Just a year ago, Chris Stewart was thought to be the major part of the return in a trade that sent Erik Johnson – a former 1st overall pick – to the Colorado Avalanche. However, under Hitchcock’s watch, Stewart has been one of the few Blues who has struggled to be his normally dominant offensive self. Granted, Stewart has always been a bit of a streaky goal scorer, but lately the streaks are getting shorter and the gap between them longer.
There seems to be a sense among hockey fans that the Blues would have to be compensated enormously in order to consider moving their power forward winger. After all, they gave up a guy who was considered to be the very best in his draft class, as well as an 11th overall pick in order to acquire him. It seems like they gave up a lot to just turn around and move the guy after a significant fall-off this year. That said, there is a long list of reasons growing in St. Louis right now that might demonstrate why they’re not too concerned about the apparent failure of the Stewart experiment.
Reason the First: Getting Healthy at Last
Much of the Blues success this year has come despite facing a number of fairly significant injuries. They haven’t been nearly as depleted as in years past, but they’ve clearly learned from prior catastrophes just how to cope with the loss of key guys. This weekend, Andy McDonald and Alexander Steen will likely return to the line-up. McDonald has missed most of the season, and Steen has missed the last 13 games. With Stewart under-performing, the top six is starting to look pretty crowded.
Not only that, but guys in the bottom six are pushing for bigger roles. Matt D’Agostini for instance, had over 20 goals last year and is just three points shy of Stewart now despite being pushed down the roster and given less offensively-based assignments. Something has to give and for whatever reason, fingers seem to be pointed at Stewart.
Reason the Second: Trade Value Already a Plus
On the surface, the blockbuster Blues/Avs trade of a year ago seemed like a swap of prominent names with some extras tacked on to even out the losses on both sides. The reality though, is that the extras have become the dominant pieces of the trade for the Blues. If you break down the pieces of the trade a year later, it’s a landslide win for the Blues. Even if Chris Stewart were (hypothetically) lost in the summer to an offer sheet, the club would still be in outstanding shape.
(a.) Chris Stewart vs. Erik Johnson
Johnson has been a good defender for the Avalanche, but has produced nothing you can’t find in free agency, or trade minimal assets to acquire. He boasts 19 points, and is a -10 on the season so far. Consider that the much criticized Tomas Kaberle has 22 points, and is a -12 (but has an even rating in the 22 games he has played with the Montreal Canadiens). To be fair, Kaberle doesn’t have to shutdown top lines, so the comparison is admittedly flawed, but it does illustrate the mediocrity that is Erik Johnson. More is expected from a 1st overall pick.
Stewart on the other hand, has been nothing more than a borderline second line winger for the Blues this season. He hasn’t been bad, but it’s starting to look like he just won’t be able to replicate his previous numbers without an elite center like Duchene next to him, and a more open system than the one Ken Hitchcock demands. With that taken into consideration, this portion of the trade is essentially a draw.
(b.) Duncan Siemens vs. Kevin Shattenkirk
This is where the trade starts to look radically one-sided for the Blues. Shattenkirk’s stock has sky-rocketed. He is a bonafide top four defensemen with plenty of offensive upside. He’s taken on a huge role with a team that is competing for the President’s Trophy as the best regular season club. Siemens on the other hand – the high end draft pick the Avs demanded in return for Stewart and Shattenkirk – has had an off year in the WHL. His point totals are down and he looks years away from cracking an NHL roster.
(c.) Jay McClement vs. Ty Rattie
Whereas the Avalanche used the 11th overall pick to snag the struggling Siemens, the Blues made excellent use of the 2nd round pick they acquired in the deal. Ty Rattie – the Portland Winterhawks right winger – has posted an incredible, league leading 86 points in just 48 games. He possesses a points-per-game total higher than Brayden Schenn had in the year after he was drafted. As of now, it looks like the Blues got the top ten prospect back in this deal. All the Avs have to show for this, and all the Blues seemingly gave up for this, was 4th line center Jay McClement.
Reason the Third: Great Prospect Depth Ready to Make an Impact
Even though Ty Rattie has turned out to be an excellent draft acquisition for the Blues, he isn’t even the club’s top prospect. Beyond Rattie the Blues still have the enormously talented Russian sniper, Vladimir Tarasenko tearing up the KHL. He has more than doubled his offense from last season having tallied 43 points in 46 games. He was deemed to be in need of more seasoning at training camp this year, and preferred to return to Russia versus time in Peoria, but this is a kid who could very easily jump right into the NHL next season.
Arguably even better than Tarasenko, is the Canadian World Junior Championship team captain, Jaden Schwartz. Schwartz looks ready to take the next step beyond college having put up 72 points in just 48 games, and still just 19 years old. He may be a bit further out than Tarasenko depending on what his intentions are as far as school in concerned, but make no mistake, Schwartz is going to be a Blue before long.
So what would it take to acquire Chris Stewart?
This question is basically the same as ‘What do the Blues need?’ The only reason the Blues would trade him would be to alleviate the logjam in the forward ranks (now and in the near-future) and to also bolster their chances of making a deep playoff run this year. When I look at the Blues roster with an eye for the post-season, one thing jumps out at me immediately – a lack of veteran defensemen.
Having Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk lighting it up in the regular season is all well and good, but when April hits it seems that the greybeards of the NHL always take over and remind us that the young’uns still have much to learn. There is a different set of rules in the post-season, and you need players who know how to take full advantage of that. In essence, the Blues need a defender version of Jason Arnott.
The Blues defense has played a combined 74 playoff games. However, 47 of those games were played by Kent Huskins – perhaps the most sparingly used of the Blues defenders. None of the others have been beyond the first round, and only one of them has even experienced a playoff win (Jackman).
Having said that, it is likely that the Blues would only deal Stewart if they got a package which also included a veteran defender with some playoff experience. The other parts of the trade would have to be some substantial picks and prospects in order for the Blues to justify moving a 24 year old power forward with two 28 goal seasons under his belt. If prospects were to be included, it seems likely the Blues would prefer to shore up their back-end pool, having a ridiculously stacked forward group as is.
The problem is, just about every contender is looking to add this kind of player, and even teams far out of the playoffs are selfishly locking these guys up to extensions (see Tim Gleason in Carolina, and Francois Beauchemin in Anaheim). The sooner the Blues act, the better chance they have at landing their guy.
What would your team offer for Chris Stewart?