In the end, St. Louis Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong opted for the best deal he felt he could get for potential free-agent defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.
In exchange for Shattenkirk, the Washington Capitals sent the Blues a 2017 first-round pick, a conditional second-round pick and left winger Zach Sanford on Monday.
“If this team was at the place it was a year ago, Kevin Shattenkirk would be a St. Louis Blue,” said Armstrong, whose 31-25-5 team entered Tuesday’s game against Edmonton on a three-game losing streak and holding the final Western Conference wild-card playoff spot. “We’re not in the business of trading good players for prospects when your team has a chance to win the (Stanley) Cup. This team now has to get in on their own and obviously it’s going to be more difficult if we get in.
“You always have a chance to win. You never know once you get in what can happen.”
The 28-year-old Shattenkirk was the Blues’ second-leading scorer this season with 11 goals and 42 points in 61 games. That total includes seven goals and 20 points on the power play.
In 471 NHL games, Shattenkirk has 66 goals and 284 points with the Blues and Colorado Avalanche.
Considered a rental player because of his stated desire to test the free-agent market, Shattenkirk reportedly attracted interest from several teams, including the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins. Shattenkirk’s value was also affected by his refusal to sign a contract extension with other teams and stated desire to see what he commands on the free-agent market after July 1.
Armstrong said he spoke to Shattenkirk and his agent last summer about a potential eight-year contract extension.
“His response at that time was he felt he needed a different challenge,” Armstrong said. “With (Colton) Parayko and (Alex) Pietrangelo I think he was hoping to get more responsibility in different areas. He felt that signing an extension at that time with this organization wasn’t something that he was prepared to do.”
Armstrong later spoke with other teams about potentially trading him last summer during the NHL Draft and again in January.
“The highest return still was coming from a sign-and-trade,” Armstrong said. “We worked out a package that we felt we were very comfortable with on a sign-and-trade and took that to Kevin and his repersentative. They talked to a team, couldn’t find common ground, so that was null and void.”
After that, the Blues sought other trade partners and wound up dealing with the Capitals. The Blues didn’t have much room under the salary cap, so they were looking for more of a prospect player than a high-dollar veteran.
According to published reports, the conditional second-round pick in 2019 will go to the Blues if the Capitals can re-sign Shattenkirk, if the Caps reach the Eastern Conference final and also if Shattenkirk plays in at least 50 percent of Washington’s playoff games.
Armstrong said the Blues also will retain 39 percent of Shattenkirk’s remaining salary.
After the Blues let forwards David Backes and Troy Brouwer leave via free agency last summer without receiving any compensation, Armstrong decided to try to a different route with Shattenkirk. Armstrong pursued several trades, with reports suggesting Shattenkirk nixed a potential deal at the 2016 NHL Draft that would have sent him to Edmonton.
Another potential trade with Tampa Bay also reportedly failed to materialize.
“Getting nothing for David Backes and Troy Brouwer ... I don’t think that’s true,” Armstrong said, noting the Blues march to the Western Conference final. “We got three rounds of the playoffs. We did something we hadn’t done in 15 years in St. Louis and in business we created a lot of revenues for our owners over those three rounds. And we gained invaluable experience for (Jaden) Schwartz, for (Colton) Parayko, for (Joel) Edmundson, that we can continue to grow with.”
Does this trade send a signal that the team is already looking past this season?
“If you can get into the playoffs, you have an opportunity to win. We’ve seen other teams win,” Armstrong said. “But we’re not in the same situation we were a year ago. We’re not a top-five team in the league in the standings. We don’t have the same rhythm as we had a year ago at this time. … We said it last year in the summer, we were transitioning to a new group of players, a new leadership group of players.
“We need Colton Parayko to become a legitimate top-end player. We need Jaden Schwartz to become a legitimate top-end player on a consistent basis. Alex Pietrangelo is that player. This is just the continuation of the transition that happened when a team that was veteran-laden of 30-plus-year-old players, you transition to a new team.”
Sanford had two goals and three points in 26 games with the Capitals this season. He also had 11 goals and 16 points in 25 games with the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears.
He was a player Blues’ pro scouts targeted and one Armstrong said the Capitals weren’t thrilled about moving.
“They see a lot of Tage Thompson in him, a player we took in the (2016) first round,” Armstrong said. “A big body. A point-a-game player as a sophomore at Boston College. I see a big player that’s multi-positional — we’re hoping to see him as a centerman — a player that can produce offense and you hope everything works out perfectly, but a 6-4 Zach and a 6-4/6-5 Tage Thompson down the middle for a few years wouldn’t hurt my feelings.”
The Shattenkirk trade figures to change the roles of several Blues players. Alex Pietrangelo or Colton Parayko could fill Shattenkirk’s right point spot on the No. 1 power-play unit, and a lot of ice time is up for grabs.
Looking more long-term, Blues defense prospects Vince Dunn (second round, 2015) and 2012 first-round pick Jordan Schmaltz will be elevated on the organizational depth chart.
Goaltending prospect Pheonix Copley, whom the Blues obtained from the Capitals last season along with Brouwer as part of the Oshie deal, was also traded to Washington on Monday for forward prospect Brad Malone. Copley was an unrestricted free agent whom Armstrong said had been passed on the depth chart by prospect Ville Husso.