So you’ve got millions of dollars and you want to own a hockey team? Well, here’s your chance! On Wednesday, March 15th, Dave Checketts, owner of the St. Louis Blues, announced that he, “regretfully,” had officially decided to put the team up for sale.
“We have received no viable offers,” Checketts repeated on the radio Wednesday night, a seeming slap in the face to shareholder Tom Stillman, who’d allegedly made one a few days prior.
St. Louis Game Time’s Brad Lee puts it nicely: Checketts leaves this team with immense potential. He brought the team out of danger, out of a harsh time in Blues history when fan interest was seemingly at an all-time low, brought it back from its worst finish in history. Attendance is up, the product has improved – but there’s still work to be done.
The long and short of it is: a solid investor will make this team a solid contender, which is something Checketts and Towerbrook couldn’t do. Granted, you can’t just take a team from the depths of the league and turn them into a cup-winner overnight, especially not when you’re only a million dollars above the salary cap floor, but this team is poised for something bigger. Even with the third-lowest team salary in the league, even out of this year’s playoff picture, the Blues are still playing games as a team. They still want wins; they haven’t given up. Just look at last night’s 4-0 sweep of the Kings. It may not have mattered in the long run, but the Blues went into that game 3-0-0 against the Kings this season – they’re still playing for little victories like a season sweep.
So, potential buyers, here’s a list of your duties, should you accept the responsibility of the care and feeding of this St. Louis Blues team.
Step 1: There’s this little thing called an RFA…
There are currently eight teams in the NHL who are spending to the upper-limit of the salary cap. It goes without saying – the Blues are not one of them. Six of those teams are all but guaranteed a playoff spot at this point in the season. The seventh team is close, and the eighth team is…well, it’s the New Jersey Devils.
Six teams are currently spending less than $50M in salary cap dollars, and exactly none of them are in a playoff position. Want to make the playoffs for a run at Lord Stanley? You have to be willing to approach the cap ceiling, not the cap floor. The first step in this process for next year will be securing the Blues’ restricted free agents.
The Blues currently have exactly 12 roster players signed through next season: six forwards, five defensemen, and goaltender Jaroslav Halak. That’s eight roster spots to fill, not counting spares and AHL players. Franchise favorite TJ Oshie is on the last year of his entry-level contract, as is Patrik Berglund. Vladimir Sobotka, an effective penalty killer who rendered Jay McClement unnecessary enough to be included in the trade for Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk, as well as Matt D’Agostini, who has at times played his way onto the top line, are both making close to league minimum, and are both in need of new contracts. On defense, Roman Polak, at times the most steadfast member of the Blues’ blueliners, and Nikita Nikitin, who stepped in from Peoria when the Blues were hamstrung on defense earlier in the season, are also both in need of renewals.
If you doubled the salary of every RFA, the Blues would still have significant cap space, and here’s where step 2 comes in.
Step 2: …now add in UFAs
If the Blues re-sign Oshie, Berglund, Sobotka, D’Agostini, Polak, and Nikitin, that takes care of defense and leaves three spots open: two forwards and a goaltender – in goal the Blues will probably go with a tandem of Jaro Halak and Ben Bishop, rendering Ty Conklin (UFA) unnecessary. However, up front, rather than take the easy, cheap route and re-sign Crombeen and Janssen, an open-minded GM with as many salary-cap dollars to play with as the Blues could potentially have would let the two of them walk and go digging around in the league’s UFA pool – or possibly even tender an offer sheet to an RFA from elsewhere. The one benefit to starting the free agency season at the cap floor will be that flexibility to chase pricier, flashier players – if a new owner is willing to sign the paychecks.
Although the UFA pool is said to be fairly shallow this year, there are easily a number of forwards who could add another level of skill and experience to the Blues roster. Looking in the middle-range of salaries, Brooks Laich comes to mind. He’s a natural center who usually plays wing, and works on the Capitals’ powerplay and penalty kill. He also brings to the table a very consistent scoring touch, along with solid plus-minus numbers. There are other, more expensive options among the league’s UFAs, as well. If one wanted to take a gamble at tendering an offer sheet to one of the league’s RFAs, the Blues definitely have the draft picks and cap space to spare – if we’re daring to dream, Zach Parise is an RFA, after all, on a cap-strapped New Jersey team. There are always options.
Step 3: Profit.
The potential for success is huge. Checketts is right about one thing – this is a very attractive situation for a potential buyer. Lots of cap space, a solid, devout fan base yearning for a cup, a building located in the heart of downtown, and complete and total control of minor league development with the acquisition of the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen. Once the hurdle of ownership is cleared, the sky’s the limit for these St. Louis Blues.