Leading up to the NHL’s trade deadline, it was no secret that the St. Louis Blues were looking for defensive help. Just an hour before the deadline, the Blues addressed their glaring need by acquiring Nick Leddy and Luke Witkowski from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for forward Oskar Sundqvist, defenseman Jake Walman, and St. Louis’ 2nd round pick in 2023. In order to maintain salary cap compliance, Detroit agreed to retain 50% of Leddy’s cap hit for the remainder of the season.
Expectations for Leddy and Witkowski
Leddy is the centrepiece of the entire deal, projecting to line up on the left side of the Blues’ top defensive pair, alongside Colton Parayko. With Torey Krug and Justin Faulk settled in as defensive partners, the slot next to Parayko has been a revolving door all season. This made the need for a left-handed defenseman who can log top-four minutes the team’s focal point leading up to the trade deadline. While many Blues fans were clamouring for an old-school, physical defender, Leddy’s greatest attributes are his skating and ability to move the puck in transition. Rounding out a top-four that includes Parayko, Krug, and Faulk, it’s clear that Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong wanted to address the need by bringing in a player who adds to the team’s strengths.
While his numbers this season do not necessarily indicate a major upgrade, it’s important to remember that Leddy is coming into a much better team that plays some of the best team defence in the league. When Parayko is at the top of his game, he is an elite shut-down defender who occupies a lot of ice, which could free up space for Leddy to jump into play in the offensive zone.
Playoff experience was mentioned several times by Armstrong in his interview following the deal, noting Leddy’s experience winning the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013, as well as several deep playoff runs with the New York Islanders in recent years. A pending unrestricted free agent, the remainder of the season could be viewed as a trial run for Leddy and the Blues. While there is no contract extension imminent, solid play down the stretch could lead to a deal.
With the Blues’ top seven defensemen pretty much set, Witkowski will report to Springfield in the American Hockey League. His combination of size and experience could be beneficial for the team come playoff time, though his inclusion in the trade was more of a depth move than anything else.
Moving on from Sundqvist and Walman
In the world of trades, the old adage is true that in order to receive, you have to give. Sundqvist joined the Blues ahead of the 2017-18 season, establishing himself as a reliable forward who can play up and down the lineup, at center and wing. His breakout campaign in 2018-19 was crucial in St. Louis winning its first Stanley Cup, and Sundqvist’s contributions to that team will forever be remembered by Blues fans. Injuries to the knee and hip have hampered Sundqvist the past couple of seasons, but when healthy, he is a reliable forward who could serve a young team like Detroit well. His $2.75 million cap hit is the same as Leddy’s (with Detroit retaining salary), so a player of his calibre was sure to go in order to maintain cap compliance.
Perhaps the biggest winner of this trade is rookie defenseman Jake Walman. With playing time hard to come by on a deep St. Louis roster, Walman joins the Red Wings with an opportunity to be a part of a young core that appears to finally be building something for the future after a tumultuous stretch the past few seasons.
Monday’s trade was met with mixed emotions by Blues fans. Many had eyes on bigger prizes at the deadline, while others were sad to see a fan favourite like Sundqvist shipped out of town. The reality is that if the Blues were to make an even bigger addition, an equally larger subtraction would have to occur. With the core of this Blues team looking to win two championships in four years, any larger disruption to the room could have been too large of a risk for Armstrong to take.
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