The Sabres and Blues consummated the first blockbuster transaction of the NHL’s trade deadline season Friday night when Buffalo dealt star goalie Ryan Miller and captain Steve Ott to St. Louis in exchange for goalie Jaroslav Halak, right winger Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier, a first round draft pick in 2015 and a third round pick in 2016. The mammoth deal immediately vaults the already-impressive Blues to the very top of bona fide Stanley Cup frontrunners, but also serves the 30th-place Sabres well in their rebuilding project under new GM Tim Murray.
Murray’s savvy decision to pair up Miller and Ott allowed him to maximize the return for the two biggest organizational cards he had to deal. But certainly in Stewart (who is under contract through next season) and perhaps in Halak (who will be an unrestricted free agent after this year), he has the ability to make further moves and bring in longer-term assets. And he adds another first-round draft pick to an arsenal that likely will include two first-rounders in the 2015 draft (their own, as well as the Islanders’, presuming the latter defers the first-rounder they owe them in the Thomas Vanek trade). As well, he also brings in Carrier, a 19-year-old Quebec Major Junior left winger the Blues drafted 57th overall last summer, to the team’s prospect pool.
Meanwhile, the Blues – who already were challenging the Anaheim Ducks for the best record in the league – acquire a world-class goalie in Miller; and in Ott, they now employ an abrasive player who also can chip in offense every now and again. Ott’s familiarity with the Western Conference from his years in Dallas will make his adjustment easier, while Miller will think he’s discovered paradise going from playing behind Buffalo’s mistake-prone defense corps to working with arguably the NHL’s deepest blueline and most responsible defensive squad. And both Ott and Miller are UFAs, so the cash-conscious Blues can take a run without committing to playing either player unless the prove to be a solid fit.
Once again, one of the biggest names on the market was moved well in advance of the trade deadline because many GMs understand the prices usually go up when there’ less than a week to make moves. In this case, both sides can reasonably claim victory, so there was no reason for Murray and Blues counterpart Doug Armstrong to wait and possibly have injuries or other circumstances scuttle the plans.
The Blues are stacked for this season. The Sabres appear stacked for later. And the NHL’s other GMs are on notice: the time to act is now.