By Brad Lee
The Euro-looking guy above is Marian Hossa, hands down the best player available when free agency started this morning. Sometime today or possibly later this week, he will sign a contract approaching $9 million a year. He will not do so in the city of St. Louis.
And that's fine. We remember the splash the Blues made a year ago signing Paul Kariya to a three-year, $18 million contract. We remember thinking out loud, "Hey, the Blues are serious at making a playoff run. This is great!" And then the regular season started and Kariya was inconsistent at best and at worst a big disappointment depending upon your expectations. And while it would be nice if the Blues could just open their Dave Checketts checkbook and sign a Hossa or defenseman Brian Campbell, it's not going to happen. In that story, Checketts and team president John Davidson make some very valid points about the "need" to sign a free agent and what implications that would have on the current team.
"I think we're going to be pretty quiet ... but you never know," Checketts said. "What I don't want to do is prevent somebody from getting some (ice) time out there that is going to grow and really develop into a player."
Now that's an interesting idea. If you look at the Blues roster, there was going to be very little turnover from last season before the Jamal Mayers and Chris Mason trades. Not bringing back Ryan Johnson and Matt Walker wasn't exactly going to open spots for guys like T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund to come into training camp in September and earn roster spots. With Mayers gone, there are still only two forward positions now available for either youngsters in the system to fight for free agents to be courted. Granted, the team could buy out a guy like Dan Hinote (his $1 million salary for this year would be reduced to a $500,000 payoff) and they could make another trade, but neither of those moves seems especially likely with comments like this from Davidson:
"We'd like to build from within, and somewhere along the line you've got to get these guys' careers started. Chicago took a (Patrick) Kane and (Jonathan) Toews and played them. We've got to play people."
That says to me the organization is willing to see what they have in-house before going outside looking for talent. And that's fine. But they need to be certain about a few things.
- Andy Murray is the right guy to lead a team getting younger every season.
- The younger players on the roster (Stempniak, Backes, McClement, Perron) are the right guys to build around.
- The younger players in the system (Junland, Eller, Cole) are the right players to build around.
If they are right on those three issues, then they can keep pace without spending big bucks in free agency. If they're wrong...well let's just say the end result won't be pretty.
So what do you think about the Blues' decision to most likely sit this free agent period out? Are you confident they've made the right organizational choices? And please, let's not just focus on the head coach because we firmly believe Murray will have a job until at least the end of this season (or the Blues are eliminated from the playoffs -- whichever comes first).