The Blues are just days removed from a disappointing playoff exit. Though the pain is still fresh, it's never too early to start planning for the future. It's never too early to start examining what went wrong and what can be improved to secure the elusive Stanley Cup. Now is as good a time as any to start discussing player contracts.
This summer is going to be an extremely interesting one. The Blues have some key contracts expiring and will have to be make some very difficult decisions when it comes to which players stay in St. Louis and which will be allowed to test the open market.
With that, here's a list of all of the NHL and AHL free agents in the St. Louis organization.
NHL - Restricted
NHL - Unrestricted
AHL - Restricted
Stefan Della Rovere
AHL - Unrestricted
That's a pretty lengthy list, isn't it? It's safe to say the Blues have plenty of issues to address this season both at the NHL and the AHL level. I'll highlight some of the biggest and most obvious names to address and whether or not I think they'll be sticking around.
You've got to find a way to retain Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk. That should be priority #1 and #1a. Both men are key to the team's future and could fetch major dollars on the open market. It won't be cheap, but you've got to keep these two defenseman in the mix.
Players I'd label as "50-50 to return" include Chris Stewart, Patrik Berglund and Jordan Leopold. Stewart was strong during the regular season but a dud in the playoffs. Berglund always seems to be one step away from being a major contributor, yet he's apart of the core group that's failed to take the Blues to the next level. Leopold might be expecting a raise from his $3 million deal from 2013 and the money might not be there with deals due for Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk.
Get ready to say so long to Andy McDonald (35), Jamie Langenbrunner (37) and Scott Nichol (38). The Blues might elect to keep one of these veterans, but that might be a stretch. Given McDonald's extremely poor display in the playoffs and the increasing ages and injuries to Langenbrunner and Nichol, we may have seen the last of these three. The Blues might keep one around for veteran experience, but the Blues proved in the playoffs that fourth-line skaters like Langenbrunner and Nichol have been replaced by younger options.
As for the future of other players, especially Ian Cole and Kris Russell, that will depend on how the team handles other contracts around the roster.
Stay tuned. This summer is going to be a busy one with lots to analyze.
Any reason to think the Blues would be players in a trade this offseason? Surely the RFAs and UFAs will keep them plenty busy, but there will be a significant portion of the fanbase looking for a more major change than just a few piecemeal signings and roster adjustments.
There are few pieces that I think Armstrong would consider moving, simply because he has most of his talent cost-controlled fairly well. Players such as Perron, Oshie, Jackman, or Halak could potentially be moved if the right team was interested.
Jackman had a solid season, especially after J-Bouw and Leopold came on board, even though much of the fanbase likes to use him as a scapegoat. The fact of the matter is that at a little over $3M, he's one of the better 3rd line defenders, if not a bit overpaid to do that job. Oshie is not a likely move to be made, since the team made it clear that he was the main piece of the nucleus that they want to keep around for a while. Plus, the guaranteed sum of his contract combined with coming off of an injury doesn't excite too many teams. But St. Louis still loves him, so that is unlikely.
Halak and Hitchcock's spat before Game 4 is now public knowledge, and with Elliott's resurgence and Allen's strong play, most people see no need for Halak on this team. When healthy, he's the most talented of the three, but he's proven to be a bit of a man of glass in the past 2 years. A good team desperate for a goalie may consider calling about Halak.
And then there's Perron. Often vilified as the most disappointing player on the roster, his name is often bandied about as one of the players that had a problem "buying in" to Hitchcock's system. He doesn't put the puck in the net nearly enough to make up for the number of turnovers he has due to overskating the puck or holding the puck to long. While a wizard with the stick for the first couple of moves, he can't pull the trigger on the shot or the clear pass and has it taken away. St. Louis used to love him, but I think that love is wearing thin now, and of the nucleus of Oshie-Berglund-Perron, he's the one that would be missed the least. Now, he's not cheap, but 3 years of less than $4M a year for a player that can skate and puck-handle like that might be an attractive chance to take for a team needing a goal-scoring threat. Pittsburgh might lose Pascal Dupuis and Jarome Iginla, so Perron might seem like a decent risk.
I'm not necessarily rooting for a trade, but you hate to see a team with so much talent squander it year after year by not making the changes needed to take the next step. Personally, I'm tired of "waiting" for this team to enjoy a high level of success, but in Armstrong I trust.
Given an offseason and no lockout to rededicate himself, I could see Andy McDonald coming back as the "veteran presence" type. I think that same situation will help some other players who didn't play overseas before the season finally got started (see also: Backes, to name probably the most obvious one). The other two on that last list are pretty clearly done here.
The rest of this is a lot more interesting, tricky, and loaded with potential for surprises.
It's clear from Armstrong's comments during the season that Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo will be back. I think he has room to drive a fairly good bargain with both of them, given their performances this season, particularly defensively in Shattenkirk's case, and offensively, as well as occasionally defensively, with Pietrangelo. Add in the reduction in the cap, and the potential that the Subban deal near the start of the season could be seen as the start of some financial retrenching on the part of GMs around the league (Yeah, I'm not counting on it, but the argument *could* be made), and while certainly not for a song, the cost to keep the defensive core together may be down to an arm and a foot rather than two arms and a leg, comparatively.
Personally, I was really ready to see both Stewart and Berglund go to town this season. Realize their potential, which they keep giving maddening brief glimpses of, right before disappearing at crunch time. Pick your over-used description of choice of a player who everyone just knows is capable of so much more. Especially after they actually delivered for a good chunk of the regular season. I expect that they'll either be back, probably at more than I personally would prefer to see them get, or that Armstrong will use one in a deal to bring in somebody who actually will work hard every game, and has a nose for putting the puck in the net, rather than the netting.
Cole and Russell, I think the experiment with the former may finally be over. Russell probably stays as either depth, or the 6th man if the Blues can't come to terms with Leopold.
After this short postseason, and what he showed late in the regular season, I think Cracknell has solidified his spot on the fourth line. Fans will likely howl if he hasn't, and I wouldn't blame them.
I'll admit, I don't particularly follow the AHL to have much of an opinion on that set of free agents, except for Jake Allen, whose situation I think I've made my thoughts clear on, for the moment. Much depends on what Armstrong does regarding Halak, or Elliott, I suppose.
@lizardkingjl You make a lot of good points. A trade is certainly possible and even seems likely in certain situations. The Blues have 3 goaltenders and could easily part with one to try and address their scoring woes.
There's also the possibility the Blues qualify a guy like Chris Stewart to keep him under their control, but then they deal him to a new team to get some value out of their asset.
Realistically, a trade of some sort seems pretty likely. I don't imagine the Blues will overhaul the roster, but there are areas where someone could be moved for the greater good of the team.
@miendiem At the very least, the Blues having Cole and Russell as potentially expendable (depending on Leopold) seventh or eighth options makes me feel a whole lot better about the whole "Jeff Woywitka might have to play" nightmare scenario.
@David Rogers Between Stewart and Berglund, which do you think is most likely to return and which would you most like to return? I'm leaning towards Stewart because he rarely takes a shift off, he just lost his effectiveness in the postseason. Berglund tends to disappear so frequently that it makes the goals he does score so much more frustrating. I might be tempted to trade them or let them walk along with Russell and Cole and give Leopold a new deal. Maybe acquire a young forward in one of those deals and promote Yaskin?
@David Rogers This is certainly true. But at this point, i'd prefer someone a little more reliable than Cole consistency-wise as the #7 at the NHL level, should injury occur. Maybe I'm reading the tea leaves wrong, but it certainly seemed like he had his chance this year, and didn't live up to Hitchcock's/Armstrong's expectations.
@lizardkingjl It's pretty difficult to make a guess as to what the Blues will do, especially when it comes to those two. I can envision scenarios where the Blues keep both, keep one or elect to let both go in one fashion or another.
Personally, I give the offensive edge to Stewart and as a result he's the one I'd pick if someone forced me to pick one over the other.
I wouldn't mind seeing Leopold come back assuming the price is reasonable. It'll take more $ to keep him than it would to keep either Cole or Russell, so that's a pretty big knock against him.
I think a trade is pretty likely. The Blues have given this group several chances and here we stand with similar results. The team needs to improve up front and they have several ways they could go about doing it, either by moving defensemen, moving forwards, moving a goalie or some combination of the three previously mentioned options.