Just in time for training camp, the Blues have center Robert Thomas under contract. It’s a two-year deal, averaging $2.8 million a year.
If that sounds familiar, teammate Jordan Kyrou signed a two-year deal averaging $2.8 million a year on Aug. 3. Kyrou, like Thomas, was a restricted free agent.
“We are happy to have Robert signed and are looking forward to having a full roster for the start of training camp,” general manager Doug Armstrong told the Post-Dispatch via text Tuesday night.
Wednesday is reporting and testing day for the Blues; and the first day of training camp practice is Thursday.
Thomas, who has been practicing informally with other Blues recently at Centene Community Ice Center, cut it close in terms of camp. But it’s not the first time that’s happened for a Blues restricted free agent.
Vince Dunn signed three days before camp started last season; and two seasons ago, Ivan Barbashev signed about two weeks before the start of camp.
Based on a full regular-season roster of 14 forwards, seven defenseman and two goalies, the Thomas contract puts the Blues about $1.3 million over the salary cap. (They don’t have to be cap compliant until the start of the regular season.)
But Oskar Sundqvist (knee) is expected to start the season on the long-term injured reserve list, a move that would free up his $2.75 million cap count — for as long as he’s on that list anyway — and at least temporarily get the Blues under the cap.
Thomas was coming off his entry-level deal, and is approaching his prime years, though injuries the past two seasons have slowed his progress. He still hasn’t become the top six center the team has envisioned him becoming.
After coming straight to the NHL from juniors in 2018-19, he had nine goals and 24 assists as the Blues won the Stanley Cup. At the start of the season, then-coach Mike Yeo wanted to limit Thomas’ ice time and bring him along slowly.
By the time the Blues hit the Stanley Cup Final with Boston, that had changed. But in Game 1 of the series, Thomas got famously leveled by now-teammate Torey Krug and left early. He missed Games 2 through 5 with a separate thumb injury. The Blues brought him back for Game 6 but he clearly wasn’t ready and he sat out Game 7.
Last season, it looked like he was starting to come into his own until he suffered a broken hand 12 games into the season and missed 19 games. Nine games after he returned, he was out again with an upper-body injury. In 33 games, he had just three goals and nine assists.
He has been mostly limited to third-line duties, though he has shown flashes of brilliance and is just 22, meaning his hockey future is very much ahead of him.