By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- While many were making moves Monday to bolster their rosters for the stretch run of the 2018-19 season, the Blues made just a small move, a depth move, but relatively stood pat.
And that's OK with general manager Doug Armstrong. It's OK with interim coach Craig Berube, and it's certainly OK with the players, who have developed a strong chemistry in the Blues' 11-1-1 run since Jan. 23.
Armstrong spoke Tuesday before the Blues (33-23-6) faced a critical game against the Nashville Predators (37-23-5) on the acquisition of defenseman Michael Del Zotto, who the Blues picked up for a 2019 sixth-round pick, and why they chose to stand pat.
It's simple: they didn't want to mess with the chemistry and Armstrong didn't feel a move/moves would significantly increase the Blues' chances of becoming favorites.
"Going into the deadline, we were content with our group the way it was," Armstrong said. "If we could make trades where we thought we could add players we thought could be here for multiple years, we were looking at doing that. That really didn't come up in our discussions. We did get the news that [Carl] Gunnarsson was going to be out another few weeks at a minimum made us want to add some depth on the back end. We were able to do that. We poked on a couple guys that would have been unrestricted free agents with [Brayden] Schenn and [David] Perron's situation, but we're comfortable they're going to be back sooner than later and we felt that it wasn't an area where we really had to go.
"I think the guys have done a really good job really since the new year or before that playing well, they've earned the right to stay together. We didn't want to disrupt the chemistry. They've earned the right to stay together. But also what we didn't want to do was stagnate the growth of a [Mackenzie] MacEachern or a [Sammy] Blais or [Jordan] Kyrou. If they're needed, they can come up here and play for us. By adding another layer or two up front eliminates the option for those guys. We felt last summer we were starting a new window, what it's called in the NHL, and we want to make sure we're giving these guys the proper opportunity to play both on the back end and up front."
The comfort level the Blues feel that Perron and Schenn, out with what are listed as upper-body injuries dealing with what's believed to be concussions, will return makes this a more solidified feeling, and ones the players are perfectly fine with.
"He sees what we have here and he sees it's finally starting to come together," forward Pat Maroon said of Armstrong. "I think what he did in the off-season basically sums up making deals at the trade deadline. Now it's just coming together, guys are starting to play good and the team's really jelling at the right time. You can see the chemistry's building, the friendships we're building and how close this team's really getting. It's fun to see, everyone's supporting each other and everyone's building each other up. Obviously when things were bad, everyone was sticking together. That's how a team is built through the hard times. What we went through the first three months of the year, we went through some hard times. To see where we're at now says it a lot."
Added center Ryan O'Reilly: "Over the summer, I think those were the big changes with the personnel we added. Look how long it took us to find that rhythm that we're starting to find now. We've got some injuries right now and waiting for guys to get healthy, but we've found the staples of our game and we've come together. It's something we're just going to continue to build with and it's something that there's the confidence in us like that.
"... [Armstrong] knows what he's doing. He knows better than anyone, and he did a lot of his work in the summer. He brought us together and it took us awhile to find that. Bringing in a lot of new faces can be tough. It depends who you bring in and that sort of thing, but we added a little bit of depth. I like where we're at. We've came together, we've found a way that guys are working together, working for each other. We've played some good hockey."
"Obviously I think everybody's happy, players included," Berube said. "We like our team, they like each other and they feel like we're a good hockey team, and they should feel that way. They've played really good hockey here for a while now. I know there's some injuries going on right now, but every team deals with that. They're still competing, playing hard and working for each other. That's important. I think that everybody's good with what went on yesterday at the deadline."
A good number of players went for draft picks on Monday, and that's a price Armstrong wasn't willing to pay.
"We don't have a first round pick this year. Those players, I don't want to speak who you're talking about, I didn't think that was a big enough difference that was going to make us favorites against these teams that we're playing," Armstrong said. "We have belief in some of these younger players, and the only way you get to see these younger players do it is to give them opportunity. Sammy Blais is going to get recalled today on emergency conditions. Alexander Steen's under the weather, so it's going to be another opportunity for him to play. We want to give these young guys a look. That was really the reasoning. I think maybe if we have a solid season next year, we'll be maybe where some of these teams are now, a little bit closer to using our assets because maybe that one player will push us over the top.
"I go back to when we acquired [Jay] Bouwmeester, when we acquired [Ryan] Miller, we acquired different guys we thought were the missing piece to put us over the top. We obviously haven't won a Stanley Cup. That was the logic at that time. We're just not in that position right now."
It's been reported in this space a number of times that Armstrong likely wasn't in the market for rental players and only interested in making "hockey" trades, meaning perhaps on a grander scale of player for player multiple players.
At this time of year, those are difficult to make.
"You look, there weren't many made yesterday, so it's not something ... I think if you're a non-playoff team, you're not focused on hockey trades," Armstrong said. "You're focused on maximizing your rentals assets. In the manager's position, what you do is a lot of deals were set up to talk about at the draft yesterday over the last week on what players you have, what are you going to be looking to do in the future. That's usually the first step and now we go to the general manager's meeting next week. Those will continue to grow and that's what really sets up what happens at the draft."
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Del Zotto, 28, arrived from Vancouver on Tuesday morning. He's anxious and eager to get started, getting a refreshed feeling of joining a team in the playoff chase. But there was also the sense of realizing something would happen with an expiring contract.
"I had an idea," said Del Zotto, who is in the final year of a contract that pays a $2.25 million average annual value. "Being in the business now 10 years and knowing my contract was up and knowing what was going on in Anaheim, probably not making the playoffs there, I had an idea. You never know. I kept checking my phone, it was like 11:20 before I went on the ice for the morning skate. Everything was fine, got off the ice and I got the call pretty much right on the deadline and found out and was very excited. Obviously this team is playing great hockey right now. I know a bunch of guys from home in Toronto, [Alex] Pietrangelo I grew up with, so some familiar faces here. Grateful for the opportunity and excited to get started.
"Whatever the coaching staff wants from me. Being in the business, understanding what it takes to win, it's been a while since I played playoff hockey so I'm excited to be in meaningful games at this time of year,so whatever position I'm put in I'm going to do the best of my ability to help the team win."
Del Zotto was a teammate of Pietrangelo in midgets and played for Berube with the Philadelphia Flyers when Del Zotto had 10 goals and 22 assists during the 2014-15 season.
"He's a good pro," Berube said. "He's been around a while obviously. He did a good job of really getting up in the rush. I think he scored 10 goals that year for us on the back end. Pretty good puck mover and competitor. Skates well."
Armstrong mentioned above that the uncertainty of Gunnarsson, who is out with an upper-body injury and will not be available for a couple weeks, there was a need for a depth defenseman.
"It was because of the Gunnarsson situation and we gave up a sixth-round pick, there's a value in every pick but we didn't have to go into the second or third round to get a guy," Armstrong said. "He's got experience. Craig knows him, Craig's worked with him before. Pietrangelo and he played a lot as youth together. I think they're good friends, so it was an easy fit for a guy that just wants to come in and be part of a group of seven."
With his arrival today, Del Zotto will not play against the Predators.
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The grind of the Blues' schedule will come to an end tonight -- sort of.
After playing Nashville, the Blues will finally have multiple off-days for the first time since the beginning of February.
Tonight's game will mark their 13th game in 22 days since Feb. 5, and Berube feels like they've handled it well.
"I think pretty good," he said. "We got three out of four point there on the weekend, which I thought was good character points to be honest with you with everything that was going on with the schedule, the flu bug going around and stuff like that. I think our guys are battling, they're competing hard and we need the same thing tonight. We're playing a very competitive team in Nashville. They're a hard team to play against, so we're really going to have to play competitive tonight and be ready."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri-Tyler Bozak-Pat Maroon
Zach Sanford-Oskar Sundqvist-Robert Thomas
Mackenzie MacEachern-Ivan Barbashev-Sammy Blais
Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko
Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo
Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.
The healthy scratch will be Michael Del Zotto. Brayden Schenn (upper body), David Perron (upper body), Carl Gunnarsson (upper body) and Alexander Steen (illness) are all out.
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The Predators' projected lineup:
Filip Forsberg-Ryan Johansen-Viktor Arvidsson
Calle Jarnkrok-Kyle Turris-Wayne Simmonds
Brian Boyle-Nick Bonino-Colton Sissons
Cody McLeod-Frederick Gaudreau-Rocco Grimaldi
Roman Josi-Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm-P.K. Subban
Matt Irwin-Yannick Weber
Juuse Saros will start in goal; Pekka Rinne will be the backup.
Healthy scratches will be Mikael Granlund and Matt Donovan. Craig Smith (lower body), Dan Hamhuis (lower body) and Zac Rinaldo (shoulder) are all out. Austin Watson is suspended.