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Numbers Game: Avs-Blues make blockbuster trade

Scott Cullen
2/19/2011 10:47:35 AM
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In the wee hours of the night, the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues pulled off a blockbuster deal.

Numbers Game examines the deal sending Erik Johnson to Colorado.

The Avalanche Get: D Erik Johnson, C Jay McClement and a Top-10 protected first-round pick.

Johnson, who turns 23 next month, was the first overall pick in 2006 and appeared to be on his way to a promising career, until this season, when his productivity dried up.

Built like a prototype defenceman, at 6-foot-4, 232 pounds, Johnson put up 39 points in 2009-2010, his second season in the NHL, but his numbers have dropped this year, to just 19 points, along with a minus-8 rating in 55 games, as he was usurped on the Blues power play by defencemen Carlo Colaiacovo and Alex Pietrangelo.

Even so, Johnson was playing 22:10 per game, ranking just behind also-traded Eric Brewer on the St. Louis blueline, while generally facing the most challenging matchups.

While Johnson could still use his size more effectively, he's been hitting more and blocking more shots this season than he did last season, although that could be a reflection of St. Louis struggling (and not having the puck as often) rather than an increase in Johnson's aggressiveness. In any case, he could stand to add a little nastiness to his repertoire.

Johnson is signed through next season, at a cap hit of $2.6-million (per www.capgeek.com), at which time he'll be a restricted free agent.  If he can rebound from this down season, his value will shoot right back up because he has the potential to be a number one workhorse defenceman and, as young as he is, it's too soon to say that won't be where his value ultimately lies.

A 27-year-old checking forward, who was the Blues' best face-off man, McClement often faces the toughest checking assignments and was playing a career-high 17:08 per game for St. Louis this season.  His 16 points and a minus-13 rating aren't that difficult to replace, but McClement could be a very useful checker for the Avalanche.

McClement is signed through next season, at a cap hit of $1.45-million, and could fit on the wing with Ryan O'Reilly on Colorado's third line, at least once everyone is healthy.

The first-round pick could roll over to 2012 if it falls in the Top 10 this year, but a middle of the order first-round pick still has a decent chance to provide the Avalanche with another NHL-calibre player.

The Blues Get: RW Chris Stewart, D Kevin Shattenkirk and a conditional second-round pick.

23-year-old Stewart started the season ablaze, with 25 points in 23 games through the end of November, but then broke his hand in a fight with Minnesota's Kyle Brodziak and hasn't been the same player since, managing five points and a minus-8 rating in 13 games since coming back (leaving him with 30 points and a minus-10 rating in 36 games).

Much like Johnson, however, it's too soon to suggest that Stewart isn't going to be an impact player in the NHL; after all, he's only a season removed from a breakout campaign of 28 goals and 64 points in 2009-2010 and is certainly young enough that he can get back to those levels. 

Of course, since he's much more a finisher than creator, Stewart will require a strong playmaking centre to set up opportunities for him.

In St. Louis, Stewart could form a fearsome power forward unit if he skates on a line with David Backes, but rest assured that he'll be given plenty of chances to score no matter which line he ends up with, in hopes that he will be a fixture for years to come as a 30-goal power forward.

Stewart is signed through next season, at a cap hit of $2.875-million, at which point he, too, will be a restricted free agent.

Shattenkirk is a 22-year-old rookie who made a big impact early, but has faded as the season has progressed. 

With zero points and a minus-5 rating in eight games this month, Shattenkirk ranks second among rookie defencemen with 26 points this season, though his minus-11 rating, while not facing the toughest defensive matchups, indicates that there's work to be done when he's not on the offensive.

A first-round pick in 2007, Shattenkirk is in the first year of his three-year entry level deal after playing three seasons at Boston University.  He'll have a chance to play a significant role in St. Louis, but figures to fall behind Colaiacovo and Pietrangelo when it comes to power play time. 

If the Blues provide better goaltending -- at least better than the disaster in Colorado -- that alone should help Shattenkirk's plus-minus get moving in the right direction.

The second-round pick helps offset the value of the first-rounder going to Colorado. In some years, there's not such a big difference between a mid-first and a mid-second round selection, so it will be interesting to see how the 2011 or 2012 drafts play out for the Avs and Blues with respect to these selections.

This season has clearly been a disappointment for both teams, apparently making it more palatable to deal such prime talent; McClement is the only player involved that wasn't a first-round pick and the only one older than 23.  Stewart is the latest of the first round picks, taken 18th overall in 2006.

Colorado's season has been derailed by subpar goaltending and injuries, but they've re-modeled the blueline, by adding Johnson, Ryan O'Byrne and Matt Hunwick in trades this season and also having rookie Jonas Holos in the mix going forward, there is an opportunity to build a stable back end, for whomever is going to be the starting goaltender.

With Stewart gone and some free agents pending this summer, the Avs may have to seek out some scoring wingers, but that's likely easier to come across than a potential number one defenceman, making this deal worth the risk, all in the hopes that Johnson gets back on track.

In the Blues' case, they've thinned out their defence quickly, trading Johnson and Brewer, their two minutes leaders on the blueline, leaving more ice time available for Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk and rookie Nikita Nikitin.

Just as the Avalanche will hope for Johnson to evolve into a workhorse defenceman, the Blues will hope that Stewart can become a bona fide power forward, capable of using his size to dominate along the boards and in front of the net. 

In both cases, the players will be able to contribute to an NHL roster for years, but the level at which they contribute could range wildly, from star right on down to journeyman, depending on the commitment they show and how well they fit with their new teams.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

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