The focus on Friday night’s shocking trade of Brayden Schenn to St. Louis has largely been on the future assets that it brought with it — particularly, the 2017 and 2018 first-round picks that the Flyers received for the 25-year old forward. But the Flyers did pick up a roster player in 29-year old Jori Lehtera, who has had a strange journey to the NHL and potentially an even stranger one to Philadelphia.
Lehtera had a strong first season with the Blues (at the age of 27), earning himself a three-year, $14.1 million contract extension that would kick in prior to the 2016-17 season. Unfortunately, Lehtera’s play has fallen off in each of the two years since that deal, to the point where he (and his massive contract) had become a point of constant frustration in St. Louis. His presence in the trade was very much a cap dump for the Blues, who are happy to be able to use his money on a relatively productive player instead.
What happened to Lehtera in the past two seasons? Can he amount to anything in the orange and black?
Our friends over at SB Nation’s St. Louis Blues site, St. Louis Game Time, seemed pretty happy with the trade, and with the Blues’ other big move of Friday evening (see here, and here, and here). We sent a few questions to SLGT’s hildymac, asking what to expect from the Flyers’ latest acquisition, with a question tacked on at the end about their newest center as well. (Our questions in bold, responses in plain text.)
1. First and foremost: two first-rounders, even mid-to-late ones, is a hefty trade price in today's NHL. Are you all of the opinion that it was worth it for the Blues to pay that much (plus potentially an extra 3rd if they toll the 1st to 2019) to dump Lehtera and pick up Brayden Schenn?
I'm always uncomfortable when Doug Armstrong deals around first round draft picks, because I feel like it's a tantamount to dealing away a potential opportunity for the team. On the flip side, the Blues need scoring and with the loss of David Perron to the Golden Knights, Schenn replaces that with the added bonus of being a better center than Lehtera.
So, as a matter of principle I question it, but for right now I can understand the justification for it.
2. Lehtera had a pretty solid first season in St. Louis back in 2014-15, as he was part of that successful STL line with Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. What the hell happened to him in the two years since then? How did he fall out of favor in St. Louis so quickly?
I'm not sure what exactly happened with him considering that Hitchcock religiously played him with Tarasenko. Schwartz was moved around a bit as needed and was injured for a while, so that may've played a role. It's easy to point a finger at Hitch's message wearing thin, but Lehtera had issues under Yeo too.
3. Much of the appeal for the Blues in dumping Lehtera is in losing his $4.7 million cap hit for the next two seasons. Surely that's an overpay for what he brings at this point, but is Lehtera a guy that Blues fans probably would have been fine with if he was making way less money and playing a smaller role on the team, or is he just not a guy that could've had any realistic fit with the Blues at this point? Is he at least a fine bottom-6 guy if he never improves from what he currently is, or are we talking about someone who you think is basically a marginal NHLer?
I think that the salary is a huge part of why Blues fans wanted him out. If he produced at the same level that he got paid for, no one'd have an issue with him, and vice versa. The Blues have an abundance of third liners who can be a bit overpriced, and I think Lehtera was the breaking point there. I think he's a competent bottom-six guy for sure, but there's no way a competent bottom-six guy should get $4.7 million a year.
4. In that vein, you all wrote this past season about how the burden of his contract may be weighing on him. Could a change of scenery and lower expectations help him?
I think lowered expectations should help, as long as the Flyers are aware of what they got. They're not getting a replacement for Schenn's numbers, so if you approach him like he is, there'll be issues. If the team realizes that he is what he is, he should be ok.
5. Finally, what does it sound like the expectations are for Schenn in St. Louis? Is he going to be at center/is there an obvious spot in the lineup where they're going to use him?
I honestly think Schenn'll be used as a second-line center, and I think that's a pretty workable position for him. The Blues have been weak down the middle for a bit, but I think Schenn should be enough to get some production going depending on the others on his line.
Thanks again to Laura for answering our questions!