The St. Louis Blues got off to a slow and underwhelming start to the free agency period in the NHL. It’s been a bit surprising to see some of the moves they’ve made, but there is still plenty of time to get things done for general manager (GM) Doug Armstrong.
There is still the possibility of a big splash for Armstrong, which is his major strength. As a result, I expect the roster to be changed in some way over the next month or so with the most likely move being a trade of defenseman Marco Scandella. The reactions to the moves by the Blues GM have been mixed, leaving a lot of fans underwhelmed to this point.
Notable Games on the 2022-23 Schedule
As the NHL released the schedule for the 2022-23 season, the Blues learned that they will open the season on Oct. 16 against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Enterprise Center. They’ll be the third team to face the Blue Jackets and new acquisition Johnny Gaudreau, who they signed to a seven-year deal with an annual average value (AAV) of $9.75 million. The Blues’ first road trip will be on Oct. 19, opening up against the Seattle Kraken, and then facing the Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets after that.
The Blues will face the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche for the first time on Nov. 14 at Ball Arena. Another notable matchup is on Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving in the United States, as they’ll face the Tampa Bay Lightning on the road. I’m always interested in the scheduling around Christmas, and this season the Blues will play at the Vegas Golden Knights on Dec. 23 and versus the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 27. Interestingly enough, the final two games of the season will be a back-to-back against the Dallas Stars, one at home and one on the road.
Long-Term Extension for Thomas
The cornerstone of the Blues franchise is Robert Thomas, and that was proven with his eight-year extension carrying an AAV of $8.125 million. He is the first of three key free agents for the Blues to re-sign by next summer, the other two being captain Ryan O’Reilly and young star Jordan Kyrou. While Vladimir Tarasenko is also set to be a free agent, it doesn’t appear likely that an extension will happen. Getting a center like Thomas locked in was essential, as he’s set to be a potential future captain and is an elite playmaker at a young age.
Thomas had 77 points in 72 games last season and is starting to grow into the player that the Blues believed he could be after drafting him in the first round of the 2017 Draft. He has 98 assists in his last three seasons, and that includes an injury-filled lackluster 2020-21 season. His chemistry with both Tarasenko and Pavel Buchnevich last season was off the charts, and I’m sure the Blues want to carry that over into next season as well.
A comparable for this contract could be the one that the Ottawa Senators just gave to center Josh Norris. as they are both 23 years old, and they both signed eight-year deals. While Thomas has an AAV of $8.125 million, Norris has one of $7.950 million. This makes the Thomas deal look brilliant, as he’s been a far more productive player than Norris. Both of them should be productive and in their prime during their contracts, but I’ll take the Thomas deal all day over the Norris one.
Blues Re-Sign Defenseman Leddy
The Blues made the decision to re-sign another trade deadline acquisition, reminiscent of Scandella in 2020. They brought back Nick Leddy on a four-year deal carrying an AAV of $4 million. There is no arguing the fact that he looked far better and more comfortable in St. Louis as opposed to the Detroit Red Wings last season. But there is still definite concern with this contract given his overall body of work in the last few seasons, and the fact that he’s 31 years old.
Related: Early Reactions to Blues’ 2022 Free Agency Additions
The bigger concern with this deal is the term, as four years seems fairly steep. The Blues are committing a lot of money to a fairly old defensive unit, with four of their top five paid defensemen being 30 years or older, and Colton Parayko is 29. They are clearly banking on Leddy being the solution with Parayko and solidifying their top-four defenders with Leddy, Parayko, Torey Krug, and Justin Faulk. I don’t believe this deal will age as poorly as the Scandella one has, but I’m not thrilled with the deal overall.
Red Wings Sign Perron to Two-Year Deal
For the first time in his career, David Perron signed a contract with a team other than the Blues. He was traded and selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, but never signed deals elsewhere until now. It’s the third time that he is leaving the franchise and this time it stings a bit more. He signed a reasonable two-year contract with the Red Wings with an AAV of $4.75 million. He gets a raise of $750,000 and the Blues didn’t even appear to make him an offer, at least that is Perron’s side of the story.
This is a disappointing way for Perron to go out as a Blue. It also continues the wave of losing key franchise pieces in free agency. This has to create more concern about Ryan O’Reilly and the idea that he could walk next summer as well. While Armstrong has made some brilliant moves in his career, he’s made some fairly questionable choices with the salary cap. One of those was giving eight-year deals to Parayko and Brayden Schenn, which seemed somewhat odd at the time since they needed to re-sign former captain Alex Pietrangelo and couldn’t get it done due to those contracts.
Perron is a fantastic fit for the Red Wings and I fully expect him to have a great run there. He’s likely to play on the wing of either Dylan Larkin or Andrew Copp and is the type of player that an upcoming team like Detroit could really use. The bottom line is that Armstrong chose Leddy over Perron and that will sting for quite some time, but I wish the best of luck to him and he’s always welcome back in St. Louis anytime.
Free Agent Signings of Greiss, Acciari, Leivo
All of the moves for the Blues on the open market have been depth additions, as they signed a questionable backup goaltender in Thomas Greiss and a former enemy in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final in Noel Acciari. The other one-way contract they gave out was to the American Hockey League (AHL) 2022 Playoff MVP Josh Leivo, who had 29 points in 18 playoff games. It’s pretty clear that the Blues are attempting to rebuild their fourth line and I would almost guarantee that Acciari and Leivo will be in the lineup on opening night.
As for their other depth signings, they brought in Matthew Highmore and Martin Frk. They are both going to be key pieces in the AHL and potential call-ups throughout the season. Highmore played 46 games and had 12 points for the Vancouver Canucks last season, and he also played parts of three seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks to start his career. He is a hard-working player that should get some time in the NHL this season, as he hasn’t played in the AHL since 2019-20 and has 124 NHL games played since then. I believe that Frk is going to be a dominant player for the Springfield Thunderbirds in the AHL, as he had 40 goals in 58 games for the Ontario Reign last season. He has a heavy shot and could be an asset in multiple ways for the franchise in the future.
The Blues also gave forward Nathan Walker an extension of one year with an AAV of $775,000 that starts next season. Walker could very well be the winger alongside Acciari on the fourth line when the season begins, as Alexey Toropchenko will still be injured. They also locked in defenseman Scott Perunovich to a one-year deal, who was a restricted free agent (RFA). Their only RFA remaining now is Niko Mikkola, who could be traded if Scandella is held onto, as the club already has four or five left-handed defensemen that are ahead of him depending on how Calle Rosen is viewed.
What is Next for the Blues?
The Blues currently have a little over $1 million in cap space right now, and I don’t see any other significant moves coming. They seem set and content with their current roster, despite likely getting worse with the moves made this summer. The biggest positive to take away from losing Perron is Jake Neighbours getting his first real shot at being a middle-six forward in the NHL.
Unless they shockingly trade Tarasenko or Krug, they don’t have the cap space to make any significant moves. The focus should now shift to extending O’Reilly and Kyrou, which is obvious. This team will still be good and more than likely make the playoffs, but it’s hard not to scratch your head at the moves made by Armstrong so far this offseason.