With any luck, the St. Louis Blues will have a new financial group owning their team by the end of the playoffs (so before free agency and the draft) and be able to spend a bit of money this off-season. With that in mind, here's my look of what we could do. I do not expect us to go bonkers in the free agent market, but having a few players in their prime added to the roster should not be too much to ask.
Players under Contract
What I want to do, after the jump:
The team needs 3 forwards and 1 defenseman to even field a team. According to capgeek.com, this year's salary cap was $64.3M. The Blues spent $54.9M of it (leaving $9.4M in cap space below the league maximum.) Next year's payroll is already at $35.9M with only those 16 players signed. The projected number below the cap, or amount the Blues have to spend, is at least $28.4M (they have not announced, to my knowledge, how much the cap will rise.)
The team has forwards Stewart, Oshie, and Perron as restricted free agents. If the Blues don't get them signed quickly, another team could scoop in and make an offer that we would then have to match (or accept draft picks as compensation). All three of those forwards need to be on the Blues team next year. Let's look at those three players individually:
- Chris Stewart made $2.875M this past season. Stewart had his worst year as a professional athlete since his rookie year in which he played less than 60 of 82 games played. He scored on 9.0% of his shots on goal, down from a career average of 13.9% when the season began (it's now down to 12.7%). He also seemed to get frustrated and recorded the most penalty minutes of his career - 109 - way up from his previous career high of 73. This puts the team in a bind, having to kill a penalty. These reasons led the coaching staff to rely on him less, so he averaged under 15 and a half minutes of ice time per game, also the lowest since his rookie year. That being said, I believe he can be a quite productive player with Hitchock's system and believe that he is a "must bring back" type guy next year. Teams can only offer players a 10% reduced salary, if I remember correctly. Stewart will only be 25 next year, though. With the combination of a poor season, but plenty of time to lean the system and grow up as a player, I think the Blues should offer him the same amount for next year - AND a four-year deal (through his age 28 season) for $12M - to let him decide if he wants to play for a bigger payday or take the security and be in STL long-term.
- TJ Oshie made $2.350M this past season. He set career highs in games played, goals, assists, points, shots, and time on ice - but also hit a high in penalty minutes and had the lowest shooting percentage of his career. TJ Oshie also disappeared in the playoffs, with just 3 points in 9 games - all assists. He has 3 points in 13 career playoff games , having more penalties taken than points (4-3). Oshie has been one of the most consistent Blues in the past four seasons. He has averaged 0.24-0.25 goals per game four years running. He has averaged 0.63-0.69 points per game for four years running. His shots per game have increased for four straight seasons. This year, he seemed to flourish defensively as well, under Hitchcock's system. The Blues have been reluctant to extend the soon to be 26-year old TJ Oshie for the long-term because of hsi partying propensity, but I think this is the year to do it. I think I offer him more than Chris Stewart, but nothing to break the bank. I offer him a 5-year deal worth $16.25M ($3.25/year).
- David Perron made $2.15M this past season. He came back from a devastating head injury that kept him out of hockey for over a year. When he returned, he may have been the best offensive forward on the ice, night in and night out. In just 57 games, he scored 21 goals (a career high) and had 21 assists. His 0.74 points per game was also a career high. He also disciplined himself, earning his least penalty minutes per game for his career this season. Lastly, he shined in the playoffs, with 5 points in 9 games - despite a low shooting percentage. Perron will be just 24 next year and has been steadily improving. I say he gets near David Backes treatment; give him 6 years at $4M a year. That gets him signed through his age 31 season at a very good price for the team long-term, and very good money for him now.
The Blues have four forwards who are unrestricted free agents. Those four are Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner, Scott Nichol, and Chris Porter. I believe that it is time to let Nichol and Porter go. Langenbrunner and Arnott are both much older, experienced, Cup-Winning players. I think you must keep one of them around. Langenbrunner's point totals plummeted this season, despite having played for Coach Hitchcock before; while Arnott seemed to do quite well in the system. I keep Arnott and offer him a slightly reduced $2.75M (just $0.125M off what he made this year, keeping in mind he'll be 38 next year. That gives the Blues 13 forwards under contract at a payroll of $41.4M, still at least $22.9M below the cap.
At defense, Barrett Jackman needs to retire as a Blue. He is one of three unrestricted free agent defensemen listed for the St. Louis Blues. The other two are Kent Huskins and Carlo Colaiacovo. Huskins is a will-be-33 year-old defenseman who was limited due to numerous and various injuries this season. While solid defensively, he does not seem like a player that can be counted on next year, to me. I let him go. I am not a Carlo Colaiacovo fan. I think that he is a slightly above average offensive defenseman who gives up way too many pucks on the defensive side of the puck. I do not want that kind of defenseman in the system that Hitchcock runs. The Blues have a ton of money under the cap and this is where I want to see us make the biggest upgrade. Barret Jackman had a $3.625M cap hit last year. He is just now on the wrong side of 30. His ice time the last two years has gone down, but he's still played over 1/3 of the game as a top 4 defenseman. He has really learned to play within himself and take many less penalties - it helps that he doesn't need to be one of the "goon" type fighters on the roster any more, only fighting as a last resort to pump the team up or settle a score. His dollar amounts have dropped each of the last three years on his last contract - from $4.5M in 2010 to $4.0M in 2011 to $3.5M this past year. I offer him a two-year deal worth $6M, giving him the choice of $3.25M this year and $2.75M next year or an even $3M a season. Either way the cap hit is $3M.That gives the Blues 6 defensemen and a $44.4M payroll with at least $19.9M to spend.
The Blues are set at goaltender next year. Allen is the future in the minors and Elliot and Halak are signed to contracts for the next two seasons. Allen will have time to learn and grow as a goalie before emerging in St. Louis in 2014-2015, if all goes to plan.
Looking forward, after next season, the Blues have the following players needing pay raises: Berglund, D'Agostini, Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk, Russell, and Cole. They will also have Andy McDonald and BJ Crombeen's salaries coming off of the books, saving them $5.7M. McDonald will be a big loss, but he will likely retire at the end of the contract. Crombeen will likely be the 13th man that I have listed (sitting the most amount of games in the press box), as is...so his loss will be minimal on the ice.
The best available free agent defensemen, under 30 years of age, are:
D Ryan Suter - NASH - 27 - Top pair defenseman - it will take over $4M to sign
D Matt Carle - PHI - 27 - Top 3 defenseman - it will take over $4M to sign
D Dennis Wideman - WASH - 28 - Top 3 defenseman - it will take around $5M to sign - mostly offensive value
D Matt Hunwick - COL - 26 - filler defenseman - it will take only $1.5 at the most to sign - quite a bit of a drop off in talent for Hunwick
The best available free agent forwards, under 30 years of age, are:
F Zach Parise - NJ - 27 - top line forward (fast/scorer) - it will take over $6M to sign
F Andrei Kostitsyn - NASH - 27 - second to third line forward (scorer/assists)- it will take over $4M to sign
F David Jones - COL - 27 - second or third line forward (not sure) - it will take over $3M to sign
F Alexander Semin - WASH - 28 - top line forward (scorer/assists) - it will take over $7M to sign
F Jiri Hudler - DET - 28 - top two line forward (scorer/assists) - it will take nearly $4M to sign
F Dustin Penner - LA - 29 - second or third line forward (power forward) - it may take over $5M to sign
F P.A. Parenteau - NYI - 28 - top line forward (assist man) - it will take $2-3M to sign
I would not want to spend up to the limit, were I the Blues; however, I would want to make sure to get two of these players. I would go after both Ryan Suter and Matt Carle - getting one of them, as they are similar players and the Blues have a ton of good to great D-men. Remember, the Blues have at least $19.9M to play with, so let's assume it takes more money than I originally argued and it costs the Blues $5M over 4 seasons to get Suter/Carle. I would also look to add P.A. Parenteau or David Jones. Jones is a year younger, but Parenteau has been a better assist man and point scorer thus far in his career. Jones has been the better goal scorer, but also takes more penalties. Parenteau has played more minutes and games, plus gotten more shots on goal - which means Jones' shooting percentages and goals per game are a bit higher. Additionally, I believe Jones will be only slightly more expensive, if at all. I'd guess Parenteau would sign for $3M and Jones would sign for $3.5M. Let's say we get one of them for $3.5M, the more expensive price listed. That would give the Blues a 22 man roster being paid $52.5M, which is still $11.8M below the cap - which should be enough room to sign the players whose contracts will become restricted next year.
The new Blues roster would then become:
Stewart/Schwartz/(Jones or Parenteau)
Jackman/(Suter or Carle)
Halak and Elliot splitting time again.