Less than two weeks before the NHL stopped play on March 12th, general managers and fans were keeping an eye on salary cap projections. It was assumed that the league would adjust the cap upward to between $84 million and $88 million for the 2020-2021 season, significantly raising it from this season’s $81.5 million. At the upper end of that cap increase, the Blues’ worries about signing unrestricted free agent Alex Pietrangelo all but disappeared. Even at the lower end of that range, the Blues would have some flexibility in re-signing their captain.
The longer the play stoppage goes on, though, the less and less it appears that GMs will be getting that wiggle room - if you don’t make money it’s tough to spend it, and major sports are not making anything with their athletes in quarantine. This need for revenue is part of why the NHL’s floating every scheme known to mankind to resume what they can of this season and the playoffs. This need for revenue also directly impacts what moves the Blues make over the off-season.
Doug Armstrong re-upped Marco Scandella, Sammy Blais, and MacKenzie MacEachern to reasonable deals in mid-April. Scandella, of course, will be filling in for Jay Bouwmeester. Bouwmeester’s $3,250,000 contract will fall off of the books next year if the forward decides to hang up his skate for health concerns, giving the Blues a little space to work with bringing back Pietrangelo.
The Blues’ captain currently makes $6.5 million a season and even without the Stanley Cup to his credit would be due a large raise thanks to the mechanics of the market. With the Cup, it’s easy to see Pietrangelo making more than $8.5 million a season, especially with Roman Josi’s $9.1 million payday for reference.
Also, don’t forget about Vince Dunn’s contract - the defenseman is a RFA following this season and is also due a raise.
Where this leaves Doug Armstrong, and Blues fans as a whole, is a situation that’s pretty undesirable. The team will be unable to get a deal done with the player who captained the team to their first Stanley Cup, and a blueliner whose dependability and stoicism guides the team on a deeper level.
The NHL may be floating the idea of a compliance buyout for the next season to mitigate hardships for GMs already close to the cap and who were expecting a salary cap increase next year. The Blues have a few candidates for that, each with pros and cons.
Obviously, you’re not using the buyout on someone who will gain you assets in a deal, so Jake Allen and his $4,350,000 contract isn’t going anywhere. You essentially have three options for the buyout if you’re looking at contract amount and projected value: Alexander Steen, Tyler Bozak, and Justin Faulk:
Steen’s price tag is $5,750,000 for one more season. Bozak’s is $5,000,000 for one more year, and Faulk’s is $6,500,000 with a NTC for the next seven. Faulk’s deal has length, which could be appealing in a trade for a team who wants an asset, not a rental, but he’s also only been with the Blues for a season. That would be a huge admission of a miscue on Armstrong’s point to ditch him, and there’s always the potential that with more time spent in the Blues’ system, the more comfortable - and better - he will be.
Bozak’s loss would mean a hole at center, and a hole in the locker room. Steen’s deal is probably the most egregious and has been for a while - he has been getting paid at a second line player salary while spending much of last season and this season slotted between the third and fourth lines in a mentorship role. The thing there, is that Steen has been an outstanding player to have line up next to the younger guys and his leadership was evident last season and this year as well. On the other hand, he’s 36 years old, probably won’t get any assets in a trade deal as a one-season player, and that contract is incredibly unappealing to other GMs. It’s an albatross for Doug Armstrong and he needs to decide if the benefits of having Steen in the room for one more year outweighs the risk that signing Alex Pietrangelo will be next to impossible.
As much as I like and appreciate what he’s brought to the Blues over the last decade-plus spent with the team, Alexander Steen’s probably the prime candidate for the buyout here. What say you? If your name was Doug Armstrong and you were given one emergency buyout, who are you spending it on and why?