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Will the salary cap force the Blues to deal Jaden Schwartz?

It doesn’t look like the cap is going up for next season, so what about the year after next?

NHL: Florida Panthers at St. Louis Blues Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The salary cap at the end of this season will more than likely not increase much over the $81.5 million that it is this season thanks to a cut in revenue due to the pandemic. Right now, the Blues are trying to finagle Alex Pietrangelo in under the cap, and it’s turned into a game of financial Jenga. Some pieces are going to have to be pulled out to make sure that the Blues can re-sign their captain.

Much has been said about the possibility of trading goaltender Jake Allen to help facilitate this monetary maneuvering, but while I was looking at Tom Timmerman’s Quick Hits this week, a reader tacked another player onto the trade block: Jaden Schwartz.

Why Schwartz? While it’s important to get space cleared for an initial Pietrangelo signing, space needs to be cleared in the future to make sure that his deal doesn’t knock the team over the cap in year two. Schwartz is a UFA at the end of the 2020-2021 season, and he’s due for a raise over his $5,350,000 currently salary.

Timmerman breaks it down like this:

Schwartz’s situation could be similar to the one they had with Kevin Shattenkirk. If he’s looking at getting a raise in his next contract, that might be difficult to accommodate under the cap. If so, you can get more for him the earlier you trade him. A team will pay more for a full season of him than a few months, and depending on how next season plays out, trading him at the deadline may not be an option. (Just like trading Pietrangelo at the deadline this season wasn’t an option.) Where is Schwartz’s contract likely to go? He’s at $5.35 million right now. How much is that likely to go up? As the salary cap era has made clear, you can’t keep everyone. Teams have to part company with good players to make it fit. You can’t have too many guys making $7 million plus.

Two questions are going to come out of this. One, is Schwartz a $7 million a season player? Two, is there anyone else the Blues can deal to keep him?

To answer the first question, probably not. His season in 2018-2019 was an underperformance and injury-riddled. Schwartz has been injured a few times in his career, and while it’s not fair to slap an “injury prone” label on a player for contract negotiations, it is fair to question if a low production is due to injury or if it comes from somewhere else. Last season, Schwartz has 11 goals and 25 assists in 69 games, a step back from his 24 goals and 35 assist performance the season before in seven fewer games.

This season, Schwartz bounced back in a huge way with 22 goals and 35 assists by the time that the season got put on pause. But does that make him a $7 million man? Considering Ryan O’Reilly makes $7.5 million a season, probably not, but it’ll be interesting to see what kind of raise Schwartz pushes for and where it winds up.

To answer the second question, there’s always Tyler Bozak. Bozak is a UFA at the same time as Schwartz. If his $5 million contract comes off of the books, it frees up some space at least for a bump for Zach Sanford, Ivan Barbashev, Robert Thomas, and Jordan Kyrou. Will his $5 million split between the four RFAs with nothing left over, or will there be a few million to make things doable.

Factor in an expansion draft for Seattle, and the Blues may be able to work it to where Schwartz stays put. The team can get max value trading him now for a full season. It’d be hard to justify losing his output and experience if the Blues want to push for another solid playoff run next season, with or without Alex Pietrangelo.