The Blues have agreed in principle on a two-year extension for defenseman Ian Cole, as reported by Jeremy Rutherford. Cole, a pending restricted free agent, will receive a one-way deal worth $750,000 in 2013-14 and $900,000 in 2014-15.
This news comes just a few days after the Blues announced that they had given Adam Cracknell a one-year extension. While the Cracknell contract answered questions concerning the team's fourth line, the decision to retain Cole for two more years raises more questions than it answers.
Cole appeared in 15 games for the Blues and skated in another 34 for the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL over the course of the 2013 season. When it came time for the playoffs, Cole had a permanent spot in the press box as a healthy scratch. When the team's ride in the playoffs abruptly ended, fans pondered how the Blues would handle their defense with players such as Cole, Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, Kris Russell and Jordan Leopold in the final year of their contracts.
It's worth noting that Cole's new deal is extremely friendly to the team's budget. Retaining him for an average of $825,000 a season is outstanding.
With that being said, the defensive picture for the Blues remains quite murky despite the reports that Cole has a new deal. Cole's new contract means that one of the defensemen waiting for a new deal likely won't receive one - at least not in St. Louis.
Let's just all assume the Blues are smart enough to retain Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo and work from there. Here's what might happen:
- Blues keep Leopold and let Russell go. Cole serves as the seventh defender.
- Blues keep Russell and let Leopold go. Both men compete for the sixth spot in the lineup.
- Blues keep both Leopold and Russell. Cole is the seventh or eighth man in a highly, highly unlikely scenario.
- Blues let both Leopold and Russell go. Cole's status is determined by which d-man the Blues bring in/up.
At this point the most realistic scenario is the second one you see presented above. Leopold is coming off of a contract that paid him $3 million last season and he'll expect a similar deal moving forward. The Blues already have a ton of money tied up in Jay Bouwmeester and should have a sizable amount tied up in Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk. Meanwhile, Russell is the much more affordable option coming off of a $1.3 million deal last season compared to Leopold.
It's impossible to account for any future trades or acquisitions the Blues might make, but it's safe to say the Blues have no intention of dealing Cole given the structure of his new contract. There might be a new face in the St. Louis defense next season either through free agency or a trade, but we can all scratch Cole's name off of the list of pending free agents.
While the price is definitely right for this resigning, I kind of don't like it. I do hope that he can show more development this year, and 2 years of control for a guy that still seems to have pretty good upside as a 7th defender is pretty spectacular. But Russell is a good puck mover and has shown pretty solid play in his limited ice time. I think my first choice would've been to let Cole go and commit that money plus a little more to Russell instead. The one drawback is that I don't love the idea of pairing him with Shattenkirk, so you would then almost certainly have to make a move for Leopold or someone else.
I'm not sure what value Russell commands on the open market, but at a little over $1M this year, a similar deal this year, or a slight raise to $1.5M seems palatable financially. Regardless, Cole's deal does save the club some money and give them a young, talented defenseman with a chance to prove himself again. I may just be paranoid, but if Cole's on the club, I sure would feel better if Leopold was too.
I don't know that this contract rules Cole out as a trade piece. Sure, the cost control is nice, but I think it overlooks the fact that he was essentially benched going down the stretch and in the playoffs. Maybe Hitchcock has been convinced to give him another chance, but it sure seemed like, while Cracknell came in and made the most of his playing time and earned his new contract, Cole had his chance from the beginning and failed to live up to expectations, earning his spot in the pressbox.
Of the scenarios you posit, I think keeping Russell and letting Leopold go is the more likely one, but my preference would be either keep both, or keep Leopold, in that order. As usual, we shall see, and the chance that Doug Armstrong will come along and surprise us all shouldn't come out of left field anymore.
@miendiem I don't think it completely rules out a trade, but I imagine an interested trade partner would have preferred the contract to be two-way and not one-way. Given his affordable deal, it's highly likely a team would claim him should someone try to pass him through waivers.
This might just be my personal opinion, but I also think a one-year deal looks more like a "we still might trade him" than a two-year deal. Obviously the price is cheap so it doesn't really matter, but I feel it makes it look like the Blues value him a bit more than we might have thought.