Monday, February 26, 2018

Blues players surprised Stastny was traded, will miss him

Center traded to Winnipeg was veteran leader, closest to Steen

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Brayden Schenn looked somewhat surprised and bewildered. Alexander Steen looked like he lost his best friend.

Well, actually, Steen did, and that's why the news of the trade of center Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets for a conditional first-round pick in 2018, a conditional fourth-round pick in 2020 and forward prospect Erik Foley came as a shock to Blues teammates who've played with Stastny throughout his four seasons in the town he grew up in.

Not only was Stastny the best man in Steen's wedding last summer, the two were neighbors in suburban St. Louis and grew quite the friendship together. So when news came down that Stastny would no longer be a teammate, reality set in and it wasn't taken lightly.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Paul Stastny was a locker room leader with the Blues but he was traded to the 
Winnipeg Jets on Monday.

"Yeah, it makes it very hard," Steen said, before pausing. "You know we've become really close. His family, my family -- we live across the street from each other. That's definitely the tough part of the business. The guy's my best friend, and it's tough.

"'Stas,' he's such a big part of the team both on and off the ice. I think the more you talk to the players about the presence that 'Stas' had in the room and him and his family, what they contribute _ not just on the ice but his family brings everybody together and how much they enjoy that part of the game and making sure everybody feels like they're included and together. They're a major glue family."

And many of those Blues teammates came down, one by one, to say goodbye to Stastny, who departed the Blues' team hotel Monday afternoon to see their former teammate off to north of the border to Winnipeg, where Stastny will jump right into the heated playoff mix.

Even coach Mike Yeo spent some time with his now former veteran center, who was a key contributor as a penalty killer, power-play specialist and dynamic in the faceoff dot, where Stastny is 55.2 percent on the season and is 53.4 percent for his career.

"I spent a little time with him there, just to have a chance to talk with him," Yeo said. "Obviously he knows he's going to a good situation, a good team. There's the hockey part of it that I think is exciting for him, but at the same time you can tell just how much his teammates mean to him, how much the city of St. Louis means to him. So quite often I think it sort of gets loss in all the excitement. Obviously, a lot of people like change. It's exciting and gives reason for optimism. But when you sit down and talk with somebody like Paul and see how it affects the person, then obviously it can be a bit of an emotional day."

It added some sting to a Blues team (34-25-4) that sits just one point outside of the playoff race looking in but 0-5-1 the past six games and now having no other help coming along the way to try and salvage the remainder of the season.

"Yeah, crazy," Schenn said before the trade deadline ended. "Really one or two points out and move a guy that does a lot for us, but at the end of the day, that's their decision and I guess we'll see what happens here in the next hour. I didn't expect Stastny to be moved, but I guess with his contract expiring, them getting picks to be used elsewhere or to draft, you kind of just go from there and we'll see what happens in the next hour here."

Nothing else happened, and the Blues will head into the final 19 games using the group they have, which includes giving younger guys a more prominent role.

And by not adding and subtracting instead, does that give players mixed signals?

"It's not really a mixed signal," Schenn said. "We're a point out and they move 'Stas' not to say that we can't make the playoffs. Maybe it will fire guys up, give guys more opportunity to do more and that's one way you can look at it. Teams that are one or two out are kind of loading up right now and we're one or two out and we kind of, as of right now, went the other way. Like I said, anything can change in the next hour. We don't know what they're going to do. As a team right now, we're obviously struggling, there's no doubt about that. Maybe this shakes things up and who knows? I still believe the mood in that locker room after we made that trade is still going to fight the last 18 or 19 games we have left here to make the playoffs and that's not going to change."

Even Stastny, who had to waive his no-trade clause to allow the trade to happen, wasn't surprised.

"Yeah, and no. No for me because I've been around this league, I know how it works," said Stastny, who had 40 points (12 goals, 28 assists) and played all 63 games for the Blues this season. "You can't be naive to the situation I think no matter what and then I'm in the last year of my contract. Obviously it always plays a factor. Obviously you always keep all the doors open for what might happen in the summer. Having been around and talking to guys that have been around, I come to expect that anything can happen, so I wasn't really blindsided by it. It's a lot going on. It's pretty emotional for my family and I. I think missing the guys is going to be the hardest part. I'm also excited for the new challenge and I know a few guys on the team and have heard nothing but good things from guys that have played there, whether recently or in the past or knowing certain guys on that team."

Players know these can be tense times leading up to the trade deadline, and when fruition comes to light,  that emotion gets elevated, especially for a guy like Stastny.

"As you go through the years it's something that's always in the back of your mind a little bit," Steen said. "But it's always when it becomes reality a completely different story.

"Yeah, it's extremely tough to swallow. A week ago, I don't know if this will happen or not. It's that time of year when you just don't know."

According to general manager Doug Armstrong, it wouldn't have.

"Well, that was the hardest part and that's why I hoped we wouldn't get to this point," Armstrong said. "But how we're playing right now was an indicator that there was no guarantees that if we just kept the status quo that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. It's one thing when you believe you're playing well and then not getting the results. There's puck-luck, there's bad luck, there's the other team is just on a roll. But we haven't been to the level of competitiveness on enough nights recently to think that we were just a slight tweak away from getting it back. So I just felt that as an organization we started down a path two years ago of trying to regain assets and rebuild for the future. We sort of dodged a bullet last year at the end, going down that path and bringing in a first for 'Shatty' [Kevin Shattenkirk] and [Zach] Sanford. We had a lot of excitement we thought with what we did last year, the experience that we gained. We looked at our roster, our roster had a Robby Fabbri on it, our roster had a Sanford on it coming out of the gate, and we thought that we were going to be able to expedite it. Then all of a sudden we lose players in training camp and that's part of the game. We get off to the great start and then things have slowly digressed since then."

Now Yeo has to try and patch together a lineup that's been lacking with any punch up front and doing so by giving the likes of Tage Thompson, one of the players teams called Armstrong about Monday, more ice time.

"Obviously, I have thought about and started drawing up some combinations, but we'll wait on tomorrow to reveal the line combinations that we're gonna go into the game," Yeo said before the Blues play the red-hot Minnesota Wild. "That said, obviously that's a big void. It's a penalty killer. It's a power play guy. It's a key faceoff. Offensively, defensively against top lines. And what I can tell is is that not one player is just gonna step up and fill in his role and do what he does. We're gonna need a real group committee effort but certainly we still believe that we're capable of that.

"... I don't know if you call it pleasant for anybody. Obviously, we've known that this is looming. I can tell you that I'm happy and I think that the players are happy that it's over. Obviously, it's a difficult day losing a friend and a teammate like 'Stas.' But I can tell you, and no excuses on our part, but this has been weighing on a lot of people for a period of time here. And now we can say this is our group, this is our team, now let's get after it."

So Stastny, who grew up in St. Louis after his Hockey Hall of Fame father Peter Stastny finished his NHL career with the Blues, heads north after nearly four seasons in St. Louis with one biggest regret: not winning it all here.

"Absolutely," Stastny said. "I think being a fan and growing up and seeing how close St. Louis teams always are and just how hard it is to do it, sometimes there's teams you dominate and you don't play them and you do to the finals and there's teams that you don't match up well with and you lose to them. I think that's the hardest part is everyone knows how passionate St. Louis fans are. I was one of those guys growing up and I still am. I think everyone wants to do everything they can to build a winner with the St. Louis Blues and with the Cardinals having done it for so many years. It's only a matter of time. For the city I grew up in and I was raised in, family lives, I always want to see the best for it.

"... It's crazy how fast that four years has gone by. It's one of those things that in 10, 15 years, you don't want to have any regrets. That's part of the business and I'm just going to go in there (to Winnipeg) and enjoy it."

Stastny wouldn't close the door on possibly returning to the Blues, perhaps when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, in all likelihood, he probably knows he will have a new address, or the same new one, if he chooses to resign in Winnipeg.

"I don't think it was that. I think we all knew, you kind of see where the team's going and I think all those guys in my position in the last year of their contracts, they just worry about playing now," Stastny said. "Whatever happens in the summer, then you worry about stuff like that, but that's outside of your control for now. You play the game and the little things that you can't control, you try not to worry about because it's added stress and you already have enough in your life."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Paul Stastny (26) makes a play with the puck earlier this season against the
Carolina Hurricanes at Scottrade Center.

Steen said he'll miss his best bud but happy Stastny is going to a team with a legitimate shot at winning.

"He's going to a new situation and like you do with the people that you care about, you want him to succeed and do well," Steen said. "And that won't change from me to him. I want nothing but the best for him and his family. He's going to a good setup. Obviously with my connection to Winnipeg, it's a lot of people there that care about him already before he's even shown up that are gonna help him get situated and get settled, and most importantly for Haley and the kids to get into Winnipeg and feel like home right away. So he's going to a good situation and I'm happy for him in that aspect.

"'Stas' and I as close as we are, we constantly talk about how we can make our group better. And what we're missing. Or what we're doing well. What we want to keep pushing on. To lose that communication between the two of us is difficult."

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