Free agents, trades? Blues face tough offseason questions

Free agents, trades? Blues face tough offseason questions
Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One year after being brutally swept by the Avalanche, the Avs once again ended the St. Louis Blues’ season. Even so, you can’t blame St. Louis for carrying a greater air of optimism (at least when water bottles aren’t filling the air).

Yet, as much as things change, some things remain the same. Take the St. Louis Blues’ upcoming offseason, for instance.

There’s less angst surrounding Vladimir Tarasenko and the Blues, but a decision is looming. From David Perron to Ville Husso, the Blues have some significant free agents to sign (or let go), and thus must manage the salary cap along with those choices.

Overall, there’s a lot of uncertainty. Let’s unpack some key Blues offseason questions, from free agents, trades, and other possibilities.

Blues unrestricted free agents include Perron, Husso

St. Louis may get a bargain with Perron

All things considered, it sounds like there’s a chance the Blues might luck out with pending UFA David Perron.

A few days ago, the Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford gave a “guesstimate” of a two-year contract for Perron that would carry a mere $3.5 million cap hit for the Blues. Frankly, if you told me David Perron hit the market and received $7M for a single season, I wouldn’t drop my jaw. That sort of value would be stunning for a player who produces, including in the playoffs.

Maybe the 34-year-old recognizes his value at least a bit more, but either way, Rutherford and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman rank among those who expect Perron to stick with the Blues.

Husso: stay or go?

At the moment, Cap Friendly projects the Blues to have about $9M in salary cap space. That estimate is based on 18 roster spots being filled, before any Perron contract. That’s also with a vacancy at backup goalie, or 1A/1B netminder (depending upon how secure you believe Jordan Binnington‘s spot may be).

While re-signing Perron seems like a wise value proposition for the Blues, Ville Husso’s free-agent status is tricky.

“I’m a Ville Husso fan,” Blues GM Doug Armstrong recently said, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jim Thomas. “I told him I’d love him to come back, but also it’s a business for him and he’s put himself in a spot now where if he wants to test the market, I would understand it.”

Could it be a situation where Husso tested the free-agent market, but opted to return to the Blues? It would be fascinating to see how teams view Husso, 27, around the league.

[PHT’s latest Power Rankings: top potential free agents]

On one hand, Husso enjoyed a tremendous regular season, registering a 14.95 Goals Saved Above Average. In any context, that’s strong. Ranking ninth in just 40 games played is especially impressive.

That said, Husso’s only played 64 regular-season NHL games, and experienced an up-and-down first playoff run. Would a contender gamble on Husso’s potential?

If the Blues wanted to be aggressive trying to keep Husso, it would still be a difficult value proposition. Jordan Binnington, 28, already carries a $6M cap hit, and that runs through 2026-27. The Blues must weigh Husso’s potential value vs. possibly having a lot of money tied up in goalies. (You can only play one at a time, after all.)

There’s also the possibility that, due to offseason knee surgery, Binnington may not begin the 2022-23 season healthy. Would he go to LTIR at first?

From the outside, the Husso situation doesn’t look simple for the Blues. However, it could be enticing to employ two goalies with potentially high ceilings.

Clock’s ticking for Blues with O’Reilly, Tarasenko, Kyrou, Thomas

Blues GM Doug Armstrong is keenly aware that you need a plan for beyond just the immediate future. Armstrong prepared for Alex Pietrangelo‘s eventual departure with the Justin Faulk trade-and-sign. They resisted the urge to keep Kevin Shattenkirk, David Backes, and T.J. Oshie around once they awaited raises.

Obviously, some of those decisions worked better than others. But you can bet that the Blues have already had some discussions about players who could become free agents (restricted and unrestricted) after the 2022-23 season.

It’s a daunting list.

(Fascinatingly, Jeremy Rutherford floated the idea of moving Kyrou as part of a package to try to land Matthew Tkachuk.)

Of course, the Blues could decide to ride things out with O’Reilly, Tarasenko, Kyrou, and Thomas all in contract years. If nothing else, they’d have talented players with that much more motivation and desperation.

But figuring something out sooner might save them some money.

Areas of less flexibility, and some other things to watch

What about trading out some long-term deals?

Such an idea likely occurs to the Blues, but that may not be the easiest avenue to explore.

Binnington, Faulk, Torey Krug, Brayden Schenn, Tarasenko, and Pavel Buchnevich all either have no-trade or no-movement clauses. Even Brandon Saad and Marco Scandella boast such clauses.

It’s easier to envision the Blues receiving tenuous salary cap relief from long-term deals via trips to LTIR than trades. Again, Binnington may not be 100% to start next season. Brayden Schenn suffered from three different sets of broken ribs and a torn oblique muscle this season. Torey Krug dealt with injury issues, too.

Perhaps one or more of those players would land on LTIR? Krug and Schenn both carry $6.5M cap hits, while Binnington’s at $6M. Such scenarios could really open up breathing room for the Blues.

(At least, for a while, then you might risk repeats of botched Evgenii Dadonov trades and “$18M above the cap” shirts.)

Not every Blues offseason question revolves around players, either. Blues assistant Jim Montgomery’s name has come up in head coaching rumors, including the Flyers’ search.

Not the worst problems to have

Is any of this cause for panic? Blues GM Doug Armstrong doesn’t seem to think so.

That said, depth was one of the Blues’ strengths this season, and that can be a tough thing to maintain in a salary cap age. Sometimes players simply price themselves out of town. Other times, players age poorly. You also run the risk of paying someone after they overachieve, only for them to come back down to Earth.

There aren’t a lot of easy answers. That said, Armstrong’s shown a pretty deft touch when it comes to making tough calls. He faces more than a few of them this summer.

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    Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews returns to ice, hints at retirement

    Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    CHICAGO — Longtime Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews returned to the ice but hinted his stellar NHL career could be winding down after 15 years.

    Toews, 34, skated with teammates prior to Chicago’s game with the Dallas Stars. It was his first time practicing with them since a game in Edmonton on Jan. 28.

    He made a statement through the team on Feb. 19 saying he would be stepping away because of the effects of Chronic Immune Response Syndrome and “long COVID.”

    In meeting with reporters, Toews stopped short of saying he hoped to play in any of last-place Chicago’s nine remaining games. His eight-year, $84 million contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

    Toews said he’s feeling stronger, but isn’t sure if he’ll be able to play again for the Blackhawks or another team.

    “Both if I’m being fully honest,” Toews said. “I feel like I’ve said it already, that I’ve gotten to the point where my health is more important.

    “When you’re young and you’re playing for a Stanley Cup and everyone’s playing through something, that means something and it’s worthwhile. But I’m at that point where it feels like more damage is being done than is a good thing.”

    Toews, the Blackhawks’ first-round draft pick (third overall) in 2006, joined the team in 2007 and was a pillar of Stanley Cup championship clubs in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

    At the peak of his career, he was one of the NHL’s top two-way centers, winning the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward in 2013.

    In 1,060 regular-season games, Toews has 371 goals and 509 assists. In 139 playoff games, he’s posted 45 goals and 74 assists, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2010.

    Toews missed the entire 2020-21 season with Chronic Immune Response System, which caused debilitating inflammation and fatigue.

    He appeared in 71 games in 2021-22, then started this season with renewed energy before slowing and eventually shutting himself down.

    Entering this season, it looked as if Chicago might deal him, as it did fellow star Patrick Kane, before the March trade deadline. But Kane went to the New York Rangers and Toews to injured reserve.

    Toews believed he was progressing before a relapse in January left him so sore and tired that he could barely “put on my skates or roll out of bed to come to the rink.”

    Toews said his progress over the past month has been “pretty encouraging” and he’s delighted to be back among his teammates. He has no timetable beyond that.

    “We’re just going to go day by day here,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said. He deserves anything he wants to try to achieve here.”

    Richardson hoped Toews “can take that next step later in the week and hopefully (he) gives us the green light to go in a game.”

    But Toews emphasized his long-term health and ability to lead a “normal life” is most important. He wants to go out on a positive note and not hit the ice for a game playing through excessive pain and dysfunction.

    “It’s definitely on my mind that this could be my last few weeks here as a Blackhawk in Chicago,” Toews said. “It’s definitely very important for me to go out there and enjoy the game and just kind of soak it in and just really appreciate everything I’ve been able to be part of here in Chicago.”

    Budding Wild star Matt Boldy more willing to shoot, and it shows

    Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

    ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matt Boldy was unable to resist a smile in the aftermath of his second hat trick in five games for the Minnesota Wild, a young right wing and reluctant star trying to make sense of a remarkable hot streak.

    Does the puck feel as if it’s automatically going in the net these days each time he shoots?

    “Yeah, it does,” Boldy said in the locker room after leading the first-place Wild to a 5-1 win over Seattle. “My linemates are playing great. Hopefully you guys are giving them a lot of credit. You look at some of those goals – just putting it on a tee for me.”

    This non-attention-seeker has found himself squarely in the NHL spotlight. Boldy has 11 goals in nine games since Wild superstar Kirill Kaprizov was sidelined with a lower-body injury to raise his goal total to 28, in part because he’s been more willing to shoot. With vision and stickhandling as strengths and the humility of being a second-year player, it’s easy to be in a pass-first mindset.

    “Everybody kind of took turns talking to him. But it’s not that he didn’t want to. A lot of times a situation like that where a guy’s got that skillset, it’s a real unselfish quality, right?” coach Dean Evason said. “But I think he gets now that he helps the team a lot when he scores goals.”

    The Wild were confident enough in Boldy’s scoring ability to commit a seven-year, $49 million contract extension to him earlier this winter, after all.

    “I think I’ve always had that mentality, but sometimes you just get into spots and it comes off your stick good,” Boldy said. “When things are going well, the puck goes in the net.”’

    The Wild are 6-1-2 without Kaprizov. Boldy is a big reason why.

    “You go through the slumps, you learn what you need to do to score. I think he’s found a good way to be in the right spot and shoot the puck when he had a good opportunity,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said.

    The Wild have only won one division title in 22 years, the five-team Northwest Division in 2007-08. They’re leading the eight-team Central Division with eight games to go, with both Colorado and Dallas too close for comfort. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2015.

    With Kaprizov due back before the postseason and Boldy on this heater, a Wild team that ranks just 23rd in the league in goals per game (2.93) ought to have a better chance to advance. Eriksson Ek and Marcus Johansson have been ideal linemates for the Boston College product and Massachusetts native.

    Since the Wild entered the league in the 2000-01 season, only five NHL players have had more hat tricks at age 21 or younger than Boldy with three: Patrik Laine (eight), Marian Gaborik (five), Steven Stamkos (five), Alex DeBrincat (four) and Connor McDavid (four). Boldy turns 22 next week, so there’s still time for one or two more.

    “He’s big. He controls the puck a lot. He’s got a good shot, good release. He’s smart. He switches it up. He’s got good moves on breakaways. He’s a total player,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. ”Fun to watch him grow this year.”

    Pezzetta scores shootout winner; Canadiens beat Sabres 4-3

    canadiens sabres
    Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports

    BUFFALO, N.Y. ⁠— Brendan Gallagher and the Montreal Canadiens rallied back to avoid playoff elimination with less than three weeks left in their season. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are running out of chances to stay in the Eastern Conference wild-card hunt.

    Gallagher forced overtime by scoring his 200th career goal, and Michael Pezzetta scored the decisive shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Monday night.

    “It’s one of those things I think we earned that chance. We weren’t fantastic but we did enough on the road tonight to get a win,” Gallagher said. “Smiles all around.”

    The Canadiens could laugh, especially after Pezzetta celebrated his goal by putting his stick between his legs and riding it like a wooden horse — much like former NHL tough guy Dave “Tiger” Williams did during his 14-year NHL career spanning the 1970s and 80s.

    “I’m not sure we’ll see that again. One of a kind,” said Gallagher. “I’d be worried about falling over.”

    Pezzetta scored by driving in from the right circle to beat Eric Comrie inside the far post. Buffalo’s Jack Quinn scored in the fourth shootout round, but was matched by Montreal’s Jesse Ylonen, whose shot from in tight managed to trickle in through Comrie.

    Jordan Harris and Alex Belzile also scored for Montreal, and Jake Allen stopped 30 shots through overtime, while allowing one goal on six shootout attempts.

    Montreal would have been eliminated from playoff contention for a second straight season – and two years removed from reaching the Stanley Cup Final – with any type of loss.

    The Sabres squandered a 3-2 third-period lead to drop to 3-6-3 in their past 12. Buffalo also blew a chance to move to within four points of idle Pittsburgh, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot.

    “Just a little hesitation,” forward JJ Peterka said of the Sabres third-period lapse. “We didn’t play with much energy and we didn’t play that aggressive as we played the two periods before. I think that was the difference.”

    Buffalo’s Lukas Rousek scored a goal and added an assist while filling in for leading scorer Tage Thompson, who did not play due to an upper body injury. Peterka and defenseman Riley Stillman also scored, and Comrie stopped 38 shots through overtime, and allowed two goals on six shootout attempts.

    Montreal blew two one-goal leads to fall behind 3-2 on Stillman’s goal at the 8:31 mark of the second period.

    Gallagher scored on the fly by using Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as a screen to snap in a shot inside the far left post. With the goal, Gallagher tied Bobby Rousseau for 24th on the Canadiens career scoring list.

    “I liked the way we corrected ourselves, it’s a sign of maturity, in the way we stayed on task,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said, in recalling how the Canadiens recently unraveled in an 8-4 loss two weeks ago to Colorado, which plays a similar up-tempo style as Buffalo.


    The Sabres hosted their third Pride Night, with Russian D Ilya Lyubushkin electing not to participate in warmups by citing an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Moscow, where he has family and visits in the offseason. The remainder of the team wore dark blue jerseys with the Sabres logo on the front encircled by a rainbow-colored outline.

    During the first intermission, the Sabres broadcast a video in which GM Kevyn Adams said: “This is about recognizing someone’s humanity and true identity. We know there are people out there struggling with who they are, and we want them to know that they have an ally in the Buffalo Sabres.”


    Canadiens: At the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

    Sabres: Host the New York Rangers on Friday night.

    Flyers chairman Scott to retire; Hilferty becomes successor

    Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    PHILADELPHIA — Dave Scott will retire as chairman of the Philadelphia Flyers’ parent company Comcast Spectacor and be replaced by Dan Hilferty.

    Hilferty, who was recently named CEO of Comcast Spectacor, will succeed Scott as chairman of the company on April 17 and as the team’s governor on July 1.

    Scott joined Comcast Spectacor in December 2013 and the Flyers have struggled under his reign. They will miss the playoffs for a third straight season and haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1975.

    “Our number one goal for the Flyers will be to consistently compete for the Stanley Cup,” Hilferty said. “It is going to be a process that will take time to get on that path, but I’m confident we are headed in the right direction with Danny Briere as interim GM, Coach Tortorella, and our hiring of a President of Hockey Operations soon. Our leadership team will be fully focused to deliver on this for our fans while also continuing to make the sports complex the best location for sports and entertainment in the nation.”

    As Chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, Hilferty will lead the company’s entire portfolio, including the Philadelphia Flyers. Spectacor Sports and Entertainment CEO Valerie Camillo will continue to work directly with Hilferty, overseeing the Wells Fargo Center, including its continued transformation, and lead the Flyers’ business operations.