Well, here we are, it’s June, the playoffs are over, and the Blues aren’t there, again. We had a really early exit this year, not making the playoffs, not as usual, and we’ve all had time to process the season that wasn’t. We’ve processed, yelled, screamed and cried. Then we moved on, hopping onto our respective bandwagons, Ducks, Jets, Knights, Caps, Cardinals Baseball, Jack Daniels, or in my case, USL soccer. I’d like to congratulate the Caps on getting their first Stanley cup. Also Congrats to Oshie and Eller, and most of all Congrats to Ovechkin, it was your turn finally. However, while we were all rooting for one team or another or ignoring the game completely, everyone who’s not a fan of the two teams playing for the “Can”, now turn away from the current season and look on towards next year. That’s what I’m going to do here, look on to what the Blues can do next year to move forward from the disappointment that was 2017-18 and on to bigger and better things over the next few years.
The Primary focus of this article is going to be the internal Free Agents, specifically the restricted Free Agents that the Blues have. Simply put, you can’t build a championship caliber hockey team from UFAs. The majority of the pieces have to be draft picks or trade acquisitions. Once you have them, you also have to keep them and more importantly, you need to know who to keep and who to drop. With that in mind, let’s get a few numbers out of the way first off. Now, the 2018-19 salary cap has not been officially announced by the league, however, the experts have projected that it will be between $78mil and $82mil. I’m going to go ahead and split the difference and call it $80mil, which is the number I’m going to use for my calculations and arguments throughout this article. With the Salary cap at $80mil, that makes the salary max for an individual player $16mil. It doesn’t really matter for the sake of this article, but the Salary Floor will likely be around $60mil. Blues GM Doug Armstrong already said in his end of season press conference, that he had been given clearance to spend to the cap again next year and the Blues are likely already over that, with just the guys currently under contract.
|St. Louis Blues Salary Cap Table|
|Name||Cap Hit||Years Remaining|
|Vladimir Tarasenko||$ 7,500,000.00||5 UFA|
|Alexander Steen||$ 5,750,000.00||3 UFA|
|Jaden Schwartz||$ 5,350,000.00||3 UFA|
|Brayden Schenn||$ 5,125,000.00||2 UFA|
|Patrik Berglund||$ 3,850,000.00||4 UFA|
|Vladimir Sobotka||$ 3,500,000.00||2 UFA|
|Tage Thompson||$ 925,000.00||2 RFA|
|Chris Thorburn||$ 900,000.00||1 UFA|
|Ivan Barbashev||$ 741,667.00||1 RFA|
|Name||Cap Hit||Years Remaining|
|Alex Pietrangelo||$ 6,500,000.00||2 UFA|
|Colton Parayko||$ 5,500,000.00||4 UFA|
|Jay Bouwmeester||$ 5,400,000.00||1 UFA|
|Carl Gunnarsson||$ 2,900,000.00||1 UFA|
|Robert Bortuzzo||$ 1,150,000.00||1 UFA|
|Vince Dunn||$ 722,500.00||2 RFA|
|Name||Cap Hit||Years Remaining|
|Jake Allen||$ 4,350,000.00||3 UFA|
|Team Total||$ 60,164,167.00|
Firstly, I want to note that I only included players that are currently under contract and players that I think are either guaranteed to be on the NHL roster, or highly likely to be on the NHL roster. On top of this group, the Blues also have 7 important RFAs: Forwards Robby Fabbri, Dmitrij Jaskin, Oskar Sundqvist and Nikita Soshnikov, Defensemen Joel Edmundson and Jordan Schmaltz and three notable UFAs: Forwards Scottie Upshall and Kyle Brodziak and Goaltender Carter Hutton.
Now, it has always been my personal opinion, that you don’t go outside until you’ve looked inside first and taken care of your internal options. With that in mind, let’s look at those nine players above. Starting with the UFA’s, I’d let all three walk. Now I know that is going to spark some strong arguments, especially for Hutton and Brodziak, but hear me out. First, Scottie Upshall isn’t worth the money. He’s 34, a fourth liner and honestly, we can get someone younger and/or cheaper to take his spot. Kyle Brodziak had a great year last year. He put up more points and assists than he had in 7 years, tied a career high in Assists and set a new career high in faceoff percentage, all while playing 6 minutes less per game than his best years in Minnesota. However, he’s also 34 years old, and has been nothing more than a high end fourth liner to a low end third liner. He had a great year, but coming off a year like that, I wouldn’t be surprised to see another team offer him around $2mil/year for a 2-3 year deal. Frankly, that is too much and Brodziak isn’t worth it. He’s worth about $1mil-$1.5mil. Based on the year that Brodziak just had, especially the end, I expect him to test the Free Agent market in search of a team willing to give him $2mil or more, and I also expect him to find a team willing to do that. The Blues should send him an offer in the $1mil-$1.5mil range and if he signs it great, but I would not be surprised to see him sign a larger deal with another team, nor would I blame him for it. However, paying that much for Brodziak would be a mistake for the Blues. A similar sentiment rings true for Carter Hutton. He is 32 years old and more importantly, has spent his entire career playing second fiddle to better goalies, namely Pekka Rinne. He’s had two solid years as a 1B starter here, covering for Jake Allen’s streaky play. Unfortunately, the Blues have Jake Allen under contract for 3 more years, so he would be difficult to trade and we have at least one, if not two, promising young goalies in the system. At this point, it’s time to bring Ville Husso up and see what he’s got, for better or worse, and trust that either Husso, Opilka or Fitzpatrick will turn out to be a top end starter. Carter Hutton has earned his chance to try and be a starter, and if someone is willing to give him starter money and take that chance on him, then I wish him good luck. We know what Jake Allen is and if I’m taking a chance, I’d rather do it on a 23 year old kid than a 32 year old career backup. On top of that, we have too many bad contracts right now and we don’t need to be spending $3mil-$4mil on an unproven 32 year old goalie.
So, that’s it, let all the UFAs walk. Now moving on to the RFAs, we have one glaringly obvious standout in that group, Joel Edmundson. Edmundson had a career year this year. He stepped up to fill a hole on the top pair when injuries necessitated it, and he proved that he belonged there. He showed that not only does he have first pair potential, but that he’s ready to be there now, and he pairs well with our current top defenseman, Pietrangelo, and also with our next top defenseman, Colton Parayko. Edmundson was on a contract year and he came out and earned a new contract with a big raise. Now, as far as the money goes, that’s a little tougher. Edmundson is coming off a 2 year bridge contract averaging $1.05mil per year. Since he is still an RFA and, presumably, would prefer to avoid arbitration, the Blues have a bit of an advantage in this particular negotiation. However, with the Cap going up basically $5mil, Edmundson’s agent wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t try to get as much of that money as possible for his client. If I was his agent, I wouldn’t even entertain an offer from the Blues lower than $4mil/year for say 3-4 years. I would expect Edmundson to shoot for $5mil-$5.5mil per year and then, after a long negotiation process, they would settle somewhere around $4.5mil/year for 3-4 years. I would say $4.5mil is a good number for Edmundson at this point in his career and with his stats.
The other oddball in that list of RFAs is Robby Fabbri. There is no question that Fabbri has a lot of potential, and had he been playing the last two years, he would probably be looking at a shot to get $3-4 mil this year, but he hasn’t. He spent the entirety of the 2017-18 season on the bench nursing a torn ACL that he suffered in February of 2017. That injury also limited him to 51 games in 2016-17, when we should have reasonably expected at least 70. Fabbri’s numbers over his first full season and the part of 2016-17 he actually played, were more than good enough to justify keeping him, but at this point, he needs to prove he can get healthy, stay healthy, and recapture his pre-injury form. That is a tall order. Fabbri is also not arbitration eligible and so the Blues pretty much control him at this point. With all that considered, I expect him to get a 2 year $1.5mil contract, essentially a “prove it” deal. He needs to prove not only to the Blues but to the league, that he can put the injury in the past and get back to work, and that is the contract to do it on. If he is healthy, Fabbri will be a top 9 forward most of the season and depending on other signings and who looks good in camp, might be a 2nd line forward as the season goes on. I will pencil him into the lineup at $1.5 mil and then hold my breath that his knee holds out.
The other three forwards are a little more straight forward. They are all coming off short term deals, or in Soshnikov’s case, an entry level contract. All of their deals, save Jaskin, are less than $1mil cap hit and they are all in their mid-twenties. Sundqvist and Soshnikov have 3rd line potential, but with our crowded roster, I think they would currently fit better as a 4th line. I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea of a 4th line made primarily of these three, it would make our back line significantly younger and free up space on the third line to bring up some much needed youth. I would suggest 2-3 year deals for all three of them with Jaskin and Soshnikov at $1.5mil and Sundqvist at $1mil. Soshnikov gets the biggest raise because he is the most talented of the three, and he has hinted at wanting to return to Russia. That deal should be enough to keep him around for a couple more years and see what he really is with this team.
Finally we come to the last RFA, Schmaltz. I’m really not sure what to do with Schmaltz. He’s 24, arbitration eligible, and he was a 1st round pick, albeit a late 1st round pick. All that said, he has simply failed to impress. He will likely start the season off in the NHL if for no other reason than Bouwmeester will likely start the season on injured reserve and they’ll need another defenseman. However, that spot is not guaranteed to be his. There is a line of other prospects forming behind him, namely, Mitch Reinke, Jake Walman and Thomas Vannelli, that could easily take that spot from him in camp. The Blues should resign him because he is valuable, if for no other reason than to trade him to somebody else, but right now, he hasn’t really earned much of a raise from his current $925k cap hit. I would say 2 years, $1.5mil and he still may not crack the roster when everything is said and done.
So, what does that do to the cap hit? Well, as the forwards go, I would say go ahead and add Fabbri, Jaskin and Soshnikov at $1.5mil and Sundqvist at $1mil and subtract Chris Thorburn’s $900k from it. Honestly, Thorburn doesn’t really bring much to the team. He won’t be missed that much and if the Blues either can’t or don’t move him, I would not be shocked to see him miss the NHL roster or possibly get bought out. I’m going to hope that they can get rid of him without having to eat any money on it, as there are teams that would be willing to give you a 7th round pick for an enforcer still, and he certainly fits that bill. That brings us up to 12 forwards at a cost of $38,241,667.
The Defense is a little more complicated. Frankly, we don’t know what is going to happen with Bouwmeester. He is injured, but how badly we don’t know. If he is healthy at the start of the season, then he would make the team, one would think. However, if he isn’t healthy, then he starts the season on IR and thus some of his cap hit would not count against the cap. There is also the chance that the Blues either convince him to waive his NTC and then are able to move him, or that they buy him out. But if he is injured, the Blues can’t buy him out without his permission. This basically puts the Blues in an odd place. I think they would like to get rid of Bouwmeester but as of right now, there’s not really much they can do with him unless he gives them permission to do it, so as much as I hate to say it, I think the likelihood is that the Blues will keep Bouwmeester and carry him as a top 4 defenseman into the season. For the sake of not over-complicating this article, I’m just going to assume he makes it through camp and starts the season on the main roster. That essentially means that signed or not, Schmaltz automatically goes down to the minors because there is simply no point in carrying 8 defensemen, to me at least, especially with the young depth we have at forward. I would rather reserve the last two roster slots for another forward. Therefore, the defense spending would be to add Edmundson’s $4.5mil and go into the season with 7 Defensemen at a cost of $26,672,500.
Finally the Goalies. You keep Allen and call up Husso who is signed at $847,500, add that to Allen’s $4.350mil and you get $5,197,500. That totals up to a team cap hit of $70,111,667.
Now that is not the end of the story. You would want at least 1 more forward to be on the team and if we were sticking internally, that leaves a lot of options. You could just call up one or two of the young guys, Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas, Klim Kostin, Erik Foley or Zach Sanford. You could also go against my judgement and either resign Brodziak or keep Thorburn on the NHL roster, or you could try to make a move either in the trade market or the UFA market. Going off of an $80mil cap hit, that would leave you with roughly $9.5mil to play with, which is a nice chunk of cap space to have going into most negotiations. (Note: I know that cap number above subtracted from $80mil is more than $9.5, but you always want to leave a few hundred grand for contingency space for later in the year, in case of unforeseen injuries or trades, so I intentionally low-balled it.)
That would also leave our lines looking something like this:
Schwartz – Schenn – Tarasenko
Steen – Berglund – Fabbri
Sobotka – Barbashev – Thompson
Jaskin – Sundqvist – Soshnikov
Edmundson – Pietrangelo
Dunn – Parayko
Bouwmeester – Bortuzzo
Scratch: Gunnarsson, (Additional Forwards)
Now, that doesn’t exactly look particularly exciting and frankly it’s not. I don’t expect this to be the way this team enters the next season, and if it is, I think they owe their fans an apology. There has been a lot of negativity amongst the fans towards certain players, Berglund, Sobotka, and Bouwmeester to name a few, and the management seems to have at least admitted that something needs to change. We are however, still at the beginning of this process. There is still a draft to be done, trades will likely be made there, then a free agent window that has a number of interesting talents available. The Blues need more help and frankly, they cannot enter the next season looking like that, especially at $9million under the cap. Personally speaking, I would sign a couple of Free Agents, trade Berglund and Sobotka for picks and or prospects, just to get them off the books, and call up a few internal options, Kyrou, Thomas, Kostin or Sanford jump to mind. That is a conversation for a later article. This article is just to lay the framework for what the Blues could do, and with that amount of cap space, that leaves a nice amount in place to add another 2nd line forward, preferably a center and possibly move a couple of pieces to free up some more space to add another and/or bring up some more youth. Essentially, the Blues have a solid foundation and good skeleton to build off of, now they just need to finish the building off.