Blues general manager Doug Armstrong has been busy this summer. He dealt Sammy Blais for Pavel Buchnevich, signed UFA Brandon Saad to a reasonable contract, and has shored up nearly every one of the Blues’ restricted free agents. On top of that, he’s also been working to find a trade partner to move Vladimir Tarasenko - which at this point is easier said than done.
Right now, there’s one more thing to be done: sign Robert Thomas.
Thomas is the final RFA to be signed by the Blues. He’s not arbitration eligible, so the heft in talks that he and his agent have isn’t great. The hold up may well be more on the Blues’ business side of things, not necessarily on the hockey side. Thomas is considered to be an asset important to the team’s future. He’s a solid center who had a down season that was abbreviated by injury, which could help the Blues by being ammunition to justify keeping the cost of any deal low.
There’s low, and there’s “fit him under the cap” low. Over the off-season, teams can be ten percent over the cap, but once the season starts, they have to be cap compliant. His previous entry level contract came with an AAV of $1,177,500, and the salary for the last season was $832,500.
Presumably, he’s going to get a raise on the same level of Zach Sanford’s $2 million price tag. Sanford’s contract is a one year deal; Thomas, by virtue of being younger, could get a longer term deal and remain a RFA in a strong negotiating position depending on future play. A solid payraise would communicate to Thomas that the team not only has faith in him but also the expectation that he succeed. There’s no indication that the Blues have any other intent than to do so.
What’s the holdup, then?
Cap compliance, more than likely, as Jim Thomas points out:
With the Sanford signing, the Blues have only $1.53 million of remaining salary cap space. Thomas is expected to come in north of that figure, which would put the Blues over the salary cap.
But teams can be as much as 10% over the cap during the offseason. And there are several ways the team can get cap relief once it has to be cap compliant at the start of the regular season:
• They can trade Vladimir Tarasenko, thus removing his $7.5 million cap hit from their books.
• They can place Oskar Sundqvist, who underwent knee surgery about four months ago, on long-term injured reserve, meaning his $2.75 million cap figure wouldn’t count against the cap.
• They could open the season with just 22 players on the roster, or one under the limit.
So what choice do the Blues make?
Choice number one is in at least one of their hands, but if they don’t find a trade partner offering decent value for Tarasenko (and the longer the situation drags on, the less likely that looks to be the case), then they’ll be starting the season with an upset superstar and his large cap-hit. Option two depends entirely on Sundqvist’s prognosis; if Sunny wants to play, and he can play, he’ll be playing. Option three is doable, but risky in case of injury.
If the Blues’ can give Thomas a raise but get him in below $1.3 million, it would be best for the team but not Thomas’ true value, meaning that the forward will push for more money when he is arbitration eligible.
The Blues’ cap situation will more than likely be tight then, too, but working around that is Armstrong’s job. For right now, it looks like the inability to get Vladimir Tarasenko the trade that he requested has had repercussions in an unexpected place: Robert Thomas’ contract.