The St. Louis Blues have been an absolute powerhouse in the league since the midpoint of last season. They’ve been favorites for the Cup ever since and for good reason: it’s a lineup that simply clicks. Every aspect clicks beautifully, from the first to the last line of offense, defenseman one to seven, and both goaltenders.
But nothing can stay good for too long. The Blues are facing one of their hardest summers in recent memory, with seven of their NHLers facing the open market. This includes captain Alex Pietrangelo and high-potential youngsters like Vince Dunn and Sammy Blais. With the team only projected to have just-over $10 million in cap space once the summer hits, tight decisions will have to be made.
Using Evolving Hockey’s recently released contract projections, ones that proved to be eerily accurate last summer (and that they claim will be even more accurate this year), though, we can get a glimpse into how the numbers will shape up against St. Louis this summer. In this piece we look at every pending St. Louis free agent that’s expected to earn over $1 million on their next deal.
A Look Toward the Looming Summer
Alex Pietrangelo (70 GP, 16 G, 36 A)
Projected New Contract: Eight Years; $9,349,000/yr
This expected contract doesn’t come as too much of a surprise. Every Blues fan saw the writing on the wall for this deal when Roman Josi inked his own extension in October. This deal signed Josi through the next eight seasons, with an annual cap hit of just over $9 million. Josi has, consistently, been below Pietrangelo in the rankings, although not by much, so seeing Pietrangelo expected to make a tad more is entirely expected.
In fact, a $9.4 million dollar deal is fairly cheap for the Blues. There’s no beating around the bush this year, Pietrangelo is well deserving of a Norris Trophy. Other elite defensemen, of this Norris-worthy caliber, who have signed deals in the last few years have made significantly more than what Pietrangelo is expected to. For example, Erik Karlsson inked a new contract last summer, after a season that saw him net 45 points in 53 games (on pace for 70 points through 82 games), and 16 points in 19 playoff games. It was a terrific year for the top-end defenseman and he made top-end money as a result. If (and when) the Blues ink Pietrangelo to a mid-$9 million deal, it should be received with a sigh of relief, not a groan of overpay.
Vince Dunn (71 GP, 9 G, 14 A)
Projected New Contract: Two Years; $2,712,000/yr
Vince Dunn is such a unique case; not just with his new contract. He’s simply a great prospect that’s yet to perform, on the scoresheet, at the level that many expect him to. Because of this, the Blues can luckily con him out of a deal that some expected would top $4 million based on hope alone. But his lack of scoring holds him back, with Evolving Hockey expecting him to ink a short-term deal that will surely see him emerge as a top-line defenseman during its tenure.
Here’s the thing, though, Vince Dunn is already performing at an amazing level. His underlying numbers are scary-good, even better than Karlsson’s from this season. Seriously. Here is a side-by-side of Dunn’s RAPM chart next to Karlsson’s. This chart graphs GF, xGF, CF, xGA, and CA (all /60) on its axis.
This graph shows so many different things. Despite a higher xGF/60, Karlsson can’t match Dunn’s offensive potency. Dunn is also much better than Karlsson in terms of both keeping the puck away from his opponents and defense as a whole. A large part of this is simply the Blues superior defensive systems but Dunn’s terrific potency can’t be understated. He’s struggled to find the scoresheet but with more ice time, and simply more time to blossom, he’s going to become a true force in the league. Inking a cheap, short-term deal is a great move for the Blues and Dunn: providing a healthy middle ground.
Of course, this deal isn’t really in the realm of possibility for St. Louis. With Pietrangelo set to eat up almost all of the Blues cap space, a deal will simply have to be made if St. Louis wants to keep both blue-liners. Whether this is selling-high on Jake Allen after what’s been a statement season, or dealing away the tremendous-but-expensive Tyler Bozak, the Blues will be strong-armed to making a tough decision come the summer.
Marco Scandella (11 GP, 0 G, 1 A)
Projected New Contract: Three Years; $3,432,000/yr
This is a daunting price to pay for a 30-year-old that, until this season, didn’t show much of any strength at all. But he’s emerged as a solid middle-pairing option this year, after finally escaping the clutches of the horrific Buffalo Sabres. This emergence has only been exaggerated during his time with the Blues. Scandella has clicked perfectly with Colton Parayko, adding a great one-two punch to the Blues defense and giving Parayko the confidence to finally start breaking out of his shell.
With that said, is this worth nearly $3.5 million in cap hit? It’s a steep price to pay but is well worth it for a player that adds as much reliability, and such a boost to Parayko, as Scandella has. This deal puts him, price-wise, in the same league as players like Will Butcher, Radko Gudas, and Mattias Ekholm; although these are three of the better players in the group. It’s a hefty price that’s becoming the new ‘norm’ for modest, middle-line defensemen. If Scandella is able to continue his reign of reliability, though, and can find the scoresheet a bit more, he’s well worth the price.
But with that said, the Blues may not be able to keep him around. With the need to sign Pietrangelo, and Dunn’s continuing improvement being a damn good reason to ink him to a deal of his own, Scandella could become the odd-man-out. The money he’s worth is simply too much for the cap-strained Blues.
Finding the fix to these problems is a piece in-and-of itself but simply put, it won’t be easy. Hearts will be broken but with so much skill facing the open market, and such an amazing amount of talent shown by prospects, even a heartbreaking move surely won’t impact the Stanley Cup-caliber Blues lineup.