QUESTION: Are you surprised by the Blues' lack of action so far on the free-agent front?
Not really. I didn’t expect any changes with the goaltenders or forwards, other than re-signing their own players. The only real need is a high-caliber defenseman. They weren’t going to get Ryan Suter. They tried for Jason Garrison, who wanted to play in Vancouver. They tried for Matt Carle, who decided to return to Tampa Bay for a third time, so there must be an attraction there, too.
GM Doug Armstrong continues to explore the trade market and I’m not surprised that he hasn’t found a deal yet. With the type of defenseman the Blues are looking for, there are only a handful in the league and much fewer that are available. If they are available, clubs want a fairly substantial ransom, and right now Armstrong is not looking to deal roster players, only draft picks. That likely won’t cut it.
The Blues have been quiet, and the explanation is fairly clear. But eventually they must do something to bring in the defenseman they desperately need. Armstrong says that he doesn’t want to “rob Peter to pay Paul,” trading one of his top-nine forwards, but with the defensive position so important, he may have to.
This free agent market was thin and treacherous. The top guys were destined to get dramatically overpaid. The steep fall-off of talent after Zach Parise and Ryan Suter means that many other players were commanding oversized contracts as well.
The Blues have made some mammoth mistakes in free agency (Jay McKee, Paul Kariya) and the new ownership group did not want to stagger down that road again. Over time, Tom Stillman’s group will make a huge financial commitment to the hockey product, but this summer was not the time to throw stupid money at free agents.
KEVIN WHEELER (Host of “Sports Open Line” on KMOX)
Why should we be surprised? First of all, they’ve been spending time getting their own free agents signed. Secondly, we know they’re a franchise that isn’t able to spend to the cap and Doug Armstrong has said as much in multiple interviews. Thirdly, this is a 109-point team that won the Central Division over Nashville, Chicago and Detroit. How much do they really need to add to a team like that?
It’s important for people not to overreact to the Los Angeles series. It was a butt kicking, no doubt, but L.A. smoked everyone they faced during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This team doesn’t have many pressing needs (that they can afford to fill – sorry gang, a 40-goal sniper is out of their price range) and they have some promising kids coming into camp this year as well.
Most of us would like to see a solid, physical defenseman added to the mix but cost is a factor. So is the length of the contract. Andy McDonald (FA), Patrik Berglund (RFA), Chris Stewart (RFA), Alex Pietrangelo (RFA) and Kevin Shattenkirk (RFA) are among the team’s potential free agents after this upcoming season. The RFA’s are all going to be looking at raises and in a couple of cases probably long-term deals. T.J. Oshie may only be signed to a 1-year deal as well.
Going overboard to fill a 4-5 spot along the blue line right now doesn’t seem to be a wise decision considering what is coming down the road. We all know the Blues financial situation so we shouldn’t be surprised that they’re proceeding with caution, always keeping the big picture in mind.
MIKE CLAIBORNE (Host of “The Sports Hub” on KMOX)
Not surprised at all. It’s the smart move. Why overpay for, in some cases, marginal free agents? Does Jay McKee ring a bell? Just because you sign a free agent does not always bring you a significant difference-maker. Throw in the fact that this was not a strong year for free agents along with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement on the way that may somewhat change the landscape, why not be patient with your own prospects that may be able to contribute sooner than later? Time to “keep the powder dry” if I may borrow from one successful sports executive.
ANDY STRICKLAND (TrueHockey.com, KFNS)
I’m not surprised when you factor the Blues’ needs versus the talent available. No one expected the Blues to be in on prized free agents Ryan Suter and Zach Parise. The Blues did make offers to D-men Jason Garrison and Matt Carle but came up emtpy. Most people knew Garrison would land in Vancouver and the Blues didn’t want to go six years with Carle with Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk up for considerable raises after next season.
Carlo Colaiacovo is still available should they choose to re-visit him but I’m told the team would like to do something bigger. That would have to come via trade and the market has stalled a bit waiting for guys like Nash, Luongo, Bouwmeester and Ryan to be moved. Once some of these moves are made you’ll see the overall activity pick up. The Blues still have every intention of adding a left shot D-man to compliment the top four.