Blues owner Tom Stillman discussed next year’s spending plan with Jeremy Rutherford over at The Athletic (subscription required), and to no one’s shock, the Blues plan to spend to the salary cap. The cap next season is expected to stay the same as it was this year ($81.5 million) to accommodate lost revenue due to the Covid-19 shortened season.
Don’t worry for the league and its teams, though. Teams will get a cut of the Seattle Kraken’s $650 million expansion fee as well as a portion of the new broadcast deals with ESPN and Turner, so they’ll be financially fine next year.
Obviously, the goal of a team and their owner is not to just be financially “fine,” it’s to make money. You do that by not icing a sub-par product, and the Blues haven’t been sub-par since Stillman and his group purchased the team. Some seasons’ teams have performed better than others, but since his purchase the Blues have missed the playoffs just once (by one point), went to the Western Conference final, and won a Stanley Cup. That’s a good track record to build on, and Stillman believes that while the window is open, you should continue spending.
“We did all of this, we built this, and we’ve got to make the most of it,” Stillman said. “We believe that our window is still open. Whether as a competitive hockey person or a business person, that’s not the time to pull back on investment.
“So it is influenced by where we are in our stage of development. We’re not spending to the cap so we can say that we’re spending to the cap. We’re doing it because we think it’s the best thing to do for a competitive team.”
In today’s NHL, it’s difficult to break the parity. You can do that by spending, you can do that through development, or you can do that from a mix of the two. The Blues seem to be opting for a mix: they’ve developed home-grown talent that has contributed to a championship and looks to help them compete in the future, and Stillman has given Doug Armstrong the green light to do what he can to improve the team through trades and free agent signings.
It’s refreshing, especially for fans who look at the baseball team down the street and wonder if stagnation is fine, and if the status quo is acceptable.
The Blues don’t bring in big name guys and sit on the rest of the roster only to proclaim things as “good enough” or “they’re trying” or “we feel like we see effort here” or whatever is coming out of the Cardinals’ coaching staff and front office today. If there are problems, they make moves to try to fix the issue. Money isn’t “no object,” but they’re willing to pay. Losing Alex Pietrangelo last off-season wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t because the Blues couldn’t afford him; to mitigate the loss, Armstrong was given the go ahead to sign Torey Krug to a seven year deal worth $6.5 million a season. That’s a discount over Petro, but that’s still not small potatoes.
Occasionally, Stillman’s openness with the wallet has lead to long-term contracts at inflated price tags, such as Alexander Steen’s or, if you want to be contrarian, Jaden Schwartz’s. It’s difficult to argue that signing these players didn’t contribute to the Blues’ Stanley Cup, or to long-term team success.
Spending to the cap has worked for Stillman and the Blues. Why change that now?
It’s lead to, with the exception of the middle portion of the 2018-2019 season, solid ticket sales and revenue numbers. The Blues were, at the end of 2020, worth $510 million dollars, a decrease of 4% thanks to Covid-19. Because of the pandemic, their operating income was also down by about $8.2 million. All things considered, the Blues continue to be stable, and this stability leads to the comfort needed to spend the way that the team does on its players.
Success has created this stability. Stillman’s propensity to spend has generated this success, and it makes sense that to continue growth he wants to continue spending. It’s a shame other St. Louis teams can’t, or won’t, be as willing as Stillman and the Blues to make the necessary moves to bolster their top players and ensure success on the ice.