Last year at this time, the rumor was no one wanted to play in St. Louis, whether it was John Tavares, Artemi Panarin, or Jeff Skinner.
This year, it looks like no one wants to leave. Veteran defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson have taken less money to re-sign. Pat Maroon quite likely is pondering a similar decision.
Overall, all indications point to a quiet July 1 for the Blues this year, the league’s traditional start of free agency. As such it will be nothing like last season, when the Blues were major players.
By early afternoon last July 1, the Blues had signed free agents David Perron, Tyler Bozak and Chad Johnson. It looked like they were done for the day, and as if to prove it, the team held a conference call with general manager Doug Armstrong to discuss those signings.
Several hours later, the Blues announced another conference call with Armstrong, this time to discuss the trade with Buffalo for Ryan O’Reilly.
Nine days later, came yet another move: the late addition of hometown product Pat Maroon via free agency. Late, because almost all of the NHL’s free agent frenzy takes place on just one day every year — July 1. (Maroon also made a late agent switch which may have delayed last year’s decision.)
Even with the usual caveat that you never say never with Armstrong, nothing like last year is expected to take place this year with the Blues. And why should it?
Last year at this time, the Blues were coming off a season in which they missed the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons — and by one measly point. Armstrong had to do something and he responded by shaking up the team’s forward lines.
This year, of course, the Blues are 2 ½ weeks removed from winning the Stanley Cup. The emphasis is on keeping as much of that squad together as possible and Armstrong already is well down a path toward achieving this goal.
Maroon’s status is about the only question entering free agency. To use the description he employed at the Blues’ June 15 rally under the Gateway Arch, Maroon became a “hometown hero” after his goal in double overtime gave the Blues a Game 7 victory in Round 2 of the playoffs against Dallas.
By all accounts, the Oakville High product took a lesser offer to play for his hometown team and be with his son Anthony on a one-year, $1.75 million deal a year ago.
According to those familiar with the Maroon contract picture this time around, it’s a fluid situation with lots of balls in the air. Several teams have expressed interest in Maroon, but the Blues remained in the mix with conversations ongoing between Maroon and the team.
After a painfully slow start — Maroon had only two goals through Christmas — he had six goals in his last 15 regular-season games and three goals in the Blues’ first two playoff series. The Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas line was strong down the stretch during the regular season and sparkled in the second-round series against the Stars.
Maroon provided a physical presence down low and wasn’t afraid to mix it up, as witnessed by his team-high six fights. With respect to his teammates, he was a positive presence on the ice and in the locker room.
It all added up to 10 goals, 18 assists and minus-3 in the regular season; and three goals, four assists and minus-3 in the playoffs for the player known as the “Big Rig.”
So how much is that worth to the Blues? Or on the open market? . . . Two million dollars. . .$2.5 million? Will Maroon be willing to stay in St. Louis for less money than he could get from another team? Is he seeking more than a one-year deal this time? We’ll know the answer in a couple of days.
Otherwise, there’s very little happening in terms of Blues unrestricted free agents. Goalie Jared Coreau and defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon spent the entire season in the minor leagues.
Forward Chris Thorburn and defenseman Chris Butler spent almost all of last season with San Antonio in the AHL. Defenseman Michael Del Zotto played in only seven games after coming to St. Louis from Anaheim in a trade-deadline deal.
That’s all, folks. So unless you just have to know what happens with Maroon — and there’s no guarantee he decides on Monday — this might be a good day to mow the lawn or head to the pool if you’re not working.
The Blues do have seven restricted free agents of note in Ivan Barbarshev, Sammy Blais, Jordan Binnington, Joel Edmundson, Robby Fabbri, Zach Sanford and Oskar Sundqvist. But they are under no pressure to sign Monday.
The Blues have made qualifying offers to all seven, which gives them the right to match any outside offers. But outside offers for restricted free agents in the NHL happen about as often as the Blues win the Stanley Cup. They’re rare.
When all is said and down, the Blues’ remaining salary cap space of $15.5 million could be enough to re-sign Maroon, all seven of those RFAs, and perhaps even extend the contract of either defenseman Alex Pietrangelo or forward Brayden Schenn this year. Both are entering the final year of their deals.
Jeff Gordon's grades for the Blues players
RYAN O'REILLY, Forward
GORDO ON O'REILLY: He followed his tremendous regular season (28 goals, 47 assists) by earning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL's postseason MVP. O'Reilly battled on with broken ribs to score 23 playoff points. He regained some jump against Boston Bruins and got the Blues going in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final with one of his trademark deflection goals. During the regular season O'Reilly earned good puck possession metrics (53.6 Corsi For, 54.3 Fenwick For) with his faceoff prowess (56.9 percent success) and sturdy all-around play. Better yet, his day-to-day work ethic raised the bar for a team that had lost its way.
OSKAR SUNDQVIST, Forward
GORDO ON SUNDQVIST: He came to training camp as an afterthought, given all the team's offseason additions and the limited role (one goal in 42 games!) he played in 2017-18. But Sundqvist followed his regular season breakout (14 goals, 17 assists in 74 games) with a brilliant postseason. He, Ivan Barbashev and Alexander Steen became a key shutdown line for coach Craig Berube in 5-on-5 play. Sundqvist averaged more than 16 minutes per game in the playoffs and earned a plus-5 rating despite frequently matching up against scoring lines. He also chipped in with four goals and five assists at even strength.
IVAN BARBASHEV, Forward
GORDO ON BARBASHEV: He was a human missile during the playoffs, delivering crushing body checks all over the ice to wear down opponents. His 87 hits in 25 games led the NHL playoffs. Like Sundqvist, he earned a one-game league suspension with that rambunctious play during the Cup Final. Like Sundqvist, he enjoyed his breakout regular season (14 goals and 12 assists) and also chipped in some playoff offense (three goals, three assists). At times their so-called fourth line with Steen was actually the Blues' best line at even strength.
DAVID PERRON, Forward
GORDO ON PERRON: He added valuable production (62 points in 83 regular season and playoff games) during his third tour with the Blues, as well as the agitation element. Perron one-upped Bruins pest Brad Marchand, and then some, with his Cup Final antics. He remained recklessly aggressive despite his extensive concussion history, putting himself in harm's way shift after shift. Perron scored 11 points in his last 12 regular season games after coming off injured reserve. Then he helped lead the postseason charge with seven goals, nine assists and a plus-4 rating.
VLADIMIR TARASENKO, Forward
GORDO ON TARASENKO: Like many Blues, he struggled early on this season before elevating his play during the second half. Tarasenko scored 46 points in 39 regular season games during the New Year, then he scored 11 goals in 26 playoff games. He produced 80 fewer shot attempts than during the previous season, but he improved his all-around play. Tarasenko was less sheltered than the season before (58.3 percent offensive zone starts, down from 68.8 percent). He earned his plus-8 rating at even strength with solid possession metrics: 54.3 percent Corsi For and 54.9 percent Fenwick For. On the other hand, he was minus-5 during the playoffs and he had a hand in his team's dismal 1-for-18 power-play showing.
BRAYDEN SCHENN, Forward
GORDO ON SCHENN: He followed a strong 70-point debut for the Blues with so-so production in the regular season (54 points in 72 games) and playoffs (12 points in 26 games). Like most of his teammates, he got stronger as the regular season progressed -- scoring 30 points in his last 31 games -- and he earned good possession metrics. Schenn scored the critical third goal in Game 7 of the Cup Final and his physical play was a plus during the postseason. His 83 hits were the second-most in the NHL in these playoffs and his 30 takeaways led the league.
ROBERT THOMAS, Forward
GORDO ON THOMAS: He suffered the usual rookie inconsistencies through much of the year before scoring 12 points in 15 games in March to help drive the strong Blues finish. Thomas played a key role in the Dallas playoff series, too, providing an offensive spark with Tyler Bozak and Pat Maroon. Then a wrist injury reduced his effectiveness before ultimately knocking him out of the lineup. His overall production (39 points in 91 regular season and playoff games) only hinted as his offensive potential.
TYLER BOZAK, Forward
GORDO ON BOZAK: Had the Blues not added O'Reilly with that blockbuster trade with Buffalo, the Bozak addition might have gained unfavorable reviews. His free-agent deal ($15 million over three years) was a bit rich. He is a 40-point-type center and, with O'Reilly on board, the Blues could shelter him in the No. 3 slot. In the more limited role his production (38 points in 72 regular season games, 13 points in 26 playoff games) was fine. He was an asset in the faceoff circle, winning 54.3 percent of his draws during the regular season. He also had some big postseason moments in his supporting role, particularly with Pat Maroon and Robert Thomas during the Dallas series.
JADEN SCHWARTZ, Forward
GORDO ON SCHWARTZ: How did opponents limit him to three goals in his first 41 games this season? Schwartz's all-around play was typically outstanding this season as evidenced by his strong possession metrics (55 percent Corsi For, 54.3 Fenwick For). Back in 2017-18 he started fast (35 points, plus-23 rating in his first 30 games) before suffering a broken foot. Schwartz finally picked up his offense down the stretch of this season by scoring eight goals in his last 28 games. Then he scored 12 times during the playoffs, including timely hat tricks in the series-clinching victory over Winnipeg and in the huge 5-0 victory at San Jose.
PAT MAROON, Forward
GORDO ON MAROON: After scoring 44 goals the previous two seasons, he scored just 10 in 74 games for his hometown Blues. The Big Rig finally got into gear late in the regular season, producing 12 points in his last 17 games. His physical play (54 playoff hits) and ability to control the puck down low in the offensive zone helped the Blues establish their Cup-winning identity. And Blues fans will never forget his winning goal in double overtime of Game 7 against the Dallas Stars. On balance, he enjoyed a very good homecoming.
ZACH SANFORD, Forward
GORDO ON SANFORD: When Berube gave him a second chance in the playoffs, Sanford made the most of it by producing four points in five games during the Cup Final. His ability to blend with O'Reilly and Perron to create another productive scoring line became one of the keys to the Blues' victory. That timely success overshadowed his unremarkable regular season -- eight goals, 12 assists in 60 games -- and his three empty postseason games against Winnipeg. Sanford raised his profile heading into next season.
SAMMY BLAIS, Forward
GORDO ON BLAIS: It took several tries at the NHL level, but Blais, 22, finally found his identity as a power forward that can hit with leverage and generate offensive chances as well. He had 93 hits in his 32 regular season games, then 70 more in his 15 playoff games. Blais added a goal and two assists during the postseason while playing nearly 12 minutes per game. He also handled himself like a seasoned pro during the team's post-Cup celebrations.
MACKENZIE MACEACHERN, Forward
GORDO ON MACEACHERN: Don't overlook his impact during the regular season while playing 29 games as a fill-in. MacEachern helped establish the north-south game Berube desired. He is a straight-line player who manages to play hard in limited fourth-line minutes. Despite averaging just 8:02 per game, he delivered 49 hits and chipped in with three goals and two assists.
ALEXANDER STEEN, Forward
GORDO ON STEEN: He scored just 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists) in 65 games during another injury-plagued regular season. He can no longer play to his compensation level ($5.75 million against the salary cap for two more years). But Steen played a key role on his playoff checking line with Sundqvist and Barbashev. While he didn't contribute much offense (two goals, three assists, plus-2 rating) in the playoffs, his heady play with the two younger forwards gave Berube an excellent matchup line to deploy against top opponents.
JORDAN NOLAN, Forward
GORDO ON NOLAN: Remember when the Blues played pond hockey against Winnipeg during an 8-4 loss? Remember how Patrik Laine scored five times in that game? The next time the teams played Nolan earned an elbowing penalty 128 seconds into the game to set the tone in a 1-0 victory. Like MacEachern, he is a straight-line player who came up from the AHL to fill in (two assists in 14 games) and help Berube establish more team toughness. For that he got to celebrate his third Cup after playing for two championship teams in Los Angeles.
JORDAN KYROU, Forward
GORDO ON KYROU: He deserves an "A" for his work with the San Antonio Rampage: 43 points in 47 games as a rookie in the American Hockey League. That reaffirmed his standing as a high-end offensive prospect. But Kyrou, 21, was unable to impress Berube during his brief stints with the Blues. He had a goal and two assists while averaging just 9:40 in ice time during his first 16 NHL games.
ROBBY FABBRI, Forward
GORDO ON FABBRI: The good news: His twice-reconstructed knee held up this time. The bad news: Fabbri never regained the offensive jump that made him such a promising prospect a few years back. He scored just twice in 32 regular season games and just once in 10 playoff games. Remember, Fabbri scored 66 points in first 123 NHL games from 2015-17 before blowing up the same knee twice.
CHRIS THORBURN, Forward
GORDO ON THORBURN: So there he was behind the hospitality area at the Blues' Stanley Cup rally Saturday night, chatting it up with actor/superfan Jon Hamm. Thorburn was a full participant in the team celebration that started on the ice in Boston and continued until . . . well, it is still ongoing actually. This came after he played two regular season shifts (1 minute, 52 seconds) for the Blues all season before spending most of it in the AHL. But he is a respected veteran and a well-liked teammate, so the Blues were glad to have him along for the ride.
ALEX PIETRANGELO, Defenseman
GORDO ON PIETRANGELO: He took a step back with his regular season scoring, slipping from 54 points in 2017-18 to 41 this season. But like many teammates, Pietrangelo became more productive down the stretch (30 points in his last 45 games) and finished with good possession metrics (53.7 Corsi For and Fenwick For). Then he excelled in the postseason with 19 points, a plus-5 rating and a NHL-best 48 blocked shots. He earned a special place in NHL history as the captain of a Stanley Cup-winning team. So Blues fans can quit questioning his leadership ability and demanding his trade.
COLTON PARAYKO, Defenseman
GORDO ON PARAYKO: OK, so you want him to score more with that big slot shot and his ability to rush end to end with the puck. Parayko scored just 13 points in his first 49 games before producing 15 points in his last 31 regular season games and 12 more during the playoffs. You want him to be more physical, too, with his 6-foot-6, 230-pound frame. But Parayko matured into a shutdown defender this season, earning a plus-26 rating and blocking 199 shots through the regular season and playoffs. He and Jay Bouwmeester did the heavy defensive lifting against top offensive lines during the Cup run.
JAY BOUWMEESTER, Defenseman
GORDO ON BOUWMEESTER: It took him a while to fully recover from hip surgery. In fact, Bouwmeester, 35, appeared to be skating around with a giant fork stuck in his back during the first few months of the season. Back on Dec. 11 he was lugging around a minus-14 rating. But he and Parayko became a formidable shutdown pairing for the stretch run and Bouwmeester became one of the team's postseason MVPs. He contributed seven assists, earned a plus-9 rating and blocked 46 shots while facing top offensive lines during the postseason. After playing 1,259 regular season and playoff games, Bouwmeester finally got to hoist the Cup.
VINCE DUNN, Defenseman
GORDO ON DUNN: He took a big step forward during his second NHL season, scoring 12 goals and adding 23 assists with a plus-14 rating. Dunn, 22, has filled the puck-moving void Kevin Shattenkirk's trade left on the blue line. He is easily the most creative point man on the Blues power play. He proved his toughness by coming back with a broken jaw to help defeat the Bruins in the Cup Final. Dunn contributed eight points in 20 playoff games, but that came with a minus-5 rating and the need to limit his exposure to high-scoring opposing forwards.
CARL GUNNARSSON, Defenseman
GORDO ON GUNNARSSON: After his injury-abbreviated regular season -- seven points, plus-8 rating in just 25 games -- Gunnarsson played a key role during the playoff run. He earned a plus-6 rating with just six giveaways in 19 games. The steady Gunnarsson even earned some Top 4 duty with Pietrangelo. And he earned his place in Blues lore by scoring the game-winning overtime goal in Game 2 of the Cup Final in Boston. If the Bruins win that game instead . . . well, you don't want to think about that.
ROBERT BORTUZZO, Defenseman
GORDO ON BORTUZZO: He blocked 23 shots, delivered 27 hits and scored a couple goals in 17 playoff games as a reliable third-pairing defenseman. Bortuzzo added an ornery streak to the lineup when called upon, but he played under control. He didn't go way out of his way looking for hits and he picked good times to pinch in. Bortuzzo had solid possession metrics (54.0 Corsi For, 55.1 Fenwick For) during the regular season. And he was plus-12 in 76 regular season and playoff games combined.
CHRIS BUTLER, Defenseman
GORDO ON BUTLER: He spent much of the year serving as captain of the Blues' American Hockey League affiliate in San Antonio, helping shepherd the organization's prospects through their transition to pro hockey. But Butler, 32, also did a solid job during his 13 fill-in games for the Blues. The native St. Louisan filled the stat sheet with one goal, one assist, a plus-3 rating, 17 blocked shots and 17 hits in his limited duty.
JOEL EDMUNDSON, Defenseman
GORDO ON EDMUNDSON: The Blues hoped he would establish himself as a Top 4 defenseman this season, but that didn't happen. Sometimes Edmundson played in the Top 4, sometimes he played on the third pairing and sometimes he was a healthy scratch. He chipped in with some offense (goal, five assists) and blocked 36 shots in 22 playoff games. But his puck management was erratic. Edmundson also suffered 24 giveaways against just four takeaways in the postseason after posting a similarly bad ratio (41/9) during the regular season.
MICHAEL DEL ZOTTO, Defenseman
GORDO ON DEL ZOTTO: This veteran offensive defenseman arrived from Anaheim to provide late-season depth. He played for Berube in Philadelphia, so there was trust there. Del Zotto earned three assists and a minus-2 rating during his seven fill-in games as a Blue. He and Butler were among those "Black Aces" enjoying the Cup ride as extra players.
JORDAN SCHMALTZ, Defenseman
GORDO ON SCHMALTZ: He got one last chance to earn a role with the Blues and failed. Schmaltz played 20 games, earned two assists and a minus-7 rating and once again settled back into the AHL after clearing waivers. That minus-22 rating in 36 games at San Antonio didn't exactly boost his stock with the Blues or any other NHL team seeking a depth defenseman.
JORDAN BINNINGTON, Goalie
GORDO ON BINNINGTON: You know the story: He came to training camp as the No. 4 Blues goaltender and ended up saving this team's season.
Binnington went 24-5-1 with a 1.89 goal-against average and a .927 save percentage during the regular season. Then he won 16 playoff games en route to the Cup, shaking off some rough outings (six games with four or more goals allowed) along the way. The Blues liked their chances in Game 7 of the Cup Final because of his strong track record (7-2 with a 1.86 GAA and .933 save percentage) after losing the previous playoff game.
JAKE ALLEN, Goalie
GORDO ON ALLEN: His GAA has climbed over the last five seasons: from 2.28 to 2.35, 2.42, 2.75 and 2.83. His save percentage declined over the last four seasons: from .920 to .915, .906 and .905. That's what you call a trend. This was his make-or-break season, since the team let security blanket Carter Hutton depart as a free agent. Allen broke, going 8-9-2 under the home-ice spotlight with a 3.65 GAA and an .878 save percentage. That struggle and Ville Husso's injury-ruined season at San Antonio gave Binnington his long-awaited NHL chance.
CHAD JOHNSON, Goalie
GORDO ON JOHNSON: He arrived as a low-cost free agent to replace Hutton and buy Husso more developmental time. Johnson got his chance to step up when Allen faltered, but he failed too -- thus opening the elevator door for Binnington's ascension. Johnson lasted just 10 games with the Blues before moving on to the Anaheim Ducks. He went 2-6-0 here with ugly ratios (3.55, .884).
TOM STILLMAN, Blues Owner
GORDO ON STILLMAN AND TEAM OWNERSHIP: Tom Stillman has provided a steady hand since Day 1, leading a group of local investors who were committed to building a championship organization. That took a heavy financial commitment, since his group had to overcome the long-term damage caused when the previous owners started running out of money. Stillman and Co. made tough decisions on the business side to run a leaner operation.
But on the hockey side, they opted to go for it -- spending to the NHL salary cap again and again. The ownership groups' accomplishments just kept coming: a trip to the Final Four in 2016, hosting the Winter Classic in 2017, getting the NHL All-Star Weekend for 2020 and, of course, the long-awaited Stanley Cup. The value of the franchise has soared and its standing in our sports landscape appears secure.
DOUG ARMSTRONG, General Manager
GORDO ON ARMSTRONG: General manager Doug Armstong went "all in" last summer by trading for center Ryan O'Reilly and signing free-agent forwards David Perron, Tyler Bozak and Pat Maroon. When that bolstered offense failed to produce winning hockey, Armstrong fired coach Mike Yeo and promoted assistant coach Craig Berube to replace him on an interim basis. He added consultant Larry Robinson to the coaching staff on an interim basis as well. Those changes eventually worked -- as did Armstrong's decision to ride his core veteran group despite its first-half woes.
The culmination of those moves and others (like the earlier trades for Brayden Schenn, Oskar Sundqvist and Zach Sanford) was the remarkable Cup run.
CRAIG BERUBE, Head Coach
GORDO ON BERUBE AND COACHING STAFF: When he replaced Yeo, Berube said the Blues were a good team that lacked confidence. How would he rebuild that? By making demands, the man known as "Chief" told reporters, starting with his very first practice. It took a while, but it worked. Along with Larry Robinson and holdover assistant coaches Steve Ott and Mike Van Ryn, Berube managed to refocus the Blues and inspire them to play a more cohesive, physical and smothering brand of hockey.
Ott's role increased during the transition and Van Ryn did a masterful job handling the defense, with input from the legendary Robinson.The Blues famously rallied from last place in the NHL to the middle of the Western Conference playoff bracket. Then they kept finding higher levels of play while beating Winnipeg, Dallas, San Jose and Boston en route to the Cup. And along the way, Armstrong quit looking outside the organization for his next coach.
MIKE YEO, Former head coach
GORDO ON YEO: While the Blues were embarked on their epic Cup run, Yeo quietly joined the Philadelphia Flyers organization as an assistant coach under new head coach Alain Vigneault. Let's hope Yeo didn't torment himself by watching any media coverage of the Blues' raucous celebration. For whatever reason the Blues never came together this season for Yeo. He tried all sorts of player combinations to no avail. He lost command of the group. The Blues were 7-9-3 when Armstrong fired Yeo in November. While Armstrong, the assistant coaches and the players got the chance to redeem themselves this season, Yeo did not.