In what continues to be the case locally, Blues’ trade talk is overshadowing the scheduled events on the NHL calendar.
Over the weekend, the chatter garnered more attention than the league draft, and on Wednesday, word of the club perhaps being interested in dealing defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk consumed the opening day of free agency.
The Blues have been the subject of much trade conjecture over the past couple of months, but for the most part, it’s been confined to a handful of players: T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund and David Backes to name a few.
Now, the Blues have put Shattenkirk in the mix, at least gauging interest in what the All-Star could bring, according to league sources and media reports that have cited Edmonton, Columbus and Philadelphia as possible partners.
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong did not immediately return a message late Wednesday. Jordan Neumann, Shattenkirk’s agent, told the Post-Dispatch that he believed the reports are “not true.”
Shattenkirk, 26, is coming off arguably his best season in the NHL. He had eight goals, 44 points and was a plus-19 in just 56 games. He missed 25 games with an abdominal injury that required surgery.
In 338 NHL games, including part of one season with Colorado before being traded to the Blues in 2011, Shattenkirk has 41 goals, 198 points and is a plus-38.
Why would the Blues be interested in trading one of the league’s top young puck-moving defensemen and power-play specialists?
Well, if they are, it could be because the club has defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester locked up in long-term contracts. Pietrangelo is signed through 2019-20 with a salary cap hit of $6.5 million, while Bouwmeester is inked through ’18-19 at $5.4 million.
Shattenkirk has two more seasons remaining on a four-year, $17 million contract.
At 28 and an unrestricted free agent when that deal expires, Shattenkirk’s salary is expected to see a significant hike, likely exceeding Pietrangelo’s current contract. At the very least, the Blues would have three defensemen with cap hits of $5.4 million or more.
The club isn’t believed to have any desire to trade Pietrangelo, and the value of Bouwmeester, 31, may have diminished after a subpar season last year.
Which brings the Blues back to the possibility of trading Shattenkirk in the right circumstance. A league source said that keeping the defenseman at a modest cap hit of $4.25 million next season and making the deal the following summer — going into the last year of his contract — may make more sense for the Blues. But it seems they may be at least investigating their options now.
Shattenkirk does not have a no-trade clause in his contract. Per the league’s CBA, he’s isn’t eligible to receive one until he turns 27, which he will do next January. But an important factor is that Shattenkirk does not possess a no-trade clause in the final year of his deal.
Though no deal with Shattenkirk appears imminent, the idea of a trade involving him overshadowed Wednesday’s contract extension for center Jori Lehtera and the re-signing of unrestricted free-agent defenseman Chris Butler.
Lehtera, who still has one more season remaining on his current contract, agreed to a three-year, $14.1 million contract ($4.7 million annual average value) , keeping him in the fold through the 2018-19 season.
After being paid $2.25 million next season on the expiring deal, Lehtera will make $4.4 million in 2016-17, $4.7 million in 2017-18 and $5 million in 2018-19.
He would have become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Wednesday was the first day that players entering their final year could sign extensions.
“He had a very good rookie season,” Armstrong said earlier in the day. “A, with him being a center iceman and B, with his size (6 feet 2, 210 pounds) and ability to play in the top six, we felt we didn’t want to wait into the season and let unrestricted (status) get too close.”
Lehtera, 27, was a third-round draft pick of the Blues (No. 65 overall) in 2008. But the Finnish native spent four seasons playing in Europe’s Kontinental Hockey League, and after spurning offers to join the Blues, some figured he may never come to the NHL.
But exactly a year ago, following a meeting between Armstrong and Lehtera at the Olympics, the two sides announced the surprise signing.
In his rookie year, Lehtera rediscovered the chemistry he had with Vladimir Tarasenko, with whom he played in the KHL, posting 14 goals and 44 points in 75 games. (He was not eligible for any rookie awards because of his age.)
“I think (the chemistry with Tarasenko) is certainly good, but he’s the type of player, he can play with other players,” Armstrong said. “And the thing is, we’re getting him right in the prime of his career at 29, 30, 31. So that’s the exciting part about his contract. He’s getting paid well, but we’re getting him in the most important part of his career.”
Butler, a native St. Louisan, will be back for a second season with his hometown club. He had three goals, nine points and was a plus-8 in 33 games in his first year.