The St. Louis Blues have had a busy offseason so far. General manager Doug Armstrong traded for Pavel Buchnevich of the New York Rangers, later signing him to a four-year, $23.2 million contract extension. Then, on the second day of free agency, Armstrong landed one of his top targets, signing winger Brandon Saad to a five-year, $22.5 million contract. In adding both wingers, the Blues added 40-60 goal potential and strengthened his top-six. But the work isn’t done.
Of course, the biggest item left on Armstrong’s agenda is the expected trade of Vladimir Tarasenko, the disgruntled former face of the franchise who is rumored to want out of town. But even as Armstrong tries to find that trade partner, he might continue to look at the free agent market for additional help, especially if he does clear an additional $7.5 million in cap space by trading Tarasenko. Though the bulk of free agent dealing is done, there are still a few players that could provide a lot for the Blues on the right deal. In this article, we’ll look at players who might still make sense for St. Louis. At this point, Armstrong will probably prefer low-dollar and/or short-term deals, so we’ll keep that in mind as we proceed. We will also exclude players who are well-known to be signing with a particular team, even if those details aren’t truly public yet (including Kyle Palmieri and Zach Parise).
1. Tomas Tatar
We’ll start with maybe the least likely name on this list: Tomas Tatar would make perfect sense for the Blues, but they are unlikely to be able to sign him on the kind of short-term deal that would make such a marriage a real possibility. Tatar is a valuable scoring threat, who surpassed 20 goals in six consecutive seasons before his rocky 2020-21 campaign. And while his absence from the Montreal Canadiens’ deep playoff run will likely damage his value somewhat, make no mistake: he’s a talented all-around player.
With Mike Hoffman signing in Montreal, there is little question Tatar will be looking for a new home. The Blues have already added a lot of depth on the wings, but they also will likely have lost Hoffman, Tarasenko, and Jaden Schwartz before next season. Another winger for the middle six would really help round out the roster. Tatar is believed to want term, which Armstrong likely won’t want to give him, having already added Saad and Buchnevich for several seasons. But if Tatar is forced to reconsider a one-year, “prove it” kind of deal, like the one the Blues gave Hoffman last season, St. Louis could be a perfect fit. They certainly have the need for more help on the wing, and playing on a contender would offer Tatar ample opportunity to show his value.
2. Eric Staal
Eric Staal didn’t have the strongest season in 2020-21, but few players who began the campaign with the Buffalo Sabres did. Before that, he had four strong seasons with the Minnesota Wild, a division rival of the Blues. Staal is 36, but should still have enough tread on the tires to provide the Blues value in the bottom-six. He could be a logical replacement for Tyler Bozak (though the door is not closed on a return for him, either), providing an option either at center or wing on the third line.
The Blues are, at present, the 12th most-experienced and ninth-oldest team in the NHL, but there is always space for a veteran like Staal, especially as the Blues have lost many of their greybeards (most notably, Alexander Steen and Jay Bouwmeester) in recent seasons. There has been a surprising amount of turnover since the team’s 2019 Stanley Cup victory, and like Saad, Staal adds Cup-winning experience back into the locker room. He’s thrived in mid-market teams throughout his career, and the Blues could likely convince him to sign an inexpensive, short-term deal.
3. Zdeno Chara
What contending team doesn’t want to add the legendary Zdeno Chara to its defensive core if indeed he decides to return to the NHL for his aged-44 season? Few players have ever had the career Chara has, but he proved he still has plenty to offer with the Washington Capitals last season, and if he returns again, there will be no shortage of suitors. Expect the Blues to be among them — Elliotte Friedman confirmed as much on the latest episode of 31 Thoughts: the Podcast:
I kinda wonder… this is purely me talking here, but if Chara plays next year, I could see St. Louis being one of the teams saying, ‘how do you feel about us?’… Teams I think would kinda like to have him would be Florida, Washington, if he wanted to come back, St. Louis. I’m sure there’s more, but those are my Chara guess teams.Elliotte Friedman on 31 Thoughts: The Podcast
Chara would be the perfect complement to Colton Parayko on a pairing, and perhaps the closest the Blues could get to simulating the incredible success Parayko found forming a shutdown defensive partnership during the 2019 Cup run with Bouwmeester. Like Bouwmeester, Chara is a tall, rangy, defense-first blueliner with an incredible wingspan to supplement Parayko’s own height and reach. It would certainly be a one-year deal, but adding Chara could change the look of the Blues defense as they search for a longer-term solution.
4. Henrik Lundqvist
Yes, he’s a legend on Broadway, but let’s not forget: Henrik Lundqvist signed with the Washington Capitals last season before an unforeseen heart condition forced him to miss his opportunity to play for his first new NHL team. If Lundqvist does return, a reunion with the Rangers might be a possibility, but only if an Alexandar Georgiev trade materializes. If Lundqvist is looking for another new home, the Blues might be interested. They’ve played the “bizarro world” game with goaltenders before, as Martin Brodeur played the final games of his career in the Gateway City. But more importantly, backup goaltender Ville Husso wasn’t strong enough in his rookie season. Armstrong will likely turn to Husso again in a cost-saving measure, but bringing in a legendary veteran like Lundqvist to help him chase his first Stanley Cup would be a bold move. It’s extremely unlikely, but it is still a fun possibility to consider.
Armstrong Will Be Busy
One thing is practically certain about the remainder of the offseason: the Blues aren’t done. They will at least make the Tarasenko trade, but barring a major return in that deal, Armstrong may have as much as $7.5 million in additional cap space to utilize, and let’s not forget: his owner promised to spend to the salary cap ceiling.
Barring a major and surprising trade (the Blues have been linked both to Jack Eichel and to Matthew Tkachuk at times) Armstrong will likely use that money to plug holes and strengthen his team. Defense might be his first concern, and Chara would be a perfect fit. But all the free agents discussed here make sense. Others might as well, including a reunion with Bozak or a similar depth center like Travis Zajac. It seems very possible that St. Louis will make at least one more addition via free agency. But it’s hard to predict the future, so the best we can do now is sit back and wait.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.