Thursday, February 9, 2012

As trade deadline approaches, Blues likely to be quiet

GM indicates team eager to see where they stand
when healthy, won't deal assets for immediate fixes

ST. LOUIS -- It's obvious that Blues Nation is anxiously awaiting and anticipating team general manager Doug Armstrong to make a move or moves as the Feb. 27 trade deadline is rapidly approaching.

But as it looks at the moment, the Blues will be more spectators than bidders. So if you're looking for Rick Nash, Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry, Zach Parise (who has been rumored but those have since cooled off) or even someone like Tuomo Ruutu to wear the Bluenote any time soon, forget about it.

Why? Because the Blues, who played Parise's New Jersey Devils Thursday night, are more eager to add from within, meaning they'd rather see what the results are if/when they get injured players back and for their own guys to produce on a more consistent level.

(Getty Images)
The Blues can use more offense from Patrik Berglund (right)
but don't look for him to be moved at the trade deadline.

The team is patiently awaiting the returns of both Andy McDonald and Alex Steen, who have been sidelined with concussions. Both would add instant stability to the top units and provide necessary offense. But it's not a guarantee when that will be. There's also the sudden injuries to Matt D'Agostini (concussion symptoms) and veteran Jason Arnott (shoulder).

Our goal is to get healthy and see where we fit in," Armstrong said Wednesday. "Obviously our team needs to play to the level that they're capable of playing. There are a number of players on our roster that aren't having the season that they had a year ago. But I think it's too easy for everyone involved to look for someone else to come in and fix the problem, when I think the answer is right down there (on the ice). And I'm very comfortable that they think the answer is right down there, too. We need players that we know can produce offense to produce offense.

"I think the cart got in front of the horse," Armstrong said. "When we're talking about concussions, I've always tried to tell everybody it's not a day-to-day topic, and unfortunately it became a day-to-day topic with our coach and the media. We've stopped that now."

The concerns for the Blues don't reside in goal or on the blue line. They've been among the top units in the NHL as far as goals-against is concerned. But the Blues are in the bottom third in the league in goals scored. They entered Thursday's game 21st at 2.46 per game. It was not anticipated that some of the current top six forwards (namely Chris Stewart and Patrik Berglund) would have down years. But at their current pace, both would fall short of the numbers they put up a season ago.

"We started the year saying that we need to find out about these players," Armstrong said. "Well, there's no better time to find out about a player than a drive into the playoffs. To bring in other players and put guys we want to find out about in different roles, then we're just pushing off the process.

"The season is going to end the way it's going to end. There's no guarantee that you bring in a player, and all of a sudden you're going to become the high-scoring Detroit Red Wings. Those players aren't out there. We need to see what these players can do when the game is on the line."

The Blues have shown no impatience with Berglund or Stewart, who some fans have thrown into the mix as far as dealing them away. But there will be none of that as far as the Blues are concerned and there won't be any knee-jerk reactions.
(Getty Images)
Chris Stewart (25) is having a down season after netting 28 goals in each of
his first two seasons. The Blues will not use him as a trading chip.

"These players are still young," Armstrong said. "I understand the patience necessary to go through it. You look around the league, my belief is the worst trade you can make is on emotion and with a short-term outlook. The best part of these guys' careers is just beginning. We're going to have these guys for a long time and if we want to string them up every time they go through a bad stretch, then we're never going to be a good franchise."

There's also the lingering issue of ownership, which will hopefully come to some sort of resolution soon. And an anticipated transfer of ownership, led by minority owner Tom Stillman, would not be completed until after the trade deadline. It's believed that the Blues don't have the necessary resources -- temporarily -- to be able to add to a payroll that's at $54.5 million, or roughly $9 million under the salary cap ceiling.

Armstrong wouldn't indicate how much flexibility he has, if any.

"I'm not going to discuss the internal structure of the Blues. We work under a budget.," he said. "The ownership has been strong. They increased our budget by 10 percent to start the season. That's helped. That let us bring in the depth of a (Jamie) Langenbrunner, an Arnott, (Kent) Huskins, (Scott) Nichol. So, I think ownership has been strong and we understand where we sit.

"You're always looking to see if you can improve your team. But I like this group and I like the depth that we have here. We'll keep our ears open as we get closer to the deadline. But we're like two-thirds of the NHL, we work under a business framework and whatever deals we make have to fit into that plan."

The Blues are currently structured to win low-scoring close games. They're No. 1 in the NHL entering Thursday with a 1.92 GAA and are also tops in the league at shots allowed at 26.4. The core group has an average age of 23.9.

"It was built to be a hard-working, competitive team that has to be comfortable playing in tight games," Armstrong said. "Some of the teams that are ahead of us in the standings are playing the majority of the games and winning in shootouts. Well, that equation leaves in the playoffs. Our shootout record hasn't been good, but if we're fortunate enough to make the playoffs, we don't have to worry about that. So I like the way we're set up.

"Every time a player has a bad stretch, you can't move them and think that's going to solve your problems because sometimes good players have bad years. To become a team, you have to go through the good and the bad times with players to gain their trust ... and that's how they gain their teammates' trust, working through these things."

The patience certainly paid off when fans were ready to dispatch goalie Jaroslav Halak after his horrendous start. He's now among the top five in the NHL in GAA and shutouts.

"I've never been a big proponent of a lot of change," Armstrong said. "If you see something that needs to be addressed, you address it. But ... take Jaro for example. At the start of the year, there was an outcry about Jaro. Well, he then ripped off (a stretch of 11-0-3). This isn't NHL EA Sports (video game) where you just move guys back and forth and a week later you say, 'I'll take that trade back now.' You have to be patient and you have to give players the opportunity to work through tough times."

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