Blais, 2022 second-round pick headed to New York in deal
for RFA; St. Louis picks up much-needed top-six scoring winger
By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The dominoes began to fall for the Blues before the first round of the 2021 NHL Draft on the trade route.
The Blues acquired forward Pavel Buchnevich from the New York Rangers for forward Sammy Blais and a 2022 second-round pick.
Pavel Buchnevich was acquired by the Blues from the New York Rangers
on Friday for Sammy Blais and a 2022 second-round pick.
It's no secret that the Blues were going to search for a top-six winger through trade or free agency dating back to last season, and with a potential loss of Jaden Schwartz, who can become an unrestricted free agent, and the trade request of Vladimir Tarasenko, it was imperative that the Blues move on a player that could fit the bill, and they did so before the start of free agency, which is slated to begin Wednesday, July 28.
"I'm excited to have Pavel join our group," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "I want to thank Sammy Blais for his contributions to our organization over the last number of years, (and) wish him nothing but the best of luck and success with the Rangers."
Buchnevich, 26, is coming off a season in which he had 48 points (20 goals, 28 assists) in 54 games; the 6-foot-3, 196-pound forward, who played predominantly right wing in New York, can play either wing; he's scored 79 goals in his five-year career, including 57 the past three seasons for the 2013 third-round pick.
"Well, he's got good size at 6-3. He is a left shot, can play the right side," Armstrong said of Buchnevich. "He's scored in the league recently. He's 26 years old. A player that obviously we control for a year and would like to sign long-term ... the right age group for us, what we're trying to accomplish. And a very good penalty-killer, too, a very underrated penalty-killer. So he's going to touch all aspects of our game and he's at a good age. As we continue to re-tool this roster, and I think he's a good piece for us.
"... I have no idea. Our hope is to (get a long-term contract done). I've worked with Todd Diamond on a number of contracts in the past. I enjoy working with Todd. He's a straight shooter. We've been able to do some deals in the past, and we hope to. That's the goal going in is to see if we can get something done now or in the future on a long-term deal. At 26 years old, he's a player that is at a very good age."
Buchnevich will become a restricted free agent on July 28 with arbitration rights, and as Armstrong said, the Blues would like to sign long-term and Diamond, Buchnevich's agent, gave the same impression.
"That's how you always enter it," said Diamond, who also represents Blues goalie Ville Husso. "In a negotiation, you always hope it's going to be smooth and easy, especially with this off-season, everything being so compact. I think Doug and I have enough years between us to kind of understand kind of where Pavel should fit and ultimately it doesn't take too long and we can get things going. There are other aspects for foreign players like immigration and business. So there's a lot of work to be done. You acquire a new player, you want him to make an impact, you need him to be there on time. So that's going to be our goal."
Buchnevich played on the Rangers' top line with Alexis Lafreniere and Mika Zibanejad and thrived there, and will have a top role with the Blues.
The trade was among a flurry of them on Friday, and amidst the flat cap of $81.5 million, teams are having to expose players they perhaps don't want to trade but need to.
"Every year, there's opportunities at different times with a flat cap or without a flat cap," Armstrong said. "Teams are going in certain directions and there's a future in what contracts you have coming up. So I think we've seen a lot of activity today in the NHL of teams acquiring draft picks going into what would be considered a rebuild mode and teams that want to stay competitive and want to keep pushing forward are acquiring players. So I think there's always different opportunities, and the flat-cap certainly brings more people in. But I think these deals are there year in and year out."
And this one happened rather quickly.
"Just calling around to managers, trying to find out what each team is looking to do," Armstrong said. "Chris (Drury, the Rangers GM) and I got on an avenue that was beneficial for both of us, so we just talked it out and made a deal."
Buchnevich spent his entire career with the Rangers, and wanted to remain there, but gets this brand new opportunity.
"It's hard to say because I'm not privy to all of the salary demands of other agents for their clients, so it's hard to assess what Chris Drury was staring down, but Pavel did want to stay with the Rangers," Diamond said. "It's the only team he has known, has a lot of close relationships in the locker room, a lot of good will there, but that's life in pro sports and the cap world.
"I think for the hockey world it's a shock he ended up in St. Louis, but Chris kind of allowed me to be involved along the way, so I had insight into what teams he was speaking with. I think Doug is a seasoned Stanley Cup-champion GM. When he sees a good opportunity, he's going to pounce on it, and that's what he did here."
Adding Buchnevich adds a much-needed piece to the top six, but where does that leave pending unrestricted free agents Jaden Schwartz and Mike Hoffman and/or Tyler Bozak for that matter?
"We'd certainly like to stay in contact with those guys, but in a flat cap, every dollar is allocated and we have an understanding of what an arbitration case might look like for Pavel and hopefully we get a longer-term deal done and that's obviously going to increase that number, not decrease that number," Armstrong said. "It does affect it for sure. There's no getting around it. In a cap system, a flat cap system, there's only so much money to be allocated and once it's spent, it's spent."
Which is why a trade of Vladimir Tarasenko and his $7.5 million cap hit will be imperative for the Blues to move as quickly as possible, even though Armstrong won't make a knee-jerk reactionary trade.
But Armstrong did leave Friday's Zoom call with, "Stay tuned. You never know what will happen tonight, so I'll talk to everybody later."
Blais, 25, addresses a need for the Rangers and gives them some more grit after they added Barclay Goodrow from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Blais, originally drafted by the Blues in the sixth round 2014 NHL draft. had 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists) in 119 games.
|(St. Louis Blues photo)|
Sammy Blais spent his first four seasons with the Blues but was traded to
the New York Rangers on Friday.
"I think that at different times when he was getting going, he was hit with the injury bug and it's unfortunate," Armstrong said of Blais. "We've had other players that it's happened to in the past and I think Sammy's going to be a really good player. There's more there. Quite honestly if this trade didn't happen, I was expecting more from him, I was expecting the ice and the minutes to go up. I was expecting the point total to go up. I think the Rangers, I don't want to speak for them, but I assume they believe that he has a different gear. He's getting into that age group that we're talking about where you can really take a big step. Sammy brought an edge to our team, he played with passion, he was one of the, I want to say this the way I mean it in a positive way, he was an aggressive player that sought out contact in a league that doesn't have a lot of that anymore. That was a valuable asset to us and to him and once he gets to New York, he's just going to be able to use that to gain the coach's confidence and gain ice time."
As for stay tuned, well, stay tuned, in case any more developments arise from the first night of the draft, which the Blues held the 17th pick (16th after the No. 11 pick by the Arizona Coyotes was voided).