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2012 NHL Free Agency: The Blues Haven't Made Any Big Splashes, And That's OK

Today was St. Louis Blues day over at Pro Hockey Talk. They took a look at Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk -- and how long the Blues can lock them up for. It wasn't exactly an in-depth look at the Blues' policies when it comes to RFAs other than the team tends to like shorter-term contracts, and apparently use David Perron's four year deal as a conclusion towards what the Blues would give Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. The difference between the players is staggering. Perron is a forward who has proven himself on the ice, but still needs to prove he isn't liable to get another knock on the noggin. T.J. Oshie's last contract was a one year, "put up or shut up" sort of deal. Patrik Berglund's last deal was also of that vein, though it was for two instead of one years.

All of this shows two things about the Blues: a) they're smart with their money versus throwing goo gobs of it at young talent and b) they also like to get their players to show them the goods before locking them in, so they'll give them short contracts during their RFA years. Ryan Dadoun explains the situation from the players' side, and kind of misses the point:

Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk are scheduled to become restricted free agents next summer. It would be shocking if the Blues were unable to retain their services, but it will give us our first real insight into their long-term intentions. Will they be interested in signing extremely long-term contracts — if that option is still available under the new CBA — or will they lean towards signing shorter deals so that they can retain the option of eventually testing the unrestricted free agent waters?

The thing with the Blues and their restricted free agents has never been about the RFAs testing the waters, it's been about the Blues feeling secure in their investment before they spend money. Their presumed approach to Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk of caution (though in this case I would expect slightly less than they've shown other RFAs) carries over into the UFA market as well. Just because the Blues have new owners in Tom Stillman's bunch doesn't mean that they have carte blanche to sign anyone that they want.

Pro Hockey Talk's Jason Brough looked more specifically at that situation, and like his compatriot, he missed the point:

Perhaps the Blues can get closer to the cap if the new CBA includes more revenue-sharing, i.e. big-market teams increasing their subsidies to small-market teams.

However, there will always be a divide of a certain size between rich and poor in the NHL.

Not that the Blues are poor – cost-conscious is probably a better way to put it.

Being cost-conscious and revenue-sharing don't necessarily go hand in hand; it's more or less having an owner with deep pockets. Dave Checketts never had them, and this is Stillman's first year owning the franchise. Will he go out and throw mad money at UFAs? Would you? Absolutely not. So, when you look at the cases of Matt Carle ($5.5 million cap hit) or Jason Garrison ($4.6 million cap hit), would you not think that at certain point of the talks the Blues just went and said "Nope, no way. This is getting a bit high"?

Their willingness to not spend huge amounts of money on an unrestricted free agent might not be because the team's broke, but because the team's content with what they've had on the ice for the past season. Would Carle or Garrison have helped? Sure, but the question the team needs to ask themselves is "would they help as much in relation to the price paid?"

This, also, misses the point:

Another challenge for management in its pursuit of free agents is location. There’s nothing wrong with St. Louis, but if a player want to live the glamorous life, it’s hard to compete with New York City. If he wants to be recognized on every street corner, a Canadian city is the place to go. And if he doesn’t like freezing in the winter, there are warmer places than eastern Missouri.

It's hard to discount the number of Blues alumni who retire from the sport and choose to remain in St. Louis because of how much they like the city, or the guys who've been traded and keep their homes in STL, or who still return after retirement. Would Wayne Gretzky have wanted to retire a Blue if St. Louis was such a terrible sell for free agents? Not everyone's going to have to deal with Mike Keenan, who would make Valhalla a living hell. If he's not breathing down your back, St. Louis is a pretty ok place for an athlete to live.

The Blues are fine, and they know it. Would they like to upgrade a tad? Sure, but are they going to risk big money upgrading where it's not going to help? No. Doug Armstrong was the NHL General Manager of the Year this year, not Darcy Regier. There's a reason for that.