After winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, the St. Louis Blues have some choices to make.
General Manager Doug Armstrong has $15,470,406 in cap space to work with and some players he has to resign. Doug Armstrong has already made a couple moves this off-season by signing Carl Gunnarsson to a two year contract and officially taking the interim tag off Craig Berube. It is easy for a GM to just the band back together but that doesn’t always work. After having an eventful summer in 2018 things seem like they will be a tad quieter in 2019.
The Jake Allen Question
Blues Twitter made it two weeks after winning the Cup to start complaining or praising Jake Allen again. The 28 year old is on the books for two more seasons at a cap hit of 4,350,000. Going into the 2019-2020 season he is going to be the clear back-up to Jordan Binnington. That is a lot of money to give to a back up goalie, but ponder this Blues fans, Binnington is beloved in St. Louis and can do no wrong. However, he is not a proven starter. He had a great run for the Blues and seems to have all the ability but we just don’t know. If you tell yourself you do know you are lying to yourself. If Binnington needs to prove he can be an legit number one guy, like a Braden Holtby or whoever comes to mind when thinking of a starter. The Blues have never had a guy, that every season, the fans know they are going to be solid in net for 10 years and are hoping Binnington is that person. If he is, Allen is expendable but if not, even if he is expensive Allen can be a very good back-up goalie and has been in his career at points. Also if not Jake Allen, then who? Keith Kinkaid? Curtis McElhinney? Both of those guys are options for the Blues if they decide to move on from Allen, but it is up to Armstrong to make sure he gets actual assets and isn’t trading Jake just to trade him.
Restricted Free Agents
The Blues have a lot of restricted free agents to lock up, but, unlike a lot of teams, they don’t have any superstar talents to lockup. At forward, the Blues need to give new contracts to Ivan Barbashev, Robby Fabbri, Zach Sanford, Oskar Sundqvist and Sammy Blais. All of these guys are solid pieces, and all played their part in winning a Stanley Cup, but none of them should break the bank. All can be locked up for a couple years at a relatively cheap rate and produce whe given the ice time. Sundqvist and Barbashev will be the most expensive of the group as guys who can play center and score but by no means will they cap the Blues out. On defense the only RFA is Joel Edmundson who had a bit of a down season and after signing a three million dollar contract last offseason may see a bit of a dip this year. The most important restricted free agent is goalie Jordan Binnington. He is going to receive quite the raise from the $650,000 he was making last year and the comparable is Matt Murray who has a cap hit of $3,750,000. Will he take that? No idea maybe the Blues feel he should make more than Jake Allen but whatever happens Binnington will be the most expensive RFA to sign.
Unrestricted Free Agents
After resigning Carl Gunnarsson, the Blues have one UFA of note in Patrick Maroon. Not trying to insult Michael Del Zotto and Chris Thorburn, but neither are making an impact on the Blues roster next season. Maroon apparently has been gaining interest from teams like the Calgary Flames, who saw how productive Maroon was in the first few rounds of the playoffs and want some of that action. For the Blues, it is going to be important that Doug Armstrong does not overpay Maroon, no matter how easy it would be. The man proclaimed himself a “hometown hero baby” at the parade after scoring one of the biggest goals in Blues history, with his double OT winner against the Stars in game seven, but just look at the facts. He had 28 points in the regular season, even though he got a ton of power play time. In the playoffs, he was on a productive line with Tyler Bozak and Robert Thomas, but that line slowed down as the playoffs went along, and especially in the finals, when Thomas went down with injury. The Blues are loaded at forward and do not need to overpay anyone. If he wants to take another discount and stay, awesome. He will always be loved here.
(P.S. as someone who went to the same high school as Patty, that was tough to write.)
The Blues don’t appear to be talking to any of the upper tier, or even middle tier free agents. So, maybe a depth signing here or there, but nothing that will change the outlook of the team. Besides Jake Allen there may be a trade or two on the roster. Brayden Schenn has one year left on his deal and may command a lot of money next off-season. The Blues prospect cupboard at forward looks pretty good, so there may not be a need to keep Schenn maybe there is a trade there. However I doubt it happens and Schenn will simply just walk next off season. Alex Steen is making quite a bit of money as a 35 year old depth piece, but he has a no trade and looks like he has found a role on the fourth line. Trading Steen will be difficult as he has a full no move clause and no teams are clamoring to take on that money. The Maple Leafs were reportedly talking to the Blues about Robby Fabbri maybe something is to be done there. Fabbri is a rather unfortunate case as with all the injuries he has suffered we may never see the fire cracker of a player he was in 2015-2016 season especially in the playoffs. Alex Pietrangelo also one year left on his deal and believe it or not some Blues fans are saying to trade him. Legitimate number one right-handed defense-men don’t grow on trees and no way the Blues will trade their captain and no way will he be able to walk in free agency.
The Young Guys
The improvement will come from their young guys taking another step. Robert Thomas had a nice rookie season, but looks like he could be a star and step in as a top line center down the line. Prospect Jordan Kyrou has proven all he needs to prove at the minor league levels, and it is time for him to prove he can be a legit NHL player and be the elite scorer he was in the AHL and OHL. Klim Kostin, Dominik Bokk and Alexei Toropchenko are all promising prospects, but may be a couple years away. Erik Foley had his year at Providence derailed by injury, but he was a part of the Paul Stastny trade and is another promising piece for the future. Oskar Sundqvist is an example of being patient with a player as he went from AHL depth piece to being a surprise star for the Blues playing all over the lineup and really contributing to that four line punch the Blues brought. If he can take another step and become a 40 point player, this team gets that much better. Vince Dunn is the guy on defense the Blues are looking at to make a leap and be a top four guy. He has wonderful offensive skills but needs to work on his play in his own end. Although the Blues seem to have their defense set, but injuries happen and guys like Mitch Reinke Nikko Mikkola and Jake Walman will get looks at the NHL level. It may be better for the Blues to keep Allen and let Ville Husso rebound after last season.
Overall it appears the Blues are in a good position moving forward. The veterans are complemented by a lot of young talent and the scouting staff in St. Louis always seems to be able to find good players in the later parts of the draft. The core isn’t old with players like Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly well within their prime and have a lot of good years left. They have their coach in Craig Berube and appear well and ready to make another run at a cup next season despite what will probably be a quiet summer.
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Featured Image Credit: Dinur Blum