After blowing out the San Jose Sharks on Sunday afternoon in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final, the St. Louis Blues moved one step closer to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in nearly 50 years. Given where this team was just a few months ago (when it was at the bottom of the Western Conference standings) it is one of the more stunning stories in what has already been a wild and unpredictable postseason.
But don’t be fooled by where this Blues team was in mid-January. They are good, and they absolutely deserve to be in the position they are in.
They were always better than their first half record would have had you believe, and once they solidified the goaltending position with the arrival — and ensuing emergence — of Jordan Binnington, as well as the improved defensive play after the coaching change from Mike Yeo to Craig Berube, they have played and looked like a Stanley Cup contender.
While it’s easy to point to the hiring of Berube and the call-up of Binnington as the turning points, general manager Doug Armstrong also deserves a ton of credit for the moves he has made over the past two years for getting this team to where it is.
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Since the summer of 2017, Armstrong has completely overhauled the forward depth of his roster, adding Ryan O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn, Patrick Maroon, David Perron, Tyler Bozak, and Oskar Sundqvist from outside the organization, while also using one of his two 2017 first-round draft picks on Robert Thomas, who has shown flashes of brilliance during these playoffs as a 19-year-old rookie.
That group of forwards represented four of the Blues’ top-six scorers this season (and four of the top-five among the forwards) and have all made their presence felt in the playoffs at one time or another.
The key for the Blues is not just that they added them, but how they were able to get them many of them.
Let’s start with the trades.
Going back to the summer of 2017, Armstrong made four significant trades that involved all of this.
- Trading two-first round draft picks (the Blues’ own 2018 first-round pick, as well as a 2017 first-round pick they had previously acquired from the Washington Capitals in the Kevin Shattenkirk trade) and Jori Lehtera to the Philadelphia Flyers for Schenn.
- Trading Ryan Reaves and a 2017 second-round pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Sundqvist and a 2017 first-round pick.
- Trading Paul Stastny‘s expiring contract to the Winnipeg Jets for a package that included a 2018 first-round pick.
- Trading Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund, Tage Thompson, a 2019 first-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick to the Buffalo Sabres for O’Reilly.
What have the Blues gained from all of that? Well let’s just take a look at what each player involved has done from the time of their trade through the end of the 2018-19 regular season.
Look at the difference in production. While Armstrong gave up more assets, he got significantly more production back in return and did so for a cheaper price against the salary cap (even if you subtract the Stastny cap hit out of that since he was leaving as a free agent anyway).
He shed a bunch of contracts he probably didn’t want (Lehtera, Sobotka, Berglund) and some draft picks to get top-line players (O’Reilly and Schenn) and a good young forward (Sundqvist) that has emerged as an effective bottom-six player.
[Blues rout Sharks in Game 5]
Even though he gave up three first-round picks and two second-round picks, he still managed to get two first-round picks back in return. Even if you look at that as a net-loss in terms of assets, the success rate of mid-to-late first-and second-round picks is more than worth it when you look at just how much the Blues were able to get back in their lineup.
Especially if it ends up resulting in a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, and especially since the NHL assets he sent away aren’t really anything special (Stastny being the exception — and even he wasn’t guaranteed to be back had he not been traded).
His free agent acquisitions this summer have also, for the most part, panned out.
Perron returned for his third different stint with the Blues and finished with 23 goals and 46 total points even though he played in only 56 regular season games.
Maroon signed a bargain-basement contract and gave the Blues a solid, two-way, possession-driving forward that also happened to score one of their biggest postseason goals when he scored in double overtime of Game 7 of their Round 2 series against the Dallas Stars.
The addition that has probably given them the least bang for their buck is probably Bozak ($5 million per year for three years), but even he has been a solid secondary producer.
Overall, pretty much every roster move Armstrong has put his fingerprints on over the past two years has worked out about as well as he and the Blues could have hoped. He is a deserving finalist for the NHL’s general manager of the year award, and is a big reason his team is on the verge of what could be a historic season for the franchise.
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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.