Chris Stewart is one of the most frustrating and difficult players to analyze in the NHL. His time with the St. Louis Blues was always a tale of two different players – Stewart the lethal offensive weapon and Stewart the uninterested, sluggish forward.
The Ryan Miller / Steve Ott trade has officially ended Stewart's time in St. Louis. While analyzing and grading Jaroslav Halak's time with the Blues was fairly simple, Stewart is much more complex skater to review.
A ton of NHL players carry the "streaky" adjective next to their name. Stewart is the definition of the word. One week he may lead the league in goals while the next he may look like a rookie, dazed and confused by the speed and pace of the NHL game. This inconsistency caused fans to sour on Stewart, a drastic change from the warm welcome he received when he first came to the Blues.
Stewart arrived in St. Louis during the 2010-11 season with Kevin Shattenkirk in a deal which sent Erik Johnson and Jay McClement to the Avalanche. The deal paid off almost immediately with Stewart scoring 15 times and chipping in a total of 23 points in his first 26 games with the Blues. Stewart, a player who always looked like he was just one step away from being an NHL star, appeared to have been rejuvenated by the trade.
Unfortunately, the good times didn't last.
The 2011-12 season was an awful one for Stewart. He scored 15 times and added 15 assists over the course of 79 games. He barely matched the number of goals he scored in just 26 games with the Blues the year before. The numbers do an adequate job telling the story, but they won't tell you just how frustrating Stewart was out on the ice. He had moments of brilliance, yes, but he had far too many moments of lazy, slow play. Stewart was often drifting around the ice, failing to influence the play. Instead, he let the play develop around him.
Was an allergy to blame for Stewart's struggles? That was the story which emerged during 2012-13. The shortened season carried the interesting narrative stating Stewart's allergy to brown rice may have been the true reason behind his lack of stamina.
As with Halak, it's not fair to read too far into the stats from a shortened season due. Stewart played on two different teams during the lockout before returning to the Blues for 48 games. He looked sharper and more focused, scoring 18 goals and 18 assists following the lockout.
Did Stewart turn a corner?
Yes and no.
Stewart scored in bunches in 2013-14. Unfortunately, he still had long stretches of poor play. The forward would score a handful of goals in a week before once again disappearing into obscurity. Prior to the trade, Stewart lit the lamp 15 times in 58 games. Despite his hot streaks, he still trailed behind his scoring pace from 2012-13 and his stretches of uninspired play trumped the stretches where he looked like a formidable offensive component.
Chris Stewart: So talented, so inconsistent.
Stewart might be the most streaky player in the NHL. When he's on, he's arguably the best goal scorer in the league. When he's off, you might as well bench him as he's not going to make any positive contributions out on the ice. This streaky, inconsistent play made Stewart an expendable asset. The Blues were better served playing someone else in his place. We saw this when Ken Hitchcock relegated Stewart to the fourth line in an effort to show the forward that he needs to play a more rounded style of hockey. That never happened and now Stewart is a member of the Buffalo Sabres.
What grade does Stewart deserve for his time in St. Louis?
I think a C+ is a fair grade. It's a shame to see so much talent go unrealized.
He scored 48 goals in 185 games. That's a pretty solid rate of a goal almost every three games, but that stat doesn't demonstrate just how costly Stewart was to his team when he wasn't lighting the lamp. Whether it was failing to come back on defense, leaving a man unmarked or getting a bit carried away with the physical aspect of the game and taking a foolish penalty, Stewart's positives in a season rarely outnumbered his negatives.