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Numbers Game: Blues get Miller, Ott from Sabres

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Scott Cullen
2/28/2014 8:37:56 PM
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The St. Louis Blues and Buffalo Sabres came to an agreement on a big trade that may only offer incremental improvement to the Blues in their quest for a Stanley Cup.

Numbers Game breaks down the Blues' acquisition of Ryan Miller and Steve Ott.

The Blues Get: G Ryan Miller and C Steve Ott.

Miller, 33, is enjoying one of the best seasons of his career, despite rarely getting rewarded with wins by this struggling Sabres team. Miller's .923 save percentage this season is the second-best of his career, bettered only by his .929 save percentage in 2009-2010, when he won the Vezina Trophy as top goaltender.

It's that strong play from Miller this year that has made him an attractive commodity on the trade market because, over the past three seasons, his .926 even-strength save percentage is only okay, just barely ahead of Jaroslav Halak's .925 mark.

It's also not like Miller has a sterling playoff reputation. He hasn't played beyond the first round since 2007 and his .917 career save percentage in the playoffs is actually worse than Halak's .923.

The numbers aren't going to present a strong edge for Miller, so the deal has to be predicated on some comfort level; that the Blues intangibly feel better about their chances with Miller than Halak.

Ott is a 31-year-old forward who has been asked to handle too much ice time on a Sabres team lacking bona fide NHL talent. He's averaging a career-high 19:42 per game -- a couple of seconds more per game than current Blues No. 1 centre David Backes -- despite getting destroyed in terms of puck possession.

However, Ott had established earlier in his career that he could be a decent complementary forward, skating in a top-nine role and penalty killing while chipping in some offence and annoying just about anyone he comes in contact with. Since the start of the 2009-2010 season, Ott is the only player in the NHL to have at least 60 goals and 600 penalty minutes.

In a third or fourth-line role with the Blues, though, Ott should be in position to have some success.

Both Miller and Ott will be unrestricted free agents in the summer, so there isn't any grand financial commitment from the Blues, though if their playoff run goes well, it's safe to assume that St. Louis would at least want to keep Miller around.

The Sabres Get: G Jaroslav Halak, RW Chris Stewart, LW William Carrier, a first-round pick in 2015 and a third-round pick in 2016.

Halak, 28, has been decent this season, posting a .917 save percentage (that matches his career mark) in 40 games. He's had some ups and downs, including an injury-marred 2013 season during which he posted an .899 save percentage but, by and large, he's been an above average goaltender throughout his 260-game NHL career. Halak's .917 career save percentage is actually a hair better than Miller's .916 save percentage.

While Halak was moved out, it's not impossible for the Sabres to flip him again prior to the deadline. Halak will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer, so there are no guarantees about where he's going to be playing next year.

Stewart is a 26-year-old power forward who has 15 goals, 26 points and a career-high 112 penalty minutes in 58 games this season. Those numbers are a far cry from last season, when Stewart led the Blues with 36 points in 48 games and his ice time has been knocked down to 14:42 per game, his lowest since his rookie year in 2008-2009.

Even worse, Stewart has been getting torched in terms of puck possession, despite starting more than 60% of his shifts in the offensive zone. On a team as good as the Blues, that's not easy to accomplish.

Nevertheless, Stewart is a big winger who can score and is under contract at a cap hit of $4.15-million for next season. If he doesn't perform well in Buffalo, Stewart could very easily be moved again, or he could get flipped even before he suits up for the  Sabres.

Carrier was a second-round pick of the Blues in 2013 and has 56 points (17 G, 39 A) in 59 QMJHL games. He has the size to be a power foward and was traded to Drummondville part way through the season. Carrier will need a few years to develop, but his offensive production this year raises some questions about whether he's going to be a notable scorer as a pro.

Getting the Blues' first-round pick in 2015 is a nice coup for the Sabres. It's not as though the Blues can be expected to collapse and be in line for the No. 1 pick, which is earmarked for Connor McDavid, but the 2015 draft is expected to be strong, so there is likely more value for the Sabres getting that pick rather than one late in the 2014 draft. The third-round pick in 2016 is a nice sweetener, with upside, as it could be a first-round pick if the Blues reach the Western Conference Final or Miller re-signs in St. Louis.

These are two teams in virtually opposite positions. The Blues are ready to take a run at the Stanley Cup and are willing to take on a couple of potential rentals to help in that regard, and while the Blues sacrificed some draft pick value, they didn't lose any core pieces of the team that has been so successful to this point in the season.

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



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