We are on the cusp of the NHL draft and open season for free agents. So far the Blues have re-signed 2 players on complete opposite spectrums of the game. Our 3 big question marks are still big question marks, and our puck moving defenseman looks to be on the move.
First thing's first, our big 3. After stoking the fires saying he was our #1 priority in the off season, it has been radio silence from Jaden Schwartz. Schwartz is part of the new core, a young and very talented player who is a RFA. It would be the most foolish move of the off season to allow him to hit the open market, but it appears that is where he is heading. That being said, he is an RFA which makes it much easier on the Blues to keep him. A rundown, for those who are unfamiliar is as follows:
The Blues must extend a qualifying offer. The offer will be a 1 year contract for the exact same as what Schwartz made last season. Schwartz can accept it and play on a 1 year deal and become an UFA the next season or he can decline it. Before Schwartz accepts the deal, or if he rejects the deal, he can receive offer sheets from other teams. This is basically a sheet saying what the other team is willing to sign him to. If Schwartz decides he sees an offer sheet to his liking he will sign that sheet. The Blues are then given 7 days to match the deal. Should the Blues match, Schwartz stays here, and we pay him what the other team offered. Should we decline to match, Jaden walks and we receive draft picks. On average a player making 4 mil a year will net you a 1st and an 3rd. A player making 6.5 mil will net you 4 1st round picks. The picks given to the Blues will come from the team who signs Schwartz.
It seems far fetched to believe that another team will swoop in and sign him. Jaden is looking for money, and any team willing to give him what he wants would pay mightily in draft picks to get him. What the Blues are looking to do is lock Jaden up for a long term deal and not allow him to play on a 1 and done and possibly walk after next season with no compensation.
The next 2 big question marks are Backes and Brouwer. Their cases are more or less mirror images of each other. Both are valuable veteran players who are looking for 1 more big deal to end their careers. I don't expect either of them to be re-signed before the start of the feeding frenzy of free agency. The Blues will most likely play a wait and see approach. Both players would like to return, Backes more so than Brouwer. The Blues will likely let the market decide the price and then see if they can logically make it work to bring them back at what other teams are willing to pay. It is reasonable to believe that both men are unwilling to sign any contract until free agency opens, hoping to get teams into a bidding war.
Now onto the moves the Blues have made. We re-signed 2 players from last year. Those two players are Jaskin and Upshall. Jaskin signed a 2 year deal for $1mil a season. Upshall signed a 1 year $900k deal. I was happy with both deals, and here's why.
Jaskin is a young player who looked on the verge of breaking out 2 seasons ago. He is a big body with the ability to play tough and score goals. Last season he didn't exactly pick up where he left off. He struggled for a large portion of the season, but topped it off with a huge goal in the playoffs. If he is able to get himself back on track, he could be a very valuable player for years to come. The deal doesn't break the bank and boils down to a prove it contract. Jaskin gets 2 seasons to prove he is worth more money. Both the Blues and Jaskin believe he can. The Blues hope he will out perform a very cheap deal, giving them a quality player on the cheap for 2 more season before they have to decide how much to pay him. Jaskin believes he can play on the cheap for a short time and then land a much much bigger deal while he is still young.
Upshall was a warrior on the 4th line. He rarely made mistakes, even if he rarely put the puck in the net. He drew mostly defensive zone starts, and played many of his minutes with Reaves and Ott, neither of whom score many goals. Upshall is a gamer. He is willing to play gritty minutes, often short handed. He does so very well. He also has a high hockey IQ, even if his physical ability doesn't match it anymore. This is where he differs from Steve Ott. Ott also plays gritty and lays his body on the line, but he often makes mistakes because he doesn't see where a play is going. He will take himself out of a play to make a hit while the puck goes passed him up the ice. The Blues have a ton of young talent waiting to come up and play. Players who saw Fabbri do it and thought to themselves, that could be me. Some will say signing a non scoring player like Upshall will stunt their growth. I disagree. The age of the enforcer is gone, but the age of physical hockey is still alive and well in the West. Putting a 4th line consisting of players who still can't grow beards yet, but have scoring ability is begging for an injury. There are still quite a few big bruisers on 4th lines across the league, who would love nothing more than seeing a 20 year old 180 lb player who hasn't learned to keep his head up yet. An injury that costs a player 6 months of ice time is far more damning than playing time in the minors. Players like Rattie are the exception. Rattie seems to have all the talent, but rarely puts it on display when he is up in the NHL. He scored some goals this season, but looking back most of them were deflection shots that went off his butt or some dumb luck goal. Rattie is the exception to the rule and the rule is Fabbri. When given the chance, Fabbri made the step up and stayed up. Proving that is your talent transfers from the minors to the bigs, you will and do have a place on our roster.
Then there are the players who we may be waving goodbye to. We have UFAs: Steve Ott and Kyle Broadziak along with RFAs: Magnus Paajarvi and Anders Nilsson. Broadziak is the only player who I would like to see come back. A deal similar to Upshall would be fine with me. If a younger player out plays him and he loses his spot in camp or mid season, so be it. If he walks, it was fun having him for the year that we did. I expect that Paajarvi might receive a qualifying offer, only because of Hitchcock's love for him. I believe no offer will be made for Nilsson, who will be allowed to become an UFA.
The real news worthy story thus far as been Kevin Shattenkirk. Shatty is a very talented puck moving defenseman. He is a key on the powerplay and is very in demand. He has 1 year left on his deal before he becomes a UFA. With our current cap situation, we would never be able to re-sign him to the kind of deal he would get on the open market. The theory then is, you trade him with 1 year left to a team who can re-sign him, and you reap the benefits of draft picks and cheap young talent. Multiple teams seem to have been bidding on Shattenkirk, but Boston has come up as the favorite. Remember, Shatty was the hero of Boston College. The prevailing theory is Shattenkirk will be gone before the draft, as the Blues want a prime draft pick in return. There is also the chance that he remains on the roster until the trade deadline when the price teams are willing to pay for a player of his caliber is sky high. The downside to that is, if the Blues are again in the thick of the playoff hunt, you could be derailing the entire train by removing a key part at a key time. Only time will tell, but time is quickly ticking away.
What do you think of our moves so far?