We continue our look at next offseason’s potential free agent class by trying to project the next contract for some of the top players that could be available. Today we look at the St. Louis Blues and Jordan Binnington and Jaden Schwartz. Read more contract predictions here.
The St. Louis Blues spent their offseason swapping Alex Pietrangelo for Torey Krug on their blue line, saying goodbye to their long-time captain and top defender, and hello to his replacement.
Krug may not completely replace what Pietrangelo provided, but he is still an outstanding player and will help the Blues continue to be a contender in the Western Conference.
The big challenge for the Blues is going to come over the next year as two more of their most important players — Jaden Schwartz and Jordan Binnington — prepare to enter the final year of their current contracts.
Both players will be eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season.
The Schwartz comparison is easy
The Blues should already have an idea as to what it is going to cost to keep Schwartz because they just went through it exactly one year ago with a nearly identical player in Brayden Schenn.
In October of 2019 the Blues signed a then 28-year-old Schenn to an eight-year, $52 million contract.
Schwartz and Schenn are pretty much clones of each other across the board statistically.
Similar age, similar production rates, and similar underlying numbers.
Just take a look at their 5-on-5 performances over the past three seasons. The table below shows their goals and points per 60 minutes, as well as their total shot attempt, expected goals, and goals scored differentials.
There is virtually no difference between the two performances, and when you dig down a little further Schwartz actually performs better when it comes to generating his own shots and shot attempts.
Even the financials are similar.
When Schenn signed his contract he was finishing up a four-year contract that paid him $5.125 million per season. Schwartz is finishing a five-year contract that pays him $5.35 million per season.
If you are Schwartz or his agent there is no way you can look at all of this and conclude that you are not worth a similar contract.
Binnington is the big question mark
Outside of the 2018-19 season — an obvious outlier — Schwartz has been a remarkably consistent player throughout his career. You know exactly what you are going to get from him in terms of production at the end of the year. T
he decision comes down to whether or not you want commit that much money for another player closing in on their 30th birthday.
Binnington is an entirely different situation because there is still some question as to the type of player he is.
The issue is simple: The lack of a track record at this point.
Binnington’s very brief career has seen a lot of highs (coming out of nowhere to backstop the Blues to a Stanley Cup), some lows (last year’s playoffs) and a little bit of the in-between (the regular season).
Which player are you going to get long-term? Right now, it is absolutely impossible to know that answer, and this season is going to go a long way toward answering that question. It’s not that Binnington’s 2019-20 regular season was bad. It was just a little bit of a regression from what we saw from him in his rookie year.
His 2020 postseason was absolutely dreadful, but you can not make a definitive statement based on five games in a bizarre season with completely unprecedented circumstances.
The reality is that he is probably closer to the goalie we saw during the regular season, which is a perfectly solid starting NHL goalie.
What should the Blues do?
More specifically, can they keep both players?
As of this moment the Blues have $55 million committed to 14 players for the 2021-22 season. That leaves them $25 million to fill nine roster spots.
When Vince Dunn (currently an RFA this offseason) signs that will bring that number down by a few million for eight spots.
If you assume Schwartz costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $6.5 million (as he should), and Dunn costs around $3 million on a bridge contract, that would leave the Blues with around $16 million in salary cap space for seven spots, including Binnington.
Unless Binnington completely falls apart this season there is no reason to think he would not be in the same $6-$6.5 million range that Matt Murray and Jacob Markstrom fell in this offseason.
Can the Blues make all of that work? It would definitely be a tight fit under the salary cap. It would also probably require them to either let every other pending UFA leave (Tyler Bozak, Carl Gunnarsson, Alex Steen) and maybe even give up some of their pending RFAs, or shed a bigger contract somewhere else on the roster in a trade.
Given the importance of the position and the potential in-house and outside replacements, Binnington would almost certainly have to be the priority. Outside of an awful season from him there is probably situation in which the two sides do not work out a deal.
That means the decision might have to come down to Schwartz, and whether or not the Blues want to commit another long-term contract to a soon-to-be 29-year-old winger.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.