On Tuesday, the NHL officially confirmed what we’ve all known unofficially for over a year: the league will open its next expansion franchise in Seattle, starting in the 2020-21 season. A lot remains unsettled for the fledgling franchise, but it’s never too early to start wondering how that team’s arrival might affect the rest of the league.
For the St. Louis Blues, there are a few different ways in which the league’s expansion might affect the team. Let’s take a look at the top three.
1) Bye Bye Bozak?
It’s a long time from now, but the Blues, like every other team in the league, will be losing a roster player to the Seattle draft. The rules will be the same as the Vegas expansion draft from 2017. This means that the Blues will likely be looking at protecting seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie. Without going into great detail about who may or may not be available (we can’t even begin to assume we know who will be on the Blues in 2020), one obvious player stands out as a potential draftee: Tyler Bozak.
During the last expansion draft, the Blues lost David Perron to the Vegas Golden Knights, one year after he signed a two season contract with St. Louis as an unrestricted free agent. It seemed pretty apparent that Blues’ general manager Doug Armstrong had offered that contract with the belief that Perron would be eligible for the draft the next summer.
Now, Bozak has joined the Blues on a three year deal, the final year of which will fall in Seattle’s first season as a franchise. While Bozak does provide a lot that the Blues need right now, the similarities between his signing and Perron’s are too significant to be coincidental.
It could be that the Blues would rather manipulate the expansion draft and look to unload a difficult contract on Seattle. But at present, the Blues’ two worst contract, Alex Steen’s and Jake Allen’s, are due to finish up in that same 2020-21 season. If either player is still with the team by then, Armstrong may not deem it prudent to waste assets to unload them for just one year. But those details will be clearer when things get closer. Projecting ahead from the information we have today, Bozak is the obvious choice for the expansion draft.
2) A New Rival
With today’s announcement, the NHL also made public another poorly-kept secret: that the Arizona Coyotes would be moving to the Central Division to make room for Seattle in the Pacific. This means that the Blues will be seeing a lot more of the team that beat them handily on Saturday night. It also means that they’ll be seeing a lot of St. Louis native and budding star Clayton Keller.
It might be nice for Keller to get to visit his hometown a few more times a season, but for the Blues, the Coyotes’ realignment may not be pleasant. Arizona seems to be ascending, while the Blues are struggling with whatever is causing them to be tied for last in the league. The Central division is already stacked, and while it may not seem like it now, the arrival of the Coyotes in two years won’t make it any easier.
3) Coaching Competition
The most immediate impact the Seattle franchise might have is in muddying the waters of the Blues’ active coaching search. Armstrong promised to cast a wide net in searching for the team’s next head coach, but now, with the Seattle franchise official, there’s yet another tempting job on the horizon.
Accepting a job with an expansion franchise won’t appeal to everyone, but for some, the possibility of crafting a team from the ground up will certainly have it’s appeal — and they needn’t have long memories to know what it might do for their career. Gerard Gallant went from being fired by the Florida Panthers at the start of 2017 to winning the Jack Adams award for coach of the year the following season, coaching the expansion Golden Knights.
As the Blues look for a new coach, they’ll have to make sure they can outpace the allure of the Seattle franchise. Perhaps they will settle on a candidate that isn’t interested by an expansion team, but if he is, the Blues will have to work hard to lure him.
An Exciting Time
Regardless of how the expansion does or does not affect the Blues, it’s an incredibly exciting time for the league. Franchise values are up, the salary cap is growing, and every team in the league is in a healthier position as a result.
The Blues have a lot more immediate concerns than what happens with Seattle in 2020-21, but it’s always fun to look ahead. The Blues were one of the least affected teams by the Vegas draft, and if they play their cards right, they can achieve the same result the second time around.
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.