The biggest move of the NHL trade deadline is likely to be the St. Louis Blues‘ acquisition of Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller and Sabres center Steve Ott. The Blues may have given up a lot for the Sabres duo, but now at least are on-paper favorites to advance out of the Western Conference.
Already having won three games against the Chicago Blackhawks this season, this move seems reminiscent of the Pittsburgh Penguins‘ acquisition of Brenden Morrow and Jarome Iginla last season. As history indicates, nothing is guaranteed once the playoffs get into full swing.
Miller, a veteran goaltender who was Team USA’s backup at The Olympics, has a .923 save percentage but allows 2.72 GAA thanks to the quality of the team in front of him. Nonetheless, he offers a consistency Jaroslav Halak never could. The most interesting part of this deal is Ott, a veteran in his own right, who has not experienced playoff action since the 2007-08 season.
If St. Louis did have a weakness, it would be there offensive output. St. Louis has the tendency to shut down offensively evidenced by their last two games being 1-0 losses. They rank 20th in the NHL with 29.4 shots per game, but nonetheless average 3.20 goals per game thanks to their size creating quality chances.
With the trade done and two matchups looming, should the Blackhawks respond? The answer is a resounding no. The Blackhawks have taken the Blues to a shootout twice, and are still among the Western Conference’s best teams, despite regressing slightly.
Puck possession determines the winner of every Blackhawks-Blues game, and that largely depends on chemistry throughout all three lines. While the Blackhawks traded for Peter Regin and Kris Versteeg this season, they both carry confident sticks and operate well into a high-speed puck possession offense.
St. Louis has done well in physically beating the Blackhawks, but it is unclear if they will be able to do the same if the Blackhawks can get their second and third lines operating at a high level. Regin has done decent within the top six, and anyone can rise from obscurity to make playoffs to make an impact. Even third-line players Bryan Bickell and Michal Handzus have yet to contribute, despite making an impact during last year’s title run.
There is a certain myth that St. Louis and their physicality can be smothering, wearing down any team in their way. While that may be true, the opposite, more finesse and possession-driven style also remains a way to the Stanley Cup. While the playoffs certainly play into the Blues hands, recent history has shown that the Blackhawks’ chances depend on themselves and the integrity of their offensive system, not the actions of anybody else.
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