The St. Louis Blues are down to one player, really, left to sign from the Stanley Cup team. However, a lack of options for Ivan Barbashev could actually work against the Blues.
The St. Louis Blues and general manager Doug Armstrong have been very smart about their contracts in recent years. Armstrong wass known for giving out unnecessary, somewhat albatross contracts, but he learned his lesson and has been more businesslike in his recent dealings.
For some players, that is not what they want when it comes time for them to move up in the world. Every player wants the sun and the moon, whether they deserve it or not.
So, the Blues enter an interesting situation with their final contract to be signed in 2019. With Ivan Barbashev, the Blues hold all the power in terms of his NHL rights. Unfortunately, we have been down this road and a player backed into a corner can make selfish, even if justified, decisions.
After the 2013-14 season, Vladimir Sobotka was flying high. He had just put up the most points of his career (9G, 24A) and wanted a big payday from his current $1.3 contract.
The Blues were not budging since they held the power with Sobotka still being a restricted free agent. Despite winning an arbitration case that would have paid him $2.725 million, Sobotka bolted for the KHL.
Now, the Blues enter a similar situation with Barbashev. In this case, the Blues have even more power since Barbashev does not have arbitration rights. So, it is either play in the NHL under whatever financial terms the Blues offer, go to the KHL or sit at home.
The Blues are well within their rights to be smart about their own pocketbooks. They only have $1.9 million in cap space according to CapFriendly. You don’t want to use up every penny of that and have no financial freedom to bring up guys from the AHL or make trades during the season.
The flip side of that is you do not want to lose Barbashev to the Russian league. While it is a viable alternative for the players, getting those players back is next to impossible if they sign a multiple-year deal in the KHL.
In the Sobotka situation, it was two years before he returned to suit up for the Blues. Even in the summer of 2016 there were rumblings it might not happen if the KHL wanted to play hardball.
With the Barbashev situation, the Blues must be careful, both with the player and for themselves.
On the one hand, you have to remember that Barbashev seems best suited on the fourth line. Like Sobotka, Barbashev is capable of playing higher in the lineup when given the chance, but that is not where he is best suited for an entire season.
You cannot throw money at a player that is only going to get you around 30 points. We have no guarantees that Barbashev’s 14 goals in 2018-19 was not an aberration. The Blues have paid for potential and projected production in the past and it usually bit them.
On the other hand, you do not want to offend Barbashev with a lowball offer simply because he has no option but to take it. Barbashev did just set a career high for goals and points.
He was also top-10 on the team in hits and one of the team leaders in hits during the playoffs. For a team that prides itself on physicality under Craig Berube, you don’t want to let one of your better physical players just walk away.
Thus, it’s an interesting little pickle the Blues find themselves in, even though they seem to hold all the cards. You don’t want to overpay, but you cannot undervalue either.
St. Louis does have options if Barbashev heads home to play for a year or two. Pat Maroon is inexplicably still on the free agent market, even though the Blues have known for some time they will not have cap space for him.
Perhaps Maroon really does not have any suitors. Perhaps Armstrong knows the Barbashev thing won’t end well and Maroon is his safety net.
Right now, all likelihood still points to Barbashev signing and being in a Blues uniform when the 2019-20 season starts. When you start mentioning the KHL, however, anything can happen.
Fingers are crossed the Blues do the right thing and keep Barbashev in house. Anything more than $1.1 or $1.2 million might be overpaying though. Time will tell.