Blues’ 3 Potential Free Agent Targets in 2023

The St. Louis Blues will be more active in trade talks than in free agency. However, there are free-agent options that make plenty of sense if they can’t find trade partners. The Blues currently have just over $7.5 million in salary cap space, per CapFriendly. They will also look to trade a defenseman, which would clear a little bit of cap space too.

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This is a weak free-agent class, and the Blues would be wise to try and avoid it, but there are a few targets that make sense at the correct price. Here’s a bit more on them.

J.T. Compher

Despite post-deadline struggles and a tough series in the 2023 playoffs, J.T. Compher is still a good fit for the Blues. If the Blues don’t strike a deal on the trade market, they’ll still have the need for a middle-six center. After Robert Thomas, there are a lot of questions about their depth down the middle. Brayden Schenn and Nikita Alexandrov can both play center, but there are limitations between those two. The Blues also tried Pavel Buchnevich at center late last season, and he was solid, but it makes more sense to keep him on the wing.

J.T. Compher Colorado Avalanche
J.T. Compher, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Compher fits in well with the Blues. He has spent all seven seasons of his NHL career with the Colorado Avalanche and has appeared in 70 playoff games, helping them raise the Stanley Cup in 2022. He had a career season in 2022-23 with 52 points in 82 games and is the definition of a solid middle-six center.

Compher would lean toward being more of a third-line center for the Blues, but he played a lot on the Avalanche’s second line with the loss of Nazem Kadri. As Compher’s role expanded, his on-ice play improved. The Avalanche dealt with major injuries in the 2022-23 regular season, so it was up to players like Compher, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen to deliver. They all did so in their own way.

This wouldn’t be the first time the Blues signed an Avalanche forward out of free agency. They inked Brandon Saad to a four-year deal prior to the 2021-22 season after he spent a season in Colorado. They also had a well-documented interest in Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, but he never hit the open market. A third line with Saad, Compher, and Sammy Blais would be intriguing for head coach Craig Berube, a group of three defensively responsible forwards with scoring ability. Compher makes a lot of sense with the proper usage.

Projected Contract: 4 years, $5.25 million AAV (Annual Average Value)

Ryan O’Reilly

A reunion with former captain Ryan O’Reilly could be on the table as well. With the Toronto Maple Leafs getting dominated in the second round, it’s not crazy to think he could return to the Blues a mere five months after they traded him. A reunion with O’Reilly has always made more sense than with Vladimir Tarasenko or Ivan Barbashev. It was clear that O’Reilly loved his time in St. Louis, and the locker room respected him. He also plays the perfect style that works in Berube’s system. It will come down to what kind of contract he is seeking.

Ryan O'Reilly St. Louis Blues Winter Classic
Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues Winter Classic (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

O’Reilly had nine points in 11 playoff games with the Maple Leafs. He played a big role for them and did a bit of everything. In the 2023 playoffs, he won nearly 54 percent of faceoffs and had 19 takeaways to six giveaways. He’s a responsible two-way center, and the Blues saw that for the majority of his four and half seasons with the team. He could be a terrific middle-six center for the 2023-24 Blues, so it makes a lot of sense.

Projected Contract: 3 years, $5.5 million AAV

Ryan Graves

The Blues need to find a partner for Colton Parayko since they haven’t had a steady replacement for Jay Bouwmeester after he hung it up. The Blues tried to acquire a replacement in Marco Scandella, but that’s been a disaster. The same could be said for Nick Leddy. However, a player like Ryan Graves could step in and fill that role.

Ryan Graves New Jersey Devils
Ryan Graves, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Graves stands at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, and he’s the prototypical defensive defenseman. He had a terrific season in 2022-23, with 26 points in 78 games for the New Jersey Devils and a plus/minus of plus-34. He found some of the form he had with the Avalanche from 2018-19 to 2020-21. A big defenseman that takes up space and closes gaps would fit well next to Parayko. I don’t think the contract that he gets will be that hard to take on, either. The Blues need to trade at least one or two defensemen to make this work, but I think Graves makes a lot of sense.

Projected Contract: 4 years, $4.8 million AAV

The Blues have specific needs in free agency this summer, but I don’t think they’ll be very active in the market overall. They won’t spend more than $6 million per season on any of these free agents, in my opinion, and they need to be careful as they determine the future of the franchise. The trade market makes more sense for Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, but I think he will explore both avenues to improve the roster.

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