The St. Louis Blues have issues to deal with the salary cap in terms of dollars and cents. However, how other teams treat the cap makes the Blues life just as hard.
When we see a mid-market (some might say small market) team like the St. Louis Blues spending right up to the NHL’s salary cap, it is easy to assume just about all teams do. At the very least, you’d figure they might try to.
However, that is not the case. In fact, most teams actually don’t spend that much and that will make the 2020 offseason that much harder for the Blues.
Unfortunately for St. Louis, keeping their free agents in the 2020 offseason is not just a matter of dollars and term. The Blues have to create room under the salary cap if they are to have any chance of keeping their captain, Alex Pietrangelo.
Of course, sports radio and fans all have ideas of how best to accomplish that. After the team traded Jake Allen to the Montreal Canadiens, most jumped to the conclusion that Alex Steen or Tyler Bozak would be the next out the door.
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In a vacuum, that is correct. They make the most money while still being pieces you could learn to live without.
Again, this is not just about dollar amounts. Sadly, how other teams look at the salary cap will greatly affect Doug Armstrong’s ability to make any kind of move with those two players.
Some might say just buy Steen out. That’s not as beneficial as you might think.
Buying Steen out now does save the Blues a little over $2 million. That still gives them a cap hit of over $3 million this season for a guy who won’t suit up for you. Additionally, it defers a cap hit of $1.16 million for 2021-22, again for a player not on your roster.
There’s just no way Armstrong buys out a player with Steen’s tenure in the last year of his contract. Armstrong can be a shrewd businessman, but he’s also loyal.
The only way Steen leaves is if it’s part of a package deal. That would have to include the Blues sending another player or perhaps draft picks away.
Technically, the same could be said of Bozak. While Bozak likely has a bit more value due to being slightly younger and also a center, nobody is going to take Bozak straight up. The Blues would have to include a sweetener, such as a pick.
All of that has been discussed. What we continue to overlook is the willingness of teams even considering adding.
While the doom and gloom of the salary cap was pushed to the side for the playoffs, and since the league announced a stagnant cap instead of a large percentage decrease, it was all just a respite. The truth is quite a few teams are either going to stand pat or actually look to be sellers in the offseason.
We forget that the cap is just a ceiling. You are more than welcome to not spend to that threshold.
Arizona might have snuck into the 2020 playoffs by way of a random format, but they advanced a round. Instead of looking to build on that, they will almost surely have a vastly different look next season due to cap issues.
While the Pittsburgh Penguins are perennial contenders on paper, they are also looking to change their roster for cap space. They’ve already made a couple minor deals.
Even teams not close to the cap will cause issues for those looking to make space. The Buffalo Sabres have already said they have an internal cap of something in the low-$70 million range. They are rumored to be one of a handful of teams that will take that approach.
That’s no good for the fans of those teams, but it’s not bad business. You can see what you have at a lower cost and have enough financial freedom to add a big piece if your team makes a surprising run.
However, that business model doesn’t help a team like the Blues out. As good a player as Bozak is, there just are not going to be a lot of teams looking to add salary for the sake of it. In years past, maybe so, but not with the current economic climate.
There are currently only five teams below the salary floor. Only one of them are contenders (the Colorado Avalanche), but adding a third-line center at $5 million might not be that appetizing when you could get a similar player for less money in free agency.
Time will tell how this all plays out. Right now, it seems using the LTIR option for Vladimir Tarasenko will be the Blues best bet if they really want to sign Pietrangelo. They can make a trade later.
Trying to force a trade now just doesn’t seem that available.