30 IN 30 - ST. LOUIS BLUES (10th place)
St. Louis will be singing the blues with their cap issues this summer. Their collection of overpaid mid-tier forwards has finally come to bite them in the ass. Colton Parayko is in line for a hefty raise but the team only has $4.0M in cap space to sign him. It goes without saying, Blues ownership will be in favour of the potential 5% salary cap increase. Doomsday scenarios aside, the Blues need to bite the bullet and off-load a player like Paul Stastny for well below market rate. Whether it's him or 2nd-line forward Jori Lehtera, retaining part of either player's salary will be a likely mandate in any transaction. On a more positive note, the Blues 16th overall selection back in 2010 has paid off more than anyone could have imagined. Vladimir Tarasenko has blossomed into the necessary trigger man this team needs as they attempt to push themselves back into the Central Division spotlight.
PROTECTION LIST STRUCTURE
As favourable as the 8-1 structure may be to a team looking to dump salary, the Blues will be better served by the 7-3-1 model. With Parayko exempt, the Blues will be able to walk away from expansion with their top four intact on the back end, along with 2nd year professional (and former 1st round selection) Jordan Schmaltz, who will be vying for a full time spot on the Blues' roster next season. Allowing a bottom-pair loss thus becomes a less damaging scenario. This unfortunately comes at a time when Robert Bortuzzo's value is at its highest, which may force a trade with another team to see a return on his value, or with Vegas to rid themselves of a big contract elsewhere in the lineup.
The story in this forward group is a tad more complicated. Tarasenko, Schwartz, and Steen are going nowhere, same can be said for Vladimir Sobotka after the pain the Blues have gone through in prying him back from the KHL. The remaining group of vets rightfully receive mixed reviews. Patrik Berglund fulfills the team's 3rd line centre role nicely, but does so at a $3.85M cap hit. Jori Lehtera has managed to get himself onto the Blues power-play unit, yet struggles to pass the 10 goal mark. And David Perron, the spark plug he may be, carries with him a nasty habit for dumb penalties and inexplicable mental gaffes. This has created such a mess, that checking line bargain Dmitrij Jaskin is in consideration for protection, even though he scored just one goal in 51 games last season. Still, after much consideration, two of these forwards will sneak onto the expansion list, while Lehtera's near immoveable contract will remain out of call.
These two forwards are Berglund and Perron. Patrick Berglund appears to have management's trust and notably fills a role this team needs. His ability to jump back and forth between 2nd and 3rd lines remains valuable enough for us to keep. David Perron may be a surprise, but his game always seems to experience an uptick when donning the blue and yellow. After three seasons getting tossed around the league before returning back to St. Louis, there is a high probability Perron could be convinced by management to take a home-town discount on his next deal. Under the radar as he may be, a 0.52 point per game average over the last three seasons is too hard to ignore.
The last and final forward spot remains conditional on the Blues' current roster. Rumours have justifiably swirled around Paul Stastny and his future in St. Louis. $7.0M is a lot for a player that (i) struggles to stay healthy, and (ii) fails to crack the 50 point barrier. However, with only one year left on his current deal, the burden attached to his cap hit becomes much more reasonable. So much so, that if left exposed, Vegas would surely pick up the 32 year-old and squeeze one last year of consistent two-way play out of him, before either trading him at next year's deadline, or letting him go in free agency. This trade value alone allows us to keep Stastny within the scope of our protection, and instead look to move him or Lehtera once the dust has settled from expansion.
As much as the Blues need the additional cap space, letting a player go out of media-induced panic is bad practice. Until Parayko's deadline becomes binding (re: an arbitration date is set), the Blues have time to create cap space through player movement.
young & able?
In addition to the active NHL roster, Vegas could turn to the Blues' farm team in Chicago (AHL), which oddly enough, will now be the Golden Knights' new farm team. Forwards Landon Ferraro, and Ty Rattie, as well as defencemen Petteri Lindbohm, will be available for selection after completing their third years of professional hockey in 2016-17.
All three have developed at a less-than-desirable rate, but thankfully still trend in the right direction. The same cannot be said for former Edmonton Oiler draft busts Nail Yakupov and Magnus Paajarvi. While the latter of the two has accepted the need for both offensive and defensive effort in his game, Yakupov continues to struggle with the basic tenants of system-based hockey. Needless to say they can both be scrapped from our expansion discussion as they stand no shot at selection under their RFA status.
GOLDEN KNIGHTS SELECTION
The Golden Knights' growing storage locker of expansion defencemen (see our previous team previews to get a sense of the count) will push our selection to the Blues' forward group. As enticing as the prospects may be, we will select the solid checker in Dmitrij Jaskin, and reap the rewards of his size and versatility within the lineup.
In our analysis of the Blues and their entire system of players, two questions kept popping into our heads: Who is Kenny Agostino? And why isn't he in the NHL? This guy followed up a successful four years at Yale with three very impressive seasons in the AHL. In 2016-17 alone he took home both the AHL leading scorer and AHL MVP trophies. Neither the Calgary Flames nor St. Louis Blues have given him a real shot. And to top it off, he's now a UFA! Unless he's somehow the worst skater in history, teams with holes to fill in their top-9 should be lining up to sign this guy.
In the meantime, enjoy the nonsense rumours spread by Leafs nation about Colton Parayko and an offer sheet.
Next up: New York Rangers