The St. Louis Blues officially added James Neal to their roster. While that always seemed likely once he scored a hat trick and fit in with all his teammates, it was still an uncertainty until the final preseason game was done.
Now, the Blues have put pen to paper and Neal will earn the minimum of $750,000. This is quite affordable for St. Louis, but it also dwindles the roster spots available.
As of October 9, the Blues have 26 players on their roster. That means that three more players have to get the ax by the time the regular season is on the doorstep.
The players likely still on the fringe are Klim Kostin, Kyle Clifford, Mackenzie MacEachern and Jake Neighbours. With each player offering something different, there is no clear cut answer as to who might stay out of that group.
Logan Brown is still part of the roster for now, so there is technically five options. However, other than trying to sneak him through waivers, I just don’t see why you keep him.
A strong case can be made for Neighbours. He has done everything asked of him in preseason and in camp and also fit in with whichever line you put him on.
Many people in the know believe the Blues will keep Neighbours around for his nine-game tryout before they keep him or send him back to his junior team. If that is the case, the Blues have to trade or put the other guys through waivers.
A case can be made to keep Kostin. By keeping Kostin, you keep him happy with the carrot still in front of him. Sending him to the AHL might make him consider going back to Russia instead of staying in North America any longer. You’re also giving him a proper look before deciding to re-up or cut ties.
MacEachern and Clifford have places on this team if there is room. Their case is they have NHL experience, have won and know the Blues style already.
What makes things interesting for the Blues is they don’t have to worry about money right now. When the cap compliance must be set, the Blues will transition Oskar Sundqvist to the LTIR list, freeing up $2.75 million.
The flip side of that coin is that Sundqvist is not considered part of the team in terms of how many people are in camp. That means the Blues still need to trim down to 23 from their current 26.
Neal is on the team now that he has a contract. So, it’s between the four we’ve discussed already.
I like MacEachern as a player, but we’ve seen what he can offer and his ceiling is a fourth line player. He would be my first to put through waivers or, if anyone has any interest, trade off.
I like what Clifford offers because I still think there is a place for more old-school enforcers. Yet, if the choice comes down to him against the two younger players, who have a higher ceiling, I’ll take my chances with the two younger players.
The Blues have tough choices ahead. Kostin may end up staying because Neighbours can be put in the juniors, but I think it comes down to those two.
St. Louis could get really crazy and put more people through waivers than we think, but the most probable scenario is for the Blues to be picking between those two guys. It will be an interesting choice for sure.