The St. Louis Blues boldly pushed to the front of the line of Stanley Cup contenders by acquiring goalie Ryan Miller and super pest Steve Ott from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for three players, plus first- and third-round draft picks.
Goalie Jaroslav Halak, forward Chris Stewart and prospect William Carrier go from St. Louis to Buffalo in a Friday deal that rocks the trade marketplace five days before the official 3 p.m. ET Wednesday deadline.
"We have certainly become a franchise that making the playoffs is no longer the goal," said St. Louis general manager Doug Armstrong. "It's about having success and playing for a championship."
In each of the past two seasons, the Blues have been eliminated by Los Angeles Kings with overflowing tenacity and exceptional goaltending by Jonathan Quick. In theory, the Blues have upgraded their goaltending, plus added another proven playoff agitator in Ott.
"We've ran into the best goaltender in the game the last two years in Quick," Armstrong said. "He's an elite player and we need to try to move past him and to move past the competition to get to him. I just think this gives a better opportunity to have success in the playoffs."
The Blues have the NHL's second-best record of 39-13-6, but the move to acquire Miller, 33, had been openly discussed in the news media for a couple of months. Miller is viewed as more consistent and less prone to giving up bad goals. Halak, 28, and Miller both will be unrestricted free agents at the end of this season, as will Ott. Stewart has a year left on his deal after this season.
The first-round pick is in 2015 and the 2016 third-rounder can become a 2014 first-rounder if the Blues reach the conference final or Miller re-signs with the Blues before the draft, according to the Associated Press.
Armstrong said the deal was made more for what Miller can do, rather than what Halak wasn't doing.
"It's very emotional right now," Miller said in a between-periods news conference. "It's hard. I think it's been 12 years with this organization, and I'm very excited to have a new adventure, a new opportunity. I have a strong sense that (the Blues) have a very special team."
The Sabres will retain what GM Tim Murray calls "a small portion" of Miller's salary.
Ott is known as a leader and valuable third-line role player with enough offensive skill to contribute a key goal now and then.
"He is an antagonistic player who has a playoff pedigree," Armstrong said. "His style of play (fits) nicely into the playoffs."
Armstrong said he would discuss Miller's potential future at a later time, but he said the Blues were still committed long-term to prospect Jake Allen.
Stewart, 26, has 15 goals in 58 games, but has scored as many 28 goals in an NHL season.
Carrier, a former second-round pick, has 17 goals in 59 games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this season.
Armstrong said he is not discussing any other trades.
"You never say never, but I like the way our group is," he said.