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Blues, Stars in deciding Game 7

No. 7 Pat Maroon celebrates his game-winning goal for the Blues in the second overtime of Game 7 against Dallas on May 7 at Enterprise Center. Photo by Robert Cohen,

The heart of the Blues' free agency this year is retaining their long list of restricted free agents, and the team took a step in that direction Monday when forward Sammy Blais agreed to terms on a one-year, $850,000 contract.

The opening day of free agency was a busy one for the Blues, who agreed to terms with nine other players.

But there was nothing seismic Monday, as was the case a year ago on July 1 when the team added free agents David Perron, Tyler Bozak and Chad Johnson via free agency, and Ryan O’Reilly via trade with Buffalo.

Other than Blais, this year’s July 1 transactions were depth moves, affecting only the fringes of the roster.

Six-players agreed to terms on two-way deals: forwards Nick Lappin, Evan Polei, Michael Vecchione and Nathan Walker; and defensemen Derrick Pouliot and Jake Dotchin.

The Blues also agreed to terms with forwards Cam Darcy, Zach Nastasiuk and J.J. Piccinich on AHL contracts with the San Antonio Rampage.

And what of Pat Maroon, the pride of Oakville, and the Blues’ only unrestricted free agent of note this offseason? Several teams remain interested, according to those familiar with the situation. And the Blues aren’t out of it — the team had contact with the Maroon camp Monday.

But as of Monday night, Maroon was not close to signing, electing to sleep on it and sort through things. The Edmonton Oilers are believed to be in the mix.

As for Blais, after bouncing back and forth between St. Louis and San Antonio the last two seasons, Monday’s deal represents a small-step forward. It’s a one-way contract, meaning Blais gets the same money whether he’s with the Blues or the Rampage. He had previously worked under a two-way contract, which paid him considerably less for his time in San Antonio.

Blais, 23, appeared in 32 regular-season games for the Blues this past season, scoring two goals with two assists. He also had a shootout goal Feb. 23 to give the Blues a 2-1 home victory over Tuukka Rask and the Boston Bruins.

He was a healthy scratch in the Blues' first 11 playoff games, but played in the final 15 postseason contests with one goal and two assists. He was plus-3 overall in those 15 games. His one playoff goal was a big one, helping the Blues finish off Dallas 4-1 in Game 6 of their Round 2 series not long after Stars goalie Ben Bishop had been dazed with a Colton Parayko shot.

Overall, Blais was a much more physical player this season than he displayed in 2017-18. In those 15 playoff games, his average of 4.7 hits per game was easily a team high. In the regular season, his 2.9 hits per game was the most among Blues players with more than seven games played.

Blais was among nine restricted free agents to receive qualifying offers from the Blues last week, including seven who were on their Stanley Cup roster. Among the eight remaining RFAs, Jordan Binnington, Joel Edmundson, Zach Sanford and Oskar Sundqvist are arbitration eligible.

Players have until 4 p.m. Friday to file for arbitration; teams have until 4 p.m. Saturday to do the same.

Among the six players who agreed to two-way contracts Monday, the most intriguing is the defenseman Pouliot, who played in 133 games over the past two seasons with the Vancouver Canucks.

A left-handed shooter, Pouliot was a healthy scratch against the Blues in the 2018-19 regular-season finale. But he played 17 minutes-plus in two December games against St. Louis — both Canucks' victories — and was plus-4 with one assist overall in those games.

He was a No. 8 overall selection by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2012 and has played in 200 NHL games overall. Pouliot, 25, was not given a qualifying offer by Vancouver as a restricted free agent.

In 62 games for the Canucks this past season, he had three goals, nine assists and was minus-1.

Similarly, Dotchin was not given a qualifying offer as an RFA by Anaheim. The defenseman was a sixth-round draft pick by Tampa Bay in 2012 and has appeared in 103 NHL games overall, including 20 last season for the Ducks (with no goals and one assist).

He played his first 83 NHL games with the Lightning, who released him last September because he was reportedly way out of shape.

Among the forwards to sign two-way deals, Walker is the first Australian drafted in the NHL — 89th overall in 2014 by the Washington Capitals. He subsequently became the first Australian to play in the NHL, although it's a slim resumé with only 12 regular-season games total.

He played in three games for the Capitals last season with one assist, spending most of the season with the Hershey Bears of the AHL. He had 17 goals and 22 assists in 58 games for the Bears.

Lappin, 26, has played in 60 NHL games overall, including 11 last season for the New Jersey Devils with no goals or assists. In 56 games last season with Binghamton of the AHL, he had 19 goals and 15 assists.

Polei, 23, was in Edmonton Oilers camp at the start of last season, but has yet to play an NHL regular-season game. He has spent most of the past three seasons with Bakersfield of the AHL and had nine goals and 11 assists in 53 games for the Condors last season.

Vecchione, 26, had 15 goals and 23 assists last season in 67 games for Lehigh Valley of the AHL. He has played in two NHL games, in 2016-17 for the Philadelphia Flyers.

One of the Blues’ handful of unrestricted free agents, defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon, signed a two-year, two-way deal with the Philadelphia Flyers. Wotherspoon was in Blues training camp last preseason but spent the entire 2018-19 campaign with San Antonio, where he had four goals, 18 assists and was minus-3 in 70 games.

Gordo's grades for the Blues

Jim Thomas covers Blues hockey for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.