The Blues made quite the splash Monday night in the trade market when they acquired defenseman Jay Bouwmeester from the Calgary Flames.
Sending away prospects Reto Berra and Marc Cundari, as well as a conditional 2013 first-round draft selection, the Blues assured that they will have a steady defense for the stretch run to the 2013 NHL playoffs. Bouwmeester joins a group of defensemen that includes Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, Barret Jackman and Roman Polak. Jordan Leopold, a former Hobey Baker Award winner, was added to the roster over the weekend in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres.
The Blues currently sit in the 8th spot in the Western Conference, three points behind the Detroit Red Wings. This trade makes a statement that the Blues are looking to win now and make a deep run in the playoffs.
But what about next season?
The Blues were bought by beer distributor Tom Stillman last summer. Although Stillman and his investment group purchased the Blues for an estimated $130 million, they have made it abundantly clear that they have a self-imposed salary cap. With next year’s official cap at $64.3 million, it is very possible that Stillman will want the team salary lower than that. The Blues currently are sitting around $52 million in player salaries.
With one year remaining on his contract, Bouwmeester adds $6.60 million to the books next season ($6.68 million cap hit), which may handcuff the Blues in making any more deals. This may even include re-signing their own players this summer.
The Blues have a slew of players eligible for free-agency, both restricted and unrestricted. Restricted Free-Agents (RFA) include forwards Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart, as well as defensemen Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, Kris Russell and Ian Cole. Unrestricted Free-Agents (UFA) include forwards Andy McDonald, Jamie Langenbrunner, Scott Nichol and Chris Porter, as well as defensemen Jordan Leopold and Wade Redden.
Although it is likely that some of these players will move on (Russell, McDonald, Langenbrunner, Nichol, Redden), it still poses a problem as Berglund, Stewart, Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk are all due for raises and longer-term contracts.
Let’s take a closer look at these four players and what they may be expecting when it comes time to negotiate their new contracts with the Blues.
2012-13 salary: $2.40 million
With his 2-year, $4.5 million contract coming to an end, Berglund will be expecting a higher salary heading into 2013-14. Making $2.4 million in actual salary this season, Berglund’s goal totals have been on the incline. He had 19 goals in 82 games last season but already has 14 goals in 34 games this season. Although his six assists are a little suspect, Berglund has been the Blues’ best forward on the ice for isolated stints this season. With his production still a little behind the Blues’ core of draft successes (David Perron and T.J. Oshie), he has to realize that he will not be receiving the same level of dough. Berglund has been used on almost every line this season, signifying that Head Coach Ken Hitchcock feels that there is more to be desired from the Swede. This will be a large bargaining chip for Blues GM Doug Armstrong this summer.
Nikolai Kulemin – Toronto Maple Leafs
Current contract: Signed a 2-year, $5.60 million contract extension in the summer of 2012 ($2.8 million cap-hit).
2012-13 salary: $3 million
The biggest question mark heading into the 2012-13 season was how Chris Stewart would respond after a lackluster 2011-12 campaign. Stewart posted just 15 goals and 15 assists in 79 games, warranting time on the third line and even as a healthy scratch for some games. After being acquired the season prior, Stewart was believed to be the Blues’ last piece to the puzzle, providing leadership and a big body that can drive pucks to the net. Armstrong decided to give Stewart one more chance, signing him to a 1-year, $3 million contract extension in June, which was a small cut in pay from his last contract that carried over from Colorado. Stewart has shown a willingness to compete in 2012-13, dropping weight over the summer and working on his game as much as possible. He currently leads the Blues with 29 points, amassing 15 goals and 14 assists. Stewart’s negotiations should be the most interesting this summer as both sides have solid arguments as to what he should be paid.
Current contract: Signed a 4-year, $17 million contract extension in the summer of 2012 ($4.25 million cap-hit).
2012-13 salary: $787,500
After a Norris-caliber season in 2011-12, Pietrangelo has taken a slight step back in 2012-13. His .575 points-per-game is slightly off from his pace last season (.629 spanning over 81 games), and his minus-4 rating is also somewhat disturbing. Despite all of these statistics, Pietrangelo is still the Blues’ top defenseman who sees the opposing team’s top lines on a nightly basis. Bouwmeester comes into the Blues as the highest paid player and this could create some drama in within contract negotiations. Bouwmeester does have more experience in the regular season than Pietrangelo; however, a team’s top defenseman should be the in the top-three of most-paid players. If Pietrangelo chooses to use this to his advantage, re-signing him could be a very lengthy process. On the last year of his entry-level deal, Pietrangelo could easily be seeking Drew Doughty-type money.
Drew Doughty – Los Angeles Kings
Current contract: Signed an 8-year, $56 million contract extension in September of 2011 ($7 million cap-hit)
2012-13 salary: $875,000
Shattenkirk has been a pillar of consistency in the assists category. Leading the team in assists last season (34) and in the lead this season (18), the 24-year old defenseman is one of the slickest and sneakiest passers in the game. With his ability to find the open forward on a breakout or his willingness to attempt across the middle passes in the offensive zone, Shattenkirk has earned every penny of his current entry-level contract. Much like Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk will be looking at the price of other defensemen on his team and will be seeking a hefty raise from his current $875,000 salary. Coach Hitchcock’s system calls for puck-moving defensemen and Shattenkirk may just be the best on the team.
Current contract: Signed a 6-year, $23.8 million contract extension in September 2012 ($3.97 million cap-hit).
Needless to say, the Blues are due to shell out some more money this summer. Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk will be coming off entry-level deals and will command significant raises while Berglund and Stewart will, likely, be negotiating for longer terms as well as a higher overall salary.
Letting young, necessary players go for nothing (or compensation draft picks in the case of an RFA being signed) will only hurt the Blues’ standing with its fans. These players were groomed during a team rebuild, which saw attendance and merchandise sales rise throughout it.
In order to keep this team together, Stillman will have to open up his checkbook a little more than he originally intended. If not, this team will be headed toward a disaster within its own fan-base.