The hockey offseason is not yet close, but close enough to at least think about it. Unfortunately, what the Blues need most might be unavailable for the second straight summer.
The St. Louis Blues have their focus on making the playoffs and their potential opponents. That is as it should be since the players know their business will be taken care of in due time.
For the Blues and Doug Armstrong (at least we can only assume it will be Armstrong right now), they must always keep an eye on the future. Sadly, most fans will likely be as disappointed with the upcoming summer as they were last summer unless something major changes.
The Blues currently have a good thing and bad thing going for them. On the plus side, they have all their main players locked up through 2017-18 except Colton Parayko, Scottie Upshall, Magnus Paajarvi and Nail Yakupov.
Additionally, only Upshall is an unrestricted free agent. The rest can be given qualifying offers and, with the exception of Parayko, would be unlikely to get big offers from any other team.
On the negative side, the fact that the Blues have so many players still under contract gives them little leeway to look outside the team for help. As of right now, if no trades are made, St. Louis is looking at just over $6 million in cap space this summer.
That number, of course, does not include the raise the team will likely give to Parayko. It also does not include the salary of any potential extensions, should the Blus want to keep guys like Paul Stastny or David Perron around longer than 2017-18.
So, it seems unlikely the Blues will be able to make a big splash in the free agent market, even if it is something the team clearly needs. St. Louis will have to look inward again.
Zach Sanford is going to have to be one of those players the Blues can rely on. At 22 and with so few games in the NHL, Sanford does not need to be an every day player. He does need to show the ability to become one quickly though and transition into a solid third line player or better.
It may seem like too much pressure to put on the kid, but the Blues have somewhat done that themselves. St. Louis played a very long game of chicken with the rest of the NHL when it came to Kevin Shattenkirk. They did not lose, but they did not exactly win and now it’s up to either Sanford or the potential draft pick the Blues use to make sure that trade was not a bust.
It is not all on Sanford though. The guy only has one goal as a member of the Blues and three to his name overall, so you can’t expect him to suddenly be a phenom.
St. Louis will need all of their prospects to step up collectively. Whether the Blues remain attached to the Chicago Wolves or go elsewhere for their AHL affiliate, those players will need to be at the ready.
Ivan Barbashev has proven he can hang in the NHL during his brief stint. He will ned to take the next step and be a regular contributor next season.
Kenny Agostino will need to show whether this season is a blip on the radar or if he is a late bloomer. Nobody expects him to suddenly lead the Blues in scoring the way he is the Wolves, but he must show he can duplicate his success at the NHL level.
It is too early to tell how well he might adapt, but Tage Thompson might be one of the players the Blues have to lean upon as well. He is pointless in four games with the Chicago Wolves, but he has still looked at home in the pro game for a 19 year old.
It is very unlikely we will see Jordan Kyrou on the Blues next season, but he may well go pro either in the ECHL or AHL. Kyrou currently has 94 points in his third season, so the OHL might not have much more to offer him.
The issue is just that the Blues are going to have to think outside of the box. You can’t rely completely on these kids, but the team can’t just ease them in either.
The funds just might not be there to make a good signing the way we all want. Of course, Armstrong could pull some strings and make a trade.
There are options there. You can trade a current player and the acquired draft pick for a current NHL player or you can make a trade to clear cap space in order to dip a foot in the free agent market.
It will be interesting to see how things shake out. Armstrong has to know that you can’t just stand pat with absolutely no changes to this current team.
Those changes might not be the ones we want or there could be a surprise. We will have to wait and see, but it is exciting that the current prospects brought up to the Blues are stepping up to the plate already and there are more on the way.