Injuries and Struggles Create Chaos As Deadline Loomsby Sean Gallagher | February 25, 2018, 11:32 PM ET
It wasn't the official motto of the the 2018 Spartans, but it might as well have been. Stocking up on veterans to surround and insulate the younger skill players in the lienup, St. Louis acquired free agents and assets in trades who had leadership and experience. Skilled as well, yes, but raising the average age of the roster for an extended playoff run was clearly the goal.
But now, with long-term injuries to first line center Patrice Bergeron and number one defenseman Zdeno Chara, the Spartans have struggled. With only 10 games left before the trade deadline and Sparty sitting in the seventh seed in the World Conference, the team was dealt another blow as centerman Ryan Johansen was injured in a loss to Philadelphia. Not only did the loss and the injury hurt, the team ended the weekend in the ninth seed.
With Bergeron and Johansen likely to miss the next two to three games and with all of the six teams ahead of them in the standings and the team directly behind them having between two and four games in hand, the return of the two centers may be too little, too late.
All of which puts pressure on the Spartans' GM to decide what to do at the trade deadline in just three weeks. The Spartans have only nine games left between now and then, with one more against Philly, two against Boston, and one each against similarly-positioned teams Quebec, Dublin and Rekyjavik. St. Louis also has one game against Banff in that stretch, but the scrappy expansion team has shown the ability to surprise teams, too.
By the trade deadline day, the playoffs could be a bridge too far.
"Look, we're built for the playoffs, in my opinion," said GM Gallagher, "but the problem is if we can actually make the playoffs. Our depth is definitely going to get challenged over the next three weeks. I hope we get to March 18th (the trade deadline) and we're happy to stand pat. If the team hasn't risen to this current challenge and we have to be sellers, well, the players won't have anyone to blame but themselves. The talent is there to win. Every team deals with injuries. Don't want to get traded? Win some games. It's that simple."
The Spartans themselves seem to be confident in the "just get in" menatality, believing that their talent and depth and experience would help them upset some teams if they wind up near the bottom of the playoff eight. But if they can't get in, they do have assets that could make for an interesting deadline day.
With eight unrestricted free agents who would all definietly be available, and helpful, to playoff teams and a raft of other players who fall into the "not untouchable" category, things could get wild in St. Louis if they're forced to go into full-on sell mode.
"I'm not going to talk about that," said Gallagher, "I'm here to talk about this group of guys finding away to get points, win games, fight for each other and be the legitimate playoff threat that I think they can become."
And if they can't become that playoff threat? Well, that'll be a very different story.