We all know the NHL’s expansion draft is coming up whether we like it or not. The Blues have a lot of decisions to make between now and then and making the playoffs might not make much difference.
The St. Louis Blues have some interesting decisions to make between now and the NHL’s expansion draft. Each team can either protect seven forwards, three defenseman and a goaltender or a combination of eight players and a goaltender.
The interesting thing is who to expose, who to protect, whether the draft will help any teams jettison contracts and other such things. Of course, the last statement is the biggest hope for St. Louis Blues fans.
Almost anyone supporting the Note lately is hopeful the Blues could get rid of either Jay Bouwmeester or Jori Lehtera. Both are under contract until 2019 and both earn right around $5 million per year (give or take a few hundred thousand for each guy).
That would be great from a financial point of view. The Blues need to bring in a veteran who can take this team back to the level they found in 2015-16. $4.7 or $5.4 million would do the trick and the Blues should have enough space to give some raises as well.
With all that said, the team might actually be better off looking in a different direction. Despite the public outcry for the team to not protect Bouwmeester, leaving Carl Gunnarsson unprotected might be the better call.
Most people, assuming they didn’t click the red X in their browser are probably yelling right now. Why protect the fan’s whipping boy in Bouwmeester and let Gunnarsson and his relatively cheap $2.9 million go?
The answer is because Bouwmeester is a top four defenseman. Gunnarsson is not.
Say what you will about Bouwmeester, but he is still a valuable piece. He will never be what fans wanted of him. He is not going to suddenly regain his form that saw him score 79 points in Florida or 48 points in Calgary.
That does not mean he is not a decent player for what the team still needs of him.
Despite what fans want to believe, Bouwmeester is still a top-two defender on most teams. He’s a top-four defender on just about every team including Team Canada.
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Bouwmeester plays important minutes. Even as his offense has declined, he still averages over 20 minutes a game and he was on the ice in the crucial moments of even the most important games for Canada.
Gunnarsson has an inexpensive contract. That’s about the only thing you can say about him. He’s a ghost other than that. If the broadcasters did not say he was in the lineup, you could easily forget he was even with the Blues.
He doesn’t bring offense to the table. In parts of three seasons, he has 25 points with the Blues.
He’s not a great defender. The team has taken him in and out of the lineup either due to injury or simply to play someone else. His time on the ice has dwindled as well.
No, his contract numbers would not give the Blues enough to make a big splash in free agency, but it gives them more freedom. St. Louis has quite a bit of organizational depth on defense and needs to start figuring out who can cut it.
Gunnarsson’s spot would be much better suited to hand over to Petteri Lindbohm or Vince Dunn. Lindbohm showed good signs in the brief chances he has been given. He was simply too far behind the chart of those already on the team and wasn’t considered offensive enough. No offense, but he cannot be too much of a step down from Gunnarsson.
Dunn is still young and might do well with more grooming. However, he showed some good spunk with his recent fight and sticking up for a teammate in the AHL. That’s the kind of grit the Blues need even if it comes from a kid. That Dunn has showed some offensive skill can’t be ignored either.
Ultimately, all this talk might be for nothing. The Las Vegas Golden Knights might select a Blues forward or take Carter Hutton off our hands.
That does not necessarily change the thinking behind the idea. Steven Conklin already suggested it might be the team’s move anyway and the idea would be smart no matter how much Bouwmeester is disliked at the moment.
Gunnarsson is younger, but even at 33 there is just more upside to Bouwmeester. Gunnarsson is just a body right now and he’s taking up a spot that might be better suited for someone else.
For those of you that want to tinker around and see the different combinations you can protect or leave out, check out CapFriendly‘s tool.