ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Blues have been busy this offseason, but it hasn’t necessarily translated into additions to the product on the ice.
Since the season ended, the Blues have announced a shakeup in the coaching staff (two assistants were replaced), the re-signing of goaltender Brian Elliott, the signing of Swedish free agent Joakim Lindstrom and, most recently, the appointment of a new team president and CEO of business operations, Chris Zimmerman.
The offseason figures to heat up soon enough, however.
Teams are allowed to meet with free agents beginning June 25, but players aren’t allowed to sign free-agent contracts until free agency officially begins July 1.
The Blues will go into this stretch with a clear picture of their goaltending situation — Elliott and youngster Jake Allen will be the duo — and a strong nucleus of players already signed for the 2014-15 season.
Less clear is the situation at center, the Blues’ biggest area of need.
David Backes and Maxim Lapierre are signed, Vladimir Sobotka and Patrick Berglund are restricted free agents and Derek Roy and Steve Ott are unrestricted free agents who are unlikely to return to St. Louis.
The good news is there should be centers available, either via trades or free agency, who could be good fits with the Note and maybe even help shore up the power play.
Ottawa’s Jason Spezza, 31, is on the trading block after 11 seasons with the Senators. Though he’s not the player he was when he tallied 87 or more points in three consecutive seasons (2005-06 through 2007-08), his 66 points this past season were more than any Blues player scored and he’s set to make just $4 million this season.
That’s exactly what the Blues paid Roy last season.
Another interesting center on the trading block is Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler, who at 29 is two years younger than Spezza but is coming off a season in which he scored 43 points (25 goals, 18 assists) in 77 games. Kesler also comes with a higher price tag, as he is still owed $5 million for each of the next two seasons.
Both Spezza and Kesler scored nine power-play goals this past season, but Kesler might fit the Blues’ scheme better than Spezza as a two-way center.
Would the Canucks trade Kesler to a Western Conference rival? Perhaps, but it would seem to be much more palatable for Ottawa to trade Spezza out of the Eastern Conference to a destination like St. Louis.
If the Blues would rather go the free agency route, where the financial investment could be more significant but they wouldn’t have to part with any players, prospects or draft picks, two names could fit.
The first is an easy one in Paul Stastny, the 28-year-old St. Louis native and son of former Blue Peter Stastny. Paul Stastny has played his entire eight-year career with Colorado.
Stastny’s name has been a favorite among Blues fans for years, of course, and he is coming off a season in which he scored 60 points (25 goals, 35 assists) in 71 games. Four of his goals and 11 of his assists came on the power play. He could re-sign with the Avalanche, and even if he does hit the free market his price tag could get pushed out of St. Louis’ price range because he would be one of the top available centers.
Another option could be Brad Richards, 34, who was reportedly bought out of his contract in a cap-saving move by the Stanley Cup finalist New York Rangers on Friday.
Richards has two 91-point seasons on his resume (in 2005-06 with Tampa Bay and in 2009-10 with Dallas) but tallied 51 points (20 goals, 31 assists) in 82 regular-season games with the Rangers last season. He accounted for 19 points (five goals, 14 assists) on the power play.
Richards scored 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 25 playoff games last season while averaging 17:01 of ice time per game.
The Rangers used their second compliance buyout on him, according to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, just three years into a nine-year, $60 million deal. He will still earn roughly $20 million from the Rangers as part of the buyout rules, so he could possibly be a more cost-effective solution than Stastny.
The Blues haven’t done much yet to improve their roster, but that could change quickly within the next few weeks. Stay tuned.