In a hard salary cap league, contracts are everything. A general manager who regularly overpays his players won’t win many games, and likely won’t have a job for long.
Fortunately, while St. Louis Blues’ general manager Doug Armstrong has had a number of bad contracts in his tenure (we’ll touch on those in a few days), he’s also signed and traded for some terrific bargains. Let’s take a look at the Blues’ three best contracts.
1) Ryan O’Reilly (Four Seasons, $7.5 Million)
No one in the Blues organization could have expected that Ryan O’Reilly would become a Selke and Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 2019. But they certainly had high expectations for him when they traded two picks and three players to the Buffalo Sabres for the centerman last offseason.
O’Reilly’s contract actually weighed heavily into the trade. Because of the structure of the deal, the Sabres owed him a $7.5 million bonus by the end of the day on July 1. Uneager to pay it, they looked for a trade partner. Had the Blues been unwilling to eat the bonus, they might never have landed O’Reilly.
Fortunately for the Blues, Armstrong and owner Tom Stillman stepped up to the plate and got their man. And O’Reilly rewarded them with the best season of his career, tying his career-high with 28 goals and smashing his previous 64 points with 77. Then, he put up 23 points in 26 playoff games, dominating the Stanley Cup Final, and earned recognition as the postseason MVP.
O’Reilly’s $7.5 million cap hit is outrageous enough. But thanks to the bonus structure, he is actually only owed $6 million in cash each of the next four seasons, and the contract ends at the end his prime. The Blues are massively underpaying for a number one center. And he has already delivered more than they could have ever dreamed. It’s a perfect contract situation.
2) Vladimir Tarasenko (Four Seasons, $7.5 Million)
Does this contract look familiar? O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko signed identical contracts in back-to-back seasons minus one year of control in the former. Now, the Blues have their two best offensive threats locked up for four more seasons at just $15 million combined.
The Russian sniper’s production has slowed somewhat in the last two seasons. But he has still surpassed 30 goals in each of the last five campaigns. Compared with the other contracts for 30-plus goal scorers, that’s a great value. For example, Tarasenko has been a much more consistent scorer than Jeff Skinner, who just signed an eight-year, $72 million contract.
Even if he never quite returns to form, the $7.5 million price tag would be great for a consistent 30-plus goal scorer and fan favorite. But Tarasenko has struggled with some injuries in recent seasons and has always put a lot of pressure on himself to carry the Blues to success. Now that the team has a Stanley Cup and he will enter the season 100 percent healthy, could he return to the 40-goal form he’s shown in the past? If he did, his contract would be highway robbery.
3) Colton Parayko (Three Seasons, $5.5 Million)
NHL fans recently voted Colton Parayko the third-best defender in the league. While his postseason success certainly colors that result somewhat, there’s no question that the towering Alberta native, already a stalwart young blueliner, found a new level in the 2018-19 season.
Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester became the Blues’ shutdown pairing in the postseason, and in the playoffs, Parayko collected 12 points and averaged over 25 minutes a night. Plus, he’s only 26 years old.
For that kind of production from a player entering his prime, a $5.5 million price tag is absurd. Parayko’s is not only the best contract on the Blues, but it’s also one of the best contracts in the entire league. And the Blues may not have won a Stanley Cup without it.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.