SPORTS

By trading Oshie for Brouwer, Blues buck trend, double down on big and heavy

07/03/2015 01:09 EDT | Updated 07/03/2016 05:59 EDT
When general manager Doug Armstrong decided to bring coach Ken Hitchcock back after another early playoff exit, T.J. Oshie figured there'd be at least a change or two to the St. Louis Blues' roster.

One change came Thursday when St. Louis traded Oshie to the Washington Capitals for bigger right-winger Troy Brouwer, goaltending prospect Pheonix Copley and a third-round pick. The Capitals got the more skilled playmaker, but the Blues got what they wanted.

In Brouwer, the Blues have more size and heft as Armstrong doubles down on big and heavy, going against the league-wide trend toward small and quick that got the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup final. It's a similar strategy to the one used by the two-time-champion Los Angeles Kings, who traded for power forward Milan Lucic.

"You look at our conference, you have to play with size and you have to play with weight," Armstrong said Thursday on a conference call. "I think this certainly makes us a more difficult team to play against."

Armstrong mentioned a "different direction" for the Blues, who went with more pure skill last season. Beyond grinding captain David Backes, the top forwards were Alex Steen, Paul Stastny, budding superstar Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Oshie and Jori Lehtera.

There is some heaviness there and more so with the six-foot-three Brouwer, who has almost identical goal totals in his career as Oshie. Armstrong said Brouwer "plays the way that the Blues are looking to play moving forward."

"It's a different style of player than T.J.," Armstrong said. "We probably have more players in our group like T.J. and less like Troy. That's probably the easiest way to explain it."

Oshie is no scapegoat for the Blues losing in the first round, but something had to give after he, Backes, Stastny, Schwartz and Lehtera combined for 10 points against the Minnesota Wild.

The Capitals' newest top-six winger thought a comment he made about being refreshed after missing time with the flu was blown out of proportion, but he didn't feel unfairly blamed for the Blues' playoff struggles.

"I expected big things out of myself," Oshie said. "I think the fans did as well. There’s a lot of disappointment after the way we lost out."

Oshie believed if this core stayed together, it would have learned from post-season mistakes and been better in 2016. But after three straight first-round exits, he acknowledged "changes had to be made."

Armstrong doesn't expect Brouwer to be a one-for-one replacement of Oshie, so he's counting on someone like Dmitrij Jaskin to take a step up. Oshie's minutes will be spread around.

"It opens up space for some of our younger players to grab another minute, minute and a half of ice time than they had last year," Armstrong said. "That was sort of the genesis and the reasoning behind the trade."

This season, the Blues are bigger, but this move also gives them some future flexibility. Oshie has two years left at a salary-cap hit of over US$4 million, while Brouwer can be an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Of course if St. Louis fails to make it out of the first round again, there could be far more substantial organizational changes. So for now the focus is on getting over the hump.

The Blues are doing so not only with Brouwer replacing Oshie but Petteri Lindbohm in place of longtime defenceman Barret Jackman, who left as a free agent. Even if Armstrong doesn't do anything else before September — and he wouldn't rule that out — he sees this as a much different team.

"We're changing out a third of our defence from (last year's) opening night and we're changing out some forwards," Armstrong said. "I don't know, if people expected 12 new forwards and six new defencemen then they're going to be disappointed. But there certainly has been some change."

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