Friday, March 14, 2014

Blues' trade of Perron not about present numbers

Big picture plan of management paying 
off with emergence of Schwartz, Tarasenko

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If it all boils down to what's on paper, the Edmonton Oilers certainly got the best of the trade with the Blues this past summer.

David Perron, who returned to St. Louis for the first time since being moved to Edmonton for Magnus Paajarvi and a 2014 second round pick Thursday, leads the Oilers with a career-high 25 goals -- including one against the Blues -- and is third on the team in points with 47 in 63 games. Paajarvi, who's been in and out of the lineup all season -- mostly in recently -- and who's played mostly a fourth-line role in his time, has six goals and 12 points in 44 games.

The consensus, especially among those in the media market in and around Edmonton is that the Oilers got the better of the trade by a landslide; the Blues got fleeced.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jaden Schwartz (9) has 21 goals and 50 points in his second full NHL 

But in looking at the broader picture, it wasn't that Blues general manager Doug Armstrong wanted to trade Perron for poor performance or that his time in St. Louis had run its course. There was a broader picture to view.

Alex Pietrangelo, as well as Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, first round picks in 2010, had a lot to do with it. And in the long run, it's worked out well for the Blues.

The Blues needed cap space, and Pietrangelo became a restricted free agent over the summer. The Blues were going to invest long-term (and big dollars) to the fourth overall pick of the 2008 NHL Draft. Pietrangelo got his term and his money (seven years, $45.5 million). The Blues also needed depth at center, and with Perron's cap hit of $3.8 million and a plethora of wingers of his caliber, he was expendable.

With that in mind, the Blues also saw the emergence of both Schwartz and Tarasenko, who were asked to pick up the minutes and pick up the slack that Perron would leave behind.

Both have done admirably in their second seasons, respectively. Each scored their 20th goals of the season Thursday (Schwartz scored twice, giving him 21).

"I think you have to look at it in a bigger picture in the sense of the overall business," Armstrong said. "We had to sign Alex. Alex was a priority signing for us. To do that we had to clear up cap space. We were understanding that by moving Perron, we were going to put more responsibility on two former first round picks in Schwartz and Tarasenko. We felt that they were ready for that. But as much it was to give them the added responsibility, we had to make sure we had the cap space to fend off any offer sheets (for Pietrangelo) from our competition and to sign our players. 

"I think in the NHL today, it's about managing your assets and the emergence of both Schwartz and Tarasenko, particularly made us feel that we can make that trade and gain a high second round pick, it looks like, plus a young player like Paajarvi who's in cost control and still (has) good upside."

Perron will wind up with career numbers in Edmonton this season and likely post big numbers moving forward in an Oilers uniform, but to see Schwartz (21 goals, 29 assists in 64 games) and Tarasenko (20 goals, 22 assists in 63 games) emerge as viable options in all facets for the Blues as they lead the NHL in points (97) with a 45-14-7 record makes the transition one worth the gamble.

"I don't know the exact reasons for the trade. Could have been they wanted more at center and to clear up cap but we just wanted to come in and do our job," Schwartz said. "If we're playing more, that means we've got to produce and make sure we're chipping in and being responsible. It just comes with playing more. You want to make sure you have more of a role so you play a bigger part and do your job. I'm not really thinking too much about it. Just go out there, play hard and have fun.

"You want to make the best of the opportunity you're getting. Otherwise if you're not, they'll get someone else to do it. We both wanted to come in here and play a bigger role this year. I feel like we've learned a lot. You play more games and you get a little more comfortable and you get more confidence."

A bigger, stronger Tarasenko has not endured a 'Sophomore Slump.' Neither has Schwartz.

"It's a good feeling when guys trust you and coaches," Tarasenko said. "You stay more focused on your game when you have like 24-25 guys behind you. I think it's a good experience for us, for me and Jaden, and we try to improve.

"I didn't think about (20 goals) before the season. My first goal was have a good training camp. When I played, that's not what I was thinking about. I think nobody cares about points and goals."

The transition for Tarasenko came after playing in Russia of the Kontinental Hockey League and having to experience a different culture. With Schwartz, it was straight from Colorado College to the pros where the big boys play.

"It's really tough when a guy first gets here," Blues captain David Backes said. "Tarasenko out of Russia, Schwartz out of college. You can see a lot of raw talent but how that's going to translate into the heat of a NHL season and into those battles where there's a guy that may rip your head off at any time to see what kind of gusto they have, you can't really tell that until you go through an extended season with them. They've answered the bell, they've shown they'll go into the hard areas and take hits and possess the puck when they need to. Their abilities allow them to make plays all over the ice. It's really encouraging.

"I was still trying to score goals in college and not scoring 20. It's impressive what they've done but they've worked for it and it's not come easy for them. Every year you've got to put your neck on the line and do the hard things to score goals to get to 20. Hopefully 30's not too far away in the not too distant future for those guys. With their skills and abilities it shouldn't be. ... I think you saw great glimpses of it during the lockout season when it's a shorter, abbreviated sprint and they were able to take that next step and made that move something that became a reality that we could make that step. It saves some salary cap on the other side and we were able to add some more pieces in Otter and Millsie (Steve Ott and Ryan Miller). Those guys' performances is a big reason why we're sitting here right now. You look at teams in the past that have won the Cup, they've had young guys step up and those young guys are stepping up for us. Hopefully it leads to a similar result."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has been notorious for relying on veteran players in the past. But the emergence of the 21-year-old Schwartz and 22-year-old Tarasenko is not at all surprising.

"I think we expected this to happen," Hitchcock said. "David got traded for a positional player. We needed for Schwartz and Tarasenko to take David's minutes as wingers and then we wanted to get obviously a player like Derek (Roy) who was a different position. We needed a playmaking center. So the risk we took was that the two kids could take David's minutes and they've been able to do that. David is a good player. He's a strong player, but we needed a different position. We needed a player to make other people better by distributing the puck. And Derek's had 40 points, so he's done the job that we wanted him to do.

"Our view was when we looked at things during the summer, we needed a different mix in our group to help out other people. I think both kids have played well, but they've also played with good players. I think there was talk of two things. First of all, moving Sobe into the middle was discussed, so we had to create room there and looking for a center iceman that could make plays, and that's where Derek Roy came in. But in order to do that, you've got to move somebody and so we looked at our depth and we thought that's where our depth is, our depth is in players like Tarasenko and Schwartz."

Relying on a host of teammates that have been through similar experiences has made the transition smoother.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The emergence of Vladimir Tarasenko (91) in St. Louis helped make 
David Perron expendable this past summer.

"For a young guy every individual is going to progress at their own rate," Backes said. "That's why some guys are great at a young age and some take a while to develop. Good job by the scouting staff and management to identify those guys are guys that can do it earlier than later and they've gotten an increased role and responsibility and they've succeeded and blossomed in there. They've helped our team. 

"I think there's something to do with the older guys trying to make them feel comfortable in the past. I think in the old days, it was rookie hazing and trying to make them feel uncomfortable. Now I think that role's really changed for older guys to make those guys as comfortable as possible so they can produce and play their game the way they got to this level and they're going to help this team succeed going forward."

Early on, it was all about managing the situation for Armstrong. The Blues have been able to do that. They just have to keep the ship afloat; not only with Schwartz and Tarasenko but Paajarvi as well, who's only 22 years old and a former first round pick (10th overall in 2009).

"If you want to have young players, really you've got to give them responsibility in the areas to grow in," Armstrong said. "We felt that we had one too many top nine forwards at the time. It was cap space also. As a manager, when you move somebody, you hope they go and have a great season. I couldn't be any more happier for David. He's a good guy. He puts a lot into his craft. He works hard. To see him get his 25th goal last night ... I don't know why anyone would wish that a guy doesn't play good when he leaves. It's more what we were able to do. To see Schwartz and Tarasenko both get their 20th the same night he got his 25th, it means our scouting staff has done a good job finding a lot of good players. Now we just have to manage those assets."

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