The St. Louis Blues kicked off their start to the July 13 Free Agent Frenzy by extending a key member of their franchise in Robert Thomas to an eight-year, $65 million contract. The contract allowed them to lock up their future first-line center until he turns 31. The team continued their activity by signing several new players and bringing back some familiar faces in the following days.
The Blues continued their start to free agency by signing one of the top available left-handed defensemen in Nick Leddy. He was acquired by the team on March 22, 2022, at the NHL Trade Deadline in a deal that sent former Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist, defenseman Jake Walman and a second-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft to the Detroit Red Wings. The 31-year-old’s presence was immediately noticed in the lineup as he became one of the best zone-exit players and played with the ease of a player who had been with the team all season long. After 55 games with the Red Wings where he scored one goal and 16 points with a minus-33 rating, he ended the season with St. Louis with two goals and eight points in 20 regular season games. He was also a key contributor in the postseason scoring one goal and five assists in nine games.
The Blues and Leddy were able to come to an agreement on a four-year contract extension worth $16 million. Beginning in the 2022-23 season, his contract will start at $5 million and slowly reduce each season to $3 million in the final year of the deal. This agreement also includes a full no-trade clause for the first three years and a modified-no trade clause in the final year where he will submit a 16-team trade list.
The pact with the 31-year-old defenseman helps to bring stability and veteran experience to the lineup since the retirement of Jay Bouwmeester. After the signature was finalized, the team had seven defensemen listed on the NHL roster, four of which are left-handed. The Blues will have their work cut out for them as they look to clear up a log jam on the left side, as they now have Niko Mikkola (restricted free agent), Scott Perunovich, Marco Scandella, Torey Krug, Calle Rosén, and Leddy all listed under contract at this time. While Rosén will likely be sent to the American Hockey League (AHL), this will still leave the team with five defensemen to fill three roster spots on a nightly basis. Should Leddy continue his steady, consistent form of play, the Blues should have a reliable defenseman on their roster for several years to come.
General manager Doug Armstrong solidified his goaltending tandem heading into the 2022-23 season by signing 36-year-old Thomas Greiss to a one-year, $1.2 million contract. His contract also includes a clause that will allow him to earn an additional $250,000 for starting 20 games. Last season, he appeared in 31 games for the Red Wings, posting a 10-15-1 record, 3.66 goals against average (GAA), and a .891 save percentage (SV%).
While neither he nor his goaltending counterpart Alex Nedeljkovic had a winning record above .500, it is concerning that the front office would choose to sign an aging goaltender to a higher value contract than that of Charlie Lindgren. The former Blues goaltender opted to go to market after his one year in the organization and signed a three-year contract with the Washington Capitals worth $1.1 million annually. The Blues and their fans know Lindgren from his impressive 5-0 record that he posted this past season, allowing only five goals in that span.
The Blues have up-and-coming goaltender Joel Hofer in the AHL who could be ready to secure his role in the NHL sooner than later, which could have influenced the decision to part ways with Lindgren. Armstrong is rolling the dice this season and betting on his prize goaltender Jordan Binnington to return to form after ending the regular season with a 5-1 record and a .916 SV%, along with a postseason record of 4-1 and a .949 SV%.
Noel Acciari brings over 300 NHL games of experience to the table as he signed a one-year, one-way contract with the Blues worth $1.25 million. Acciari, 30, spent the last three seasons with the Florida Panthers, recording 46 points (27 goals, 19 assists) in 127 games. At 5-foot-10, he is not the biggest player on the ice but is also not afraid to throw the body. In his three seasons with the Panthers, he averaged just over two hits per game, while recording a 57-38 takeaway to giveaway ratio. The fourth-liner also maintained a strong presence in the faceoff dot with a 49.8 percent success rate.
The Blues re-signed depth forward Nathan Walker to a one-year contract that will start in the 2023-24 season. After earning a role in the lineup during the 2022-23 season, he scored eight goals and 12 points over 20 games, including a hat trick in his season debut. The 5-foot-9 forward brings grit and speed to the lineup while providing plenty of energy to the ice. The team has multiple options coming up through the ranks in Jake Neighbours, Logan Brown, and Zachary Bolduc, so he will have his work cut out for him to earn consistent playing time this season, especially once Alexei Toropchenko returns from his offseason shoulder surgery.
Among the group of signings came the extension of prospect defenseman Scott Perunovich. Like Walker, his extension is for one year worth $750,000. A player that appeared in only 19 NHL regular season games where he recorded six assists, the Blues and Perunovich agreed to the league minimum before signing a contract with any long-term commitments.
Perunovich lost roughly two months of the season after undergoing wrist surgery in March. After recording three goals and 22 points in 17 AHL games, the Blues promoted the prized rookie to make his long-awaited NHL debut. He returned during the postseason against the Colorado Avalanche and took over the team’s first power play unit while defenseman Krug was sidelined with an injury. Upon his return, he appeared in seven games registering four assists and a minus-4 rating. This coming season, Perunovich should be a mainstay in the lineup. However, it will likely come at the expense of a veteran defenseman like Scandella, should he remain with the team at the start of the season. His extension should not come as a surprise and will be the first of many to come in St. Louis.
Joshua Leivo, 29, signed a one-year, one-way contract. Last season, he appeared in seven games for the Carolina Hurricanes and 54 games in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves recording 46 points (22 goals, 24 assists). The 6-foot-2 forward was the AHL Playoff MVP last season, scoring 29 points (15 goals, 14 assists) in 18 games. He has played in 214 career NHL games, recording 77 points (38 goals, 39 assists). A strong depth option for the Blues, he could help push some of the bottom-six players for a roster spot this coming season. With his impressive play in the AHL, the club will likely want to see if they can re-capture some of his magic and bring it to the NHL.
Once the dust clears and ink dries on the contracts, the Blues should have around $262,000 left in cap space. This is before any additional trades or signings may occur as the team looks to sort out their depth on the left side of their defense and bottom-six positions. The gamble of Greiss in net is exactly that, a gamble. The team will need their depth to show up this season and defense to improve their overall game, which should help with the addition of Leddy. The depth signings to the forward position will help, but could also cause log jams with multiple depth pieces ready to secure full-time roles.
Armstrong and company have earned the trust of the fans over the last few years. However, their activity over the last few days has made fans scratch their heads and throw their hands up in the air in frustration. Any additional moves made will need to help the team’s push to win another Stanley Cup while its current core is still in its prime.