Sammy Blais celebrated the Cup with the team, but he is one of several RFAs this offseason.
The timing of an NHL season is much different than other major sports. The playoffs run so long that by the time the Finals are concluded, the offseason gets going in a hurry.
The Draft is this coming weekend, then free agency soon after. The Blues front office has little time to revel in their first ever Stanley Cup victory. Now they must get back to the business side of things.
The first reaction that any fan might have, and perhaps even the first thought that Doug Armstrong might have had, is to simply bring back every player from the 2018-19 season. Why not? That’s the group of players that won the whole kit and caboodle, so why shouldn’t they do it again?
That is, of course, impractical. Even perhaps impossible. A Stanley Cup-winning season is a perfect storm of a multitude of factors and situations and occurrences, which exact recipe cannot be duplicated from year to year, even if the team could be kept intact.
While the core of the team is locked up in the near term, there are a number of players who are on expiring contracts. Now only Maroon and Gunnarsson are the notable unrestricted free agents, but many of the young players that powered the resurgence in January are restricted free agents.
Pat Maroon, Carl Gunarrsson, Jordan Nolan, Michael Del Zotto
Ivan Barbashev, Zach Sanford, Robby Fabbri, Oskar Sundqvist, Jordan Binnington, Joel Edmundson, Sammy Blais
The Blues have plenty of cap space to work with, thanks to a lower salary for Bouwmeester and a rising salary cap, but it only goes so far. The biggest raise figures to go to Jordan Binnington, who is eligible for arbitration. Even if Armstrong can lock in most players with slight raises, he won’t be able to bring back everyone and stay under the cap. Someone, or multiple someones, won’t be back.
So who would that be? Let’s look at the defense corps first. Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester, Parayko, Dunn and Bortuzzo are all under contract for next year. So that leaves two spots if you figure the team will carry 7 defensemen, usually. Is it obvious that Edmundson and Gunnarsson will come back and Del Zotto will walk? Maybe, maybe not. Mitch Reinke played really, really well in the AHL. It figures he will compete for a spot in training camp. Edmundson made $3 million last year, and he figures as a middle or bottom pairing guy. Dunn’s contract will be up after next season, and the Blues won’t want to tie up too much money in the defense corps. If we take just 1 of the 3 free agent D-men to return, my money’s on Edmundson.
Moving our attention to the goalies, it’s a no-brainer that Binnington will be locked up as the goalie of the present and the future.
Let’s look at the forwards now. Barby, Sunny, Fabbri, Blais, Sanford, Maroon. Being the lone UFA, Maroon can entertain other offers. Postseason heroics aside, he didn’t exactly light it up during the regular season. Even so, he’s worth more than the $1.75 million he made in 2018-19. Barbashev and Sundqvist really showed their worth as two-way players all season long and in the playoffs. They are key pieces and there’s no way they are non-tendered. Sanford and Blais offer skill on the lower lines. If there’s anyone that can be considered expendable, it’s Fabbri. He needs more playing time if he will develop into a top-six forward like he seemed destined to following his rookie year. The Blues don’t have that kind of playing time give.
Cutting ties with Fabri, Del Zotto, and Gunnarsson will free up about $6 million to go with the $18 in cap space. That’s $24 million to re-sign Maroon and deal out raises to the rest of the RFAs. Seems like plenty.
Of course, this rules out any kind of major move in free agency or trade. Whatever happens, it’s going to be really interesting.