Patrick Maroon was one of the most heartwarming stories in the NHL this season. Signing with the St. Louis Blues on a significant discount, he chose to play closer to his son in his own hometown. His journey, though rocky at times, culminated in a Stanley Cup Championship, the first ever for the team he grew up rooting for.
Now, he’s an unrestricted free agent once again, and the offers are rolling in. He may once again be faced with the choice of taking the most money or staying closer to home. If he chooses the bigger contract this time, no one can hold any ill will toward him. But can the Blues afford to let him walk if the price is too high?
Maroon’s Amazing Season
When Maroon signed his one-year, $1.75 million contract on July 10, 2018, it was seen as the final move in building a highly competitive roster. His size brought a different element to the team, and he was expected to play with fire after not receiving top-dollar offers in free agency.
Whether it was the process of recovering from offseason surgery, the pressure of playing in his hometown, or the general shortcomings of the team around him, Maroon did not get off to a torrid start with the Blues. In fact, he struggled terribly, scoring just 11 points in 31 games through December, registering a minus-14 in that time.
When the season was at its worst, Maroon was the subject of trade rumors, and it appeared that the hometown reunion would end quicker than anyone anticipated. But the team began to turn around. In early January, Jordan Binnington debuted, and the team started to collect win after win. Maroon was a big factor in this, as he found chemistry on the third line with Tyler Bozak and rookie Robert Thomas. From January on, he scored 17 points and was a plus-11.
That group continued its momentum through the playoffs and were on the ice for one of the most memorable moments in Blues’ history, Maroon’s overtime winner in Game 7 of the second round. Without that goal, the Blues would never have won the Stanley Cup. Maroon is indeed a hometown hero.
The Blues’ Young Forwards
Unfortunately for the Blues and Maroon, becoming a hometown hero earns a player a bigger salary cap hit. And there is some question whether the Blues can or will pay that hit. Maroon has earned his pay increase, but the team has several young players they may want to play in his spot. Here are four of the favorites.
Sammy Blais and Zach Sanford
The Blues had two young forwards break out in the playoffs in Zach Sanford and Sammy Blais. Both had seen some playing time in the regular season but really made their case for a permanent roster spot in the postseason.
Then-interim head coach Craig Berube chose Blais to take a spot in Game 6 of the second round when the Blues were facing elimination. Blais did not disappoint, scoring his first career playoff goal and delivering nine hits to the Dallas Stars. He continued to play a hardworking, physical game and never left the lineup again.
Sanford was in the lineup to start the postseason, but quickly lost his spot with lackluster play. Oskar Sundqvist’s suspension for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final opened a spot for Sanford to step back in, and he refused to let the opportunity escape him. In the final five games of the playoffs, he had four points, was a plus-five, and connected on 15 hits.
Both players deserve to be in the lineup when the 2019-20 regular season starts, but with Maroon occupying a spot, there won’t be space for them. The Blues might allow Maroon to walk if the price isn’t right, and opt instead for one of these two options.
In addition to several players who made an impact in the playoffs, the Blues have two top prospects who will push for a spot in the forward corps. Jordan Kyrou was drafted in the second round of the 2016 Draft and has had a meteoric rise to the top of prospect boards ever since.
Kyrou struggled to establish himself in scattered playing time in the NHL last season. But he was almost a point per game player in the American Hockey League with the San Antonio Rampage. He has little left to prove at that level, and his speed and skill would be a huge addition to the Blues’ offense. If Maroon remains, it’s difficult to see an obvious place for him.
Klim Kostin is also a top prospect, though he may not be immediately prepared for an NHL spot at the start of the season. Still, many fans in St. Louis are eager to see the Russian, who was drafted in the first round of 2017.
Kostin has been improving his game as an under-ager in the AHL ever since, and he’s close to ready for the NHL. Even if he isn’t ready at the start of the season, the more flexibility the Blues have, the more chance there might be for him to receive a call up.
Can the Blues Lose Maroon?
There is no question that the public sentiment amongst fans is in favor of the Blues retaining Maroon. But fans cannot know what the market for their winger is.
If Maroon’s price is too high for the Blues to reasonably retain (they have roughly $15 million and seven restricted free agents), they certainly have plenty of options to replace him. It may not be anyone’s favorite choice, but if it comes down to it, the Blues can afford to lose Maroon.
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.