Years ago, I asked NHL broadcaster Craig Button about one of the first decisions he made as the new general manager of the Flames back in June of 2000: exposing a young Martin St. Louis to the expansion draft.
“In hindsight, probably not the smartest thing I ever did,” he laughed.
Button wasn’t the only talent hound who misjudged the potential of St. Louis, who’d been signed as a free agent by Calgary’s previous GM, Al Coates. The Senators had invited the former Vermont star to their training camp ahead of the 1997–98 season only to cut him within a matter of days.
Three years later his prospects didn’t look much better. Neither the Blue Jackets nor the Wild pulled him from the pool of exposed talent when given the chance. Instead, Minnesota chose the Flames's Sergei Krivokrasov and Filip Kuba, leaving St. Louis to go through general waivers, where he again went unclaimed.
The Lightning ended up signing him as a free agent almost two months later, setting in motion a career that might earn St. Louis a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Despite the outpouring of sentiment on Thursday in the wake of his retirement announcement, his enshrinement is no sure thing. And if he does make the cut it probably won’t be during his first year of eligibility.
His résumé is solid, but not unimpeachable. St. Louis scored 391 career goals and had 1,033 points—good numbers, but fewer than Doug Weight, Ray Whitney and Vincent Damphousse, among others. He did, however, win two scoring titles (in 2004 and ’13), along with the 2004 Hart Trophy and three Lady Byng trophies (in ’10, ’11 and ’13). He also won the Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay in ’04 and Olympic Gold with Canada in ’14.
An excellent case, all told, especially considering that he had four additional top-20 finishes in MVP balloting. He’ll wait awhile for the call, but you have to believe he’ll get in eventually.
• By settling for Troy Brouwer, prospect Pheonix Copley and a third-round pick from the Capitals in exchange for T.J. Oshie, Blues G Doug Armstrong made it clear that he was ready to move on from the disgruntled winger and gladly took the best offer he could find. The team's fans might not be thrilled with the return, but given the light demand for his services, this isn't all that bad.
Brouwer's limitations are apparent (square wheels, inconsistent offense), but he has that big body and snarly attitude that's well suited for Western Conference play. He also has 46 goals over the past two seasons, six better than Oshie (although Oshie had 29 more points in total). He can fill a middle-six role for the Blues. Copley, acquired by the Caps as a free agent, looks like a legitimate prospect. Scouts love his tools and the growth he's exhibited over the past two seasons. He's a solid asset to add to the organization. Plus, they saved a few bucks under the cap and will be clear of Brouwer entirely next summer. Don't be surprised if Armstrong has plans for the space he's created.
The Caps, meanwhile, have made two significant additions in the past 24 hours to keep pace in the cutthroat Metropolitan Division. Between Oshie and free-agent signing Justin Williams, they've acquired a pair of right-handed shots to beef up a top six that looks as solid as any in the East. Neither is a legit first-liner though, so it'll be interesting to see how coach Barry Trotz employs them at five-on-five.
Give the win to the Caps here, but not by that wide a margin.
• If there's a loser in this deal it might be the Blackhawks. The Caps and Pens were considered the most likely landing spots for Patrick Sharp, a player whose contract Chicago GM Stan Bowman needs to dump. But now that they've made their moves, Bowman's options are limited. He already was in tough to get value for the veteran. Now he might have to settle for pennies on the dollar.
• The Kings have promised a statement on Thursday afternoon in the wake of Slava Voynov’s no-contest plea to one misdemeanor count of corporal injury to spouse. If L.A.’s statement involves anything less than a termination of the defenseman’s contract for a material breach of the requirements of his agreement, the team had better batten down the hatches and prepare for some serious fan blowback.
The Kings were quick to cut ties with Mike Richards earlier this week after learning that the forward had reportedly been arrested while trying to enter Canada in possession of the painkiller Oxycodone. Arrested, not convicted. Of course, Richards’ contract was an anchor on L.A.’s salary cap and he had no asset value as a player. The same can’t be said for Voynov, whose absence this season while dealing with his legal troubles hobbled the team’s chances to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
Voynov, who was sentenced to 90 days and three years probation as a result of his plea, is currently suspended by both the team and the NHL. But he's still in the prime of his career and conceivably could come back and make a significant contribution, either for the Kings or for somebody else.
If they're willing to let him.
This should be an easy call for Los Angeles. Take a stand against domestic violence and terminate his deal.
UPDATE: Here's the statement issued by the Kings at 5:19 Thursday afternoon:
“We believe the legal system has effectively resolved this matter and the punishment is fair and just. Any act of domestic violence is unacceptable. As an organization, the prevention of domestic violence and the education of our players and employees is of paramount importance. We will continue to actively develop and implement a strategy to deliver this message. We remain steadfast in our support of the National Hockey League as they now begin their own investigative process. Until that is complete we will withhold further comment.”
Well. Can't imagine anyone's going to be very impressed by that.
• The longer Johnny Oduya remains on the market, the more likely it is that he’ll return to the Blackhawks. Chicago doesn’t have the cap space to re-sign him at the moment, but GM Stan Bowman is exploring options.
• No reason for the Stars to rush into signing RFA defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, or vice versa, but this is another delay that’s a little puzzling. The former first-rounder is eighth, at best, on the team’s depth chart and may be waiting to see if Dallas brings in another veteran—pushing him further down—before he signs. It may end up being nothing, but it feels like something’s about to happen here.
• One problem (among many) that plagued the Bruins last season was the absence of a backup goalie who could be trusted to spell starter Tuukka Rask. For a moment it looked like they had the answer in the highly-regarded Martin Jones, but after sending him to the Sharks Boston is left to scrape the bottom of the free-agency barrel to find somebody. Among the least-unappealing options: Viktor Fasth, Dan Ellis, Ray Emery and Jonas Gustavsson.
Or they could go with Jeremy Smith, the minor-league veteran they re-signed Wednesday to a one-year, $600,000 deal. The 26-year-old went 22-11-5 with a 2.05 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage for AHL Providence in 2014-15. For his career, he has a record of 109-71-15 with a 2.41 GAA and has a .916 save percentage. Decent enough, but is that really their best option?