As NHL free agency begins on Tuesday, there’s really only one need the Blues have to fill, and only one free agent who could fill it. After already signing Brian Elliott to pair with Jake Allen in goal, the Blues will let Ryan Miller walk. The defense appears set with the trade of Roman Polak to Toronto for Carl Gunnarsson. Gunnarsson joins a nucleus defensively of Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, Barret Jackman, Ian Cole and Jordan Leopold. So, numerically, the Blues are set there.
What the Blues need is a certified No. 1 center. The Blues need a solid two-way performer to put between Vladamir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. Vladimir Sobotka is a terrific player, but doesn’t have the offensive game to lift those two youngsters to their highest level. The free agent who does is St. Louisan Paul Stastny of the Colorado Avalanche. He attended Chaminade, he grew up a Blues fan, and his parents still live here.
Stastny was a 60-point scorer in the regular season, with 25 goals and 35 assists. He added 10 points in seven playoff games, giving him 18 points in 22 career playoff games. Stastny is very responsible defensively, and has been exceptionally consistent offensively for Colorado.
Stastny, Tarasenko and Schwartz would be a terrific No. 1 line for the Blues. David Backes, Alexander Steen and T.J. Oshie would match up well with most No. 2 lines in the league. Then the third line could be Sobotka with youngsters Dmitrij Jaskin and Magnus Paajarvi – whom general manager Doug Armstrong wants to get playing regularly. The fourth line would allow for a mixture of Patrik Berglund, Ryan Reaves, Maxim Lapierre and Chris Porter.
If it isn’t Stastny, there isn’t really another attractive center for the Blues in free agency. Yes, with the departure of Brenden Morrow, Derek Roy, Miller and Steve Ott, some money is freed up. But Steen, Reaves and Berglund’s salaries all go way up. Just because they have money doesn’t mean the Blues need to burn it on a lesser free agent.
If Stastny goes elsewhere, at that point they could revisit a trade with Ottawa for Jason Spezza. As of Friday, reports had the five finalists for a Spezza deal down to Anaheim, Florida, Phoenix, Nashville and St. Louis. But the Ducks traded for Ryan Kesler.
Phoenix made a deal with Tampa Bay to get Sam Gagner, and he fills the Coyotes’ center void. Spezza turned down a deal to Nashville, and the Predators used their chips to acquire James Neal from Pittsburgh.
So, that would leave the Blues and the Panthers as the group of reported finalists that haven’t traded for a center and/or used their best chips to get a player. If the Blues don’t land Stastny, who apparently has heard from half of the NHL teams in the days leading up to free agency, there is a quality alternative.
For a team that struggled down the stretch and got knocked out in the first round of the playoffs, the Blues had some serious needs. They needed younger guys than Morrow and Ott, and have them on hand in Paajarvi, Jaskin and Ty Rattie. They needed goaltending that the team felt it could count on more than Miller, and everyone who’s played with Allen respects his game and knows he can play. And they needed a two-way, impact center who can make plays in the playoffs. Stastny personifies that player, and when free agency starts Tuesday, the Blues should be at the front of the line to get him.