It's not the end of June yet, obviously. The St. Louis Blues free agents have a little over half a month left on their current contracts before July 5th, so there isn't a lot of pressure right now to get to talking to Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, Patrik Berglund, and Chris Stewart. They're property of the St. Louis Blues - talk motivation will probably get more serious in a few weeks... right?
Anyone who pays attention to the annual free agent frenzy knows that the Blues' big deals come with their RFAs more often than signing UFAs. Last year was the signing of Chris Stewart to a "prove your worth" one-year extension, while T.J. Oshie's prove-it deal got extended by five years and his salary went up to a $4,175,000 cap hit. Chris Stewart certainly proved it during the regular season, leading the Blues with 18 goals, though his post-season performance was lacking.
Patrik Berglund too is in line for a raise. His last extension was by two seasons; while 19 goals in 82 games isn't half bad, this year's total of 17 in 48 was quite the improvement. Both he and Stewart (as well as Oshie) are proof that show-me deals work. The increased output of the two forwards had to catch GM Doug Armstrong's eye.
Of course, this time of year, increased output catches other GMs' eyes too. Offer sheets don't fly about often, but they are always a possibility for general managers who are willing to poach to meet their team's need. The Blues are in a great position for this - they have a metric ton of cap space. Other teams with a reputation for offer-sheeting? That's debatable.
Stewart and Berglund could well be targets, but they're in for a raise at the same time that the salary cap is expected to fall to $64.3 million. Teams could trade for quality forwards, or sign them during free agency for slightly less than what an offer sheet tooled to get these two away from the Blues would be. Teams would have to offer contracts that would be unreasonably high to ensure that the Blues wouldn't match. The Blues are about $24.5 million under the cap; that allows some matching to go on without great detriment to the team. It is extremely doubtful that any other NHL team cramp their cap space just to steal away Patrik Berglund.
The real targets in most pundits' and fans' eyes are Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. Both of these stud defensemen have been a bargain for the Blues, playing on entry-level contracts. Obviously being two of the best young blueliners in the league, they're going to get paid. A lot. How much is up to Armstrong as well as the players' agents, but fully everyone expects a payday.
Some teams would love to be the ones to give them that payday, and the Philadelphia Flyers are right at the top of that list. Already rumored to be interested in Shattenkirk at the trade deadline, Flyers' GM Paul Holmgren has some blue-line bolstering to do. The Flyers missed the playoffs partially thanks to the lack of a sure-fire top pairing defenseman. Chris Pronger's not returning any time soon, if ever. If they use their amnesty buy-out on goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov as has been speculated, that would free up $5,666,667 in cap space.
Of course, that would put them under the cap (currently according to CapGeek they're over by $2,552,262), but one would expect an offer sheet for Pietrangelo or Shattenkirk to put them right back over the cap again, necessitating more player movement. A sheet that would help them fit within cap constraints would be easily matched by Armstrong.
The Blues may be tight with their cash, but they're smart about it - and they're not broke. Just in case you're still worried, Armstrong told the Post-Dispatch this:
"We’re going to want it the way we think is proper for the St. Louis Blues. If there’s an offer sheet there, we’re very content with where we are with the NHL salary cap, we’re going to be able to match any offer and we will. These are core players that we’re not going to let go."
The Blues believe very strongly in their core and their ability to be successful. While there is some debate about who makes up that core, at least that statement solves one debate: their RFAs are part of it.