Blues 2023 Offseason Will Be Messy If Doug Armstrong Doesn’t Act

Ryan O’Reilly (90) of the St. Louis BluesMandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan O’Reilly (90) of the St. Louis BluesMandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports /

After winning a Stanley Cup and pulling off two of the biggest fleece-job trades in team history, Doug Armstrong has earned plenty of passes. He still gets his doubters, but I’d wager around seven out of 10 fans know he’s a quality GM and trust his moves, or lack thereof.

The one downfall he’s had over the years is his contract extensions. He’s never quite overpaid when the deal was signed, but some of the extensions had too much length or too much salary at the end, which made them look bad as the years went on.

Alex Steen proved to be an invaluable piece during the team’s run to the 2019 Stanley Cup. However, his acceptance of a fourth-line role and success in that role does not discount the fact he was not worth $5.75 million at the end of his career.

After fitting the Blues like a glove when acquired, $3.275 for Marco Scandella seemed a fair price. Now, many fans are wondering if Armstrong can wiggle his way out from that contract, which lasts another two seasons.

The Blues will be paying $6.5 million to a 37-year old Brayden Schenn, if he stays through the length of his contract. I love the guy and how he plays and all he represents, but he’s highly unlikely to be worth that much money when that time rolls around.

As much praise as we heap on Armstrong for trading Jori Lehtera and Dmitrij Jaskin, unloading awful deals, we forget something. Armstrong signed those contracts.

However, even with the less than stellar record of handing out extensions, Armstrong needs to get to work on 2023 before the 2022-23 season even starts. If he lets the clock run out, next summer could be very messy.

On the one hand, the Blues will potentially have more than $24 million in cap space in the summer of 2023. On the other hand, they’ve got two cornerstone players ready to hit the open market and a host of role players that could expect raises.

First and foremost, the Blues need to come up with extensions for either Ryan O’Reilly or Vladimir Tarasenko (or both). These are two of your leaders and not just random guys you can easily replace.

O’Reilly was a huge reason the Blues won a Cup. He was the MVP of the playoffs, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy.

He was integral in helping some of the young guys fit in. We heard all about stories of him coming in early or staying late so goalies could get extra shots or he could work with guys like Robert Thomas on his faceoffs.

The Blues need that kind of leadership. They need O’Reilly as their captain still.

If nothing else, the Blues can’t afford to let a third captain just walk out the door in less than a decade. If you let O’Reilly walk, you’ve lost David Backes, Alex Pietrangelo and O’Reilly to free agency.

It would be better for everyone to just get a new deal done and have the leadership group for this team in place. Sure, you don’t want to hand out too many years, but O’Reilly has barely missed any games in his career, except one season in Colorado. He takes care of himself and can easily transition smoothly down the lineup as he loses a step.

Similarly, Tarasenko still has plenty of hockey in him. His two shoulder-shortened seasons not withstanding, he has been quite durable.

Fans and media can latch onto the supposed trade request all they want. This guy played like he loved this team and he loved the fans in 2021-22. Just because he hasn’t formed a media scrum or held a press conference to renounce his request doesn’t mean he still wants out.

What better way to prove that than by putting pen to paper on a new contract now? Maybe Tarasenko wants to test free agency, simply for the flattery of it, but I believe he’s not a bright lights, big city kind of guy.

Tarasenko would not flourish in places like New York or Toronto where the media hounds you all the time. Chicago will have money in 2023, but they’re a long way away from contending.

Maybe Detroit takes a run at Vladi next summer. They’ve already got a team consisting of around 25% former Blues.

Why not take one more and knife St. Louis fans just like they did when they picked up Brett Hull? Don’t think for a moment playing in the Eastern Conference would take the sting completely out of that potential move.

Or, Armstrong could stick it to the know-it-alls and just re-sign Tarasenko. Keep the man here his entire career, perhaps.

So many want to act like Tarasenko is replaceable. They forget that only Alex Ovechkin had more goals scored than Tarasenko from 2014 through 2019. 30-goal scorers don’t just grow on trees friends.

If nothing else, signing an extension now would increase a potential trade value if Tarasenko, or the Blues, still want a deal to happen. Teams are more likely to pony up if they know the asset they acquire is secured and won’t just leave.

However, it’s not just those two the Blues have out there. It gets just as tricky with the other names.

Jordan Kyrou will be a restricted free agent in 2023. It’s great to still have that team control, but ask the Calgary Flames how that worked out for them.

They had arbitration rights on Matthew Tkachuk and were still forced to trade him. They got a good haul, but we don’t know how the league views Kyrou yet.

Ivan Barbashev will be an unrestricted free agent. Barbashev is replaceable to an extent, but he’s also just 26 going into 2022-23. You don’t want to be replacing middle-six forwards all the time.

Niko Mikkola will be a UFA too. Barring a breakout season, he won’t command much more than his current $1.9 million, but the only benefit of letting him walk would be to create a hole for Scott Perunovich. Seeing as they’re completely different styles of player, that doesn’t feel wise.

Speaking of Perunovich, his contract will be up too. Given that he’s ineligible for arbitration, the Blues will probably wait, but I wouldn’t mind an extension up front. Maybe just a year or two.

Thomas Greiss, Noel Acciari and Josh Leivo can walk. Those three you can wait until the summer to see about, especially Greiss, but better to only worry about the small fish than an entire tank full at one time.

Nobody should expect Armstrong to hammer out all these things prior to the 2022-23 season. Yet, getting at least one done early would be nice, since the Blues are notorious for shutting down negotiations during the season.

In an ideal world, you’d re-sign both O’Reilly and Tarasenko now and hope they will take the same money for around four or five years. Maybe that doesn’t age well, but I’d be willing.

Let Kyrou prove himself and hope the production would be worth breaking the bank next summer. Barbashev you can wait on, unless you simply want to reward him for time served. Then I’d give a small raise and a few more years.

In a hellscape created by some deranged Blackhawks fan, the Blues wait until next summer and everyone leaves. It might seem nice to have $24ish million to spend, but that would dry up quickly the way contracts are on the rise.

Next. Mark your calendar for January 26. dark

Additionally, the devil you don’t know is not always better than the one you do know. Keep that core intact and spend the rest on supplementation.

Hopefully Armstrong can nail these extensions. His trades are fantastic, but we need him to hit on one of his own players for once.