The St. Louis Blues pushed all their chips to the center of the table just prior to free agency opening in the summer of 2022. While we had heard plenty from the organization regarding Robert Thomas, few expected him to be featured so prominently in their plans this offseason.
Thomas got awarded with an eight-year, $65 million contract, which carries a cap hit of $8.125 million per season. That is the richest contract in Blues history.
Now, given the nature of sports, that isn’t saying as much as you might think. The average contract now compared to the richest contract for anyone 20-plus years ago is no comparison.
Still, when you look back on some of the names in Blues history and then you look at Thomas, it feels weird to say this is the guy we are giving the most money ever to. That’s not a knock on Thomas, but a mere reality of the situation.
My problem with the contract is with the contract, not the player. I’m fine with the concept of locking him up long term, especially if the staff and front office have seen enough to think he will become a true number one center.
However, the Blues have had success in giving out “smaller” contracts to more people as opposed to having one highly paid player and skimming off the bottom line or third-pair defenders. Having your highest paid player at $7.5 million is awarding the player while also letting you flesh out your entire roster with quality players.
$8.125 isn’t a ton higher than $7.5 million, but it just feels slightly off. Clearly the team is willing to say that, but as fans, are we willing to actually consider Thomas a better player than Vladimir Tarasenko or Ryan O’Reilly?
St. Louis passed on Alex Pietrangelo because he wanted $8 million or more. Age is definitely a huge factor, but it’s hard for me to be absolutely sure Thomas becomes a better player than Petro was at the time. I hope he does, but it’s still a slight unknown.
When you factor history in, it also feels slightly odd. The Blues have had some big names that were not great players immediately when they came, but you still got the sense early on.
Nobody knew much about Brett Hull when he was traded. Some newspaper articles suggested the Blues got the short end of the deal.
Hull proved that wrong quickly. He scored 41 goals his first full season with the Blues and everyone knew he’d be worth every penny.
A better comparison to what the team hopes they have in Thomas might be Adam Oates. Oates put up 78 points his final year in Detroit, before the Blues traded for him in the offseason.
He rewarded their confidence with 102 points the first year in St. Louis. Oates wasn’t in St. Louis all that long, but he was a guy you could see giving the big bucks to.
The reason the comparison to Oates might make sense is that Thomas is coming off a 77 point performance in his fourth year in the league. Whether by coincidence or not, Oates’ 78-point season was his fourth in the league too.
The question is whether Thomas has 25-30 more points in him. If he does, fantastic. The contract will be well worth it.
If not…I don’t know.
Again, I’m not against Thomas, nor doubting his talents. I just feel the most talented guy on the team should often be the one that is most highly paid.
At this point in time, I don’t know what percentage of people would consider Thomas the most talented guy on the team. St. Louis has been bitten plenty of times by paying guys for past production, but now they’re paying Thomas based solely on potential.
That’s a bit on the dangerous side.
However, the counter argument is that we know Thomas is capable and he took an important step by showing a shooter’s touch in the second half of 2021-22. Additionally, looking at some of the names that are getting paid around the same, it does not feel quite so out of place.
John Tavares is making $11 million per season and he just had a 76-point season. So, hopefully this ends up being a bargain contract.
The salary cap is expected to rise for 2023-24, so it’s not even about the money in and of itself. I just hope Thomas can live up to the weight the team just put on him.