When the Blues quickly matched the Backes offer sheet and then retaliated with an offer to Vancouver restricted free agent Steve Bernier, they were sending a message to the rest of the league to keep their damn hands off Blues players. With many teams snuggling up against the salary cap, we don't expect any offer sheets, but the implication is that a good chunk of the room below the cap right now will be taken by contracts for Halak and Erik Johnson and David Perron.
We've talked about the Ilya Kovalchuk talk. They have the space and the need, but do they have the daring and the right pitch that would get the talented Russian to St. Louis? And if they don't go all-in on Kovy, what else might they do instead?
Last season right before the contracts started coming in, we predicted that Ty Conklin could be the goaltender the Blues signed to backup Mason. What follows is a quick breakdown of who's a free agent and what the Blues might do when the free agency frenzy begins.
Pending UFA's: Paul Kariya, Chris Mason, Carlo Colaiacovo, Darryl Sydor, Brad Winchester, Mike Weaver, Derek Armstrong, Keith Tkachuk
Pending RFA's: Erik Johnson, Alexander Steen, David Perron, Jaroslav Halak, Vladimir Sobotka, Tyson Strachan, Cam Janssen, D.J. King
Current 2010-11 cap hit: $28.2 million
Projected budget: It depends. In other words, we have no idea. If Johnson, Steen, Perron and Halak get raises (and you know that Halak is getting a raise), then that cap hit is going to go up before they negotiate a single contract with a free agent. And of course there's always a chance a rogue GM swoops in with an offer sheet for a Blues player. So that makes predicting the budget rather difficult. Common sense says the Blues will not spend to the cap of $59 million. How far they come in under that number remains to be seen.
Key needs: The Blues need offense, especially at left wing. Even though they have a number of defensemen that are considered NHL ready, but after Eric Brewer and Barret Jackman, there isn't a lot of experience if Colaiacovo and Weaver don't re-sign.
Potential targets: At forward, we've talked about how tantalizing a run at Kovalchuk would be. If the Blues don't want to go that route, I could see them talking to Alexander Frolov who would be a cheaper Russian alternative. Matthew Lombardi might have some upside after hitting a career high 53 points and just turning 28. For a reclamation project, they could try Alex Tanguay who has been passed around at a Mike Sillinger-like pace with three teams on his resume the last three seasons. Honestly, I don't think any of those signings actually happen. And anyone who says Lee Stempniak is a viable option isn't being realistic.
On defense, the Blues need a steady veteran presence that makes the crease a more dangerous place to hang out (thinking of you, Tomas Holmstrom). I don't think they'll be in on guys like Paul Martin or Sergei Gonchar. But they could have an interest in Zbynek Michalek. They could try to re-sign Mike Weaver, who doesn't provide a physical presence but played a really steady defensive game for the Blues the last two years at a very reasonable price. And fortunately, they're set at goaltender.
I can guarantee one thing: The Blues will sign a few players that most fans have never heard of to provide some depth at Peoria. And if the Blues don't make a splash, they might sit tight until training camp, see what they have and then adjust appropriately with a Mike Johnson or Darryl Sydor or Derek Armstrong.
That's our preview for the Blues in free agency. In other words, about anything could happen. The market is now open for business. This is your GDT for free agency. Hang out here and chat. We'll have separate stories up if the Blues do anything. Fill up the comments like it's an offer sheet for the scorer of your dreams.