© St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
June 22, 2003
While Cory Stillman was perked up and expecting to be traded in a cost-cutting move by the Blues this weekend, teammate Tyson Nash wasn't concerned, wasn't even aware the NHL draft was this weekend and a tempest of deals was brewing.
Until he checked his cell phone, that is.
It read, "10 missed calls."
At least one was from Larry Pleau.
Uh-oh, he thought.
Stillman and Nash, left wingers with seven-figure salaries for the Blues, were traded in separate moves to trim the team's $60 million payroll. Pleau, the Blues general manager, said the moves were rooted in the team's disappointing finish and were not just "economic moves." But considering the Blues received draft picks in return, the motive is clear.
Nash was traded to Phoenix for a conditional pick -- either in the fifth round Sunday or fourth round next summer. Stillman was sent to Tampa Bay for the 62nd overall pick this season, which the Blues used to select center-right winger David Backes.
In another move, the Blues traded the 93rd pick to New Jersey for Nash's potential replacement, malcontent forward Mike Danton, and the 101st pick.
"Without a doubt it came as quite a shock," said Nash, a fan favorite through his four seasons as a Blue. "Obviously, it's a move to trim salary. I'm a fourth-line guy who makes a good chunk of change. So I knew something could happen. I just couldn't believe it."
Stillman and Nash were set to become restricted free agents, both due qualifying offers by June 30, and both were eligible for arbitration. Stillman was owed, at the least, $2.1 million for next season - and after a season with 67 points he could have won more in arbitration. Nash was scheduled for a raise from his $1.175 million salary.
Their departure saves the Blues almost $3.3 million, at least.
"This kind of thing happens," said Stillman, who had two full but fluctuating seasons with the Blues. "Obviously, they made a decision to go in a different direction. I read where Tyson Nash and Cory Stillman were going to be traded, and look what happened.
"This might give them the money to keep Pavol (Demitra)."
Demitra, the Blues' leading scorer the past three seasons, also is eligible for arbitration this summer and the Blues quake at the price he could command. They have been listening to offers for him, but Saturday's cost-cutting could free up the cash to endure Demitra's raise.
Pleau said trading pest Nash and Stillman, one of the more versatile forwards for the Blues, was a multi-tiered decision.
"Go back to the day after the season ended where we said our team is going to change," Pleau said. "We weren't happy with our team performance. We weren't happy with some individual performance. And that our payroll is going to be different. When we're paying that kind of money, we're disappointed in the outcome. How much or who it's going to be, you can never tell."
Pleau did add that to say he was pegging Nash and Stillman as the fall guys for the Blues' decline would be wrong. Nash had even been willing to take less money - though the NHL Players Association would be miffed - to remain a Blue, but his agent and Pleau did not talk. There was no plan to make a qualifying offer to Nash.
With the exception of Danton, who was suspended for most of last season after repeated run-ins with Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello, the Blues didn't get players they can use now. They saved money.
Consider the deal for Stillman: According to Tampa Bay officials, the Blues offered them Stillman for the 25th pick. Tampa said no. For the 34th? No. For the 41st pick? No.
Finally, Tampa swapped the 62nd pick - which the Blues used on power forward Backes. It allowed the Blues to fill what they had called the "Big Hole," their gap between pick 30 and pick 84.
It's doubtful the Blues are done, still looking to trade Sunday.
The Blues are expected to sign Danton, 22, to a qualifying offer of $550,000 for next season. He is a pesky player and he's eager to fight, plus he has shown scoring spurts in the minors. And he makes half what Nash does. Danton played 17 games for the Devils last season before being suspended. As a Devil, he griped publicly about playing time. Last season he famously said he wasn't drinking "Lou's Kool-Aid."
"This kid got a bad rap in Jersey," said his agent, David Frost. "He just wants to get into camp and get a good, fresh start. I've told him right at the start of the camp to shut his trap and play. ... Shut up and do your talking on the ice."
Since December, Danton has worked on power skating and is even working with an Ultimate Fighting coach on his fisticuffs. He said by September he'll be in the best shape of his young career.
"I'm ready to be playing again - just excited that I'm finally going to have that chance," Danton said. "It's like there's a light at the end of the tunnel."
Salary: $1.175 million
Traded to: Phoenix
For: conditional pick
Salary: at least $2.1 million
Traded to: Tampa Bay
For: 62nd pick in this year's draft