Free Agent Frenzy Preview

Let The Frenzy Begin!

The time has come, ladies and gents. Mr. Stillman has the blank checks sitting on his desk. The Brinks trucks are being parked on 14th and Clark. All Armstrong has to do is swipe right on Tinder and create a match made in heaven. That is, of course, if his free agent crush also swipes right. These days St. Louis isn’t exactly a hot commodity, and I believe it’s starting to hinder Armstrong’s ability to make deals.

Let’s look at the top 5 options in this free agent class (though very slim) for the good ol’ boys in blue. For the sake of digging through who received qualifying offers, we’ll stick to UFAs only. I’ll throw in my worst guesstimate of what I believe their contracts will be, for your amusement.

  1. John Tavares (8 yrs, $88M I think he goes back to NYI) – We all know where this is going. Not happening for the Blues, but we will talk about him anyways. Tavares has met with the NY Islanders, San Jose Sharks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins. If Tavares leaves the Island for one of those other 5 teams, you have my permission to blow all your money on that one team in Vegas. These teams are good without him, but if they pry him from Lou Lamirello’s ring-filled hands, they’re a whole different beast (could you imagine a lineup of JT, Seguin, Benn down the middle? Good luck). There’s been virtually no noise made from the Tavares camp during these meetings so there’s no way of knowing how/where it’s going. What we do know is that Armstrong continued to be in contact with Tavares’ representatives to try and pry his way in the meeting room door. Unfortunately, Chris Johnston of Sportsnet reported Wednesday morning that the Tavares camp would not be courting any other teams after their initial meetings. Dreams, crushed.
  2. James van Riemsdyk (6 yrs @ $45M, $7.5M AAV) – What a season to pick for a career-high in goals. JVR put up 36 goals in his 9th NHL season, a contract season for the veteran. The 29 year-old left wing also potted a career-high in POWERPLAY goals with 11. Did you hear that? He can score on the powerplay! Go back and look at the Leafs powerplay formation and you’ll see the 6’3” winger posted up in the goaler’s grill every time he’s on the ice. That’s something the Blues were sorely lacking last season, a net front presence on the powerplay. Van Riemsdyk has the hands to tip pucks in front and the shot to be deadly from anywhere. He sure would look nice on Tarasenko’s off wing. The question is, are Blues fans and Armstrong willing to pay his premium?
  3. James Neal (6 @ $40M, $6.66M AAV) – Neal had quite the run in Vegas’ first year and it appears that’s the only run the two sides will share. You know what you’re getting with Neal, 20-25 goals and 40-50 points. Neal likes to play a physical game as well, averaging 80 hits over the last 3 years (though those numbers have been consistently declining). There haven’t been many rumblings on the Blues being interested in Neal and I hope it stays that way. If this is the route the Blues are taking then they should have just paid Backes. We can see how that’s working out for the Bruins..
  4. Paul Stastny (4 @ $22M, $5.5M AAV) – A reunion with the Blues and “Pauly Walnuts” could be The Note’s last gasp at a top line center. It could also be the route back to the status quo. Stastny’s time in St. Louis is seen, by most fans, as a disaster based on his contract. I look at him the same way I look at Bouwmeester, you throw the contract dollars out and it’s not as bad as it seems. Yes, Stastny (and Bouwmeester) was overpaid for the production we got out of him. He wasn’t even close to the 60-70 point center that we were hoping for when we handed him the keys to the castle. However, he was a very serviceable center. Better as a #2, but still good. Personally, I think the shutdown, defensive-style game the Blues played compared to the run-and-gun style of the Avs had a great effect on the decline in his numbers. The Blues have kept an open line of communication with Stastny, but it sounds like the prospect of returning to Winnipeg is intriguing to him. I can’t say I blame him, they are going to be very good again next year. There have also been rumors of Montreal expressing interest and Marc Bergevin is in an  even more desperate situation than Doug Armstrong to turn his franchise around.
  5. Tyler Bozak (4 @ $18M, $4.5M AAV) – Amazingly, Stastny will set the market for Bozak. If Bozak sees any offer north of $5-5.5M AAV then he should hop on it as soon as he can get the pen to paper. Bozak and Stastny have put up similar numbers the past two seasons (34 goals and 93 pts for Stas, 29 goals and 98 pts for Boz), but for some reason Stastny is held in a higher regard than Bozak. The Blues are looking at Stastny for a reunion, but if his number starts to climb, they should talk to Bozak’s camp. I’m not saying he’s the key to our #1 center position, but he’s a good fill-in for the #2 spot behind Schenn. I said I would be fine with Stastny around $5M AAV, but I fear the market will price him out of the Blues, along with more enticing situations (see: Winnipeg) for the veteran. Bozak is a lateral move for less money.

Honorable Mentions

The Blues were adamant about working something out with Kyle Brodziak. The usual 4th liner had a great 2nd half to last season after the Stastny trade. Brodziak moved up to 2nd and 3rd line roles for the Blues and barely looked out of place (no, I do not want him there full-time). There is definitely mutual interest for the 34 year-old pivot. Good ol’ St. Louis boy Patrick Maroon was said to be hailed by the Blues front office. His former teams, the Oilers and Devils, are also still calling. Edmonton has said they need to move Milan Lucic to make it happen (Maroon is basically the same player at a lower cost). God only knows what GM Peter Chiarelli is thinking on a daily basis. That guy has traded the top two picks from the 2010 draft FOR NOTHING (Athletic subscribers can peep this for more insight)!!

Hear me out on this next one. Thomas Vanek, who had 24 goals last year and 17 the year before that, could be a great low-cost candidate. The poor man’s James Neal, if you will. There’s obvious risk as the scoring winger is 34 years-old and would probably be looking for a suitor with the best chance to win a cup, but I think the Blues should kick the tires on him. He has seemed to go under the radar a bit, mainly with the Tavares and Kovalchuk hype, but I don’t see how a 2-3 year deal hurts the Blues. Vanek also holds his value as a goal scorer among the league as he has been traded to a playoff contender in 3 of the last 5 seasons. That’s something that can be moved for even more assets come trade deadline time, if the Blues are out of the race again. As long as the money is reasonable, he could be a value pickup for the Blues.

Another great bargain buy would be scoring winger Michael Grabner. After back-to-back 25+ goal seasons, it seems like this would be pretty logical for the Blues to take a flyer on the 30 year-old. However, don’t look in his direction on the powerplay, as Grabner hasn’t scored a powerplay goal since the 2012-13 season when he was with the Islanders. He would look mighty fine on the 3rd line and could move up and down the lineup.

Blues/NHL Trade Chatter

Paul Fenton, Minnesota Wild GM, requested a “no-trade” list from Eric Staal, Jared Spurgeon, and Devan Dubnyk. The Athletic stated that it was simply precautionary and something that was supposed to have been done previously. It’s highly unlikely that Fenton would trade within the division, but Staal was every bit of an MVP-caliber player last season. Staal potted 42 goals while amassing 76 points on the season. The veteran pivot also won faceoffs at a 51% clip. All at the price of a 3rd line scoring winger, $3.5M AAV. Talk about a bargain(!!). If I’m Armstrong, I’m at least making a phone call.

Ryan O’Reilly’s name has been bantered about in connection with the Blues a lot this week. The 27 year-old centerman’s name has been tossed around to a couple teams as his discouraging post-season comments have landed him on the trading block. The Blues are rumored to be the front-runners to obtain ROR’s services. However, the cost to the Blues depends on when a deal would go down. If ROR is on the Blues before July 1, the Blues will (most likely) pay less in team assets, but have to cover ROR’s $7.5M signing bonus. Trading for him post-July 1st will see the Sabres cover the bonus, but require team assets to get him. I envision the Blues would be more interested in paying less in assets and cover the expenses of ROR’s contract. The wait for ROR’s fate has continued into the weekend, expect the Sabres to be asking for a king’s ransom once midnight strikes on Sunday.

Did You Miss It?

The NHL Hall of Fame Class of 2018 was announced on Tuesday. The inductees include: Martin Brodeur, Willie O’Ree (Builder), Commissioner Gary Bettman (don’t even ask because I don’t know either..), Martin St. Louis, Jayna Hefford and Alexander Yakushev. I wanted to use this section to give praise to Willie O’Ree, the former Boston Bruin who broke the color barrier in the NHL in 1958. It’s been a long road for one of the best humans in the game. It’s a shame that it took this long, but I’m glad the committee finally got their heads on straight. O’Ree now serves as the NHL’s Director of Youth Development and ambassador for NHL Diversity, a post he has held since 1998. Congratulations to you Mr. O’Ree, you deserve it!

If you missed it, here’s the video of Armstrong mic’d up during the trade that netted the Blues the 25th pick to select Dominik Bokk. Apparently, before the trade went down, Armstrong had a bigger deal in the works. It could be related to a deal involving ROR or Carolina’s Skinner, as those were the GMs that Armstrong was mostly in contact with on day 1 of the draft. Expect the heat to pick up into this weekend, but don’t be discouraged if the Blues fail to make a “big” move. Their future is bright with the prospects they have. It’s better to have a bright future than to trade it away for a shot at a few playoff games. 

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