The St. Louis Blues announced on Thursday that Marco Scandella has signed a new four-year deal, with an annual cap hit of $3.275 million. For a cap-strapped Blues team, this deal is receiving mixed reviews. It exceeded expectations by a year in term and roughly $300,000 in cap hit, also leading to criticism from other fan bases.
Most of this criticism is directed in a similar vein: the pricey new Scandella deal means the Blues won’t be able to re-sign Alex Pietrangelo. This isn’t true, though... well, not necessarily. The Blues have roughly $5.45 million in cap space left, with Pietrangelo expected to get anywhere from $8 to $9 million. With a clever trade, like moving out Tyler Bozak’s $5 million deal, the Blues can guarantee they retain their star captain. Where the issues do come up, though, is with coveted restricted free agent Vince Dunn. If the Blues aren’t careful, they could lose Dunn to an offer sheet this summer.
Vince Dunn May Find a New Home This Summer
The number that’s being thrown around for a new Pietrangelo deal right now is a cap hit of $8.5 million, although that’s a fairly rough estimate. In a (sad) hypothetical where Bozak is moved, the Blues will have roughly $10.5 million to play with. After signing Pietrangelo, this leaves them with right around $2 million: a perfect cap hit for Dunn.
Well, maybe not “perfect”, but all that the young defenseman will be able to ask for. As an RFA, with no arbitration rights, he’s simply at the mercy of the signing. For a player that has played so damn good through his first three seasons, this is a bit sour.
The Case to Be Made for Dunn
Dunn’s advanced stats are among the best of any young defenseman. The fact that he hasn’t matched the great stats with great scoring is merely bad luck and underuse. All signs point to him ultimately having the potential to, quite frankly, match Pietrangelo’s scoring one day. Dunn is an elite talent who is sitting on the brink of a jaw-dropping breakout. His RAPM charts only serve to back this up. These charts graph GF/60, xGF/60, CF/60, xGA/60, and CA/60. Or in other words, they graph how the player performed offensively, how they should have performed offensively, how they affected their team’s puck possession, how they affected the team’s defense, and how they affected the team’s play without the puck. It’s all fairly long-winded but the larger, or darker-blue, a player’s bar on the graph, the better they were in that field. Here’s Dunn’s from this season:
This is a very impressive chart for the 23-year-old defenseman. He was severely held back but thrived in the time he was given. This includes a seriously strong impact in every single aspect of Blues play, with a totally dominant impact in the few minutes he played on the power-play. For such a young and underused player to put up these kinds of numbers is very promising and points to a great future ahead, once he receives the top-line minutes he’s worthy of.
His RAPM chart was even better in the 2018-19 season, where he set very similar numbers in every category except for xGF/60. In this tally, he had a higher total than Alex Pietrangelo, Brent Burns, and Norris Trophy-winner Mark Giordano. If he was used more regularly, he could’ve exploded far past the 35 points he set.
Plenty other stats back up Dunn’s amazing ability. Only Alex Pietrangelo more positively affected the team’s shots-for rate, shots-against rate, and puck possession; on top of every other already terrific stat. Really, it’s statistically safe to say that only Pietrangelo, who had a career-year, was better than Dunn this season.
So needless to say, Dunn needs to stay in St. Louis. Letting go of such a terrific prospect for a single draft pick, which would come the other way in an offer sheet scenario, would be a travesty.
And plenty of other teams know this. The largest growing department in hockey right now is the analytics department: full of employees who spend their days looking for undervalued but highly-skilled players for their team to steal away. It’s this department that Seattle Hockey is most heavily investing in, already tallying a league-second five workers publicly disclosed in the department. Among active teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs lead the league in employees, with eight known to the public. (Fun fact: the Blues are one of four teams with only two publicly-known employees. Four other teams only have one employee.)
Conveniently, the Maple Leafs are also the team most desperate for a cheap, high-potential, left defenseman: also-known-as Vince Dunn. The Leafs are undoubtedly the most conscious of Dunn’s potency and, with a defense that’s falling apart this summer, will jump on any chance they can to bring him to his hometown of Toronto.
Another rumor has the Montreal Canadiens as a front-runner. The Canadiens are no strangers to the offer sheet, trying to pull one over on Carolina’s Sebastian Aho last summer, and are apparently in adamant search of a left-handed defenseman. For a team that is desperate to get back to the playoffs next season - and a GM that’s admittedly a little desperate - pulling out an offer sheet for Dunn would be far from a surprise.
What an Offer Sheet Could Look Like
As mentioned, the Blues won’t have much wiggle room if the Bozak-hypothetical comes to fruition. They’ll have to milk a Dunn deal out of mere leftover cap, with Pietrangelo sure to take up most of their space.
This should light up the eyes of any teams looking for young and promising defense. Dunn hasn’t put enough on the scoresheet yet to warrant a long-term, high-paying deal, something surely anyone will use to their advantage. A potential offer sheet could be as simple as a three-to-four year contract with an annual cap hit of between $4 and 5 million. This would cost the prospective team a second or first round pick in compensation, with the bar between the two picks being at a $4.23 million AAV.
A deal sent this way would spell serious trouble for St. Louis. Matching it would put the Blues roughly $2 to 3 million over the cap, meaning the team would have to either give in and accept the draft pick compensation or trade away another player, or two, to make room for the defenseman. With this scenario already calling for a Bozak-trade, moving even more players isn’t entirely ideal.
This likely means that Dunn would be on the move instead, simply as a result of business. While the defenseman hasn’t blown minds yet, his performance two-to-three years down the line could easily make this one move seem like one of the worst in recent memory. All signs point to him blossoming into an elite talent, meaning protecting him is nearly (nearly) as important as re-signing Pietrangelo.
The Silver Lining
There is a bit of a silver lining, though. What the league is currently undergoing is totally unprecedented. There is absolutely no telling how this will affect the league’s cap ceiling come next season. All numbers in this article are used under the assumption that the cap increases by $3 million, as expected all year, but it could easily increase by a tad more or, really, stay perfectly flat. In this former scenario, the Blues won’t have much of any worry. In the latter, plenty more worries present themselves.
But worrying about a flat cap is a tad irrational in a time of such unprecedented events. With all of the uncertainty comes a total confusion around contracts. While it’s important to emphasize that all experts are expecting the numbers used in this article to hold true, anything could happen. Maybe players will value term over money on new deals, following such a strange series of events that is this time we’re living in right now. Maybe they’ll look to sign short term deals as this event shows the fragile nature of the league and the CBA surrounding it.
The point is, there’s no telling what will come of all of this. All things are expected to follow suit - and the Blues should be worried if that’s the case - but who knows? No matter what, the Blues need to do all they can to re-sign a defenseman that’s prone to blossom into a star.