St. Louis Blues Offseason: Free Agency Recap Part I


St. Louis Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong has shaken up the roster this summer with the hopes that these changes will provide the push needed for the Blues to win their first Stanley Cup.

The first two articles in this series focused on Vladimir Tarasenko’s $60-million contract, and discussed how coach Ken Hitchcock needs the Blues to win a Stanley Cup if he wants to stay in St. Louis. Both of those pieces highlighted how recent postseason failures have made rebuilding the roster a focus for the team.

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Armstrong quickly showed the Blues would look different going forward with a number of notable decisions on the first day of free agency, July 1.

The Blues opted not to re-sign two of their defensemen, allowing Barret Jackman and Zbyněk Michálek to sign with new teams.

Michálek was acquired by the Blues in March and he played 15 games in the regular season and in all 6 of the playoff games. Statistically he was a good investment for the rest of the season, but he was never going to be more than a rental. Michálek signed with the Arizona Coyotes, returning to the team the Blues acquired him from at deadline.

And while the loss of Michálek may be insignificant to Blues fans, seeing Jackman play for another team will be a big change.

Jackman joined the Blues in 2002 as a rookie and up until now he spent his entire career with the team. While some hoped Jackman would always be a Blue, after 13 seasons his 803 games will leave him second for games played in a Blues jersey.

Jackman was dedicated to the Blues and fans were always supportive of him. I’ll never forget his goal from the neutral zone this spring against the Winnipeg Jets, and “Jax, Jax, Jax” will echo through my mind every time I see him play.

Blues fans will still have plenty of opportunities to watch Jackman play, as his new contract is a 2-year deal worth $4 million for the Nashville Predators. The Blues and the Predators will meet five times a season, as they are division rivals. Their first game will take place on Nov. 7.

Most Blues fans knew that this season would be Jackman’s last with the team. With the way teams need scoring from everybody on the ice, his low offensive production does not fit the Blues plan going forward.

Jackman’s deal is a good one for everyone. Jackman is getting a good paycheck and he is able to play with a contender for a few more years. While it would have been nice to keep Jackman as a Blue for his full career, this allows the team to get younger legs out on the ice.

While the defense became a lot cheaper on the first day of free agency, not every contract from the first day was about bargain shopping.

The younger legs that filled the void came with the re-signing of Chris Butler to a one-year $675,000 contract.

This deal is great for both the Blues and Butler.

It gives Butler a chance to prove that he deserves to play in every game, and the Blues keep a depth defenseman who was statistically just as good as Jackman and Michálek last season, and only for a fraction of the price.

While the defense became a lot cheaper on the first day of free agency, not every contract from the first day was about bargain shopping. Jori Lehtera signed a $14.1 million 3-year deal to ensure that he will be with the Blues until the end of the 2018-2019 season.

As the first article in this series mentioned, Lehtera was an integral part of the S-T-L line last season. The success of that line could be vital to the Blues in regular seasons and playoffs for years to come.

Despite Lehtera only having one year of NHL experience, he was a quality player in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) for the 4 years before he joined the Blues. At 27 years old, the Blues trust that Lehtera can continue to play at this level and the new contract looked like a sure-fire win for the Blues at the time.

Mar 17, 2015; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; St. Louis Blues center Jori Lehtera (12) celebrates his goal with teammates against the Calgary Flames during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. St. Louis Blues won 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Since he signed his contract, Lehtera has recently undergone ankle surgery. While the Blues hope that he will be able to play when the regular season starts, with any injury you have be cautious about your expectations when the player returns.

Due to having a surgery so shortly after signing a $14.1 million contract, the timing of the whole thing worked out so Lehtera is the winner of this deal. When he comes back from his injury hopefully he can play at the same level he did last year.

Until then the Blues can only wait and see.

The first day of free agency saw the Blues lose two defensemen and re-sign another to a phenomenally cheap deal. By the end of the day Armstrong had locked up Lehtera as potential core member of the forwards, only to have him undergo surgery later in the summer.

There have been some significant story lines that have spurred from the first day of free agency, but a flurry of moves over the next eight days would overshadow everything that started the offseason. Check back over the next few days to see how these other deals will affect the Blues going forward.

This is the third article in a series analyzing the winners and losers of the contract changes that affected the Blues this offseason.

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