The St. Louis Blues are struggling. What was seen as just a minor setback to start the season, more than a month into the 2018-19 season they sit 29th in the league and the gap between them and the Blackhawks in the Central division grows bigger by the day.
With that in mind, they might start panicking and moving some peripheral assets to try and keep their core together for a playoff push.
So as any beat writer of an under-performing team does, Jeremy Rutherford published his list of who the Blues are more likely to move because of this failure to win some games early on.
Unsurprisingly, the core that you expect – Tarasenko, Pietrangelo, and O’Reilly – are untouchable, but there is one key name there that the Leafs should definitely be interested in.
Colton Parayko is a 25-year-old right-handed defenceman with three full seasons of experience, on a team-friendly contract, can play on both special teams, is 6-foot-6 and Canadian. If there is any single player that is all check marks for every single fan of the Leafs, I would be hard to find one better than Parayko.
On Rutherford’s list, Parayko is listed under the “Conceivable, but be careful” heading and that should be setting off alarms for everyone in the Leafs front office. Here is what Rutherford had to say about his availability and why the Blues might be moving on from the young defenceman:
His name continues to pop up around the NHL and understandably so, being 6-foot-6, 230 pounds and a 25-year-old who glides with the puck as fluidly as anyone in the league. Most fans were elated to get Parayko signed to a five-year, $27.5 million contract extension in 2017, but some have soured over the past two seasons because he seems unwilling to play physical and appears to have less awareness around the net than he had earlier in his career.
It wouldn’t be surprising if the Blues decided at some point to move Parayko, whose contract pays him $5.5 million a season through 2021-22. But it would be shocking if it happened in the near future because the club has no one to replace him, with Jordan Schmaltz struggling to stay in the lineup and no one else in the organization ready either. And that’s not to mention the fear of other parts of Parayko’s game clicking and the club eventually regretting the trade.
The last part might be why the Blues not even flirt with the idea of moving on from Parayko, but if someone can help their team now – when they are desperate – then it will be tough to turn that down.
Parayko has firmly established himself as a minimum 30-point defenceman that can play over 22 minutes a game. This year also marks his first year where he is not above 50% CF at even-strength, just at 49.9 and tying his career-high 4.1 relative CF% to his team. So clearly the Blues downfall is not Parayko’s fault.
To get a sense of exactly what kind of player Parayko has been in the NHL, here is a handy chart from the twins at evolving-hockey.com.
The comparison to Drew Doughty is arbitrary, but it demonstrates that Parayko truly is a high-end talent on the blueline. He instantly makes the Blues better when he is on the ice – rating extremely well in every category, from offensive goals far, to defensive corsi for.
An important attribute of the chart for Parayko is also that his offensive expected goals is a good tick above his actual goals for when he is on the ice. Meaning that he more goals are supposed to happen than what currently is happening.
This chart is not the complete picture, but it is an extremely good tool to use when wanting to know a player’s true value on the ice.
Another thing from the twins at evolving-hockey.com is their Goals Above Replacement (GAR) charts and tables, to put a simplified metric to each player’s aspect of their game.
Parayko’s even-strength GAR is at 5.0 so far this season, putting him fourth among all defencemen in the entire league. The only thing that is holding him back from being in the top-5 GAR defenceman leaders overall is when he is short-handed.
At -2.4 GAR short-handed, Parayko is dead-last in the league among defencemen in that category. It could be that he just shouldn’t be on the Blues’ PK, so that’s not the end of the world. The Blues have the fifth-lowest PK TOI in the league, but sit 12th in PK%.
Overall, it’s fairly evident that Parayko can dominate at even-strength and on the powerplay, but he might just not belong on the penalty kill, which is completely fine.
So what about the Leafs?
The Blues are in desperate need to find someone that can score some goals and create offense.
They sit in the bottom-10 of the league in even-strength goals for percentage and are heavily relying on their best forwards to drag the rest of their depth. Ryan O’Reilly has been excellent for them and Vladimir Tarasenko has been his consistent self. But other than that, there really isn’t much to look forward to down the lineup.
The Leafs have a surplus of skilled forwards and some in particular that can easily slide into the Blues’ top lines and contribute right away.
Of course the elephant in the room is Nylander and a one-for-one trade for Parayko might not be completely unheard of. It resembles the Jones-for-Johansen trade from a couple years ago and might just work for both sides.
With any trade, the cap of both teams have to be considered. From the Blues’ point-of-view, they might have to finagle around some cap dollars to be able to sign the RFA Nylander, but there is one way that it can certainly work.
If they can come to a bridge agreement, then the Blues are laughing. After this year, the Blues have a projected cap space of just under $20-million with 13 players signed already. So to fill out a roster, they will just need to spend on-average about $2.85-million per player and that is mainly for depth pieces. Especially with key prospects like Klim Kostin, Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas, and Dominik Bokk still on their ELCs for at least two more years, the Blues will be able to make their cap situation work.
For the Leafs, Parayko is on a sweetheart deal for what he can bring to the team. At a $5.5-million AAV for the next three seasons after this one, this is the type of contract the Leafs will value highly while Matthews and Marner get their money.
So if the Blues can find a way to keep Nylander on their roster for the next two years at about what Parayko is making, then this trade can maybe make sense from both sides.
If the Leafs can figure out a deal that does not involve Nylander at all, then there is even more reason to pull the trigger. Parayko is a difference maker that might be undervalued by his own club right now. I don’t see it really happening without Nylander, but crazier things have happened.
I’m not going to think of different piles of depth pieces and picks the Leafs can offer for the 25-year-old blueliner, but he is someone that the Leafs should really be alright with spending a little more than they are comfortable.
Everything that the Leafs are in need of, wrapped into one tight little Blues jersey.