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The KHL or the NHL, Ivan? The Barbashev dilemma needs a resolution

Make your choice, pal

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Boston Bruins at St. Louis Blues Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

What do you want to do, Ivan Barbashev: Play for the Blues or spend a year in the KHL?

The question remains as the offseason enters its final stretch, with training camps and preseason hockey games beginning to take shape in a matter of weeks. Trust me, things will move fast from here, and before you know it, the banner will be raised at Enterprise and the 2019-20 season will kick off.

The only dilemma left is whether or not Barbashev will be wearing the Blue Note this season.

It’s simple really. The Blues have around $1.9 million in cap space left to spend. Pat Maroon signed with Tampa Bay and all the other Blues have signed on here. Barbashev is the last man standing, and without being in the room, I can tell you it’s a battle of wills between the team and player.

With a set amount of money left, Barbashev can choose to stay or go. The Blues will retain his rights if he goes to Russia, but losing a year in the NHL at his age would be a mistake. I am sure Doug Armstrong had offered somewhere around $1.3-1.5 million per season in a deal, but Barbashev wants as much as he can get. If not, why would this thing not be signed already as August wraps up its run?

Barbashev just completed a three year contract with an average annual value of $925,000. He will get a raise no matter what, but it’s how much of a raise that is holding up this deal. He has to decide that if it’s in his interest to jet off to another country to play in a lesser league (no offense, KHL, but you’re not the big time), or take less to stay with a Blues team that could go right back to the promised land this season, and maybe the next.

Look, I don’t even blame Barbashev. It’s not his fault the team wanted to keep a backup in Jake Allen making over $4.3 million. It’s not his fault they gave Alex Steen an egregious contract that paid him over $6 million to be a 4th liner last season. Doubling Zach Sanford’s salary wasn’t the greatest move. It’s not his fault there were some bad moves made by Armstrong in the past few seasons.

The young man had a very good year. He scored 14 goals and produced 26 points while anchoring the fourth line. He formed an alliance there with Oskar Sundqvist (who got a healthy raise in his new deal) and Steen, bringing out the best in them. Barbashev put up six points in the postseason, but led all NHL playoff players in hits with 87. That’s right. 87 hits in 25 games! The man is an animal, and did everything Craig Berube asked of him, including wiping the floor with any human on skates.

It’s a genuinely tricky with this kid. He’s a valuable player, but he’s not quite irreplaceable, at least not yet. You couldn’t argue that the Blues would be doomed without Barbashev this season, but at the same time, one could put up a solid opposing rant about why his presence makes them much better. It’s a difficult situation that may not bring a happy ending.

If you were going to replace him, the first name that comes to mind is Jordan Kyrou. The 21-year-old center has big time skills with a raw layer that will take more than the 16 games he received last season to melt away. He put up 109 points in the OHL back in the 2017-18 season, but needs the proper seasoning for those skills to marinate at the highest level of play.

Kyrou earning his true grit points would be fitting, because that’s what Robert Thomas, Barbashev, and nearly every other Blues forward did before ascending to a higher status. You gotta earn it, no matter how many goals you scored in the minors. Is Kyrou ready? Sure he is, but is he better than Barbashev in 2019-20? I don’t think so.

I hope Barbashev signs. If it takes most of the remaining cap space, you do it, because he’s an important player that formed something sinister with Sundqvist last year. If he gets a higher line assignment, the man could do damage. If Steen skates higher than the fourth line, you could place Sammy Blais or Zach Sanford on that line with Sunny and Barbie.

The Blues could make a handshake deal with Barbashev, paying him a moderate amount this season while promising him a higher salary next season when Brayden Schenn and Jay Bouwmeester’s contract expires. They did that with Maroon last summer, but Barbashev’s 23 years and the control gives them good reason to honor this promise. Just an idea, Dougie.

I honestly have no clue how this will play out. Barbashev could reject the offer, and play a year in the KHL. He can make the case he deserved some of Sanford or Sundqvist’s money. The Blues made some bold moves in their contract dealings, so there’s blame to go around. A team knows when a player is coming up for a contract, but I don’t think the Blues saw Barbashev and Sundqvist playing as well as they did. A Stanley Cup heals those inhibitions, but the question remains.

Let’s hope it get resolved. It’ll come down to the player, per usual. If I were Barbashev, I’d take a deal and stick around, keep the magic going. But I haven’t scored 26 goals and hoisted a Stanley Cup like he has. He can take a deal, stay in the NHL, produce a repeat of last season, and score a big contract.

Let your play prove the point instead of bad timing and salary cap pinching.

Ivan Barbashev came out of nowhere last season, making a huge impact in a limited role for the Blues. He showed what’s on the surface while giving the team a glimpse of what lies ahead. A one year impasse wouldn’t be wise on either side.

Get it done, Blues. Be wise, Barbashev.