The fortunes of the most recent two Stanley Cup champions are, in a way intertwined. Both the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals have made a few notable trades since the 2014-15 season that contributed to each’s run to the Stanley Cup this spring (St. Louis) and last spring (Washington). In this piece, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle examines the history of those trades, and how one in particular led each to their respective Stanley Cup victory.
2014-15 Season Aftermath
After the 2014-15 season, during which the Capitals had fallen in the second round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs to the New York Rangers, Zac Boyer, then a writer with the Washington Times, tweeted that Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan told him it would be the team’s priority to find a top-line right wing in the offseason that could play alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, but that it might easier to be find one on the trade market rather than in free agency.
At around the same time in St. Louis, Elizabeth Meinecke, a St. Louis-based writer who had recently interviewed St. Louis Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong, said that the team had two cores: their older core, which was in its late twenties and early thirties who had helped fuel their regular season success, and their younger core, who were in their mid-twenties. Their older core consisted of Alexander Steen, David Backes, Paul Stastny, and T.J. Oshie, with Brian Elliott in goal, while their younger core consisted of Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Alex Pietrangelo, and Kevin Shattenkirk.
In the interview, Armstrong indicated the long-term look for the franchise would be the younger core. This was the first indication that the Blues, disappointed that their great roster had only advanced past the first round of the playoffs just once since 2013, would be open to moving on from their older core. Despite all the rumors surrounding both the Capitals and Blues, neither team completed a transaction throughout May or June, including during the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
T.J. Oshie Trade
On July 2, 2015, however, the Blues and Capitals completed a transaction that took a step to addressing both team’s problems. The Blues traded right wing T.J. Oshie to the Capitals in exchange for right wing Troy Brouwer, goaltending prospect Pheonix Copley, and a third-round pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Armstrong felt that Brouwer would fit the team’s style better than Oshie did, given that Brouwer was a big, able-bodied player who could play, while the Capitals felt that Oshie solved their lack of a top-line right wing. Salary-wise, Brouwer was making $3.7 million at the time, while Oshie made $4.3 million; additionally, Brouwer just had one year remaining on his deal while Oshie had two.
During the 2015-16 season, the Capitals, with the addition of Oshie and free agent signing Justin Williams, won the President’s Trophy with the best record in the season. Oshie thrived in his first season with the Caps, scoring a then-career high 26 goals. However, the Capitals lost in the second round of the playoffs to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Oshie performed well in the playoffs, scoring six goals and adding four assists, including a hat trick in Game 1. Meanwhile, the Blues finished second in the Central Division but advanced past the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, with Brouwer scoring the game-winning goal in Game 7. They also advanced past the Dallas Stars, but lost to the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Finals. Brouwer scored 18 goals with 21 assists during the regular season, but did not re-sign with the Blues after the season, departing in free agency.
2016 NHL Entry Draft
During the 2016 NHL Entry Draft (June 24-25), the Blues and Capitals made yet another trade, with the Blues trading their first-round pick (28th overall) and a third-round pick (87th overall) so the Caps could move up in the draft by two slots. The Blues drafted forward Tage Thompson with the 26th pick while the Caps drafted defenseman Lucas Johansen with the 28th pick and chose center Garrett Pilon with the 87th pick (the third-round pick they had dealt to the Blues in the Oshie deal).
The 2016-17 season was another banner year for the Capitals, winning the President’s Trophy for the second consecutive season. In an effort to go all-in for the Stanley Cup, the Capitals pulled the trigger on a trade for pending unrestricted free agent defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who the Blues would most likely lose at the end of the season. As a result, the Caps and Blues made a deal to send the prized blueliner to D.C.. In return for Shattenkirk, the Blues received forward Zack Sanford, center Brad Malone (who was playing with the Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate Hershey Bears), a first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, and conditional draft picks, one of which could be a 2019 second-round pick. The Capitals also re-acquired Copley, who had been sent to the Blues in the Oshie trade. Caps then returned Copley to the Hershey Bears to finish out the season there as their Number 1 goalie.
The postseason, however, was disappointing for both clubs. Just as in 2016, the Capitals lost in the second round of the playoffs to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who went on to win the Stanley Cup for the second consecutive season. Although Shattenkirk contributed a game-winning overtime goal against Pittsburgh in Game 3 of the series, his performance in a Capitals sweater was largely unimpressive. Meanwhile, the Blues lost in the second round to the Nashville Predators, who would go on to lose to Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Final
2017 NHL Entry Draft
During the 2017 NHL Entry Draft that took place from June 23-24, the Blues made a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers to acquire forward Brayden Schenn, dealing the first-round pick they had acquired in the Shattenkirk trade in the transaction. The Flyers drafted Morgan Frost with the pick (27th overall).
Further Reading on Schenn Trade
NHL.Com Writeup on Schenn Trade
Rest of 2017 Off Season
On the same day the NHL Entry Draft began, the Capitals re-signed Oshie to an eight-year contract In early July, they also signed contract extensions with center Evgeny Kuznetsov and defenseman Dmitry Orlov. The increased salaries resulting from the new deals for Oshie, Kuznetsov, and Orlov caused a salary crunch for the Caps, forcing them trade forward Marcus Johansson and lost defenseman Nate Schmidt in the expansion draft.
Despite the extremely disappointing ending to their playoff run in 2017 and the losses of key players, the Capitals finished first in the Metropolitan Division at the end of the 2017-18 regular season. While they failed to win the President’s Trophy, their standings position earned them home ice advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Oshie, the former Blue, was an integral part of the team. The Capitals would go on to capture their first Stanley Cup, with Oshie playing a key role in the doing so, and Copley providing an emergency backup option in the event the Caps had needed it.
2017-18 was a relatively poor season for the Blues, who appeared to be in solid playoff position in January but played poorly and ended up missing the playoffs by just one point. At the trade deadline, the Blues traded center Paul Stastny whose contract was coming to an end after the season. Schenn had a career-high of 28 goals and 42 assists and played on a line between Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz.
On July 1, the Blues acquired center Ryan O’Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for forwards Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund, Tage Thompson (acquired with the 28th pick the Blues had acquired from the Caps), their first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, and and second-round pick in 2021.
Despite acquiring O’Reilly, the Blues got off to a terrible start and found themselves in last place on January 3, 2019. They had already fired their coach Mike Yeo, and decided that Associate Coach Craig Berube, would be the team’s interim Head Coach. O’Reilly was one of the few bright spots for the Blues during the early part of the season. Fortunately, the Blues turned it around, moved into playoff position and advanced through the standings to finish in a tie for second place with the Winnipeg Jets who were considered “ahead” of the Blues, based on the tie breaker.
The Blues advanced through the playoffs, first getting past the Jets in six games and then beating the Dallas Stars in seven games. They advanced to the Western Conference Finals to meet the San Jose Sharks, the same team that had beaten them three years sooner. This time, the result was better for the Blues as they advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals to play the Boston Bruins, winning the series in seven games. O’Reilly had five goals and three assists in the Stanley Cup Finals, including goals each of the last four consecutive games and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy. It was a great season for O’Reilly, who had a career-high of 28 goals and 49 assists during the regular season. For the playoffs, he had eight goals and 15 assists, with his best productivity coming in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Capitals, meanwhile, repeated as Metropolitan Division Champions but fell to the Carolina Hurricanes in the first-round of the playoffs. Oshie had another productive season with the Capitals and Copley performed well in his first season as starter Braden Holtby’s backup.
The Blues and Capitals certainly had to wait many years before each was able to lift the Stanley Cup above their heads for the first time, but for both teams and their fan bases, it was waits that were well worth it. And while not completely dependent on the other, the recent successes and failures of both teams came as a result of several transactions that affected the course of each team’s road to a championship. And it seems almost ironic and somewhat fitting, that the Blues succeeded the Capitals as champions, trading fates in successive seasons.
By Diane Doyle