Thursday, March 4, 2010

Blues stand pat once again as deadline passes

Team makes pair of minor deals; none of pending free agents dealt

ST. LOUIS -- After standing pat at last season's trade deadline, John Davidson is hoping lightning can strike twice.

It worked for the Blues a season ago, as they did nothing yet made a vigorous push and bullied their way into the Western Conference playoffs.

The Blues' team president hopes it will happen again in 2010.

While various teams were jockeying for players, looking for the quick fix to either strengthen their playoff positions or set themselves up to get in, the Blues were relatively quiet as another NHL trade deadline came and went Wednesday at 2 p.m. central time.

After making a move late Tuesday to acquire 23-year-old winger Matt D'Agostini from Montreal for 20-year-old prospect Aaron Palushaj, the Blues also made a minor move at the deadline, moving forward Yan Stastny to Vancouver for 23-year-old prospect Pierre-Cedric Labrie.

Just like last season, when Davidson was faced with the decision of shipping off veterans at the deadline as the Blues were in playoff limbo, he has decided that the best course of action for another playoff run this season was to keep the current team in tact.

So that means impending free agents such as Keith Tkachuk, Paul Kariya, Carlo Colaiacovo and Chris Mason as well as the likes of Brad Boyes, who was mentioned to be available, will ride out the final 19 games as the Blues (29-25-9) sit three points out of a playoff spot entering today's 7:30 p.m. game at Dallas.

"I think that sometimes you're better off as organization not doing a whole lot," Davidson said Wednesday afternoon. "Our team has played extremely well recently. We've got good chemistry, we've got a good room and it wasn't affected.

"You can go into a trade deadline in three different modes. One is to sell, one is to stay pat, and one is to add. We looked at all three."

And in the end, adding one NHL-ready player (D'Agostini) was all the Blues wanted to do. It cost the Blues Palushaj, a second-round pick in 2007 that the team had high hopes for and left some fans scratching their heads Wednesday.

"We like Aaron, but we're trying to bit-by-bit improve the franchise," Davidson said. "We feel with Matt, he's a guy that is a little bit older but not a lot. He's a guy that's already had NHL experience. He's a guy that's already scored very well in the American (Hockey) League. He's got good speed, he's got an NHL shot and he can play all three forward positions. He's not real big, but not real small at about 6-feet, 195. And he can come in and help us right now. With Walt's (Keith Tkachuk) injury ... who knows how long that's going to be ... we're hoping it's not long, but you never know, so we want to get somebody that can help us if necessary."

There's been speculation that Palushaj was struggling his first full season in Peoria, with four goals and 17 assists in 44 games with the Rivermen.

"No, no because I think we got a pretty good player," Davidson said when asked if Palushaj did not pan out. "Palushaj, he's a young player. He's not finished developing yet. We didn't give up on him. We're trying to improve our team. We're getting a player who we think can play here now, as opposed to down the road. So no, I don't think that's a fair assessment at all.

"... When you have a lot of picks like we've had, sometimes you take a certain pick and try to make a deal that might be 10 percent better or 20 percent better for your team, so you do it. Our guys, we've scouted Montreal a lot, and our guys like D'Agostini. They like what he brings. We did a lot of research with other teams, other coaches, other people, and it came out pretty good on this young man. I'm looking forward to seeing him play and see if he can make us better.

"Aaron may go on and be a real good player, but so might Matt. Matt's ahead of Aaron right now on that development chart, and that's something we need right now. We just felt that we're in a position where we might need a little more offense, or a little more speed, or a little more something ... and there it is."

As for dealing away Stastny, who was Peoria's captain playing on a one-way, $500,000 contract, this deal had all the earmarks of a salary dump. But Davidson said that wasn't the case.

"I think with that one, with Yanny, he's a world-class guy," Davidson said. "Peoria has had a tough run lately. We want them still to play well, win some games. We'd rather play younger people, that's basically it. For Yanny, he has a chance because of our respect for him, to go to another franchise and maybe further his career, which is real good for him. This is a world-class guy. When I say that, I mean it very seriously ... a world-class guy."

So what do the Blues get with Labrie?

"He's a big kid," Davidson said. "We'll see how he plays. We'll watch him, we'll monitor him. We'll see where it goes."

Recent games have helped sway Davidson's feelings on whether the team should stay the course or move in a different direction.

The most recent four-game swing helped Davidson determine that tackling the last quarter of the season with the room in tact was the best course of action.

"That helped," he said. "I think going into the Olympic break, had we lost all three, we would have been a significant amount of points behind. With just 20 to go, that's a different story. Plus, the last three games were at home, and we played real well in those games. That would have been a different story had we lost all three of those. That's just common sense. With our club, we sort of lit the cauldron there. We got everyone excited about us and the team feels good about themselves. They're starting to feel good about the new coach. There's a little bit of good going on here. (Chris) Mason has been solid in goal. Chris has played real hard. Our penalty killing is real good. Our power play has gotten better."

Davidson acknowledged the team never approached Tkachuk about his no-trade clause nor Kariya about his no-movement clause. Both have indicated in recent days that they want to finish this out and remain with the Blues.

"If you break that down with both Kariya and Tkachuk, we never asked them ... I don't even like to comment on no-trade scenarios ... they have it in their contracts ... we were very professional about that," Davidson said. "When you talk about some other players who are in their last seasons, there's quite a number of them that are playing well for us. So they're Blues. We want to make the playoffs, period. Our room has been unaffected. This should be a tight room."

As for not dealing away pieces that the team could lose this summer for nothing, Davidson's decision came down to wanting these guys to make the playoffs together, which he feels like they can do.

"Well, my response would be, 'Would you like us to go trade these players and end up 10 points out of the playoffs? Or would you rather us keep the players and be right there in the standings, playing the best hockey we've played all season and get into the playoffs," he said. "If you get in, anything can happen. We're a much better team than we used to be. We've got more experience. The younger players are better than what they were. That would be my response in a nutshell. In previous years, we were out of the playoffs and we had to make deals to find draft picks to get better players within the organization. That was the way we were rebuilding here. I think we're on track for that. That is pretty well it. We weren't going to go and just get rid of players, and find ourselves in a position where we had very little chance of winning hockey games. It just wouldn't be responsible to the fans."

The Blues fielded calls on a variety of players, but nothing made sense from a standpoint of disrupting chemistry that has obviously developed and has this team once again on the cusp of playoff paradise.

Most of the calls coming in were based on if the Blues were willing to deal away some of the younger bargaining chips. And they weren't going in that direction, obviously.

"We had some healthy discussions," Davidson said. "When you get into a complicated trade deadline, in terms of players, draft picks, budgets ... when I say budget, I mean the cap, you start talking about different ways of making certain things work. That (means), 'Well yeah, we'd like to do that, but maybe we'll do this.' Or the other team may say, 'Oh yeah, we would love to do that, but you know what ... we've got to do this.' Sometimes that puzzle is like the square peg in round hole ... it just doesn't fit.

"I wouldn't say we were overly busy, but we had some very intriguing discussions. You have to understand that with the Olympic break, there was a lot of discussions with organizations prior to the Olympics. What you do toward the trade deadline is you try to set the table. Then when the deadline gets closer, that's when you go to work and make the deals. A lot of the table-setting was already done. You get a few surprises, when certain teams will try to do something, but they need a dance partner. Or we tried to do something and we needed a third team to deal with. You try to put stuff together. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Most of the time it doesn't, but you still try."

The Blues' boss did admit that the thought of addition was a possibility but that nothing worked.

"Regarding adding a major piece, there wasn't a lot of that being done out there," Davidson said. "Plus we don't want to affect our future by overspending for something. That's basically it in a nutshell."

So the Blues will go at the final 19 games just the way they began the post-Olympic games, hoping to accumulate wins and add points with the roster that has garnered eight points in as many games.

"If you look at our club and you look at Paul (Kariya) and you look at Erik (Johnson) and you look at Eric Brewer, those are three players that are playing right now the best they have played all year because they're coming off significant injuries," Davidson said. "It's taken them time to get their game in order, and it's happening right now. Who knows where (the next 19 games) will take us . . . I hope to a good place. But as of today, I think we have a better chance of getting there than what we had a month ago, or six weeks ago, because these guys are all, along with many others, playing their best hockey of the season.

"We, as an organization, feel that yeah, sure, we could have dumped salary, and all this stuff, but our ownership and us, we confer and we felt this is a pretty good hockey club ... let's go make the playoffs ... it's good for the organization."

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