The simplest way to evaluate a trade is to figure out which team ended up with the best player and go from there. In the Wednesday deal that sent Magnus Paajarvi and a second-round pick to the Blues for forward David Perron, Edmonton GM Craig MacTavish got the best player. So on the surface, the edge goes to the Oilers.
Perron is a 25-year-old forward who has a pair of 20-goal seasons on his resume and in 2011-12 scored 21 goals in 57 games, aided in part by an unsustainable 18.4 shooting percentage. When you talk to people about Perron, the word used more than any other is dynamic. In researching him, Edmonton liked that he plays with jam and a bit of swagger, two reasons he's been on the Oilers' radar for some time. He also gives MacTavish even more flexibility to trade Ales Hemsky, which is the next logical move for the Oilers. And chances are, that trade will bring back an asset to replace the draft pick sent to the Blues in this deal.
But with all that said, this deal makes a lot of sense for Blues GM Doug Armstrong.
First and foremost, it clears salary. Perron comes with a cap hit of about $3.8 million through the 2015-16 season. It's a perfectly reasonable deal for a top-six player, but the Blues are a budget team and it wasn't the best use of monetary assets for a player whose skill set was on the verge of becoming redundant on their roster. St. Louis expects 2011 second-rounder Ty Rattie, another 6-foot winger, to contribute at the NHL level soon; same with another 2011 second-rounder, Dmitrij Jaskin, who had 46 goals for Moncton in the QMJHL last season. The Blues also expect Jaden Schwartz to grow into a player who contributes more than the 13 points he had in 45 games last season.
In a cap system, especially on a budget team, you have to have those contributions coming from players on their entry-level deals and those three are candidates to fill that slot for the Blues.
That is crucial considering Armstrong still has to negotiate extensions for restricted free agents Chris Stewart and Alex Pietrangelo. It's reasonable to expect a Drew Doughty-like extension for Pietrangelo, which means the Blues will have two defensemen earning around $7 million next season in Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester.
In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Armstrong conceded that there were financial advantages to making this deal.
"It does free up some cap space for future deals we had to accomplish," Armstrong said. "We certainly didn't make this deal just for salary-cap purposes."
Just how much of the benefit goes beyond cap relief falls on the shoulders of Paajarvi. He's coming out of his entry-level deal but will get a bridge contract cheaper than what Perron earned. He brings an element of size and speed to the Blues that they currently don't have on the wing, which is another reason to like this trade for St. Louis. In the West, especially during the playoffs, teams with size and skill on the wing tend to be successful, with the Kings and Blackhawks leading the way. The question is whether or not Paajarvi will use that size consistently enough to be an impact player for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
The knock on the 22-year-old Paajarvi is that he's too content on the perimeter and doesn't utilize his size enough in the hard areas of the ice. But in scouting him, those in the Blues organization saw a player who was evolving into one who understands how he needs to play at the NHL level to be successful.
"We believe there was a more consistent effort in taking the puck to the net this year than in the past. I think it comes with experience and time," Armstrong said.
Paajarvi broke into the NHL as a 19-year-old, scoring 15 goals in 80 games, and that experience might not have been the most beneficial year for his development.
"We're a league that puts young players in positions to fail and not succeed far too often," Armstrong said. "When you put an [18- or 19-year-old] in a man's league and ask him to be a physical force, that's a daunting task. Maturity and time allows these players to grow into their bodies." Armstrong isn't alone in seeing that growth in Paajarvi's game. One source who has seen a lot of Paajarvi over the course of the past couple of seasons observed the same thing. First and foremost, he said, the Blues are getting a great skater who can contribute on both the power play and the penalty kill.
"The only thing that might be a bit of a concern is his bite or his grit to his game," he said. "When he's playing well, he's skating well and finishing checks and going hard to the net. When he's not doing that, he's on the perimeter. A perimeter player in the NHL -- you don't score."
During the 2011-12 season, in which Paajarvi scored just two goals in 41 games, that was apparent.
"He's still young enough that he's still learning," he said. "He figured it out over the course of last year."
He's one of the young players around the league who benefited during the lockout from more development time in the AHL. In 38 games with the Oklahoma City Barons, he had 20 points. He scored nine goals in 42 games after the lockout with the Oilers, showing signs he can still grow into a consistent producer in the top nine of any contender. That's the hope in St. Louis.
"He has done his apprenticeship in the AHL," Armstrong said. "We think the future [is bright], he's just starting to enter the real good part of his career."