The St. Louis Blues have officially locked up two of their cornerstone pieces in Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou after extending both to identical eight-year, $65 million contracts. Kyrou and Thomas have been connected at the hip since they were in junior hockey together. During the 2017-18 season, the two represented Team Canada in the U20 tournament, scoring a combined 17 points in seven games. The Blues organization opted to keep the duo together and sign both players to identical contracts showing equal confidence in them to help carry the franchise moving forward. This past season, they combined for 47 goals and 152 total points in a year that saw both players make a name for themselves in the NHL. While the future looks bright for these players, it is the ripple effect of two large contracts that could provide obstacles for the club’s front office moving forward.
Uncertain Future for Blues Veteran Forwards
At the time of Kyrou’s extension, the club has six forwards under contract beyond the 2022-23 season with a combined $33.825 million cap hit. With an estimated $15.95 million left in cap space, the club has team captain Ryan O’Reilly, Ivan Barbashev, and Vladimir Tarasenko listed as upcoming unrestricted free agents. The future of these three may force Blues general manager Doug Armstrong’s hand to recoup as many assets as possible rather than lose the players to free agency for nothing. While it is not impossible to sign at least two of these three individuals, fans and the organization will need to be flexible with their expectations moving forward.
Of the trio listed, the most difficult to re-sign could be franchise icon Tarasenko. After a public trade request, the sniper returned to the Blues this past season scoring 34 goals and 82 points over 75 games. There have been conflicting messages surrounding his future and the validity of a rescinded trade request after this season and could be a player the team could net the biggest return for. With a current cap hit of $7.5 million and his performance, his next contract could likely result in a pay raise.
Fellow Russian forward, Barbashev could provide the most uncertainty and risk when it comes to an extension. Before the 21-22 season, he averaged 27 points per game over a full 82-game season. However, this past year saw an uptick in ice time and production resulting in a 26 goal, 60-point year. At $2.25 million per season, another 50-plus-point season could result in his salary being doubled, if not more.
The future surrounding the Blues’ team captain will require patience and careful thought from the club’s front office. Along with Tarasenko, he is another player that could earn a pay raise should his performance return to form. While the forward experienced peaks and valleys over the year, his 19 points over his final 21 regular-season games, and 12 points in 12 postseason games provide optimism surrounding the future of his career. At 31 years old, the organization could likely see a regression sooner than later. However, the team will also be paying for more than just the numbers on the scoresheet when it comes to a player like O’Reilly. His 19:05 of time on ice per game, along with a 56.7 percent faceoff win percentage this past season ranked top among all Blues forwards. While this will not be enough to justify a pay raise, keeping him in St. Louis could be a priority for the team as the season progresses.
Salaries Could Limit Blues’ Goaltending Options
Beyond the 2022-23 season, the Blues only have Stanley Cup-winning netminder Jordan Binnington listed on the NHL roster. While current backup goaltender Thomas Greiss is on the team’s roster this season, it is doubtful he will return for a second year. With goaltending prospect, Joel Hofer likely earning the league-minimum salary next season, the team may not have much to worry about. However, should Hofer take longer to progress in his professional career, the combined $16.25 million from Kyrou and Thomas, and Binnington’s $6 million cap hit, the potential of bringing in a veteran goaltender for a cap hit of higher than $1-2 million remains limited. The Blues also may not have the luxury to bring in a quality goaltender to help support Binnington, should he need someone to provide a tandem role moving forward.
High Cap Hits Could Force Trade
Today, the club lists seven players on their roster earning $6.5 million or higher during the 22-23 season, three of which are currently on the team’s defense. As the club’s available cap space continues to dry up, the team may be forced to move on from one of their higher-paid defensemen to keep their forward core intact. Should they go down this path, the team could move on from 31-year-old defenseman Torey Krug who has a similar style to defenseman Scott Perunovich who is making his way into a full-time role in the NHL. The team has long boasted a defensive system that ranks in the top 10 across the NHL and should look to continue that model moving forward despite salary restraints.
While the team looks to stay competitive, high salaries mixed with aging veterans could put the club in a world of trouble. Armstrong has proven in the past that he is willing to make tough decisions when it comes to expiring contracts by letting players walk rather than jeopardize and financially restrict his team. However, there is a price to pay as the franchise transitions between cores and each group is either coming into or keeping their high salaries year to year. The Blues will need to tread lightly to not fall into “salary cap hell” resulting in a full-fledged roster turnover and rebuild.
Mike is a writer for The Hockey Writers and covers the St. Louis Blues since November of 2021. He has a keen love for statistical analysis, prospects, signings, and trades. Follow Mike on Twitter for further Blues or Central division hockey discussions, interview requests, or to provide content info.