Friday marked the two month point before opening night of the regular season, when the St. Louis Blues will raise their franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup banner into the rafters.
Even with so little time remaining in the offseason, the Blues have several unanswered questions lingering, including two significant free agents. Here is a look at the top three questions entering the season.
1) Ivan Barbashev
Ivan Barbashev was a significant part of the Blues’ Stanley Cup run, grinding it out in a fourth line role. Still, he remains unsigned. Without arbitration rights, the Russian forward has little negotiating leverage, but the team will want him to be part of the opening night roster.
The Blues drafted Barbashev in the second round of the 2014 NHL Draft. He developed fairly quickly, debuting in the 2016-17 season. After a disappointing sophomore performance, he honed his skills and established himself in a defensive, grinding role.
Barbashev is in the unique group of fourth liners who can play responsible defense and kill penalties, but can also contribute significantly in the offensive zone. He finished the 2018-19 season with 14 goals and 12 assists in 80 games.
Without arbitration, Barbashev’s price should be fairly well controlled, but it’s surprising that he remains unsigned. He has been in North America since his 2012-13 season with the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL, so there’s little concern that he would escape to Russia. But he is a fan favorite, and the team needs to lock him up before the season begins.
2) Joel Edmundson
The bigger negotiation the Blues still have on their plate is with Joel Edmundson. The heavy defender from Manitoba had a rough, inconsistent season, including being scratched in Games 5 and 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. But he still averaged over 19 minutes a night during the regular season, and at just 26, he should have significant value to some team.
The question remains what team that will be. We recently asked whether the Blues can really afford Edmundson. Looking at the arbitration demands reported by Elliotte Friedman, that question becomes even more pressing. With just about $5 million remaining in salary cap space, the team certainly cannot afford to pay him close to the $4.2 million he’s requested.
It seems more and more likely that the Blues will trade Edmundson. They already have three starting left-handed defensemen in Vince Dunn, Jay Bouwmeester, and Carl Gunnarsson, and their recent trade for Andreas Borgman lends added depth.
Edmundson’s arbitration hearing is set for Sunday, so answers will come sooner than later. If the arbitrator sides with the Blues, and they can keep their defender for a price closer to their preferred $2.3 million, perhaps he will stay around for depth. But if he costs too much, the team may have no choice but to move on.
3) Jordan Kyrou and Klim Kostin
The final question the Blues have to answer is where their top prospects will play. Fans are hungry to see Jordan Kyrou and Klim Kostin get more playing time, but the NHL roster is already crowded. Will they prioritize developing these talents? Or will they move forward with the roster they had last year?
Kyrou is the team’s top prospect, whom the Blues drafted in the second round in 2016. Last season, he got a few opportunities at the highest level, but spent most of his time as a rookie in the American Hockey League with the San Antonio Rampage. There, he was almost a point per game player, collecting 43 in 47 games. He is the best skater anywhere in the Blues’ organization, and could be a dynamic difference maker if given a consistent opportunity.
The Blues selected Kostin 31st overall in 2017. He has had some trouble transitioning to the North American game, and would more obviously benefit from additional time with the Rampage. But fans are hungry to see the Russian, whom many analysts touted as one of the biggest steals of his draft year. With his size and physicality, he could potentially fill the void presumably left by Patrick Maroon.
The Blues have plenty of options at forward, but at some point these prospects will need playing time. General manager Doug Armstrong added Kyrou and forward Robert Thomas to the opening night roster coming out of training camp last season. Could another surprise be in store for Blues fans?
Time to Decide
None of these questions are make or-break issues. But there are only two months remaining before the start of the regular season. It is time for the Blues to answer these questions, and in so doing, they may have to make some tough decisions and begin to reshape the roster that won them a Stanley Cup.