Zach Sanford

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Blues, Sundqvist avoid arbitration with four-year, $11 million contract

The St. Louis Blues locked up another piece of their Stanley Cup winning team on Sunday when they re-signed restricted free agent forward Oskar Sundqvist to a four-year contract.

Sundqvist, 25, had filed for salary arbitration and a hearing scheduled for this week.

That will no longer be necessary thanks to this new deal.

According to the Blues the contract will pay Sundqvist a total of $11 million, averaging out to a salary cap hit of $2.75 million per season.

The Blues acquired Sundqvist, as well as a first-round draft pick that was used to select forward Klim Kostin, prior to the 2017-18 season in the trade that sent Ryan Reaves and a second-round pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins. After managing just a single goal and four assists in in 42 games in his debut season with the Blues, Sundqvist had a breakout season in 2018-19 with 14 goals and 17 assists in 74 regular season games.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

He also played a big depth role in the playoffs by adding four goals and five assists in 25 playoff games.

With Sundqvist back in the mix the Blues now have two more restricted free agents to sign in forward Ivan Barbashev and defender Joel Edmundson. Edmundson has an arbitration hearing scheduled for August 4. The Blues have already successfully avoided arbitration hearings with starting goalie Jordan Binnington, forward Zach Sanford, and now Sundqvist, so it seems reasonable to assume they will be able to settle with Edmundson as well.

The Blues still have around $5 million in salary cap space to work with this summer.

MORE BLUES COVERAGE:
• Binnington signs two-year, $8.8 million deal
Fabbri gets one-year deal from Blues
• PHT Stanley Cup Tracker: Maroon takes Cup back to St. Louis for some toasted ravioli

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.

Zach Sanford keeps late dad’s memory at heart during Stanley Cup win

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BOSTON — Manchester, New Hampshire is about an hour minute drive north of Boston, so when Zach Sanford was growing up he was a die-hard Boston Bruins fan. He would watch the games on televison with his father, Michael, soaking in the experience of seeing his heroes playing on the Garden ice.

Michael Sanford worked at a restaurant, but when the hours cost him time to be a hockey dad. He decided to start his own furniture repair business, which allowed him to be around more with Zach as his youth career progressed, eventually leading to Michael becoming his coach.

Sanford’s father never got to see any of his son’s NHL games, and last September, Michael Sanford suffered a heart attack in his sleep and passed away at age 54.

When Sanford went home to attend the funeral, he couldn’t stop thinking about the final conversation he had with his father.

“It was just before our first preseason game in Dallas,” Sanford wrote on the Blues’ website in October. “Most of our conversations were pretty similar: How you doing? What’s new? What are you up to? And then came the typical dad pregame speech: Keep the feet moving and play hard. He was always coaching me, even until the very end. He may not have known the most about hockey – he never coached in the pros or anything – but he knew about hard work and how important that was in anything you do, whether it was selling newspapers, performing surgery or playing hockey. He said you had to go 100 percent all the time. That was probably one of the last things he told me.”

[RELATED: Blues win first Stanley Cup]

The 24-year-old Sanford experienced his first full season in the NHL in 2018-19, playing 60 regular season games and eight in the postseason, including five in the Stanley Cup Final. He made the most of his time in the lineup, exhibiting the work ethic his father instilled in him, by assisting on three goals earlier in the series — like the wild between-the-legs pass to Ryan O’Reilly in Game 5— and scoring the Blues’ fourth and final goal in Game 7. 

It was a perfect ending to a season that started off so somber.

“I don’t know if you could write it any better,” Sanford said following Game 7. “I think he helped us out a lot along the way, and me, especially. I miss him. I think about him all the time. I guarantee he’s smiling, cracking a nice cold beer up there.”

As the Blues made their march to the Stanley Cup Final, Sanford kept his father’s memory with him, thinking about him every day, using that energy as a positive during an intense time. It paid off, and he proved to be a valuable piece on the ice in the seven-game series.

Sanford scored with 4:38 left to play in Game 7. It was the goal that allowed the bench to breath and come to realization they were going to be champions.

Michael Sanford was definitely smiling down, so proud of his son.

“I couldn’t dream of scoring a goal in a game like this, let alone winning,” Sanford said. “I know that [my dad is] watching and how proud he probably is. All the effort he put in over the years along with my mom, too, driving me to practices, all that stuff, and making me the person and player I am. I owe it all to them.”

MORE BLUES STANLEY CUP COVERAGE:
Ryan O’Reilly wins Conn Smythe Trophy

Jay Bouwmeester finally gets his Stanley Cup
Blues fan Laila Anderson gets moment with Stanley Cup
Berube helped Blues find identity after early-season struggle
Blues latest team erased from Stanley Cup drought list
Blues finally deliver a Stanley Cup to St. Louis

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

What Blues miss with Sundqvist suspended for Game 3

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With Matt Grzelcyk injured, the Boston Bruins lose a valuable puck-mover. The St. Louis Blues, meanwhile, will miss the guy who injured Grzelcyk, as Oskar Sundqvist was suspended for Game 3 (8 p.m. ET on Saturday on NBCSN; stream here) of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

Like with Grzelcyk, you get a better idea of how much Sundqvist’s absence stings when you dig deeper.

While Blues coach Craig Berube is trying to keep things close to the vest heading into Game 3, Zach Sanford skated in Sundqvist’s spot alongside Alexander Steen and Ivan Barbashev on Friday, hinting at that being the possible trio. Berube spoke about what Sundqvist brings to the table, via the Blues website:

“You miss a lot (losing Sundqvist),” Berube said. “He’s a good player, does a lot of good things for us on both sides of the puck. Good penalty killer, plays center, wing, great defensively and has produced for us in the playoffs, too.”

[MORE: Berube instilled confidence in Blues when they needed it the most.]

Berube’s assessment looks pretty accurate, whether you dive deep or keep things simple.

Sundqvist’s averaged 15:55 TOI per game during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the sixth-highest average among Blues forwards. Sundqvist’s near-16 minutes of nightly ice time ranks comfortably ahead of Tyler Bozak (14:26) and Robert Thomas (13:19), which serves as a nod to Sundqvist’s versatility.

It’s pretty clear that Sundqvist has earned the trust of the Blues’ coaching staff, as his ice time really soared once the calendar year hit 2019. He’s been a steady penalty killer for St. Louis, logging 1:29 PK time per game, the third-highest total among Blues forwards (though right there with Barbashev’s 1:25 average).

Sundqvist distinguishes himself for more-than-breaking-even in deeper stats at Natural Stat Trick, even though he’s frequently been deployed in less glamorous situations. The sexiest fact might be that he’s been on the ice for 11 goals for versus just five against at even-strength so far during the postseason, but there are other promising numbers.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

And, even the simplest stats and considerations are positive. Sundqvist has four goals and five assists for nine points in 21 postseason games so far, which is impressive when you consider his so-so opportunities to score, and it’s not as though he’s enjoying absurd puck luck with just a 9.8 shooting percentage.

Sundqvist isn’t going to put up numbers that rival Alex Ovechkin like his teammate Vladimir Tarasenko, yet he’s a nice piece of a Blues team that enjoys a nice mix of top-end talent and depth. When you consider how deadly the Bruins’ power play can be, the PK might end up being the spot where Sundqvist is missed the most, although Sundqvist brings enough to the table that it’s open to debate.

Blues-Bruins Game 3 is Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET from Enterprise Center on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

More from the 2019 Stanley Cup Final

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.