ST. LOUIS (AP) -This time of year, the St. Louis Blues traditionally are poised for a sell-off to fuel the rebuilding movement.
This trade deadline promises to be different. The Blues climbed to .500 on Tuesday behind stingy defense and strong goaltending and just enough timely offense, and are within reach of ending a three-year playoff drought.
Though they're not liable to make a big splash at the trade deadline next Wednesday, at least they're a lot less likely to jettison talent.
"We're legitimately - as of right now - in it," team president John Davidson said before the Blues' 2-1 victory over the Coyotes Tuesday night. "So we've got to think playoffs. We've been patient, we've been building, we're going in the right direction, we need really good players, and we'll see where it goes."
New Blues ownership stockpiled first-round picks after taking over in 2006 while the franchise struggled on the ice, totaling five choices the first two seasons. Forwards Patrik Berglund ('06) and David Perron ('07) are already regulars and defenseman Erik Johnson, the first overall pick in 2006, was supposed to be a frontliner this year before wrecking his knee before the preseason.
Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, a first-rounder in 2008, began this season with the Blues at age 18 before being sent back to his junior team. It's yet another sign that the Blues have plenty of young developing talent.
"The last two trade deadlines from our point of view we needed to gather assets," Davidson said. "Let's make deals, let's draft well.
"If you get picks and you don't draft well that's another story but we're pretty happy."
So happy, they'd consider using some of the kids as trade bait for a veteran, or at least entertain the notion.
"Are we ready to take a step where we trade two young kids for a really good player that may help us a lot?," Davidson said. "It depends on that guy's contract, how old he is. It depends on whether we're ready for that, or is it a year or two away yet.
"But we're at least in a position now as an organization that we can think about stuff like this."
The Blues have three games to go before the deadline, and are in a tight race for the final playoff spots in the Western Conference. Their 6-2-4 record in February hasn't made as much of a dent as the franchise would have thought, partly because all the overtime and shootout results reward the losers, too.
"As much as you say you're not looking at the standings, I think everyone has a look once in a while," said forward Jay McClement, whose short-handed goal was the go-ahead score Tuesday. "We've been getting points lately and haven't really made up much ground."
Veteran forward Keith Tkachuk is the most marketable player if the Blues do decide to deal. They've traded him before, getting a first-round pick and two other choices from the Thrashers in 2007 after Tkachuk waived a no-trade clause, and then re-signed him before the next season.
In recent years, the Blues also have peddled Bill Guerin and Mike Sillinger. Others who could be available this season, and without hurting the playoff drive much, are forward Dan Hinote and goalie Manny Legace, the latter currently with Peoria of the AHL after he lost his starting job to Chris Mason last month.
To make the playoffs with the roster the way it is, no doubt it'll be a high wire act. The victory over the Coyotes was the Blues' seventh straight one-goal decision, and they've got an overtime win, overtime loss and victory the last three games despite totaling four goals.
"I would just like once to have a game where I can maybe relax a little bit at the end," coach Andy Murray said. "I used to be a fairly good-looking guy, but not anymore. That's what my wife says."