The St. Louis Blues are one of many teams expected to be active at the NHL trade deadline, but what form that activity takes is still up for debate. Most expect the team to shop for defensive help, as there is a significant hole on their left side that could be plugged by the likes of Mark Giordano or Jakob Chychrun. Even Ivan Provorov is considered an outside possibility. But there are others who believe the Blues could sell, especially to solve their goaltending situation. Both Ville Husso and even Jordan Binnington have been rumored to be available.
Whatever the Blues do, they need to do it not with just the playoffs in mind, or even next season, but with a focus on the season after that. That’s because they have a looming “contract cliff” for three of their most important players: Ryan O’Reilly, Robert Thomas, and Jordan Kyrou. All three will be due costly extensions heading into that season, and the team’s top priority should be creating the space to keep those core players in St. Louis.
In this article, we’ll briefly overview the big picture for the Blues’ salary cap, then dive into a few tough individual decisions the team needs to make. But the central point doesn’t change: the team’s focus needs to be Thomas, Kyrou, and O’Reilly. Every other decision should be in service to keeping those three.
The Blues’ Cap Picture
Constant talk about salary cap constraints can be burdensome, but we can’t do justice to this conversation without talking about the Blues’ cap situation. Right now, the Blues are pressed up hard against the cap ceiling. Any move at the deadline will need to be money in, money out unless some long-term injured reserve (LTIR) shenanigans are afoot. But the picture doesn’t get significantly better next season for general manager Doug Armstrong.
Entering the 2022-23 season, the Blues are projected to have only $7.8 million or so in cap space. They’ll have six free agents. Some will be cheap (Niko Mikkola and Jake Walman) and some can move on (Tyler Bozak and Mackenzie MacEachern). But Husso creates a major challenge. And the biggest question mark may be David Perron, whom we’ll discuss in a moment. Entering the 2023-24 season, the Blues have a lot more flexibility, but that comes with O’Reilly, Thomas, and Kyrou moving off the books. At present, CapFriendly projects almost $35 million in salary-cap space that season.
What O’Reilly, Thomas, and Kyrou Will Cost
It’s just conjecture, but it’s not unreasonable to think that the core trio could demand as much as $24 million combined. Kyrou currently leads the team in points and is on pace for 32 goals and 86 points. That’s a better point pace than Kirill Kaprizov had last season before signing his five-year, $45 million contract. Andrei Svechnikov makes $7.75 million per season and has never matched that pace, either. It is hard to imagine Kyrou signing for less than $8 million per season.
Robert Thomas is on track for 77 points in an 82-game season and has recently found his goal-scoring touch as well. Last summer, Nick Suzuki signed an eight-year, $63 million contract with numbers nowhere close to that. Suzuki shined in the playoffs, but so did Thomas during the Blues’ Stanley Cup run. Again, if the Blues want to keep Thomas for eight years, it’s likely going to be at least in the $8 million range.
O’Reilly is a bit harder to project, given his age. His biggest-money contract is behind him, and he might take a sweetheart deal to stay with the team that brought him a Stanley Cup, a Conn Smythe, a Selke Trophy, and a captaincy (though his predecessor, Alex Pietrangelo, certainly did not). Nazem Kadri’s contract this summer will be a good gauge for O’Reilly, but Logan Couture signed an eight-year, $64 million contract that wouldn’t begin until he was in his 30s a few seasons ago. O’Reilly certainly would be justified to expect $8 million per season, even if only for four or five years.
If we can fairly assume that the Blues will need $24 million or so to keep these three players, the $35 million they have entering the 2023-24 season will evaporate quickly. To keep the space they need, they will have to make some hard decisions at the trade deadline, in the offseason, and beyond. We’ve talked about the possibility of trading Husso elsewhere. But he might not be the only beloved Blue who needs to move on.
Can Blues Keep Perron?
A year ago, when Perron became the Blues’ first point-per-game player in 18 years, no one would have ever called him dispensable. This year, he’s fallen off (only slightly, he’s still having a terrific aged-33 season), and keeping him will be expensive. But he is a fan favorite, an important part of the forward group, and, significantly, a close friend of Ryan O’Reilly.
If Perron wants to demand top dollar, he can probably earn more than the $4 million per season he is currently making, which is impressive for a player entering his age-34 season. But he loves St. Louis, and St. Louis loves him. They could likely keep him for a few more years at or near $4 million. And perhaps they should if it makes keeping O’Reilly more likely. But they cannot play games here. If Perron wants his max value, Armstrong needs to let him take that elsewhere. And whether he does sign Perron or not, he’ll have to let go of another fan favorite.
Armstrong Must Trade Tarasenko
This decision might be made for Armstrong anyway, but anyone holding out hope for a long-term future for Vladimir Tarasenko in St. Louis needs to brace for disappointment. Tarasenko shocked fans by demanding a trade last summer. It didn’t materialize, partly because of his injury history and recent output, and ever since, he has been an absolute professional, having a resurgent season. He’s second on the team in points (54) and goals (20). No one has a bad word to say about him, despite his public break with the team.
But re-signing Tarasenko is not an option. Even if the hurt feelings could be healed, there simply is no cap space to keep him. While still a top point producer, the team’s offense is much better-built to withstand his departure than it once was. And the bright side about his great performance this season is that general managers who were hesitant to take on two years of his contract with uncertain health will likely be more than happy to take on the final year of his deal after proof that he’s still a top-level player. Armstrong has never hesitated to trade a player he cannot keep to build his team for the future, as he did with Kevin Shattenkirk and Paul Stastny. He will have to do it again with Tarasenko. But it could bring a major haul back at the deadline or in the offseason.
Armstrong Should Be Creative
Above all, as the deadline approaches, Armstrong needs to be creative. It isn’t that he can’t take on salary commitments, but he must have the bigger picture in mind at all times. He could surrender salary (like Marco Scandella’s $3.275 million per season) where possible, and add salary intelligently (Chychrun’s heavily underpriced contract makes him particularly appealing). Once again, his top priority has to be keeping the space to sign Kyrou, Thomas, and O’Reilly long term. As long as he does that, the Blues should be set up for success for many years to come.
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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.