Doug Armstrong didn’t have much of a summer vacation. Sure, he had his day with the Cup, but he’s also had to work to get free agents signed and the look of the team squared away for next season.
So far, the team looks very familiar to last season’s squad with two notable pieces yet to be locked in: Ivan Barbashev is looking for a pay raise and Pat Maroon’s looking for a team. Signing one will probably more than likely prevent the other from staying with the Blues. It’s not a decision anyone really needs to envy Armstrong for having to make.
Barbashev’s earlier three year deal was very reasonable for a fourth-line player. Last year his contract’s cap hit was only $741,667 with a $863,333 AAV. Barbashev centered the fourth line and doubled his production in 27 more games versus his 2017-2018 season. He finished 14-12-26 in 80 games played, and tied with Oskar Sundqvist for fifth on the team in goals. Sunny, you may remember, was signed to a four-year contract extension worth $2.5 million a season. Barbashev’s agents are probably pointing at that deal for their own guy.
Barbashev’s playoff importance can be summed up in two words: game three. He’s out with a suspension due to a high hit, and the entire Blues team looks horrible. Coincidence? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
Doug Armstrong discussed Barbashev’s situation, and it sounds... ongoing:
“There is no ETA. You have to be back Dec. 1, or you can’t play that year. Or, he could be signed tomorrow. We are close enough where it takes one phone call, but that phone call may or may not come before training camp.”
“I expect him to play hockey this season, whether it’s in North America or somewhere else. I understand the economics of it. We had (Vladimir) Sobotka, who left for the KHL. We want Barbie here. He knows we want him here. We are not that far apart.”
I don’t want to compare Barbashev to Sobotka, because frankly getting Barbashev signed is significantly more important. Barbashev was consistently and properly used on the fourth line to great effect - that line was the Blues’ best through many stretches of play this season. They did not look nearly as sharp with him out, which is why Barbashev played 80 games during the regular season.
Letting Barbashev go to the KHL while the Blues figure his deal out isn’t the best idea for the team. Barbashev’s one of the off-season’s more important cogs to screw back into place, and getting him taken care of should be one of Armstrong’s last moves before training camp starts.