The St. Louis Blues locked down one of their remaining restricted free agents (RFAs) by signing Robby Fabbri to a one-year, $900,000 contract, avoiding arbitration in the process.
A former first round pick of the Blues, Fabbri’s young career showed a lot of promise before it was drastically altered by consecutive devastating knee injuries. This extension is a chance for him to prove himself and regain his form. Will he be able to do it?
Fabbri’s Promising Start
Not long after the Blues drafted Fabbri 21st overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, it looked like they had gotten an absolute steal. He posted 51 points in 30 games with the Guelph Storm the season after the team drafted him, and he made the NHL roster out of camp the following season. At just 19, he was already playing at the highest level.
The youngster was not overwhelmed by the bright lights or the big stage. In his first season, he scored 37 points in 72 games, averaging over 13 minutes per game. But the playoffs were his coming out party. There, he was tied for the team lead in points with superstar Vladimir Tarasenko, posting 15 (four goals, 11 assists) in 20 games.
The following season, Fabbri started where he left off. In his first 51 games, he’d scored 29 points, a .57 point per game pace that improved on his .51 pace the previous season. Everything seemed to be idyllic for his young career, and Blues fans believed they were watching a developing star. But then, disaster struck.
Despite the hot start, Fabbri would not get a chance to prove what he could do in a full sophomore season. In a game on Feb. 4, 2017, just days after his 21st birthday, he was checked into the boards by Carter Rowney of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The hit was innocent, but the consequences were disastrous. The Blues announced the following day that his season was over due to an ACL injury.
One ACL injury is devastating enough. But more misfortune was headed Fabbri’s way. Even though his surgery was considered a success, his return in the following postseason was short lived. Fabbri reported swelling in the repaired knee after a game against the Washington Capitals, and it didn’t take long for the team to announce that the knee was re-injured. The Blues held a press conference the following day to give Fabbri a chance to speak to the fans:
“These last couple days have been very difficult and pretty emotional for me and my family…” Fabbri said at the press conference. “I really felt good and I was excited to get out there on the ice with the guys again… I knew [with] my injury, there was a three percent chance of it happening again, and unfortunately I fell in that three percent.”
The odds were long, but that was no comfort to Fabbri. It would be another full season until he could return to the ice. By the time he did, on Nov. 1, 2018, it had been 635 days since he had last played in a regular season game.
Long Road to Recovery
Any rational fan recognized that Fabbri’s return to the ice would not be an easy one. But few anticipated just how difficult his first season back would be. Though he did notch an assist in his very first game, it was one of just six points he would collect all season. Ultimately, he played only 32 regular season games. In the playoffs, he added 10 more, but only one additional point (a goal), and he averaged just 8:39 in time on ice.
Despite the injury, there were many factors preventing Fabbri’s renaissance that were beyond his control. The summer before his first injury, the Blues lost their captain, David Backes, and another veteran, Troy Brouwer, to free agency. Whether it was well known or not, the Blues were rebuilding, and the front office saw Fabbri as a centerpiece of that rebuild.
By the time he returned, the rebuild was complete. The Blues had added stars, like Brayden Schenn and Ryan O’Reilly, as well as depth contributors like Patrick Maroon, Tyler Bozak, and Zach Sanford. And it was now Robert Thomas, and not Fabbri, who was the hot young prospect on the block.
Additionally, when the Blues replaced Mike Yeo on Nov. 19, then interim head coach Craig Berube didn’t seem to have the same faith in Fabbri as his predecessor did. When he played at all, the coach relegated him to a fourth line role, one for which he was ill-suited. Of course, Berube led the Blues to the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup, and received a three year contract extension as a reward. So Fabbri’s road to more playing time isn’t getting easier.
One Last Shot in St. Louis?
On top of rehabilitating from the injuries, Fabbri now has two additional challenges: earn the trust of his head coach, and take a spot from another player. The Blues gave him a one-year, $900,000 contract as an opportunity to do just that.
Of course, there’s no guarantee he will play in next season at all. A young player on so cheap a deal with such a potentially high ceiling is a valuable commodity. There would be no shortage of teams interested, if the Blues decide to trade him, but after last season and all the injuries, the return likely wouldn’t be very high.
Wherever he is, Fabbri deserves a chance to play in a role that fits him. With Maroon potentially on his way out, perhaps the Blues intend to offer him that. Or perhaps they intend to test the market on him. There’s no question that Blues’ fans would love nothing more than to see Fabbri reestablish his career with the team that drafted him. But at this point, he deserves the best opportunity to do so, whether that’s in St. Louis or not.
Stephen Ground is a veteran of over three years at THW, focusing on the St. Louis Blues, NHL goaltending, and the annual World Junior Championship. He is the co-host of the Two Guys One Cup Podcast, a hockey podcast focused on the Blues.