We’re not sure if hometown hero of hockey Pat Maroon is staying or leaving the Blues.
Who knows, a decision may have been made by the time you read this.
This is one of those wrenching decisions that confront a team’s front office, a popular player, and the fans.
We’ve been through this before with St. Louisan David Freese, who was traded to the Angels after the 2013 season, two years after powering the 2011 Cardinals to the World Series championship with the greatest postseason hitting performance in franchise history.
We saw this three summers ago with Blues captain David Backes, who jumped on the Bruins free-agent offer that would pay him $30 million over five years. It was an absurd overpay by Boston, but I didn’t care about that. Backes was a respected and admired player-leader who held a significant role on so many winning Blues’ teams.
I was happy that Backes had a chance to cash in. I was happy for him and his family. He would have been an idiot to turn it down. And the Blues would have been remarkably stupid to match Boston’s offer.
It isn’t quite the same set of circumstances with Maroon and the Blues. I’d be floored if an NHL team offered him a Backes-sized deal. But you’d have to think that some teams are willing to overpay to hire the services of a burly, brawny, big-rig forward who brings a physical — and highly vocal — presence to the ice. Maroon can antagonize opponents and get them off their game. He can punish opponents with his muscular style of play. He can unsettle opponents with his nasty insults. He can beat goaltenders with nasty goals scored from the mosh pit.
Maroon’s storm-the-crease rebound goal on a Robert Thomas shot defeated the Dallas Stars in the second overtime of Game 7. Maroon saved the night, and the season, as the Blues escaped the second round. They survived that scare, and went on to capture the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Maroon scored that goal at home, at Enterprise Center, in front of family (especially his son Anthony) and loved ones. This is where Maroon wanted to be: home sweet home, with his people. And his people included 19,000 gasping, delirious fans that rejoiced when Maroon scored the greatest goal in Blues’ history. We were all from South County residents that night.
Maroon and the Blues played 13 games after that, winning the Cup in Boston on June 12. But the Game 7 hero-rescue moment against Dallas was Maroon’s final goal of the postseason.
And if that turns out to be the last goal scored by Maroon — ever — in a Blues uniform, the only appropriate response consists of four words: Thank You, Big Rig. That goal was the gift of a lifetime. It made everything possible … including the supposedly impossible … the Blues hoisting the Stanley Cup. And that Maroon goal paved the way to one helluva parade down Market Street.
But hockey — heartstrings aside — is also a business. And Maroon needs to do what’s best for him. He did that last summer when he signed with the Blues for a below-market salary of $1.75 million.
This gave Maroon a chance to come home and play for the team that he grew up watching. This gave Maroon a chance to have young Anthony by his side, instead of spending an entire season away from his son. It gave Maroon a chance — one that he wouldn’t have had — to spend time with his grandfather, who passed away during the season.
There’s no price that a father/son can put on that. But Maroon won’t have many years left in his career, and he may have a chance to maximize his time-limited earning power.
This is also important for a family man. If Maroon can secure a significant contract that sets him up financially, that’s a positive for his son.
We could be saying goodbye to the Big Rig.
We hope not. But we should accept it the decisions that are about to be made.
I know this much: there is no right or wrong here. This isn’t a hero-and-villain situation. Maroon isn’t a bad guy if he accepts a more lucrative offer from another NHL team. Blues president of hockey operations Doug Armstrong isn’t a heartless grinch if he declines to match an outside offer to Maroon that could stress the team’s budget.
The Blues have a long list of contract-related concerns to deal with. At least two key pieces — captain Alex Pietrangelo, and center Brayden Schenn — will come into play next summer if both players head to free agency.
The Blues also need to provide opportunities — or expand ice time — for their collection of promising forwards: Robert Thomas, Sammy Blais, Zach Sanford Jordan Kyrou, and Klim Kostin.
As much as we’ll always cherish Maroon’s history-making contribution to the Blues, we must try to remember the other side to last season. Maroon was benched at times. He scored four goals and was a minus 7 in the Blues’ first 59 games.
Maroon, the subject of trade discussions, was reportedly close to being dealt by the Blues. But Armstrong held onto Maroon, and that decision became part of the Blues’ Stanley Cup story. That doesn’t mean it makes sense to keep Maroon if it makes no business sense to overpay him.
Maroon has repaid the Blues and their fans. Hopefully there’s a way to keep him here — in his hometown, in the place that means so much to him.
The Game 7 goal vs. Dallas was a storybook finish to a thrilling series. This magic moment did not, however, mean that Maroon and the Blues would live happily after. It’s sports. It’s business. It’s money. It’s reality. If Maroon departs, just hang onto the memories and don’t let go.
Thanks for reading …