A deep dive into the St. Louis Blues' salary-cap situation
Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

Navigating the salary cap is one of the more important tasks for any GM.  Teams that can avoid total cap chaos by walking the tightrope of inking players to deals that match their value (or compensate for future value without breaking the bank) remain successful.  Those that don’t see struggles and front-office changes.

PHR will look at every NHL team and give a thorough look at their cap situation heading into the 2021-22 season.  This will focus more on players who are regulars on the roster versus those who may find themselves shuttling between the AHL and NHL.  All cap figures are courtesy of CapFriendly.

St. Louis Blues

Current cap hit: $79,968,849 (under the $81.5M upper limit)

Entry-level contracts

None projected to play with some regularity at the NHL level this coming season.

One year remaining, non-entry-level

D Robert Bortuzzo ($1.375M, UFA)
F Kyle Clifford ($1M UFA)
G Ville Husso ($750K, UFA)
F Mackenzie MacEachern ($900K, UFA)
D Niko Mikkola ($788K, RFA)
F David Perron ($4M, UFA)
F Zach Sanford ($2M, UFA)
D Jake Walman ($725K, RFA)

Some players just fit on a certain team, and that appears to be the case for Perron, who has vastly outperformed his contract in his third go-around with the organization.  He cracked the point-per-game mark last season for the first time in his career, and a repeat performance would set him up for a considerable raise if he opted to test free agency.  Given that he has already come back twice, it’s also understandable to think that he may take a little less to stay where he’s comfortable.  Sanford has been a capable depth scorer the last few seasons, and after seeing that market bounce back a bit for unrestricted free agents this summer, he should be able to land a small raise.  If they have to spend more to retain Perron, some of that money may come from Sanford’s expiring deal.  Clifford had a limited role last season and a similar showing will have him looking at playing for the minimum salary in 2022-23.  MacEachern has been a depth piece and will need to establish himself as a regular to have a shot at a nominal raise moving forward; his spot will likely need to go to someone making the minimum beyond this season.

Bortuzzo has had a limited role the last few seasons, and while they may want to keep him around in that same role, it’s hard to see him getting more on his next deal as players logging the minutes he does often sign for the minimum or close to it.  Mikkola will have a chance to push for a regular spot on the third pairing, but as he hasn’t produced much even in the minors, a minor pay bump is likelier than a big jump.  Walman will be battling Mikkola for that spot, and while he has produced more in the minors, again, only a small raise is probable unless one of them really takes a big step and locks down a spot in the top four.

Husso’s first NHL opportunity didn’t go as well as he or the Blues had hoped for, but with their cap situation, they couldn’t really afford to bring in a more proven backup.  That’s the case again for 2021-22, when he’ll get a chance to prove himself as a viable NHL second option.  If it doesn’t happen, he may be back to looking for two-way deals.  Either way, St. Louis will need to stay with a low-priced backup to make their salary structure work.

Two years remaining

F Ivan Barbashev ($2.25M, UFA)
F Jordan Kyrou ($2.8M, UFA)
F Ryan O’Reilly ($7.5M, UFA)
F Oskar Sundqvist ($2.75M, UFA)
F Vladimir Tarasenko ($7.5M, UFA)

When Buffalo signed O’Reilly to this contract just one year after acquiring him from Colorado back in 2016, the price tag seemed steep.  The hope was that he’d become a top-line center, but it took getting traded again for him to truly get to that level.  With St. Louis, O’Reilly has upped his production while continuing his strong defensive play, earning a Selke Trophy and finishing in the top five in voting the other two seasons.  He has made a case for a small raise — he doesn’t put up elite offensive numbers to get him into that $10M or more tier — but he’ll be 32 when his next contract starts, taking away the potential for a max-term pact.

On the other end of the scale is Tarasenko.  You all know the story by now — multiple shoulder surgeries, decreased offensive production and a mutual desire for a change of scenery even though one has yet to materialize.  He’ll need to bounce back in a big way to have a shot at a contract anywhere near this two years from now.  Kyrou’s first full NHL season was a strong one, but with his limited track record and their cap situation, a bridge deal was the only way to go.  He’ll at least get a small raise with a $3.2M qualifying offer, but it also wouldn’t be shocking to see him double his current AAV on a long-term pact.  Sundqvist, when healthy, has become a capable third-liner, and as a center, he plays a premium position but will need to improve his production if he wants more than a nominal raise two years from now.  The same can be said for Barbashev who, while he has been used more as a winger, can also play down the middle which will help his value on the open market.

Three years remaining

D Marco Scandella ($3.275M, UFA)

Scandella made an immediate impact after being acquired from Montreal in 2020, earning this extension soon after.  He doesn’t produce much but is a capable shutdown defender who can play on the second pairing.  It’s not a value contract, but it’s not an overpayment either.

Four or more years remaining

G Jordan Binnington ($6M through 2026-27)
F Pavel Buchnevich ($5.8M through 2024-25)
D Justin Faulk ($6.5M through 2026-27)
D Torey Krug ($6.5M through 2026-27)
D Colton Parayko ($5.5M in 2021-22, $6.5M through 2029-30)
F Brandon Saad ($4.5M through 2025-26)
F Brayden Schenn ($6.5M through 2027-28)

Schenn’s production dipped a bit last season in terms of his per-game rates, which is worth noting given that he is paid to be a key offensive piece, but after five seasons of 50-plus points before that, it’s also reasonable to expect he’ll bounce back.  If that happens, they’ll get a reasonable bang for their buck.  Buchnevich was brought in to bolster their offense after a career year with the Rangers where he hovered near a point per game.  Production around that mark would be a great return for the Blues.  Saad effectively replaces Mike Hoffman who signed for the same cap hit with Montreal.  He won’t produce as much but will affect the game in more ways as well.  He was a little overpaid on his last contract based on his output, and this deal is a good one for someone who should be in the top six for most of it.

Faulk’s second season in St. Louis was much better than his first, as he moved up to the Blues' top pairing and held his own.  His dip in production should be a little concerning given that his offensive output is a big part of his value.  The back years may be concerning, but in the short term, he’ll give them a decent return on their investment.  Krug’s first season in St. Louis was as expected; he added some mobility and playmaking to the Blues' back end, and as long as that continues, they’ll be fine with the contract.  Parayko is coming off an injury-plagued year, which kept the price tag on his extension down but also increased the risk.  He’s a top-pairing piece when healthy, but they will need his production to come more consistently to justify the higher price tag over the long term.

Binnington hasn’t been able to replicate his rookie performance or even come close to that level over the last two years.  Instead, he has been closer to league average in both years.  He’s making a bit more than the median salary for a starter, so it’s a bit of an above-market contract as a result but not to the point where it should be a concern for the Blues.

Buyouts

None

Retained salary transactions

None

Still to sign

F Robert Thomas – Last season was a tough one for Thomas.  He was limited to just a dozen points in 33 games, which certainly doesn’t help his case as he looks for a new contract.  However, he was a legitimate secondary scorer the year before with 42 points in 66 contests, and his camp is undoubtedly trying to use that as the basis for a new deal.  With the dip last season and their cap situation, a bridge contract is the likeliest scenario with something similar to Kyrou’s deal seemingly being a reasonable settling point for both sides.

Best Value: Perron
Worst Value: Tarasenko

Looking ahead

Assuming Sundqvist is able to return from his torn ACL in time for training camp and not need any time on LTIR, the Blues will likely be over the cap once the deal for Thomas gets done.  Moving Tarasenko would certainly free up some money (and might also allow them to bring back Tyler Bozak), but it doesn’t look like such a move is happening.  If not him, someone else will need to move before too long.

Their situation is relatively clean beyond this season.  There’s enough space to re-sign key players like Perron and O’Reilly when their respective deals expire, and while that will keep them at or just below the upper limit, those new contracts shouldn’t require moving other players out.  On the other hand, there won’t be room to add to the core beyond what has already been done either, so there may not be a lot of changes coming over the next couple of years.

This article first appeared on Pro Hockey Rumors and was syndicated with permission.

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