ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 12: Ryan Reaves #75 of the St. Louis Blues crashes into Antti Niemi #31 of the San Jose Sharks during Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Scottrade Center on April 12, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
The Blues notched 49 wins in the regular season. The most the Blues can have in the playoffs is 16. Without question, the regular season demonstrates more overall attributes of a player's game and character in terms of quantity. The playoffs are much shorter in sample size even if a team makes it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. As has been said before, quality over quantity.
Knowing all that, a name can still be made or broken based on the exploits of a few games during the playoffs. Does anybody remember if Halak was terrible, outstanding, or somewhere in the middle during that '09-'10 during the regular season? Doubtful. All that is remembered about that year for the man that would become Jerry was a magical playoff run that took the #8 seed all the way to the Conference Finals. A .939 save percentage against Ovechkin and the Caps (Back when they were the shit) will go a long way towards creating a lasting positive image no matter what happened in the regular season.
Rob Scuderi is a stay at home defenseman. On a Penguins team of '08-'09, it's easy to get focused on other people manning the blueline: Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, and Alex Goligoski. Hell, this is the same Pens team that went out and got Hal Gill to add to the defensive mindset. Rob Scuderi was certainly on that blueline for the duration, but I wasn't thinking about him as being the type of guy that makes game saving plays. Then this shit happened. That save and other shut down plays in the finals were certainly in the heads of the LA Kings when they signed him for 4 years and 13 million dollars.
Make more money on your next contract by performing well in the playoffs. Easy, right?
For a few RFAs/UFAs to be on the Blues, this playoff season can be a place of exorcising demons of the regular season. Conversely, some of the perceived underachievers can cement their status as such with continued play of the less than stellar variety. I'll go through each free agent to be, give an armchair assessment of their regular season play, where there stock lies going into the playoffs, and what they'll need to do to in the playoffs to earn a few more bucks on their next contract.
Chris Stewart (Restricted Free Agent)
Regular Season Play: The goals and offensive flashes of brilliance seen towards the end of last season were few and far between this year. 15 goals and 15 assists will leave a bad taste in the mouth of fans that expected him to be the primary return in the Erik Johnson trade. Getting demoted to the 4th line by Coach Hitchcock can also have a similar affect. It's worth pointing out that, despite the Blues finishing with a division title this year, the 2010-11 edition of the Blues scored 30 more goals than the current team throughout the regular season. The one thing that Stewart definitely improved was his defensive play, although that could certainly be more a product of the culture change that the 'Cock brought with him rather than Stewie deciding to contend for PK time compared to PP time.
Current Value: Down. It's not "bottom of the barrel" down nor is it close to that. It's just a standard, regular level of down. His play this year wasn't what the Blues wanted and I doubt that Chris Stewart will contest that statement. However, the dude is still young and the potential is certainly there, which will both play a part in negotiations at the end of the year.
Looking Ahead: You can probably guess what needs to happen for #25. Stewart needs to forget the regular season and all the disappointments of it. The absolute worst thing that can happen for him is to feel the need to put the team on his back. Just get back to making simple passes on the cycle, not overdoing it with the dangling, and making life a pain in the ass for the opposing goalie down low. Oh, and if he actually does get hot and puts the team on his back, that'd be alright, too. Just don't force it Stewie.
My Guess: Ideally, he gets the Oshie treatment with the 1 year carrot contract. I foresee something closer to 2 or 3 years at a level of 2.8 or 3 million like he's currently getting. Potential can be a bargaining chip.
Barret Jackman (Unrestricted Free Agent)
Regular Season Play: Yes, Plus/Minus can be a misleading statistic, but anytime you can get to 20 on the plus side of things, it means that you're doing something right. Better still, he doesn't have to be the guy on the blueline. With Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk emerging as young stars who can shoulder the load, a guy like Jackman can actually get some, y'know, rest and shit. Jackman, like any other blueliner, is at his best when he doesn't have to do all the duties of the stay at home defenseman all the time. The overall improvement of this team helps no player like it does Barret Jackman. With Brewer gone, Jaxx is now the elder statesman of the blueline who still contributes more than 3rd pairing minutes (Sorry, Kent). Good penalty killer, great at pissing off guys on the other team, and not a huge albatross in the offensive end this year. Viva Jackman!
Current Value: Right now, it's pretty damn high. The Trail, BC native and his agent will certainly use that heading into negotiations along with his lengthy tenure. However, being on the wrong side of 30 plays to the Blues side of things when either side wants to go longer on a contract.
Looking Ahead: Barret, keep doing what you're doing and fuck people up in front of the net. Be the old guy in the locker room that's been here with the Blues before. If you manage to accidentally end up with an assist or some shit, hey, awesome.
My Guess: Barret is 31 and has one, maybe two, contract(s) left in him before he's done. Another 3 or 4 year deal could be in the mix but he's not the de facto top pairing guy going forward. I'm predicting a contract in the neighborhood of 3.5 million per year over 3 years not unlike what he has now. 4 years could prove to be a mistake at his age depending on how he progresses.
TJ Oshie (Restricted Free Agent)
Regular Season Play: Frosted Tips improved upon the 2010-11 season to the tune of 20 points. Staying healthy wasn't a bad strategy either, although #HartnellDown may have strong opposition going forward if Osh continues to play like he does. Whether or not you like it, the shootout is still a thing and Oshie is one of the best for the Blues. Back to shit that matters, his penalty killing and defensive zone play improved as he took the one year "Prove it" contract and certainly took another step towards becoming a top six forward. He may never be the scoring dynamo or top-line guy that some envisioned. But if this year's Osh keeps working and stays out of some East side establishments, he'll be a vital part of the Blues for years to come.
Current Value: Increasing. TJ didn't falter under his "prove it" deal and demonstrated what he could do when he stays healthy. He and Bergie showed some of the ridiculous chemistry and the Blues will be wise to keep those two near each other for a while. TJ and his people know this and will get a longer deal if they want it.
Looking Ahead: TJ can cement his place with the Blues going forward by continuing to dig pucks out of corner battles, not turning the puck over in the neutral zone, and potting a couple of goals or putting a set-up pass on Bergie's stick for a tap in. As long as he doesn't get hurt, he'll have met the durability requirement.
My Guess: This can go one of two ways. A slightly larger "carrot" contract of 2 years around 2.75 per year or a longer deal of 4 or 5 years in the realm of 3 million per year. I could see either coming to pass.
Carlo Colaiacovo (Unrestricted Free Agent)
Regular Season Play: For a couple reasons, Carlo Colaiacovo finds himself sliding down the Blues depth chart. Until the emergence of Petro and Shatty, Colaiacovo had the best offensive play on the blueline. That is no longer the case. The one thing that bodes well for the man I compared to Super Dave is that he is a left-handed shot. Fellow lefties on the blueline are Kris Russell, Kent Huskins, Barret Jackman, and Ian Cole. Carlo's definitely better than the last two in the offensive zone and way better than Huskins. Russell has overtaken Carlo in both zones, but Carlo is still helpful to the team as a depth player. Most teams would love to have a player like Carlo hanging out in the press box. Carlo did happen to be third in scoring, although he was far behind the top two and only 5 points better than Jackman.
Current Value: Steadily declining. Carlo has been surpassed by others as an offensive threat and isn't good enough to get by as a defensive dman.
Looking Ahead: Colaiacovo's play in limited opportunities (i.e. When he's not in the press box) will dictate whether he will return. Being a lefty plays to his advantage and he'll need to prove he has more value than Kris Russell or Ian Cole to warrant sticking around. Any power play conversions with a G or an A next to #28 on the stat sheet will be the best way for him to build his value.
My Guess: Carlo will likely be of more value to another team in free agency than he will be to the Blues. If he can be brought back at 2.3 million or less at 2 years, great. If not, so long.
Chris Porter (Unrestricted Free Agent)
Regular Season Play: In 47 games, Chris Porter generally found a way to make at least one really noteworthy play. It usually wasn't scoring a goal, although it was on 4 occasions, but rather a dogged forecheck or neutral zone play that resulted in opposing team momentum being broken up. He's also been the type of player where you look at "Well, Porter sure fucked that one up." In addition, the fall of Chris Stewart still has some wishing Porter had gotten more playing time. Porter played about as well as a part time 4th liner could play.
Current Value: Slight incline. As well as Porter played in limited time, he hasn't done anything to warrant more than a role as a consistent 4th line player. Injuries happen over the course of 82 games, and guys like Porter are good to have around to step up to replace those various roles.
Looking ahead: Much like Carlo, Porter will need to make the most of his playing time when he gets it. Since he isn't likely to see much on special teams, his fourth line minutes will need to be full of forcing the play to the perimeter and out of the defensive zone. The fewer the red light goes on for the bad guys if/when Porter gets in, the better.
My Guess: 1 year. 2 at the most. $700K per. If Nichol comes back, it's possible Porter is let go entirely.
David Perron (Restricted Free Agent)
Regular Season Play: David Perron's point total of 42 points in 57 games played was only 5 points off of his last full season, 47 points in 82 games in 2009-10. Frenchie has improved and thrown caution to the wind with regards to physical play. He's back to agitating and getting involved in post-whistle shenanigans. How's that for answering questions of how he'd come back from post-concussion symptoms? And his offensive play? Yeah, Perron is doing just fine with that. Remember the rookie who could stickhandle but couldn't help but be pushed around by the bigger guys? Kid's learning more and more how to spin off of contact. It also helps that he's put a bigger frame into his skates, too. I can't find the exact numbers, but does anybody think he was close to 200 lbs as he's listed now?
Current Value: Not quite through the roof, but damn close. He was 5th on the team despite playing less than 60 games like a pointed out above. He's 23, proving more and more that he can be a reliable top 6 scoring threat, both by creating and finishing opportunities.
Looking Ahead: Perron has the best chance of any pending free agent on the Blues to really achieve that "Playoff hero" status. He's already done well for himself heading into negotiations and short of vanishing for the duration of the playoffs, he won't do anything to hurt his case. If the Blues make a deep run in the playoffs, I see Perron's price tag going up as he'll be a big reason why the Blues are there.
My Guess: With Perron being 24 and not a UFA yet, the Blues have a little bit of leverage there. If I'm in Armstrong's seat, this is where I open up the pocketbook and go for a long-term deal. Backes and Polak are signed for 5 more years. I see if Perron can be inked for 6 or 7 years. 4 or 4.5 million per year would be nice, but it might cost more than that. Perron will still be worth it, either way.
Jason Arnott (Unrestriced Free Agent)
Regular Season Play: Arnott was brought in to be the old guy. Arnott proved to be one damn effective old guy. 34 points nearly put him at one point for every year he's been on Earth (he's 37) and is especially nice considering he was mostly here to provide size at center in primarily a veteran leadership role. On the powerplay, his shot from the point and half boards along with his 6'6 frame in the slot made for some good redirects and gave the Blues man advantage, at the very least, a "not completely shitty" vibe to it. Big guy in the middle and a reliable 3rd liner when the team was at full strength he played well as a depth guy at both ends of the ice with added punch on special teams.
Current Value: Holding steady. His play was of the consistent and reliable sort when in the line up but when you're 37 and need maintenance off days (sounds like something Brewer got), you can't put too many of your chips into the pot when it comes to Arnott replicating that type of production.
Looking Ahead: Simply put, the best way for Jason Arnott's stock to go up is for the Blues to go deep in the playoffs. So long as he handles the faceoff dot and plays a standard gritty bottom 6 game, any offense he provides will increase his price tag, be it with the Blues or some other team.
My Guess: I don't think the Blues will get Arnott and Langenbrunner back for a multitude of reasons, but I know I'm hoping for it. Doug Armstrong's a lot smarter than me so if there's a way for that to happen, he'll do it. I think Arnott takes priority and is back on another 1 year deal at 3 mil. Alternatively, if Arnott would take a 2 year deal at 2.5, I'd do that also.
Kent Huskins (Unrestricted Free Agent)
Regular Season Play: We're all more than aware that Kent Huskins cares. Unfortunately, "caring" isn't a metric used in contract negotiations since Game Time would make at least 6.2 million per year. In terms of press box tour guys, the Blues have improved greatly since the days of Matt Walker. That doesn't mean I don't miss Matt Walker. Incidentally, it also doesn't mean that I won't miss Kent Huskins. His job was play steady defense and to not screw up in his own zone. He did his job most of the time. The problem is that when he would get outskated, find himself out of position, or just otherwise screw up, Elliott or Halak were tasked with facing a prime scoring chance.
Current Value: Trending Down. The blueline pipeline is primed with guys like Ian Cole, Danny Syvret, and others who ought to get an opportunity to play as bottom pairing guys in the NHL.
Looking Ahead: Whenever Huskins actually does make it into the lineup, he can help his case by busting his ass in the defensive zone, since Kent Huskins at 98% effort leaves him being skated around by opposing forwards. Stick checks, strong board play, and cleaning out the garbage rebounds against the San Jose offensive threats will make teams, the Blues and others, give him a strong look when July 1st rolls around. If he gets a chance to make a save like Scuderi, well, that wouldn't hurt either.
My Guess: I don't think Kent Huskins will be high on the priority list for the Blues. Once the dust settles and decisions are made about Jackman and Colaiacovo, I believe Kent Huskins will be brought back on another deal similar to the one year, one million contract he's on now. If another team wants to give him more, good for them and best of luck.
Scott Nichol (Unrestricted Free Agent)
Regular Season Play: My favorite fourth liner this side of Vladdy Sobotka never gave into being the little guy. Some are quick to point out he notched a -5, which is entirely true, but doesn't tell the true story of his play. Nichol played a sound game on the PK and handled his bidness in physical play with others. When you play on the fourth line, it's close to assumed that you aren't out there to score goals, that you're there to at least weather the storm of the other teams bottom scoring line, and that you give your top lines time to catch a breath and get life lessons from Hitch. Scott Nichol and friends certainly did that. So when you look at a -5, remember that he played with guys like Ryan Reaves, Chris Porter, and BJ Crombeen. The closest thing to a point producer that Nichol saw as a linemate was Vladimir Sobotka, who had 20 points. Nichol played a solid defensive centerman's game and the Blues are better for it.
Current Value: Slightly inclined. While 4th line guys can be replaced, Nichol gets credit for being the team's primary 4th liner on a team that was at it's best when it was cycling all 4 lines and doing a lot of scoring on the shift after a hellacious forecheck led by Nichol and friends.
Looking Ahead: Just like in the regular season, Nichol, when he's able to log some playing time, needs to be the leader of the defensive lollipop guild by keeping the passing lanes clogged and by making life unfortunate for the opposition when the fourth line gets to show off the forechecking skills.
My Guess: As 4th liners can be replaced and BJ Crombeen is still under contract next year, I think Nichol will garner a bigger contract from another team. I'll wager a prediction that he'll get 1.2 million to be somebody else's 4th line crusader.
Regular Season Play: Before the Blues inked Langenbrunner and Arnott, questions were raised about the lack of a veteran presence on the Blues. Huskins had a cup ring in addition Andy McDonald, but Arnott and Langenbrunner both multiplied the playoff presence in the locker room by several times. They had been there. They had done that. Hell, Langenbrunner was captain of Team America at the 2010 Olympics. While he played better than the perceived whiny old man at the end of last season, he did not provide as much of a spark as his fellow old goat, Jason Arnott. Langenbrunner had long stretches where he looked like he was simply behind the play by two steps.
Current Value: Down. While Langenbrunner needs only to help get the Blues deep into the playoffs to prove his worth for the next deal, he won't garner much attention apart from his credentials as a former cup winner and captain. He'll get another contract either way, but each playoff victory gets the next year's paycheck a little boost.
Looking Ahead: Langenbrunner isn't likely to set the world on fire with points. If he manages a goal or two, that'll be gravy. His job, like Backes and Hitchcock, is to make sure everyone else does there job. Keep a level mood in the locker room and make sure people are focused on what needs to be done. If the team, as a whole, appears focused and isn't gripping the sticks too tight, than the captain and his alternates are doing there job. After that, piss off the opposition. Draw a penalty or two. Whatever works.
My Guess: The Blues will not be the only team in contention for Langenbrunner. Like Arnott, teams are always on the lookout for people with plenty of playoff experience and proven skills as a leader. Langenbrunner has both and will likely net another 3 million dollar deal with a team that is not St. Louis.
These are all predictions based on what's taken place during the regular season. As the Blues progress throughout the playoffs, I plan to re-evaluate how the play of each individual has affected their stock in the upcoming free agent season.
Where'd I get it right? Where'd I get it wrong? Penny for your thoughts and comments.