With free agency beginning on Wednesday, July 13, the St. Louis Blues have a lot of decisions to make. They are likely to lose a key player or two on the open market, but they can fill those losses with signings or trades.
Their only major signing last summer was forward Brandon Saad, and they gave him a four-year deal. He had 24 goals and 49 points in 78 games last season and proved his worth after signing a deal that suited both sides. I’m not sure how active the Blues will actually be in the free agency, but general manager Doug Armstrong always has a few tricks up his sleeve. Let’s look at who the Blues could target in a robust free-agent market with plenty of depth.
Dylan Strome, Center/Left Wing
From a pure hockey perspective, Strome makes a lot of sense for the Blues if they don’t retain David Perron. A middle-six forward with the versatility to play center or wing is what he brings. The Chicago Blackhawks, in the midst of a rebuild, decided not to qualify Strome.
At 25 years old, Strome is still young and had 48 points in 69 games. He’s been a 20-goal scorer twice in his career while only playing more than 25 games four times. I don’t expect the Blues to sign him early in the market, as the price could be too high, but the hope would be that interest is lower than expected. He’d likely be a winger on this current roster, but as I mentioned, his primary position is center.
Having him on the wing of Brayden Schenn or Robert Thomas would be ideal, and he could possibly play with Ryan O’Reilly as well. His previous cap hit was $3 million, and he should get a raise from that; it would be ideal for the Blues to get him for $4 million or less, but that probably won’t happen. The fit for Strome on this team is ideal, but I wouldn’t count on this happening.
Ondrej Palat, Left Wing
While being listed as a left-winger, Palat can play either wing. He’s been a consistent performer for the Tampa Bay Lightning since his first full season in 2013-14. While only scoring 20 goals once, he’s scored over 40 points seven out of nine full seasons.
Palat’s last contract held a $5.3 million cap hit, and there is no way that the Blues would give him that number on a potential deal. As consistent as he has been, he seems like a player that will get more term than expected at a lower annual average value (AAV). Palat can’t replace the production of Perron, but he would be a quality veteran fit with O’Reilly or Schenn on a line. The contract has to be team-friendly, though. Otherwise, I don’t think Armstrong will consider it.
Claude Giroux, Center/Left Wing
The Blues seem to be a dark horse for the services of Giroux after being mentioned as suitors to acquire him at last season’s trade deadline. Even at 34 years old, he is still a fantastic player with consistent production for a decade-plus in the league. It will be expensive, but I only view Giroux as an option if the Blues lose Perron and trade Vladimir Tarasenko. There’s an outside chance that the Blues keep Perron and pursue Giroux, but I doubt it.
After being traded to the Florida Panthers at the deadline last season, he had 23 points in 18 games. He was a fantastic fit there, and they seem to remain the favorite to re-sign him, but it appears that he’ll still hit the open market. He’s a quality two-way forward with the ability to play center and wing, with the ability to fit with any of the Blues’ top three centers, in my view.
I don’t expect much term on a Giroux deal, with two to four years being the ideal window. His last cap hit was $8.275 million, and his upcoming contract likely will be less AAV than this. If the Blues could get Giroux for three years and a cap hit of $6.75 to $7.5 million, it would be interesting to see the reaction to that.
Ian Cole, Defenseman
The free-agent market for left-handed defensemen is weak, and that shows with Cole being the number one target for the Blues. After taking him in the first round of the 2007 draft, he played four and a half seasons with the Blues before trading him to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a seventh-round pick and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo. He has carved out a solid career, winning two Stanley Cups with the Penguins and playing 670 games.
Cole had a solid run for the Carolina Hurricanes last season, scoring 19 points in 75 games with a plus/minus of plus-15. He will be a cheap player to sign and is almost like a last resort effort for the Blues to upgrade the left-side defensively; it’d actually be poetic to see him and Bortuzzo as the third pairing next season.
There’s been a small amount of buzz about Johnny Gaudreau and the Blues, but that’s just not going to happen. After that, I see their main forward options as Andre Burakovsky and Nino Niederreiter. The cap issues for the Blues are going to be something to watch, and it could certainly limit their ability to make any sort of major move this week.
Defensively, re-signing Nick Leddy or underwhelming their fan base with Ben Chiarot or Nikita Zadorov are the main options. I expect them to heavily explore a trade to fix their defensive issues on the left side. Another thing to watch this week is what the Blues do with their backup goaltending situation as Charlie Lindgren hits the open market.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Armstrong approaches this week, but trusting him is all Blues fans can do, he’s proven and earned that trust.
I have been covering sports for nearly a decade. I started with FanSided as a Baseball Contributor. Now I am writing about the NHL and the St. Louis Blues for The Hockey Writers. I grew up in Central Illinois as a huge fan of every sport. Finally, I do various podcasting across all major platforms.