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Blues, Avalanche pull off blockbuster trade

Erik Johnson #6 of the St. Louis Blues skates against the Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena on February 18, 2011 in Buffalo, New York.

Rick Stewart/Rick Stewart/Getty Images

And now for something completely different from the NHL trade wars: An actual bona-fide hockey deal that doesn't involve a rent-a-player or salary-cap concessions, but simply was done because two teams had a surplus at one position and a need at the other.

Take a bow, St. Louis Blues' GM Doug Armstrong and Colorado Avalanche GM Greg Sherman.

Armstrong and Sherman are probably two of the lesser known managers in the league, but they pulled off a doozy late Friday night.

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St. Louis shipped off Erik Johnson, the No. 1 overall player chosen in the 2006 entry draft, along with third-line forward Jay McClement to the Avalanche. In exchange, they receive power forward Chris Stewart and skilled, but undersized play-making defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk. The teams also exchanged conditional first and second-round draft choices.

It doesn't take much to figure out what was happening here. Colorado is dreadful defensively, one of the worst teams in the league at this stage of their development. To add Johnson's six-foot-four, 236-pound minute-munching potential was just too good an opportunity to pass up. It fills an immediate and dire need and at 22, Johnson is just beginning to scratch the surface of his potential. If he evolves into the next Rob Blake, the deal will be paying dividends for Colorado for years to come.

The Blues figured they could sacrifice Johnson only because Alex Pietrangelo, the fourth player chosen in the 2008 entry draft, has emerged this season as a go-to defenceman. Pietrangelo came from the same draft class as Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian and Luke Schenn, and this year made significant strides to join their company. More than anything, what they need is what Stewart can bring, an emerging power forward who was having a sensational year in Colorado until he broke his hand in a fight. Since returning, Stewart has struggled to find his form on an Avalanche team that has collectively lost its confidence and is already in serious next-year mode. Apart from David Backes, St. Louis is skilled but undersized up front. Stewart should remedy that shortcoming in a hurry and will supplement an offence that has struggled at different times this season to score goals.

Shattenkirk will help the Blues on the power play because of his playmaking skills. Many of St. Louis's defencemen - Barret Jackman, Roman Polak - are better defensively than offensively. McClement is the oldest player in the deal at 27; Stewart is 23 and Shattenkirk just turned 22 last month. They were the 18th and 14th players selected overall in the 2006 and 2007 entry drafts.

This sort of transaction - of quality players, just coming into their primes - takes nerves of steel because, depending upon development, it is the sort of trade that could look horribly one-sided down the road. In an era when the trading game so often begins and ends with salary considerations, this is positively unique. The fact that Armstrong and Sherman were willing to roll the dice tells you something about their courage as managers - and the fact they can identify a need and seek out a solution.

A few of their experienced peers could learn a lesson here.

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About the Author

Eric was the winner of the Hockey Hall Of Fame's Elmer Ferguson award for "distinguished contributions to hockey writing" in 2001. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario's grad school of journalism, he began covering hockey in 1978 and after spending 20 years covering the NHL and the Calgary Flames, joined The Globe in 2000. More

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