posted on August 01, 2013 00:00
The St. Louis Blues continued their work this offseason completing a contract extension to guarantee hockey fans in the Gateway City will be able to spend the next six years watching an experienced, smooth-skating, puck-moving defenseman who has a knack for scoring points and can run the power play.
No, I'm not talking about Alex Pietrangelo.
Jay Bouwmeester and the Blues agreed to a five-year contract extension that begins in the 2014-15 season after the veteran blueliner's current contract expires at the end of this year. Bouwmeester was acquired by the Blues last season in a trade with the Calgary Flames, appearing in 764 career games and registering 307 points (72 goals, 235 assists).
Bouwmeester has spent the majority of his career as a top-pair defenseman who also runs the man-advantage and routinely logs the most minutes per game of any roster he is a part of. He's a good player, and he's in the upper-tier of defensemen in the NHL. The Blues defensive corps has been one of the league's best the past few seasons, and the arrival of Bouwmeester last year made it even better. But it begs the question: What's going on with the Pietrangelo negotiations?
Let's start with the glass half-full persepctive. Bouwmeester is due $6.6 million in the final year of his current contract, then takes a pay cut to around $5.4-$5.6 million depending on the year of the new extension. Pay cuts are good because they reduce the pressure of the salary cap on the roster. According to our hockey guru at CBS Sports 920, Andy Strickland, all signs point to Pietrangelo's focus solely being on re-signing with the Blues. Once that happens, the Blues would have arguably the best three-man group of defensemen in the league with Bouwmeester and Kevin Shattenkirk added in.
Carrying three players like that on your back end gives you some options to experiment with on your power play, and the Blues would have three guys defensively who are capable of jumping into the rush which could create more odd-man situations up the ice. That means more scoring chances, which should mean more goals -- something the Blues have been searching for.
But there's another angle here worth considering, and I go back to my original question: What's going on with the Pietrangelo negotiations?
The assumption has been that Pietrangelo is the player who we would be hearing about receiving a long-term extension. The cornerstone defenseman to anchor this team into a new era of competitive existence in the NHL. Instead, we're presented with Bouwmeester. A good defenseman, but 29 years old. When his extension expires, he will be 35.
So now with the glass half-empty, are the Blues having trouble coming to terms on a long-term deal with Pietrangelo? Is the money being demanded simply too much for this franchise to commit? Does Pietrangelo want a short-term deal in order to cash in on his unrestricted free agency status sooner? And is Jay Bouwmeester the long-term backup plan, should the Blues not be able to lock up their cornerstone defenseman at the price they can afford?
All are fair questions to ask given the most recent development.
Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong has shown he will spend, but not overspend. He will risk, but be calculated. He will be aggressive, but not handcuff the franchise in order to do so. If Pietrangelo can't come to a contract range the Blues can be comfortable with, Armstrong will be proactive in looking for alternatives.
The alternative just agreed to a five-year extension in St. Louis.
The Bouwmeester signing doesn't shut the door on anything regarding Pietrangelo. Everything could be progressing smoothly in negotiations, and the long-term details could be simply taking time to determine. A very realistic scenario.
So assuming the Blues sign Alex Pietrangelo, here is another developing situation. Roughly $15-$16 million will be tied up in the team's top three defensemen -- Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester, and Shattenkirk. Based on the team's payroll spending the last two years of about $52 and $54 million, plus this current offseason sitting at $55 million, the Blues' budget projects about 25% of their total payroll each of the next few seasons would be tied up in their three defensive leaders.
Committing a chunk of your payroll like that causes trouble maintaining the depth needed for a playoff run.
However, if you're going to push the majority of your budget into a select group of players it might as well be on the back end because most coaches will tell you championship teams are built from the net out. But with the extension of Bouwmeester, and assuming the signing of Pietrangelo, it will be hard to imagine a top-flight goaltender like Ryan Miller manning the net in St. Louis over the next few seasons.