The St. Louis Blues entered the offseason with very few unrestricted free agents (UFAs). But their time to make decisions was heavily abbreviated by their deep playoff run. Even so, general manager Doug Armstrong sealed one deal before free agency even began in earnest by signing UFA Carl Gunnarsson to a two-year contract extension with an average annual value of $1.75 million.
For the Swedish defenseman, this contract provides security and an opportunity to continue to play for a competitor. For the Blues, it gives them a rock solid solution for left-handed defense at an incredibly affordable price.
Gunnarsson’s Wild Season
Gunnarsson has been with the Blues for five seasons since they acquired him in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. In that time, he has been a valuable player when healthy. But the only thing more consistent than his defensive play has been his injuries.
In his time with the Blues, Gunnarsson has played only 277 of a possible 410 regular season games. That’s good for just 68 percent of his possible appearances. This reached its pinnacle this season when he was only able to play in 25 games during the regular season.
When he was healthy, though, he performed as well as he ever has. He posted eight points in 25 games, good for a 0.32 point per game pace. That’s better than the 0.22 points per game he’s achieved in his career, and far outpacing his 0.138 pace in his other four seasons playing for the Blues.
Then, he hit a remarkable stretch of health in the playoffs, playing in 19 of the team’s 26 games. The Blues relied on him for almost 15 minutes a game, in which he was plus-six and had three points. He also delivered in the clutch, scoring one of the most memorable goals of the postseason with his overtime game-winner in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.
He became more and more integral to the Blues, collecting the fourth most minutes amongst defensemen. Without his contributions, it’s hard to imagine the Blues collecting their franchise, and his own, first Stanley Cup.
Staying in St. Louis
With his improved health and incredible playoff performance, there was significant interest in Gunnarsson in free agency. But the Blues were never out of the picture. There was always a mutual interest between the two sides.
Apparently, whatever offers the defenseman received weren’t enough to lure him away from the team he’d called home for five seasons. He signed with the Blues before free agency had even officially begun. The contract came in at two years and $3.5 million.
In the end, the lure of more money with other teams was not enough to pull him from the comfort of home. The Blues are defending Stanley Cup champions, and Gunnarsson took less money to stay with them and continue to compete.
What Now for Edmundson?
With Gunnarsson locked down, restricted free agent (RFA) Joel Edmundson is in an interesting spot. The Blues have three left-handed defensemen under contract for next season in Gunnarsson, Jay Bouwmeester, and Vince Dunn. Edmundson received a qualifying offer and is due a raise on his $3 million salary.
Does it make sense for the Blues to extend Edmundson for over $3 million to split time with three other left-handed defensemen? Or could he now find himself in search of a new team? Blues’ reporter Lou Korac doesn’t believe the Gunnarsson contract will affect Edmundson at all, but with three other lefties and a scarcity of cap space, it’s difficult to understand how that can be true.
At the very least, Edmundson has now become the Blues’ most obvious trade chip. Whether they will pull the trigger on such a move, or choose instead to keep their defensive depth, is another story altogether.
Rebuilding a Stanley Cup Roster
By signing Gunnarsson, the Blues have secured one of their most valuable available pieces. They are reuniting the roster that won them the Stanley Cup, and in so doing, look prepared to push for another deep playoff run again.
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.