As the NHL moves ahead with its Return to Play plan, Last Word on Hockey is taking a look toward the offseason. In terms of building a franchise, the offseason is the most crucial time of the year for front offices. However, due to COVID-19, the short-term future of how this operates has seen sweeping changes. How teams respond to a multitude of changes this fall remains to be seen. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make.
The third batch of Offseason Primers moves to the Western Conference, featuring Central Division teams. Today’s edition delves into the possibilities surrounding the St. Louis Blues offseason.
St. Louis Blues Offseason Primer
Pending Free Agents
Very few of the 2019 Stanley Cup Champions are up for new contracts. However, general manager Doug Armstrong does have some big names to ration with this offseason. The Blues’ unrestricted free agents include captain Alex Pietrangelo. Other St. Louis UFAs include Jay Bouwmeester, Troy Brouwer, Nick Lappin, Jordan Nolan, Michael Vecchione, and Joey LaLeggia. Andreas Borgman is a Group Six UFA.
The Blues have a rather nonconsequential list of restricted free agents as well. It consists of Vince Dunn, Jacob de la Rose, Jake Walman, Austin Poganski, Mitch Reinke, Nolan Stevens, Derrick Pouliot, and Jake Dotchin.
Salary Cap Outlook
The St. Louis Blues, due to a variety of massive contract extensions handed out recently, will be in tough this offseason. Via the team’s CapFriendly page, the Blues only have $2.05 million in cap space this offseason. With both their captain and a promising young defenceman in Dunn to re-sign, there will need to be seismic shifts in the team’s makeup this offseason.
Alex Steen has been an impact player on this Blues squad for 12 seasons now, playing over 760 games with the team. However, decline has begun to hit this 36-year-old hard. After five straight seasons of more than 45 points, Steen netted only 27 in 2018-19 and only 17 this season. While Steen only has one more year left on his deal, he’s costing St. Louis $5.75 million against the cap. The Blues, as they look to extend their window of contention, can’t afford to have that massive amount of dead weight.
The Blues will look to find a trade partner for Steen, who can still provide depth offence and special teams prowess at the NHL level. With his cap hit freed, St. Louis’ cap space increases to $7.8 million.
Another wily ol’ veteran may be on his way out this summer as the Blues look to clear cap space. Robert Bortuzzo has served as a largely effective piece on the Blues’ third pairing for the past six seasons. However, Bortuzzo’s spot in the lineup has become expendable. With the emergence of younger players such as Scott Perunovich and Niko Mikkola, the Blues no longer have a real need for Bortuzzo’s services.
Bortuzzo should be relatively easy to move, as he’s sitting on a cost-effective deal earning him $1.38 million a year. Moving his salary out increases St. Louis’ cap space to $9.18 million.
This one will be tough for the Blues’ faithful to accept. Dunn has been an incredibly impressive and capable young defenceman over his three years in the league. Unfortunately, the former second-round pick’s stellar play will likely cause him to suit up elsewhere next season. St. Louis purely will not have the cap room to retain both Dunn and their captain. Dunn can very easily be offer-sheeted in the $3 million range, which the Blues would not be able to match.
While it will be a tight fit, there’s no way the Blues let their captain walk this offseason. Picked fourth overall in 2008, Pietrangelo’s accumulated over 750 games of NHL experience over 12 seasons in St. Louis. The 30-year-old defenceman captained the Blues to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history last year, forever cementing himself in Missouri lore.
He’ll be responsible for anchoring a defence that will see many changes over the next few seasons, as the Blues’ wealth of defensive hopefuls begin to emerge. Pietrangelo is still playing at an elite level and shows no signs of slowing down, which will afford him a big deal this offseason.
Evolving-Hockey’s contract projection tool (subscription required) predicts an eight-year extension for Pietrangelo, earning him $8.43 million a season. The Blues would be left with only $750,000 in cap space, preventing them from making any meaningful additions in free agency. Expect the Blues to roll with a rather similar roster for the 2020–21 campaign, minus Dunn, Steen, and Bortuzzo.