Blues should get some much needed salary cap flexibility

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The St. Louis Blues are still one of the teams sitting just north of the NHL’s $81.5 million salary cap for the 2020-21 season. They have until opening night to become cap compliant.

This is somewhat of a problem for them because they still have a fairly significant restricted free agent — defenseman Vince Dunn — that needs re-signed to complete their roster. Given that Dunn is likely to command somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 million on his next contract, and the fact the Blues are already a little more than $1.5 million over the cap, things were going to be complicated.

A lot of that was cleaned up on Thursday with the news that forward Alex Steen will not be playing this season due to a back injury that has ended his career. While the Blues are calling it a “retirement” — and it is for all intents and purposes a retirement because his playing career is over — it is not an official retirement in a paperwork sense. It is just like the Johnny Boychuk situation in New York, where an injury has forced a player’s career to end, but there is a financial motivation for player to not officially file the retirement paperwork. He will still get paid the salary he is owed as part of his contract, while the Blues will have the opportunity to put him and his $5.75 million salary cap hit on the long-term injured list.

By doing so, it will give the Blues added flexibility to work with under the cap to re-sign Dunn, and potentially create some additional wiggle room under the cap to make another addition if needed.

The question is what — if anything — the Blues might do.

[Related: Back injury forces Alex Steen to retire after 15 seasons]

When healthy this is still one of the best rosters in the league and doesn’t have a ton of holes. Losing Alex Pietrangelo was a significant blow this offseason, but they did add Torey Krug.

The offseason trade of Jake Allen to Montreal has left them without a veteran backup behind Jordan Binnington. Ville Husso, who is slated to take over that role, was at one time an extremely prized prospect but his stock has slipped a bit in recent years (injury played a big role in that).

Then there are the forwards.

The wild card here is when Vladimir Tarasenko is ready to return. He underwent shoulder surgery in September and was expected to miss at least five months. That means the earliest he could possibly return is February, but even that is not a guarantee. At the very least he is going to open the season on LTIR as well.

Anthony Duclair would have been an intriguing option in free agency, but he just signed a one-year deal with the Florida Panthers on Thursday evening.

The top remaining free agents include Mike Hoffman, Mikael Granlund, Andreas Athanasiou, and Erik Haula.

[Related: PHT’s 2020 NHL Free Agent Tracker]

Even with Steen’s cap hit on LTIR they may not have enough for Hoffman once Tarasenko returns, but the others could be options. Granlund’s time in Nashville did not work as anyone planned, but he seems like a strong bounce-back candidate that may not break the budget.

Haula is also an intriguing option. He is a very productive player when healthy, but has been significantly limited the past two years due to knee injuries. He had a breakout performance in 2017-18 as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights, scoring 29 goals for the expansion team in only 76 games. It seemed as if he was going to be a significant part of their team moving forward, but knee injuries began to mount for him the next year and he was eventually traded in a cap-clearing move with Carolina. After being included in the Vincent Trocheck trade with Florida, he became an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

He still scored 12 goals in 48 games this past season and could be a bargain for somebody at this point in the offseason.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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