It was quite amusing over the last two weekends with the NHL draft being held and then free agency starting. When the news of signing first started to trickle out the St. Louis Blues fan base had their ammo. One week after failing to do anything during the usual wheeling and dealing of the NHL draft, at noon on Sunday Blues fans saw John Tavares sign with Toronto, Paul Stastny choose Las Vegas, Tomas Vanek go to Detroit, and Ilya Kovalchuk and Artemi Panarin both rebut the Blues.
Instead of the big free agent signing or a monumental trade the Blues made their noon announcement of signing Tyler Bozak, David Perron, and Chad Johnson. The Blues fan base was letting loose on social media, with #FireArmstrong trending. But unlike social media, transactions do not happen instantaneously.
Just eight hours late word broke that the Blues had finally completed the long rumored trade with the Buffalo Sabres for centerman Ryan O’Reilly. O’Reilly, who will be 27 years old this upcoming season, netted 24 goals with 61 points last season for the lowly Sabres while remaining one of the top two-way players in the game. He will not only add depth to the Blues down the middle but help on the power play (15 goals), penalty kill, and faceoffs. All three of those areas were of concern for the Blues last year.
With O’Reilly the Blues add more depth to their team, not just offensively but defensively. He joins Brayden Schenn, the newly signed Bozak, and top prospect Robert Thomas as the likely centerman for the Blues next season. Compare those players with the four centermen from the Blues lineup for their season finale from last year (Schen, Kyle Brodziak, Vladimir Sobotka, and Oskar Sundqvist).
Schenn is the lone returning centerman and had 28 goals, 42 assists, and 70 points in his first-year with the Blues. The other centers from the 2017-18 season finale combined for 22 goals, 47 assists, and 69 points. O’Reilly nearly tops those numbers alone, going for 24 goals, 37 assists, and 61 points. Add in a player that defines third-liner center (Tyler Bozak) who had 11 goals and 32 assists for 43 points and a up-and-coming prospect in Thomas who had 24 goals, 51 assists, and 75 points. That is quite the upgrade.
Remarkably for the second straight summer Blues GM Doug Armstrong, strong-armed another opposing GM and was not only to trade for a strong two-way center (Schenn and O’Reilly) but he shed some salary in doing so (Jori Lehtera, Berglund, and Sobotka). True he had to throw in Tage Thompson this year as well as a couple of draft picks but Thompson was the lowest of ‘Big Four’ prospects and the Blues have so many assets the picks do not make a big difference.
Also not to be overlooked is the fact that by dealing Sobotka, Thompson, and Berglund for just one, O’Reilly, the Blues free up some ice time for the remaining top prospects of Jordan Kyrou, Klim Kostin, and the aforementioned Thomas. It will be interesting to watch the Blues and how the lines in fact settle in but one thing is for certain they have added more skill to their roster, bringing in top six forwards instead of bottom line players.