Buchnevich, 26, is a restricted free agent just one year away from UFA status, meaning any long-term deal he’ll be signing with the Blues would come at a cost. It certainly could be worth it though after his outstanding 2020-21 campaign, in which he scored 20 goals and 48 points in 54 games, establishing himself as a true top-six difference-maker. Buchnevich averaged nearly 19 minutes a night for the Rangers last season, playing mostly with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.
The key in Buchnevich’s performance that makes him so appealing is that just eight of his points came with the man-advantage. A dangerous player when penalty-killing and an even-strength positive, the 6’3″ Buchnevich can help replace some of the offense that St. Louis is losing this summer. Jaden Schwartz, Tyler Bozak and Mike Hoffman are all pending unrestricted free agents, while the relationship with Vladimir Tarasenko has deteriorated to the point where a trade is still expected.
In Blais, the team is giving up another member of their 2018-19 Stanley Cup roster, but one that still hasn’t changed much from the player he was then. The 25-year-old forward certainly fits into New York’s new identity of “tough to play against” as he brings plenty of physicality to the table, but has just 35 points in 119 career regular season games.
The key here is the cap room for the Rangers, who were looking at a potential arbitration award above $5MM for Buchnevich after two excellent seasons. If they weren’t going to sign him to a multi-year contract as a core piece up front, it made sense to walk away now. Still, the return is somewhat underwhelming for a player that was so successful this year, even if Blais does come signed at a reasonable $1.5MM cap hit.
With young wingers like Alexis Lafreniere, Vitali Kravtsov and Kaapo Kakko already in place, the Rangers didn’t have a ton of room for Buchnevich moving forward. It’s the exact opposite in St. Louis, where he could very well slide in on the top line next season, depending on how things shake out for the rest of the offseason.