Following one of the best draft nights in recent Blues history, it could possibly end up being just the pre-show to this offseason. Will the Blues set off more fireworks on July 1st, capping off their grand finale of an off-season? Heading into Prospect Camp, the St. Louis Blues were very content with how last week’s draft played out. In what is typical “Blues luck”, the positive offseason finally hit a bump in the road. Recent news broke that forward Patrick Berglund will be undergoing shoulder surgery and won’t be back in the lineup until December. Luckily, this could be a blessing in disguise for the Notes.
If the Blues were to fix Berglund’s hole in the lineup internally, there are countless options. Plenty of young talent, hungry to grab the opportunity. Players such as Tage Thompson, Samuel Blais, and Zach Sanford all look for their shot at sustaining success at this level. Let alone those three, you can add Dimtrij Jaskin and Magnus Paajarvi to the list; and yes, let’s not forget about Klim Kostin. Let’s definitely not forget about Klim Kostin. Even with seven perfectly capable players to fill Berglund’s void, the Blues may look to go shopping on July 1st, as they look for UFA(s) to sign. Let’s take a look into who the Blues could possibly target.
Joe Thornton: The 37 year old center hits free agency, as he looks to sign with a contender. As Elliott Friedman reported, Thornton has seven teams with serious interest in him; Rangers, Ducks, Leafs, Blue Jaackets, Canadiens, Sharks, and Blues. Two seasons ago, the 6’4 veteran was a point per game player, registering 82 points in 82 games played. He also led the Sharks to a Stanley Cup Final appearance, recording 21 points in 24 games in the playoffs. Luckily, a blessing in disguise for one of those seven teams, “Big Joe” had a bit of a down year in his contract season. Thornton had 50 points in 79 games played this season, setting up for better negotiating leverage for teams looking to sign him this summer. Even with a “down” year, I still expect Thornton to sign a 2-3 year deal, worth somewhere in the ballpark of $5-6.75 million AAV. Let’s face it, he could change the look of this Blues team. For instance, signing Thornton could potentially slide Schenn over to, what some say, his “more productive” position at right wing. Your top 6 could consist of Schwartz-Thornton-Tarasenko, Fabbri-Stastny-Schenn. A signing of Thornton’s caliber would most certainly make the Blues the favorites to come out of the Western Conference. However, that 3rd year is key in this deal. That would be Thornton’s 40 year old season. Not saying he wouldn’t still produce, but a big bodied warrior like Thornton would deffinitly have some durablilty concerns. Speaking of durability, let’s not forget that he is coming off of major knee surgery.
Justin Williams: Arguably the player that every Blues fan wants to sign the most is ex Captials forward, Justin Williams. It’s hard not to fall in love with the thought of signing a playoff performer, that’s still capable of scoring 20+ goals per year. Although he’s now 35 years old, Williams isn’t declining offensively. Last year he scored 24 goals, the most he’s scored in the past 11 years. Teaching around the 20 goal mark is no fluke for “Mr. Game 7”, either. Over the past 7 years (including the lockout, in which he was arguably on pace for 20G over 82GP), Williams has netted 22, 22, 11-LO, 19, 18, 22, and 24 goals. That could provide some much needed depth scoring for the Blues, especially at right wing. Darren Dreger reported today that Williams has trimmed his list of teams down from a reported 10-12, down to 3-4. That’s not including his former team, the Washington Capitals, in which Dreger reports “doesn’t appear to be an option any longer.” There hasn’t been any specific teams that have been reportedly interested in Williams, but I would believe the Blues could be in the mix for him. Again, that’s speculation. Let alone his regular season success, Williams is a proven playoff performer. In his career, he has accumulated 94 points in 140 career playoff games. Even though he’s known for his scoring, Williams has only been a minus player two times in his sixteen year NHL career. He would certainly help the Blues on right wing, if he were to sign in St. Louis. *Please note: after I wrote this, former NHL defenseman, Mike Commodore tweeted that the 3 teams left on Williams were Calgary, Edmonton, and Nashville. Good thing Dreger reported 3-4 teams, eh?*
Radim Vrbata: Perhaps a cheaper version of Justin Williams, is right winger Radim Vrbata. At 36 years old, Vrbata should be most interested in looking to win a Cup. With the Blues lack of right wing depth, Vrbata would sure be an interesting piece to the puzzle. Over the past 8 years, Vrbata has proven he can put the puck in the net. Scoring 24, 19, 35, 12-LO, 20, 31, 13, 20 goals over the past 8 seasons. I, in particular, have been on the “Vrbata to Blues” bandwagon for the last 3 years. I personally think he would fit in great, especially not being one of “the guys” to count on for scoring, as he was looked at in Vancouver and Arizona. Maybe a 2nd line consisting of Fabbri-Stastny-Vrbata? I think that line would produce. Vrbata may seem like a good comparison to the “Cheaper Williams” theory, except there is one outlier; the lack of playoff production, to a degree. In his career, Vrbata has produced 18 points in 42 playoff games, including just 8 goals. That could potentially be a red flag, but it still wouldn’t be enough to make me pass on him.
Chris Neil: Yes, Chris Neil makes the list of players to keep an eye on July 1st. While some may think he’s useless and can’t play anymore, you’re wrong – atleast to a degree. At 38 years old, Neil’s big hits still can do some damage. Notorious for being tough to play against, Neil would bring some needed experience and leadership to the Blues. As Lou Korac tweeted yesterday, “Getting all sorts of questions about who fills in for Reaves. My two cents – for 1yr, 8-12 minutes a night, wouldn’t cost much: Chris Neil.” I agree with Lou, to a degree here. If the intentions are for Neil to literally slide into Reaves’ spot in the lineup, I’m not for it. I feel like there are better options on the market and internally, but if it’s to bring Neil in as a guy that could fill when needed, or to add some muscle on some nights (look at how Ottawa used him in the playoffs), then I’m really interested. It’s an interesting name, but I do believe there could potentially be a spot in St. Louis for the warrior-like vet.
Chris Kunitz: I’m not going to explain this one as detailed as the others listed, due to specifically writing an entire story on him a few weeks ago (in which you can find and read on RespectTheNote.com). There are lots, and I mean lots of connections that could potentially lead the 4 time cup champion to St. Louis. Kunitz is a guy that I would be interested in having slide into the 4th line due to his versatility. He can slide up and down the lineup, literally from 1st to 4th line, and can provide some energy that will be lost from some Blues departures. According to The Fourth Period, the Penguins remain in the mix, but due to their cap situation, who knows how long that could last. Kunitz’s agent also stated as many as 10 teams have called on Kunitz. Teams with a “legitimate chance at knocking off the Penguins next season.” I wouldn’t be shocked whatsoever, if the Blues were one of the ten teams interested.
Scott Hartnell: Scott Hartnell was bought out today by the Columbus Blue Jackets. This could certainly fall under the category of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” The sixteen year veteran will be looking to make one last run at the cup. Assistant Coach of the Blues, Craig Berube coached Hartnell in Philadelphia and very familiar with the type of player Hartnell can be. He’s a real “know your role” kind of player. Like Kunitz, Hartnell can be a versatile player, playing up and down the lineup. Hartnell recorded 37 points (13 goals), in 78 games played last season. Keep in mind, he played 12:04 time on ice per game. Hartnell is known for throwing his body around as well. Hartnell has accumulated 130 hits or more seven times in his career. The Blues could use a new “heart and sole” type of player, like Hartnell, after the loss of Reaves, and potentially Upshall. When it’s all said and done, if I’m in a playoff series of any kind, Scott Hartnell is the type of player you want on your side, and not on the ther side.
Ilya Kovalchuk: I saved the big one, and by far the most complicated one for last. It has been well known by now that Ilya Kovalchuk is looking to make a return to the NHL this summer. Kovalchuk, who left the NHL in 2013, is still one of the world’s best snipers. The two time 50 goal scorer has been linked to the St. Louis Blues by both Sportsnet’s Elliott Friedman, and the TSN “trade bait” list – who oddly enough, had only the Blues and Golden Knights as potential landing spots. However, this situation is different from the others since Kovalchuk isn’t an unrestricted free agent. Andrew Gross, writer for the Devils, said on NHL Network Radio that he expects a sign and trade for Kovalchuk on July 1st. He also stated that New Jersey was looking for defense, something the Blues have a lot of. While some fingers point directly to St. Louis, the Blues are in the race with the Rangers, Panthers, Sharks and Blue Jackets – who really seem to be clearing a lot of cap space for a big splash. There’s no doubt in my mind that Kovalchuk will be pushing the 30 goal mark for at the very least, the next two-thee seasons. Like Thornton, an acquisition of Kovalchuk’s caliber, would most certainly make the Blues the favorites in the Western Conference. Add that with the fact that you could pencil in the Blues potentially having the best powerplay in the NHL. We’ve seen how important that can be, especially come playoff time. Besides the fact that Kovalchuk still needs to be traded, the real twist to this roller coaster is the fact that he’s reportedly in contract negotiations with SKA, his KHL team. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that over the past 48 hours, the chances of “Kovy” returning to the KHL seem likely. I’m taking this one with a grain of salt, just because of the drama of the KHL. Literally anything can happen.
Will the Blues shoot off fireworks on July 1st, capping off their grand finale of an offseason?
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Cover credit to Ferry Designs