posted on July 19, 2013 16:26
The St. Louis Blues and Chris Stewart have agreed to a two-year contract extension that will pay him just over $4 million each year. The deal scratches off one of the team's three remaining priorities this offseason as defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and goaltender Jake Allen are waiting to see what their contract situation will be like as the summer progresses.
Overall, this was an imporant move for the Blues, and it is good the team will have its leading goal-scorer and point-producer back in the lineup for the next two years. However, the move also raises more than a few unanswered questions and General Manager Doug Armstrong is going to have some manuvering to do between now and October 3rd when the Note open the season hosting Nashville.
For Stewart, this is his chance at the big payoff. After his new contract expires he will enter unrestricted free agency and if his production earns it, a hefty salary increase will be coming his way. Last year, the burly forward scored at a rate that would place him as a 30-goal scorer during a full campaign. He went quiet in the playoffs, but you can make a case about the Blues unfavorable matchup against the Los Angeles Kings. Plus, it is not uncommon to see top line talent slow down in the postseason. It is goaltending and secondary scoring that places teams on a road to the Stanley Cup Final.
This is another responsible deal by Armstrong. The contract is short-term and cost-controlled, which is how the Blues have to operate as a franchise to stay healthy, and Stewart's received a much-deserved raise sitting among the club's highest-paid forwards. The table is set for him to go produce at an elevated level for a hefty, long-term contract in 2015, and if he does, the Blues pick up something they have been lacking -- scoring punch.
The deal also heightens the questions that have been glaring at this team all summer. The Blues are crowded up front. What players will fill what roles on which line. Now that Stewart is signed officially, one more person just joined the party.
Head coach Ken Hitchcock said he envisions Alexander Steen and David Backes, Stewart and Derek Roy, Patrik Berglund and Magnus Paajarvi all starting the year on lines together. TJ Oshie closes out one of those top two lines. With the return of Vladamir Tarasenko, the signing of Maxim Lapierre, Jaden Scwartz, and the "CPR Line" there are simply too many bodies and not enough roster space. I even chose to leave out the potential case Ty Rattie could make to earn a roster spot, given the Blues need for offense.
Adding Stewart's salary to the Blues roster now puts the team roughly $8 million below the NHL's salary cap according to CapGeek.com. Pietrangelo, Allen, and Paajarvi all remain restricted free agents the Blues intend to sign. Armstrong said another trade is not necessary to fit Pietroanjelo and Paajarvi under the salary cap, so a couple names from last year's roster will be playing in the American Hockey League this season.
Do not be surprised if Jake Allen is back in the AHL when the season begins. He showcased himself nicely at the NHL level last season, but the Blues want him playing. Not sitting on the bench. Do not be surprised to see Chris Porter, Adam Cracknell, or Ian Cole (provided Pietrangelo gets signed) with the AHL's Chicago Wolves either.
Moving Jaroslav Halak is not as easy as some are demanding. Most teams have their top goaltender in place, and Halak's salary cap hit is $3.75 million. You do not pay that kind of money to a backup goaltender. Teams still looking to solidify their goaltending position are going to be careful with their interest because of the injury history Halak carries.
The Blues do not hold much leverage in a Halak trade scenario. It will take a package deal if the team tries to go that route. Depth at the forward position, however, is something the Blues do have to use. As it was mentioned above there are a lot of bodies and not enough roster space. But in the event of a trade, or an injury during the season, a handful of players can step into a lower-line role with little to no learning curve.
The bottom line is the Blues will have to make a move of some kind, either internally or externally. David Perron's trade was the beginning. The other shoe will drop at some point.
Stewart signed a two-year contract, and the Blues have locked in their leading scorer from a season ago. But it is the trickle down effect giving Ken Hitchcock extra puzzle pieces to fit, and Doug Armstrong extra decisions to make. That is never a bad thing.
Photo courtesy of USA Today