.
Here's what Darren Dreger of TSN said recently:
"Stewart's name is out there, and when a name like that surfaces based on how well he's played this year and he continues to produce, then you know that there's an expected high level of return," Dreger explained. "St. Louis and Doug Armstrong have been looking for a defenceman since basically the start of the year."
Stewart and Blues coach Ken Hitchcock haven't had the best relationship since Hitch came on in St. Louis. Stewart had a turbulent season a year ago, disappointing with 15 goals and 15 assists in 79 games. It was a huge step back from what he had shown the previous two seasons. With a strong rebound this season, you're looking at a guy who is close to a 30-goal scorer. Thus, he'll be getting a nice contract. So will some others.
Who could be interested? Probably almost every team. But when there is a winger available, there's always some talk coming from Pittsburgh. The Penguins apparently just don't score enough goals as it is; they're always looking for a winger to play with Sidney Crosby. So Mike Colligan explored the potential fit and what the Penguins could offer the Blues in return.
The Blues will have a few other conundrums to consider, such as their three-goalie situation with Allen, Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott. Perhaps the Blues can and will keep the team together as is through the rest of the season.
I would be very surprised to see the Blues trade Stewart, but he could fetch a very good return. After all, (potential) 30-goal power forwards don't grow on trees. It's just tough for me to imagine them jettisoning their leading scorer when they figure to be a potential Cup contender this year (albeit a notch below the upper echelon).
Armstrong will have his work cut out for him. Let's see why he was the GM of the Year last season in the NHL.
As happenstance would have it, Stewart was named the No. 1 star in the NHL for the past week.
All salary figures courtesy of Cap Geek