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Blues moves at Trade Deadline could be tough

Plan to keep Backes, have little room under salary cap

by Louie Korac / NHL.com Correspondent

ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong is like his 29 counterparts in the League leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline on Monday. 

Armstrong is listening and he's talking. But as it stands, he will be hard-pressed to make any major additions to the Blues roster without moving key pieces off it because St. Louis is up against the NHL salary cap. 

Armstrong, who addressed the media Thursday prior to the Blues hosting the New York Rangers, also made it clear that trading pending unrestricted free agent forward David Backes "for some form of a draft pick would be an injustice to the players in that room right now." 

Armstrong has not ruled out trading for a backup goalie, which the Blues have been forced to consider after a recent lower-body injury to Brian Elliott. Pheonix Copley, who has never played in an NHL game, backed up Jake Allen, who returned from injury this week, on Thursday. 

Unless salary can be moved both ways in any potential trades, Armstrong has maintained his stance of wanting to see what the Blues look like with a healthy roster. 

Unfortunately, that won't happen before Monday at 3 p.m. ET when the deadline passes. 

"Not a good evaluation about our team getting healthy, but a really good evaluation about the character of our team and the ability to build a little scar tissue," Armstrong said. "I think this is the year we've taken the Cardinals' (baseball mantra) 'Next man up.' We've lost goaltenders, we've lost defensemen, we've lost centermen, we've lost wingers. 

"… Every time we think we're going to come out and get a little space with the cap and try to build a little bit of war chest, someone else goes down. It's the level of players [who] are going down that can't be replaced by one player. 

"At different times of the year, you want to carry 21 players and create a little [cap] space and not have to carry that 22nd and 23rd player. When you lose a key player, it usually takes two players to replace them. ... It was difficult to gain any traction to gain [cap] space, so we find ourselves now at the trade deadline with long-term injury. It's not going to end until mid-March. That's just the facts and the way the season's gone for us." 

The Blues have approached Backes about a contract extension. Armstrong's conversations with agent Wade Arnott had merit, but the sides decided to play out the season. 

"Right now, I've had a good chat with David and there is no ongoing dialogue," Armstrong said. "We had really good conversations over the summer and the feeling was, let's let the year play itself out. He's going to be a big part of what we're doing over the next little while. 

"When you go into the season in that format, you're hoping to have a good year and we have had a good year. We've positioned ourselves in a good spot. If we were in the 10th or 11th or 12th spot in the Western Conference, I'd probably be going to him right now and saying, 'Obviously you're an unrestricted free agent. Do you want to go to a contending team?' We are that contending team. We are a team that's in the top part of the NHL." 

The Blues played Thursday without Elliott, forward Alexander Steen (upper body), defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (knee) and forward Steve Ott (hamstring). Armstrong said he wants to sit down and speak with Ott about if or when he can return to the lineup. 

St, Louis was 35-18-9 before playing New York, third in the Central Division behind the Dallas Stars and Chicago Blackhawks. Only the Washington Capitals had more points than those three.
 
"They've shown to the world and to the hockey community at least ... you're in fourth place right now with all these injuries," Armstrong said. "The reality is you get to the [Stanley Cup Playoffs] and you need health and then you need your good players to play well. But you have to go through Murderer's Row here in the Central [Division]. That's just the reality of it."

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