It seems like every offseason for the St. Louis Blues promises to be an interesting one. Whether they are trying to build or restock – in rare instances rebuild – there is always something for the current general manager to do.
It seems as though the work is never quite done. That’s true even for Doug Armstrong, who has provided some of the biggest moves in team history without always needing to go for the blockbuster route like Ron Caron tried.
Interestingly, Armstrong seems to get things done via free agency more than trades. He has been a magician with other team’s free agents, but his own have caused more problems.
The Blues have tended to either overpay or over-extend their own free agents. Armstrong may have learned from this and seems more willing to let guys get to the very end of their contracts before trying to give them a new one.
While this makes sense from a business standpoint, it has also forced the previous two captains out of a Blues uniform. Both David Backes and Alex Pietrangelo thought they deserved more money, got it on the open market and gave up the “C” to seek out fame and fortune elsewhere.
This actually worked out for Armstrong. Backes’ contract became an albatross almost immediately as his production declined quickly.
Pietrangelo is still playing at a high level, but it is hard to argue for a contract of almost $9 million per season. That kind of money just doesn’t work for a team like the Blues to stay competitive.
Armstrong was smart to let the clock run out. However, he would be equally smart if he did not do the same with the team’s current captain.
Ryan O’Reilly may still have one more season left on his current contract. The Blues need to give him an extension in the 2022 offseason and not wait until he can seek something elsewhere.
The main difference from O’Reilly and his predecessors is actually the intangibles. Pietrangelo and Backes were both leaders and good men, in their own right, but O’Reilly is a true leader by example.
He is skilled enough to lead his team during the tough stretches. O’Reilly had a tough start to the 2021-22 season, but ended it strong.
O’Reilly had seven goals and 17 points in his final 17 games of the regular season. O’Reilly also had seven goals and 12 points in 12 playoff games.
O’Reilly doesn’t showcase false humbleness. While many in the league would be satisfied with 21 goals and 58 points while approaching age 32, O’Reilly was not satisfied.
The Blues captain expects more of himself. He knows he is capable of more just like he knew his team was capable of more.
O’Reilly is more than capable of a bounceback season. The second half of 2021-22 should be proof of that.
We are still learning about how covid affects people and it happened to hit O’Reilly harder in terms of the recovery. Even he admitted that he just felt out of sorts when he came back and it took awhile to get his coordination back.
Unfortunately, it just came at a very bad time. O’Reilly was one of the Blues hottest players prior to getting sick, scoring two goals and five points in the first five games of the season.
After returning, O’Reilly did not score a goal until his ninth game back. He also only had three assists in that span, proving that he just was not himself.
Once he found his game, the captain was one of the Blues best performers. Maybe the goals were not there to his liking, but that team was still top-five in the league in goals. They needed their captain to do other things and he did.
O’Reilly led. After March 13, O’Reilly did not have a single regular season game where he won less than 50% of his faceoffs, he was playing against the top lines of opponents regularly and still finding ways to get the offense going, even if it wasn’t hitting the net himself.
That’s what the Blues need. Sure, it would be great to have a 25-30 goal season out of O’Reilly, but they need the guy that’s showing up early and leaving late and that’s exactly what he is.
That’s why the Blues need to re-sign him now. The cap situation is fluid, with many predicting it should go up a large percentage soon, but who knows when.
Regardless, the Blues can’t really factor that in. You don’t want to overpay or overextend, but O’Reilly is one of those guys that needs to retire here.
He is the type of player that will age and his totals will fall, but he will still find ways to be valuable. The Blues have the skill to insert someone else as the top-line center.
They have the depth where O’Reilly could even be a third-line center a year or two from now. It’s not the on-ice part that is his biggest contribution. He is the best kind of captain for this team.
If nothing else, the Blues need to have someone wear the “C” a bit longer. He’s the third Blues captain in the last 10 years, giving the Blues an average life span of just over three seasons for a captain. He’s also the seventh in this century.
Seven in 22 years isn’t a ton, but there are other teams who have not had nearly as much turnaround. Chicago is an example. Sure, it’s easy to keep the same captain when he’s a top-10 player in the league during that span, but the point is that plenty of teams have sustained their leadership while the Blues have made a habit of giving the “C” out and then letting them walk when free agency rolled around.
In the case of David Backes and Alex Pietrangelo, it made sense. Both wanted more money than what they were worth the Blues.
Backes was already deteriorating, but wanted that final payday. Petro was still a top defender, but the Blues are built on depth and you cannot keep depth handing out contracts over $8 million per season.
In an ideal world, the Blues would extend O’Reilly for three, maybe four seasons. That puts him at roughly 35 or 36 by the time that deal would end.
Given his age and current production, if you could talk him into a small paycut at around $6-6.5 million per season, that would also help the team. Who knows if that would be appealing to him or his agent, but it’s hard to see the Blues giving him $7.5, or more, again when age catches up to everyone.
I feel like 4 years at $6 million – maybe even less, if you could talk him into a really team-friendly deal – is quite fair. At 36, you can decide if you can still play or your body is saying it’s time to stop and still get a reasonable one or two year deal with someone for something in the $3-4 million range.
As mentioned earlier, O’Reilly takes care of himself. He doesn’t play that physically punishing style like Backes did, so his health shouldn’t suddenly deteriorate as long as the body holds up overall.
O’Reilly is the kind of guy that will find ways to make himself valuable even if the points dwindle. The way he’s helped out Robert Thomas in the faceoff circle, giving advice to budding stars like Jordan Kyrou or even how he handled the Vladimir Tarasenko situation prior to 2021-22 show that he’s the leader for this team.
The Blues will make tweaks here and there and guys will come and go. However, the core of this team knows O’Reilly as their captain.
Doug Armstrong needs to see that it stays that way. Get the deal done now and don’t let it come down to free agency later.