Linked by offseason trade, the struggling Blues and surging Sabres are the surprises of the season

The first two months of the 2018-19 season have brought their share of surprises. Looking at the standings, two teams in particular stand out — one near the top, the other in the NHL basement – and those teams just so happen to be linked by a blockbuster offseason trade.

In the preseason, the St. Louis Blues were given +2000 odds to win the Stanley Cup. After missing the playoffs by a single point last year, they pulled off one of the bigger transactions of the summer by acquiring Ryan O’Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson, and multiple draft picks.

They also added David Perron and Tyler Bozak in free agency, ostensibly giving them one of the deepest top-nine in the NHL. Paired with a solid defense  headed by Norris contender Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis looked like it would be a tough team to play against night in and night out.

The offense, however, has barely showed any improvement, averaging 2.79 goals per game, effectively on par with their 2.72 GPG last season. And their defense has taken a massive step backwards, particularly in net. Jake Allen and Chad Johnson have combined for a 3.32 GAA, 8th-worst in the league.

Making matters worse, Pietrangelo is now out for an extended period with a hand injury. The Blues already sit 11 points back of the final playoff spot in the West, and their Stanley Cup odds have plummeted from +2000 all the way to +8000. There is little reason to expect better moving forward. They are getting outshot and out-chanced on a regular basis, a reality that’s encapsulated in their 48.71 Fenwick % (21st in the league), and have a -16 goal difference, fourth-worst in the entire NHL.

When Blues fans glance at the Eastern Conference standings, their team’s struggles have to sting that much more. The Sabres, who owned the worst record in the NHL last year and have missed the playoffs in seven straight seasons, currently sit third in the East and have a seven-point cushion on a playoff spot.

Buffalo entered the year around +8000 to win the Cup. After a ten-game winning streak from late November to early December, they were as short as +1600 at some sportsbooks. The trio of centers they acquired from St. Louis haven’t’ exactly been difference-makers – they have just 15 points, combined — but another ex-Blue is proving a pivotal piece of the Sabres’ turnaround. I believe Buffalo still have more gas in their tank, so in case you are wondering where to place some action for the team, these top betting sites have your back as they´ve been previously tested by the guys at MyTopSportsbooks.

Free-agent acquisition Carter Hutton, who backed up Jake Allen in St. Louis last year, has emerged as a legitimate NHL starter, posting a 12-8-1 W/L record to go along with a 2.60 GAA and .917 SV%. Those aren’t Vezina-worthy numbers, but St. Louis would kill for them right now. While the advanced metrics suggest a small regression for the team, as a whole, in particular their 21st-ranked Corsi (48.76%), there is also a good chance that their young core will improve in the months ahead.

Former second-overall pick Jack Eichel is still just 22 years old and blossoming into a dominant first-line center. Rasmus Dahlin, the #1-overall pick this past Summer, is already averaging over 20 minutes per night and boasts a +6 rating. All told, eight of the team’s top-ten scorers are 26 or younger. Jeff Skinner, who has 20 goals in 30 games, won’t keep scoring at that clip, since he has a completely unsustainable 22.7 shooting percentage, but they don’t need him to in order to remain in the playoff mix.