This article is part of our Cap Compliance series.
While the current season remains on hiatus, there is no time like the present to start looking ahead to next year. Over the next several weeks, we'll take a look at the cap situation for all 31 NHL clubs, including restricted free agents, unrestricted free agents and even potential buyouts. Then, we'll play a little armchair General Manager by providing our recommendations for how we would approach the upcoming 2020-21 campaign if we were running the club.
In our most recent Twitter poll, the St. Louis Blues edged out the Lightning to be featured second this week.
2020-21 Cap Situation
The Blues currently have 14 forwards, five defensemen and two goaltenders under contract for next season at a price tag of $78,527,499. Assuming a flat cap of $81.5 million, this leaves the club with $2,972,501 in cap space and two spots under the 23-man roster to fill.
Restricted Free Agents
AJ Scholz: De La Rose may have 229 games of NHL experience under his belt, but much of that has been on woeful teams like the Canadiens and Red Wings, teams that could afford to give him opportunities. With a Cup contender like St. Louis, the 25-year-old center figures to be a periodic healthy scratch, which means the organization won't want to pay him significantly more than his qualifying offer, which will come in at one-year, $997,500 and include a two-way clause. Perhaps offering a one-way contract will convince him to sign for little to no raise above the $900,000 he earned in 2019-20. For Dunn, he has played in nearly as many games as Brandon Carlo but offers significantly more offensive upside, which will likely mean Carlo's two-year, $5.7 million contract will serve as the basis for Dunn's negotiations. Retaining him at close to $3 million AAV would likely require some moves to be made, but he could serve as the replacement to Alex Pietrangelo. More on that situation below.
Kyle Riley: The Blues sent Robby Fabbri to the Red Wings in exchange for De La Rose in November, so I don't see them letting him walk this offseason. He appeared in 50 top-level games this year, so I don't think handing him a one-way deal would be detrimental. I also don't think committing to the 25-year-old forward long term would be a wise decision, but a one-year, $1 million contract should work for both sides. Dunn has shown promise as an offensive defenseman over the past three seasons, totaling 26 goals and 82 points in 224 games, but he still has some work to do in terms of his play in his own end. I think a two-year, bridge deal is the answer here. I think an AAV of $2.5 million should get it done.
Unrestricted Free Agents
AJ Scholz: Unfortunately for Bouwmeester, he's probably played in his last NHL game due to his heart condition. Even if the veteran blueliner is medically cleared, there just won't be the cap space to bring him back into the fold and it's time for the organization to give Dunn a fair shake as a full-time NHLer. Brouwer finds himself in a similar situation after he was brought in on a professional tryout when the team was dealing with a raft of injuries. Guys like Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas and Sammy Blais need more ice time in order to further their developments. Now we come to the focal point of the club's offseason. Looking at the cap, there is zero chance of getting Pietrangelo under contract. The offensively-gifted blueliner will no doubt point to the seven-year, $56 million deal the Rangers handed Jacob Trouba and mark that as his floor. Finding a way to create enough cap space to give Pietrangelo north of $8 million AAV would likely involve moving multiple pieces via trade and even a buyout or two. Unfortunately, Blues fans, it simply isn't going to work. The best bet is to hope he can help you win another Stanley Cup, then applaud him in a tribute video when he makes his first return to the Enterprise Center.
Kyle Riley: The obvious headliner of this group is the Blues' current captain, Alex Pietrangelo, who has been one of St. Louis' best players and one of the best defenseman in the league since becoming a full-time NHLer in 2010. Re-signing him would likely require trading Justin Faulk and another roster player for draft assets in order to open up enough cap space, and I just don't see that happening. Unfortunately for Blues fans, it appears to be a foregone conclusion that Pietrangelo will be playing elsewhere in 2020-21. As AJ mentioned, Bouwmeester will almost certainly retire after this season due to his heart condition and Brouwer also appears to be on his way out of the league after notching just one goal in 13 games this campaign, so neither of them will be suiting up for St. Louis next year.
Minor-League Free Agents *Who appeared in an NHL game in 2019-20
AJ Scholz: These guys combined to play in four NHL games this season, so none of them should be expecting anything more than their qualifying offer. This trio will likely be in a battle for a spot on the 23-man roster during training camp next fall, with Pouliot likely holding the inside track after leading AHL San Antonio in scoring, not just among defesemen, with 39 points in 58 contests.
Kyle Riley: None of these players, at least at this point, can be considered NHLers, so they won't be getting anything more than their QOs this offseason.
AJ Scholz: Even just getting Dunn signed given the club's current cap situation will take some work. The quickest and easiest way to achieve this is to find somebody to take Jake Allen and his $4.35 million cap. The Sharks could certainly warrant an upgrade between the pipes given the struggles of their tandem and it would be a place where Allen could at least compete for the starting job. If you move him, it allows you sign sign Dunn to a $3 million AAV deal and still have about $2.7 million in space. If you could similarly offload Tyler Bozak ($5 million) then maybe, and I stress maybe, you could ink Pietrangelo to a $7.7 million AAV deal. At the end of the day, this is a pipe dream for the Blues. It's going to be hard enough to get Vince Dunn signed, the amount of pieces that would have to be moved to account for Pietrangelo makes this a non-starter, and I believe the organization knew that when they opted not to move him at the trade deadline.
Kyle Riley: The Blues are going to be right up against the cap next season even without attempting to re-sign Pietrangelo, so I'm not even going to try and put together a scenario in which that would be possible, because I simply don't see it happening. The club would already be over the cap with the Dunn/De La Rose deals I outlined above, so they'll have to make some moves just to make that possible. One option would be buying out Alexander Steen. The 36-year-old winger only totaled 17 points in 55 games during the regular season, and buying him out would open up $2.33 million in cap space for next year, although in that scenario the Blues would be on the hook for $1.16 million the following year.