Blues receive Stewart, Shattenkirk,
conditional 2nd round pick in mega deal
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- On the heels of dealing away team captain Eric Brewer, the Blues performed admirably in a 3-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres Friday night.
The team got a solid foundation from everyone involved. They gained two points in the standings. The players and coaches made the charter flight back to St. Louis afterwards.
All was well, right?
But as the Blues' plane touched down in the early hours of Saturday morning, there was an explosion of sorts, and it had nothing to do with the wings carrying them.
General Manager Doug Armstrong was at the airport awaiting the team and news of a blockbuster deal that saw the Blues trade former first overall pick Erik Johnson, gritty center Jay McClement and a conditional first-round pick in 2011 or 2012 to the Colorado Avalanche. In return, the Blues receive power forward Chris Stewart, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and a conditional second-round pick in 2011 or 2012.
Armstrong informed the players upon arrival Saturday morning that they will be en route to their new destination, and the makeup and change taking place with the Blues was in full engagement.
"We think they're young players who are going to help us get to the areas we want to go to," Armstrong said of Stewart and Shattenkirk. "They make us a better team today and more importantly I think they make us a better team in the future."
In dealing Johnson, who the Blues chose with the first overall pick of the 2006 draft, they gave up on a player considered a future face of the franchise and marked as a cornerstone defenseman for many years to come.
Johnson was in his third full NHL season and has five goals and 19 points in 55 games. He, along with David Backes, were part of the U.S. ice hockey team that won a silver medal at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
"We feel (Johnson) is a good, solid defenseman with great size and skill and still an opportunity for a great upside," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "His ability to skate, shoot and defend. I think there's progress there, but we made a decision to go in a different direction that we feel makes our team better in the long run."
Johnson's four years with the Blues included a solid rookie season in 2007-08 that saw the right-handed defenseman bag five goals and 33 points. He missed the entire 2008-09 season after a freak golf cart injury that saw Johnson tear the ACL in his right knee before netting career-highs in goals (10), assists (29) and points (39).
"I think quite honestly moving any player … your emotions don't change whether you're a first overall pick or a seventh-round pick," Armstrong said. "You’re part of the family. You work with these people, you travel with these people, you see these people and from an emotional standpoint or human standpoint there’s no difference between moving the first overall pick, or the 50th or 150th, they’re people.
"But competitively I think when you want to get a player of Stewart’s caliber, a potential budding power forward, someone that we think that we can continue to build and grow with and around, you have to give up something of quality so, I think this is a show of the great character and the great strength and the great hockey ability of Erik Johnson that we were able to acquire a player like what it cost us to acquire a player like Chris Stewart and then Shattenkirk coming in fills the void somewhat that Erik’s going to leave. He’s an excellent puck mover, a right shot. He can help us on the power play and help our transition game, and can help generate offense. It’s a deal that was made without creating a hole on our team."
Johnson, who has been unavailable for comment Saturday, as he and McClement were en route to San Jose to meet up with their new teammates for a game against the Sharks Saturday night, said in a text message in the early-morning hours, "All a shock (right now)."
The Blues also gave up the 27-year-old McClement, played 449 games in a six-year career with the Blues as a penalty-killing, shutdown center type of player.
He became expendable with the emergence of Vladimir Sobotka.
"Jay McClement brought a lot of the detail work that we strive to have in our game, and that's positionally, that's with puck decisions, it's with defensive responsibility on the penalty kill," Payne said. "He did a fantastic job for us, and now it's situations where Vladimir Sobotka is going to step into those roles, B.J. Crombeen ... guys that are having to take some of that responsibility are now going to go full steam with it. We feel the guys that are in there are the guys capable of getting the job done."
In Stewart, 23, the Blues will get a Backes-type of player that has been a thorn in the Blues' side, particularly last season.
Stewart, who suffered a broken hand in a fight with Minnesota's Kyle Brodziak Nov. 27 that forced him to miss 21 games. He has 13 goals and 30 points in 36 games after putting up career numbers last season with 28 goals, 36 assists and 64 points. Stewart, 6-foot-2, 228-pounds, was picked 18th overall in the 2006 draft.
"We obviously got a good forward in Chris Stewart that is gong to provide some size and a lot of scoring ability around the net for us," Backes said. "With Shattenkirk on the back end ... both of those guys have had a ton of success against us, so for nothing else, take Chris Stewart off the Avalanche so we don’t have to defend him. That’s pretty nice, and for him to be contributing to our offense is going to be great.
"Shattenkirk is a guy that can move the puck and join the offense, a young guy that’s got a lot of promise."
A 2007 first-round draft pick (14th overall), Shattenkirk, 22, is second among rookie defensemen in points (26), only behind Anaheim's Cam Fowler (29).
"Starting with Shattenkirk, a guy who's got great vision, great skill, a really good skater as far as defining gaps and creating opportunities and outlet passes," Payne said. "With Stewart, you've got your prototypical big forward that can shoot, can skate, plays with an edge, spends a lot of time around the blue paint, which we feel is a definite asset for our hockey club. A big-bodied, skilled guy with that type of edge and tenacity we feel will add into our top six immediately."
Payne added, "We know that Brew, EJ and Jay Mac were good hockey players for the St. Louis Blues and even better people. That's the tough part of it. Bottom line is with Stewart and Shattenkirk coming in, we feel they give us some elements that make us a better hockey club. That's the goal."
Stewart will not have to torment the Blues any longer, after posting eight goals and 15 points in 9 career games against them.
"Any time you add somebody it’s exciting for guys," forward Brad Boyes said. "Stewart ... I think he has half his career points against us, so that’s a good sign. We’ve seen a lot of offense from him."
The message from Armstrong, President John Davidson and ownership is that the latest deals were in no means a way of throwing the towel in.
"The message was we're not naive to the emotional and the personal part of these trades. These are their friends," Armstrong said. "They've gone to war with these guys. Some guys for 40 games, some guys for five or six years. I wanted to address that we as an organization from ownership down understand the personal part of it. But I also wanted to get them excited about the fresh start that some of these guys are going to be given with guys gone and the opportunity of bringing new guys in.
"Our job is to win hockey games. It's an ugly part of the business, but it is a part of the business. We have to make hard decisions as management, and players have to react and play every day for the guy sitting beside them.
"I think that we've added a power forward that we’ve coveted for awhile here. I think that it’s a difficult animal to find and to capture, and we were able to do that yesterday. It cost us two excellent players, but by gaining that player I also think we protected ourselves by bringing Shattenkirk in, a very good puck moving defensemen."