Free agency opens in five days and there are quite a few prominent players set to hit the open market, as well as restricted free agents that still need to be re-signed. St. Louis is still enjoying their Stanley Cup victory, but they’ll soon have to get to work, with more than a few key players in the title run in need of extensions. Here’s a closer look at their free agent situation:
Key Restricted Free Agents: G Jordan Binnington – In an off-season highlighted by so many high-profile restricted free agents, perhaps no case is more intriguing that Binnington’s. Both sides (and potentially an arbitrator) face the very difficult task of trying to quantify the value of a 26-year-old rookie who has accomplished so much in so short a time. Binnington is one of the stranger cases in recent memory; a player who toiled in the minors through much of a standard NHL career only to emerge as one of the best goalies in the league in the second half and lead his team to a Stanley Cup. Binnington may want a short-term deal to further cement his value prior to a longer extension, but he may also want a long-term deal to maximize the value established this season. Similarly, the Blues may want to lock Binnington up long-term before his value can rise over a full NHL season, but they know there’s risk involved there. However, a short-term deal that could see Binnington soon leave as UFA is equally as treacherous. There’s really no way to know what will happen here, but it bears watching.
D Joel Edmundson – Edmundson is a tricky case as he’s played four full seasons with the Blues, without ever playing in 70 or more games in a season. Offense is also not the hallmark of his game, as he consistently finishes in the 10-20 point range despite considerable ice time. Edmundson’s job is simply to play defense, and he plays the role well with physicality and awareness. Edmundson has been one of the Blues’ leaders in hits and blocked shots each of the past three years, even as he missed double-digit games, and that is where his value lies. However, shutdown defensemen can be hard to quantify and St. Louis may have concerns about a long-term commitment to an injury-prone player who lacks offensive upside.
Key Unrestricted Free Agents: F Patrick Maroon – Maroon took a hometown discount last summer, signing in St. Louis for one year and $1.75MM following back-to-back 40+ point seasons. At first it looked like Maroon was actually a mistake rather than a bargain after a very quiet first half of the season. However, as Maroon went, so did the Blues. His play improved in the second half to the tune of 28 points by the end of the year and then his gritty, physical style came up clutch in the postseason and was a key piece of the Stanley Cup run. Maroon single-handedly has reignited interest in veteran crash-the-net forwards, but he himself likely won’t cash in on the market demand. There was likely a handshake agreement between both sides when Maroon took a deal well below market value last summer and after coming up big and establishing himself as a leader and fan favorite, it would be a major surprise if the Blues didn’t hold up their end of the bargain with a raise and multi-year extension.
D Carl Gunnarsson – Gunnarsson was little more than a part-time player for the Blues this season, skating in a career-low 25 games. He also recorded just seven points and saw his ice time cut back. However, when injuries struck in the postseason and Gunnarsson was called upon, he played very well in 19 games. Gunnarsson may not be an exciting player, but he’s a sound depth piece with experience. He’s the type of No. 7 defenseman that contenders like to have. Signs point to the Blues being that contender again, but with little wiggle room against the cap, if the market for Gunnarsson gets to high, St. Louis will have to say goodbye.
Projected Cap Space: The Blues have approximately $17.2MM in cap space. Looking at the players they need to re-sign the sheer number of contracts is a bigger problem than any individual salary. With seven to ten of the listed free agents likely to be back in St. Louis and on the NHL roster next year, the team likely has just enough space to re-sign each to a smart deal and that’s it. Don’t expect the defending champs to be active on the free agent market this summer.