While St. Louis Blues players are busy spending their days with the Stanley Cup, the team’s front office, led by general manager Doug Armstrong, is busy reuniting the championship squad for next season. With the signing of Oskar Sundqvist over the weekend, only two major restricted free agents remain unsigned: Ivan Barbashev and Joel Edmundson.
The former, a Russian forward who has proved useful in a bottom-six role, should come at a reasonable price tag. But Edmundson, a bulky defender, won’t come so cheaply. With a number of other lefty defenders already locked up for next season, and cap space dwindling, can the Blues afford to retain their blueliner’s services?
Edmundson’s Slumping Season
It’s tough to know exactly what kind of defender Edmundson is. He certainly is not an offensive threat, having posted only 52 points in 269 career games. But it’s difficult to identify what his value in his own end is. At times, he looks like a top-four defender who can log heavy minutes. At other times, he’s looked more like a bottom pairing or seventh defenseman who shouldn’t be trusted in high-pressure situations.
This was especially apparent this season. He posted just 11 points, his lowest total in three seasons. He played in only 64 games, thanks in part to injury, something else he has struggled with in his career. In fact, Edmundson has never played in 70-plus games in a single season.
When Edmundson was on the ice, he was an up-and-down player. He logged over 19 minutes a game, an important role for a defenseman. His Corsi for percentage (CF%), a measure of a player’s possession of the puck, where 50 percent or higher is a good mark, was 50.4 percent. That’s nothing incredible, but nothing awful, either. He finished seventh on the team in plus-minus, with a plus-eight rating, and he was second on the team in hits (128) and fourth in blocks (106).
But it wasn’t all good news for Edmundson, even when healthy. He collected just nine takeaways to 41 giveaways, the worst ratio on the team by far. He also posted a relative CF%, measuring his CF% against his teammates, of minus-1.5. In fact, he’s had a negative relative CF% each of his last three seasons.
Edmundson’s up-and-down play led to his occasionally being scratched. Later in the season, when Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson became healthy and began to play more consistently, his scratchings became more frequent. In the playoffs, he was in the press box for several key matchups, including Games 5 and 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Nailing Down Edmundson’s Contract
With all of that in mind, it’s difficult to pin down an exact value for Edmundson’s next contract. Lesser defensemen than he, particularly at his best, routinely make more than $4 million per season. Earlier this season, we predicted that Edmundson would make $5 million over four seasons.
That seems generous now, particularly with the Blues’ defensive depth. Armstrong has already locked in three left-handed defenders for next season: Gunnarsson, Bouwmeester, and Vince Dunn. In addition, they have affordable left-handed depth like Niko Mikkola and Jake Walman, prospects who need an opportunity to play soon.
The Blues now have a little over $4.3 million to sign both Barbashev and Edmundson. The team gave their defender a qualifying offer, so Edmundson is due a 10 percent raise on his contract from last season, ensuring him $3.15 million at least in arbitration, should he get there.
If the Blues want to keep him around long term, they’ll have a tight window in which to do it. Might they consider trading Edmundson instead? The return might not be massive, but there would be no shortage of suitors in an offer for a powerful, 26-year-old defenseman coming off of a Stanley Cup season.
Keeping the Blues Together
So far, Armstrong has shown every intention of keeping the Stanley Cup Blues together, with the possible exception of Patrick Maroon. That would mean keeping Edmundson in the fold. But it also might mean trading a lesser player to clear up a little cap space. As it stands, the Blues are pressed against the ceiling, and a depth player like the big blueliner feels like an unnecessary luxury.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.