Both the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche will point to February 19, 2011 on the calendar and say it was a day that changed their respective franchises.
The remaining question is whether it changed for the better.
February 19 was the date that the St. Louis Blues sent defenseman Erik Johnson, forward Jay McClement and a 2011 first round draft pick to the Colorado Avalanche for forward Chris Stewart, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and a second round pick. Though highly questioned on both sides, the early critics gave the edge to the Blues. Just ask Avalanche center Paul Stastny’s father, Peter.
“This young team was ready to challenge, almost, for a Stanley Cup this season,” Stastny told Kelly Chase of KMOX after the trade. “They were so good. All they needed was some more chemistry, and some synergies. Instead, they destroyed the team. I mean, that was a one-way deal. Mr. Armstrong will look like a genius. I don’t know what they were thinking in the Colorado organization. I should not have said this, but I’m so, so mad what they’ve done to this team. They’ve moved the team about two to three years back again.”
Looking at the trade on paper, it was easy to see why Stastny could not keep his opinion to himself. At the time of the trade, Stewart amassed 41 goals in 113 games spanning over two seasons. Shattenkirk was in the middle of his rookie campaign, scoring 26 points in 46 games, placing him second in rookie defensemen scoring just behind Anaheim’s Cam Fowler at the time.
Of course, other factors may have made Shattenkirk expendable for the Avalanche. The development of youngsters Stefan Elliott (with the Lake Erie Monsters of the AHL) and Tyson Barrie (of the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL) made it obvious that the Avalanche could start shedding some current NHL talent as both players are close to making the jump to the NHL.
In return, the Avalanche were receiving what seemed to be a broken piece of the Blues’ puzzle. Erik Johnson was slipping down the Blues’ depth chart, registering just 19 points and a minus-8 through 55 games in St. Louis, after posting 39 points and a plus-1 in 79 games the season before. Just before the trade, Johnson was getting passed up by Blues defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Roman Polak in ice-time, making it easier to pull the trigger on a trade.
Much like how Elliott and Barrie made Shattenkirk expendable in Colorado, the rise of Pietrangelo likely is what was a determining factor in shipping Johnson out of St. Louis.
Jay McClement had established himself as a sneaky checking center who could pull off some nice moves when called upon. Usually used as the top center on the penalty-kill, McClement had proven repeatedly that he is a proven NHL defensive player.
What has changed in these past ten months?
Chris Stewart jumped on the scene to end the last season. Notching 15 goals in the Blues’ last 26 games, Stewart looked like that perennial goal-scoring phenom that has been non-existent from the Blues since the lockout. St. Louis was buzzing heading into 2011-12 with Chris Stewart as the goal-scoring front-man.
Things have not exactly turned out that way, though.
Stewart has been the biggest disappointment so far this season in the Gateway City. While he shows flashes of brilliance in each game, he has just not produced like the organization had hoped that he would. His four goals on the season ties him for sixth on the team and his 10 points tie him for eighth on the team. These are not exactly eye-popping numbers, especially considering that the Blues are 24th in the league in goals-for-per-game. Stewart has not been what the Blues had hoped thus far.
But how about that other guy in the trade?
After seeing what Shattenkirk can do, pulling off that trade was quite the fantastic decision. Kevin Shattenkirk has been one of the steadiest defensemen all season long for the Blues, helping the team allow just 2.03 goals-against-per-game (ranking them first in the league). His plus-7 ties him for third among Blues defenseman so far this season.
Offensively, Shattenkirk has been the real deal. The 22-year old defenseman has always been recognized as an offensive defenseman and he is proving why this season. His 12 assists rank him first on the team and his 16 points rank him first among Blues defensemen. Not only is Shattenkirk producing, but his puck control in his own end and the neutral zone have been a very noticeable plus for the Blues this season. It is clear that Shattenkirk does not know of the term “sophomore slump.”
The Avalanche are about in the same boat as the Blues. One player has not panned out too well yet while the other is doing his job and exceeding expectations.
Erik Johnson has been inconsistent. Some nights he makes the simple and smart plays and he practically dominates. Other nights, he tries to make the highlight-reel pass that usually ends up being a turnover that may also put him out of position. Up until the 14th of November when Milan Hejduk was named captain, the Avalanche had a “captain audition” of sorts and rotated 3 A’s. Johnson was on the short list of players that sporadically wore an “A,” and whether his propensity to look for the big play in some games was due to wanting to be the captain remains to be seen. It's tough to say what's causing Johnson's defensive gaffes, however. In spite of an improvement in personnel, the defense as a whole is having the same troubles as the previous two seasons, which points to more of a coaching issue. It’s fair to give him a few more years before passing full judgment on him.
McClement seems to have adapted well to his new surrounding in Colorado. He fills the fourth line center role very nicely. He's been solid so far and he remains to be a go-to-guy on the penalty-kill. Rarely does McClement make poor decisions that make fans explode in expletives, either. There is really nothing negative to say about him since he's doing such a solid job; the Avalanche have been lacking a fourth line center with his hockey intelligence and defensive persistence for quite some time. He can step-up to third line when called upon (which has already happened a number of times already this season), but he is better utilized as a fourth line center. He's scheduled to be an unrestricted free-agent after this season and the hopes are to have him locked up before that happens.
Of course, a full analysis of the trade will have to wait as the two draft picks acquired in the trade are yet to blossom. The Avalanche used their 11th overall draft pick to select Duncan Siemens of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades and the Blues used their 32nd overall pick to select Ty Rattie of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks.
As of now, both teams are facing problems with what was the marquee names of the trade while the two other skaters are fitting in quite nicely.
Only time will tell if this trend continues in Colorado and St. Louis.
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