Long-time Game Time contributor Kevin Lorenz, formerly of InsideSTL.com, sent in this piece on David Perron and the Blues’ strategy in not protecting him for the expansion draft. It’s well worth your time. - Hildy
With David Perron having a career year with the Cup Final-bound Vegas Golden Knights, Blues fans have wondered if Doug Armstrong made the right choice in deciding to let Perron go, and instead protect Patrik Berglund, Jay Bouwmeester, and/or Vladimir Sobotka in the expansion draft.
A common criticism of the Blues’ front office is that they practice “poor asset management” by often giving away players for limited returns of players and draft picks. But the concept of asset management goes well beyond players and picks. With the NHL operating under a hard salary cap system, cap space alone is as important an asset as draft picks, prospects, or a producing player would be.
Let’s pretend that instead of Doug Armstrong and Co. being surprised by the Vegas expansion draft, and losing a gamble to leave Perron unprotected, they actually executed a plan to maximize their assets by letting Perron go.
Going into the 2017 offseason, the Blues may have had five major priorities.
1. They needed to shed significant cap space to extend Colton Parayko;
2. They needed to clear Jori Lehtera from their payroll;
3. They needed to lose a player to Vegas;
4. They needed to add to their skill level (both at center to upgrade and replace Lehtera, and in their prospect pool); and
5. They needed to maximize their decisions for all four issues.
- Shedding significant payroll. Colton Parayko entered the 2017 offseason a restricted free agent seeking a significant pay raise; the Blues entered the offseason with limited cap space. When looking at players to move to cut costs, there were several different candidates. There were positives to being able to move one or more of Jay Bouwmeester’s $5.4m, Jori Lehtera’s $4.7m, Patrik Berglund’s $3.85m, Vladimir Sobotka’s $3.5m, Alex Steen’s $5.75m, Carl Gunnarsson’s $2.9m, and David Perron’s $3.75m.
Of those players, only David Perron’s contract had less than two years of term; Perron was due to become UFA at the end of the 2017-2018 season. This is important.
In order to actually create a comfortable amount of cap space to enter serious negotiations with Colton Parayko, one of those contracts would need to go. Losing anything less than that would not create enough cap room, or in the alternative, the Blues would have to move multiple low-level cap hits (I.e. Dmitrij Jaskin, Ryan Reaves, Robert Bortuzzo) which would potentially weaken the team’s depth too much.
Clearing Jori Lehtera off the books. Lehtera had two more seasons at $4.7m left on his contract going into the 2017 offseason. By then it was clear that he could not maintain a top-six role on the team and succeed. With each year Lehtera’s trade value would plummet, which would lead to Doug Armstrong either needing to buy Lehtera’s contract out, or to trade Lehtera at a severe loss… or worse, keep that anchor contract on the cap for the remainder of the term. Which leads us to…
Losing a player to Vegas. If you asked most people what they expected the Blues to do during the expansion draft, their answer would be simple and direct: “The Blues will use one of their first-round picks to entice Vegas into selecting Jori Lehtera.” It seemed obvious. The Blues had two first round picks, the additional one coming from the Kevin Shattenkirk trade, so who cared if they gave one of them up to Vegas? The team had just managed to find two good prospects the year before in Tage Thompson and Jordan Kyrou… and need we repeat: Jori Lehtera had to go. Fans who hoped that Vegas might have taken Lehtera outright, or even Patrik Berglund, Jay Bouwmeester, or Vladimir Sobotka (had they been left unprotected) would have been disappointed. This is because Vegas’ strategy at the time centered around gaining high draft picks. Vegas’ General Manager George McPhee recognized that he could receive draft picks through two means: (1) He could add players who would become UFA the following summer, and who also could be traded as rentals at the following trade deadline for first and second round picks, or (2) Vegas could force teams to attach picks to entice Vegas to select unprotected players with term in the expansion draft, or even to pass over unprotected players whom their current teams couldn’t afford to lose. The Golden Knights received additional compensation in the form of draft picks of prospects for almost every player that they selected who had term left on their contracts. This presented a dilemma for the Blues because...
The Blues needed to add to their skill level. Let’s pretend that trades don’t happen overnight. In this hypothetical, general managers of NHL teams are constantly communicating about who they want, and what they want to give up. It’s not hard to marry this concept with Doug Armstrong electing to protect Ryan Reaves from the expansion draft. In fact, the only reason that made sense, was if Armstrong was afraid of losing Reaves to Vegas (ironic now). The only reason Armstrong should have been afraid to lose Reaves for nothing would be if he thought he could trade Reaves for something. It’s likely that Armstrong knew that Pittsburgh coveted Reaves, and that they would pay well for him. Now what if the Flyers and Blues had had similar conversations about Brayden Schenn? What if Armstrong knew that he needed a first round pick to complete a trade for Brayden Schenn? What if he even knew that he could include Lehtera and a first round pick (the potential price to get Vegas to take Lehtera) to a deal that would also add a top six forward instead of for nothing?
What if Armstrong also knew he could trade Reaves to replace the first-round pick needed to rid the team of Lehtera’s contract? Instead of picking once in the 2017 draft and moving Lehtera and first rounder for just extra cap space (a win from an asset management perspective), the Blues instead picked twice in the first round, still moved Lehtera, and also added Schenn (a bigger win from an asset management perspective)? Speaking of asset management…
Maximizing Assets. One of Armstrong’s priorities heading into the offseason was clearing enough cap space to comfortably extend Parayko… and this is where David Perron comes into play. The draft day trades involving Ryan Reaves and Jori Lehtera occurred on June 23rd, two days after the Blues lost David Perron to Vegas. Assuming Armstrong was well-aware of the possibilities presented through discussions with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, he’d know that while he cleared Lehtera’s $4.7m cap hit and Reaves’ $1.125m hit, he would only save about $20k when adding Schenn and Oskar Sundquist, the other player in the Reaves trade. We can also assume that Armstrong knew that if he had left a player with a significant cap hit, but also significant term available, it was likely that Vegas would select a player without a significant cap hit, or without term (in this scenario Dmitrij Jaskin seems like the probable choice), unless the Blues added extra compensation, such as a high draft pick or a top prospect. So how could Armstrong clear cap space? When considering the above it becomes clear. If Armstrong left recent playoff disappointment David Perron available, he could almost guarantee that Vegas would take him, no questions asked. Perron would be UFA the following summer so Vegas could easily flip Perron at the deadline as a rental if they weren’t in the playoff picture (who would have guessed otherwise?). Perron’s $3.75m cap hit was significant enough to allow room for a Parayko extension. The Blues bottom six depth wasn’t severely compromised by losing a cheap player like Dmitrij Jaskin for nothing. And by using both first round picks in 2017 strategically instead of giving one up as a tax to Vegas, the team could improve instantly (at least at the center position), and in the future (by ultimately making two first round selections).
Had the Blues protected David Perron, they would have struggled to find the cap space to re-sign Colton Parayko. The options would have included giving a first round pick to Vegas to take Lehtera (or any other big contract with term) and possibly losing the ability to trade for Brayden Schenn. In that scenario, the Blues would have either needed to keep Lehtera for center depth, or risk having a Paul Stastny-Berglund-Sobotka-Kyle Brodziak as their top four centers. Another option would have been to dump other cap hits via trade, a scenario that not only comes with too many unknowns from an outsider perspective, but also was more than likely explored by Doug Armstrong before he initiated this plan.
By not protecting Perron, Armstrong controlled the outcome of the expansion draft. He sacrificed a desirable player, without term on his contract, but basically guaranteed that it would be that player that Vegas selected. As a result, Armstrong kept his two first-round picks, and used them strategically to add Brayden Schenn, dump Jori Lehtera, and finally select two strong prospects in Robert Thomas and Klim Kostin. He also managed to move Ryan Reaves’ cap hit for value. Collectively, these moves also opened enough cap space to re-sign Colton Parayko.
When viewing Armstrong’s decision to leave Perron unprotected through this lens, perhaps it doesn’t seem like a mistake at all.