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.
- Ryan O'Reilly, 31, enters the last year of a contract that carries a $7.5M cap hit. O’Reilly expressed interest in returning to the Blues. How much will it cost, and what kind of term?
- Do the Blues sell high on Vladimir Tarasenko in a trade after they couldn’t give him away last offseason? Even with far more market value, the most enticing aspect of moving the 30-year-old would probably be cap savings. Would it be worth getting something for Tarasenko now, or treating him like a “rental” at one more year of $7.5M? He’s one of many Blues with some trade protection, by the way.
- Jordan Kyrou (24) and Robert Thomas (22) are in the last year of bargain $2.8M deals. They’re pending RFAs, and would be eligible for salary arbitration. Do you extend them as early as possible, expecting even bigger breakthroughs? Play it slowly to try to grind the price down?
(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.
Armstrong: No, this roster doesn't need any major tweaking. We are in a good position cap wise moving forward. #stlblues
— Alex Ferrario (@Ferrario101ESPN) May 31, 2022
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.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.