The St. Louis Blues have made a commitment to a cornerstone piece of their franchise with an eight-year extension worth $65 million for 23-year-old forward Robert Thomas. His new contract is the fourth eight-year extension the Blues have issued in the cap era (after Brayden Schenn, Colton Parayko, and Vladimir Tarasenko). His $8.125 million average annual value is the highest cap hit of any Blues player in franchise history, surpassing Tarasenko’s $60 million deal in 2015. Thomas has one year left on his current contract, worth $2.8 million in 2022-23.
How the Blues Got Here
Thomas was drafted by the Blues with the 20th overall selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. The slick playmaking forward started his career during the team’s 2018-19 Stanley Cup season, scoring nine goals and 33 points over 70 regular season games, adding an additional goal and six points in 21 postseason games. His first two seasons with the franchise started strong with 75 points in 136 games while averaging only 13:48 of ice time each night.
The Blues and Thomas agreed on a two-year contract extension in 2021 worth $2.8 million each year, matching Jordan Kyrou’s deal. However, it is believed that Thomas wanted a bigger role after putting up strong numbers during his first two seasons in the NHL.
With Ryan O’Reilly and Schenn holding down the first and second-line center positions, Thomas was relegated to the third-line position for most of the two years. With the team pushing for a Stanley Cup during his rookie season and looking to repeat, a third-line role seemed reasonable for a 20-year-old. However, the Blues and head coach Craig Berube seemed on board with giving Thomas additional ice time and responsibility, as long as he deserved it.
Thomas’ Breakout Season
Entering the 2021-22 season, Thomas made his presence known. Pairing most often with Tarasenko and Ivan Barbashev during his first 21 games of the season, he scored two goals and 20 points. He was quietly breaking out for the Blues and was tied for 26th in the NHL in points.
Thomas continued to see consistent playing time with Tarasenko and Barbashev throughout the season but occasionally played with Jordan Kyrou and Pavel Buchnevich. He kept a consistent point-per-game pace, ending the season as the primary play-driver for one of the best lines in hockey, with Tarasenko and Buchnevich on his wings. In the final quarter of the season, Thomas scored eight goals and 28 points in 20 games, for a final stat line of 20 goals and 77 points over 72 games.
Blues Looking Ahead
Thomas is the type of player who can change a game quickly. His agility allows him to be the first one to pounce on loose pucks off turnovers and quickly turn it into a cross-seam pass. He is arguably one of the better playmakers in the NHL and has yet to turn 25. The Blues have several pieces of their forward core that still need to be addressed as O’Reilly and Kyrou will also be looking for contract extensions before they expire after this coming season. Additionally, they will need to decide on Tarasenko’s future before his contract expires at the end of the 2022-23 season as well.
Thomas will need to improve his defensive game moving forward if he wants to earn the role of a top-line center in the NHL. If the club can re-sign O’Reilly, the Blues could have one of the best one-two punches down the middle for the foreseeable future, allowing Thomas to continue his development as his responsibilities continue to grow. With the increase in the salary cap over the next several years, the Blues could have Thomas under one of the best contracts for a number one center in the NHL.