Blues’ Cap Crunch Could Force Players Out

The dreaded salary cap crunch is nearly upon the St. Louis Blues. In what is an inevitable part of winning the Stanley Cup comes a time that the team faces difficult decisions and a cap crunch as the team tries its best to hold on to its winning core. As a few players’ contracts come to an end, the team could be losing more players than they realize.

As an exercise, a look at where the team’s financial status will be for the 2023-24 season, and what could lie ahead are listed below. For the purpose of this exercise, the salary cap has been raised from $82.5 million to $84.5 million, a modest 2.5 percent increase.

Blues’ Current Financial Situation

At this time, the Blues currently have 12 players under contract for the 2023-24 season. All of their defensive pairings have been filled, the starting goaltender role has been solidified by Jordan Binnington, and the forward core has six of their 12 players accounted for.

Left WingCenterRight Wing
Schenn ($6.5m)Thomas ($8.125m)Buchnevich ($5.8m)
Saad ($4.5m)(C2) (RW2)
Neighbours ($835k)(C3)(RW3)
Walker ($775k)(C4)(RW4)
Left DefenseRight DefenseGoalie
Leddy ($4m)Parayko ($6.5m)Binnington
Krug ($6.5m)Faulk ($6.5m)(G2)
Scandella ($3.275m)Bortuzzo (750k)

The depth of the Blues’ roster has been their bread and butter since the teams Stanley Cup run in 2019 and something to boast about for the last few years. However, the team may have trouble affording and maintaining a balanced lineup beyond the 2022-23 season. Going into next season, core players like Ryan O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Ivan Barbashev are all scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, while Jordan Kyrou, Alexei Toropchenko, and Logan Brown are all to become restricted free agents.

While it may be the goal to keep and retain the services of all of the teams’ key players, the challenge continues to rise with each contract signed. Without one or two players being shipped out to clear cap space, the team could be forced once again to lose a key member of the team after the season.

Re-Signing Ryan O’Reilly and Jordan Kyrou

For the purposes of the scenario, the team will retain its captain and also re-sign Kyrou. The 31-year-old, O’Reilly is currently earning $7.5 million in the final year of his seven-year, $52 million contract extension from his days with the Buffalo Sabres. He has continued to play at a high rate for the team, providing 85 goals and 250 points over 287 regular season games, and 49 points (19 goals, 30 assists) in 50 playoff games, not to mention his two All-Star appearances, Conn Smythe and Selke Trophies as well. However, he will be 32 years old at the time his contract expires, leaving the likelihood of a long-term extension and a pay raise slim to none. Keeping in mind what general manager Doug Armstrong did with another veteran in Alexander Steen, O’Reilly could project for a four- or five-year extension of around $7 million per season.

Left WingCenterRight Wing
Schenn ($6.5m)Thomas ($8.125m)Kyrou (8.125m)
Saad ($4.5m)O’Reilly ($7m)Buchnevich ($5.8m)
Neighbours ($835k)(C3)(RW3)
Walker ($775k)(C4)(RW4)
Left DefenseRight DefenseGoalie
Leddy ($4m)Parayko ($6.5m)Binnington
Krug ($6.5m)Faulk ($6.5m)(G2)
Scandella ($3.275m)Bortuzzo ($750k)

On the other side, the Blues will want to lock up a future cornerstone piece in Kyrou. Like his teammate, Robert Thomas, Kyrou burst onto the scene during the 2021-22 season by scoring 27 goals and 75 points in 74 games. He saw a two-minute increase in ice time year over year and managed to score all but five of his goals at even strength. The Blues extended both Kyrou and Thomas to identical two-year, $5.6 million contracts before the start of the 2021-22 season. The team could go down the same route by offering the same eight-year, $65 million contract to Kyrou that Thomas will inherit next season.

Should these numbers be the reality that the front office commits to, the team will be left with just under $10 million in cap space to sign notable restricted free agents in Toropchenko, Scott Perunovich, Joel Hofer, Tyler Tucker, and Brady Lyle. By signing both players to these contracts, it leaves little to no room to sign unrestricted free agents in Barbashev and Tarasenko, and the additional players necessary to complete a full roster.

Tarasenko Could Be a Cap Casualty

St. Louis fans are no strangers to trade rumors regarding the fan-favorite Tarasenko. The long-time Blue has scored a career 524 points (252 goals, 272 assists) in 606 regular-season games. While he has struggled to produce at such a high rate in the playoffs, he has tallied 60 points in 90 postseason games. The Russian sniper’s career goal and points total are fifth in franchise history and could be a massive hit to the franchise.

However, the shoulder injury concerns and the need to create space in the lineup and transition to younger players could play a bigger factor than fans want to admit. The team has a high need for a player like O’Reilly at the center position, and the leadership that he brings on and off the ice. The team will not have the luxury to retain Kyrou, Tarasenko, and O’Reilly without moving out other players with higher cap hits. Should the team look to move on from Tarasenko, his 2021-22 performance of 34 goals and 82 points in 75 games could net the team multiple quality prospects and draft picks in return.

Vladimir Tarasenko St. Louis Blues
Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)

Another Russian player that burst onto the scene and made a name for himself this past season was Barbashev. Before this past season, he remained a player that had never surpassed 26 points in a season. To the surprise of many, all of that changed this past year when he scored 26 goals and 60 points in 81 games. The 26-year-old will enter into the second year of his two-year, $4.5 million contract extension signed on July 30, 2021. His performance this coming year will be a key component of the team’s financial puzzle moving forward. Should he remain a 20 or more goalscorer capable of producing more than 50 points, taking over 300 faceoffs, and registering nearly two hits per game, he will become more valuable to teams across the league. This leaves the team with an interesting trade chip come trade deadline and a player that teams could be cautiously optimistic about paying should he hit the open market.

Trading Krug Could Make Sense

On paper, the Blues have paired Justin Faulk and Torey Krug with one another and Parayko and Leddy to round out the top two defensive pairing units, a top four that is earning a combined $23.5 million. While it may not be immediate, the team’s top defensive prospect in Perunovich will be coming and earning increased ice time sooner than later. During the 2021-22 season, the two Faulk and Krug were paired almost exclusively with one another. Of the 25 goals scored by the duo during the regular season, neither player accounted for a single assist.

Torey Krug St. Louis Blues
Torey Krug, St. Louis Blues (Photo by Joe Puetz/NHLI via Getty Images)

During the 2021-22 postseason, the injury to Krug allowed the rookie defenseman the opportunity to come into the lineup and run the first power-play unit. Perunovich returned to the lineup for the first time since early March and did not miss a beat. While he excelled in the series against the Minnesota Wild, the competition against the Colorado Avalanche was a tall task. However, his level of play and ability to produce four points over seven postseason games has left many wondering just where the ceiling could be for Perunovich and if Krug’s job is safe. Both players are of similar stature and playmaking ability.

As the team is under the pressure of the salary cap, it could be inevitable that the team seeks out a trade for Krug in favor of a younger, cheaper defender, even if it would be to save only $2 or $3 million each season. Any trade that the front office would try to facilitate would require the approval of Krug as he has a full no-trade clause in effect until the 2025-26 season when it is reduced to a 15-team no-trade clause. At 31 years old and a base salary of $8 million, a trade could be easier said than done.

Related: Blues Need to Resist Trading Scott Perunovich

The Blues front office will have their work cut out for them over the next year as they work to overcome the salary cap hurdles. The team will have options when the trade deadline comes around and some difficult decisions to make once again.

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