Salary Cap & Youth Could Force Blues to Make Defensive Changes

The St. Louis Blues will have some difficult decisions ahead of the NHL’s March 3rd trade deadline. With a limited amount of cap flexibility and a number of their players on the mend eyeing returns in the coming weeks, the teams’ defensemen find themselves in a predicament for not only the remainder of the season but for the coming unrestricted free agents as well. At this time, the Blues have six players on the Injured Reserve list, three of which have been listed on the Long-Term Injured Reserve list since preseason. With the emergence of the organization’s youth taking shape, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong and his front office staff may have additional questions that will need answers sooner than later when it comes to re-signing players and who to hold on to and who to trade away.

Tucker Earning Spot with the Blues

Blues prospect defenseman Tyler Tucker was recalled from the Springfield Thunderbirds of the American Hockey League on Jan. 7 as fellow defenseman Nick Leddy went down due to an injury, ultimately missing four games. Before his most recent recall, he appeared in four games with the club from Nov. 16-21st averaging 13:01 of time on ice and an even plus-minus rating. However, in his most recent six-game stretch, he has not only earned warranted looks due to his defensive style of play but his ability to chip in on the offensive side of the game and willingness to play a physical style of hockey after dropping the gloves with Nashville Predators forward, Sam Carrick.

This season, Tucker is ninth on the Thunderbirds in total points scoring one goal and earning 13 total points in 25 games. With the multitude of veteran defensemen on the Blues squad, it is unlikely that he will have the opportunity to chip in much offensively, but should be provided with plenty of opportunity to showcase his defensive skills if he remains in his coach’s favor.

NHL Salary Cap Making Decisions Difficult For Teams to Make Trades

All season long, the coming cap crunch for the Blues has loomed over like a dark cloud. With the team underperforming for the majority of the season, there has been a constant reminder that the team has two of their top players are not only out with long-term injuries and needing new contracts in the offseason and a surplus of veteran and NHL-ready defensemen waiting in the wings. At this time, the 2023-24 Blues have Justin Faulk, Colton Parayko, Torey Krug, Marco Scandella, Nick Leddy, and Robert Bortuzzo all under contract, while Calle Rosen, Niko Mikkola, Scott Perunovich, and Tucker are either restricted or unrestricted free agents after this year. With short and long-term financial decisions looming, it would not come as a surprise if the Blues look to offload or package at least one of their expiring contracts to retain future assets.

Torey Krug St. Louis Blues
Torey Krug, St. Louis Blues (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The bigger question comes of the five defensemen that hold either a full or modified no-trade clause earning a combined $26.775 million next season. Knowing that his team is stuck in a financial pickle, the decision to try and facilitate a trade to offload at least one of these contracts would help Armstrong and the Blues in a big way. However, a trade might be hard to come by with the rest of the NHL is stuck financially as they await for the salary cap to significantly rise for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Related: Blues Have Plenty of Pieces to Move at the 2023 Trade Deadline

Though the sample size is small, the Blues have already begun to see what the future could hold for their defensive core. After moving on from both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Colorado Avalanche, Rosen has seemingly found new life with the Blues organization. Along with his emergence, the growth and NHL-readiness of Tucker and Perunovich provide the Blues with three cost-controlled defensemen that can provide financial relief and valuable contributions on the ice. Keeping all three of these players could cost the Blues as they may need to move on from players like Mikkola, Krug, Scandella, and even Bortuzzo in their place. Facilitating these trades will not come easy, but they might be ones that Armstrong will need to make if he believes in his youthful defenders.

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