Blues banking on Perron staying healthy

ST. LOUIS – Securing a young star for a long-term vision can include risk. The St. Louis Blues’ signing of winger David Perron to a four-year, $15.25 million contract reveals this much: General manager Doug Armstrong trusts the 24-year-old will be remembered more for his talent than his suspect health.

There are two ways to look at Perron’s signing Thursday. On one hand, the Blues secured a dynamic threat that could grow into one of the NHL’s best offensive weapons. Perron scored a career-high 21 goals in 57 games last season on his way to producing 42 points, which stand as the second-most in his five-year Blues tenure to the 47 he earned in the 2009-10 campaign. He’s agile, athletic and full of upside. Next season, he’ll be trusted to be a key part of St. Louis’ attempt to earn consecutive playoff berths for the first time since accomplishing the feat after the 2003-04 campaign.

But little is easy when discussing Perron’s future, and despite his promise, one fact can’t be ignored: The Sherbrooke, Quebec, native missed 97 games over 13 months the past two seasons because of concussion-like symptoms.

Yes, Perron is one of the game’s bright young faces, someone who has left a definite impression since the Blues selected him as the 26th overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Yes, there’s vast potential when considering his ceiling. Yes, this deal could prove to be a positive for the Blues by having him avoid becoming an unrestricted free agent in two years.

But the past can’t be forgotten when considering the future. As a result, there are real concerns about whether Perron will skate enough to justify the trust his franchise has placed in him.

“I’ve healed from (the concussion),” Perron said in a teleconference Thursday.

“The shape that I was in (last season) wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, obviously missing all the time the last couple years. So this summer is a real big summer for me.”

“I think both sides had to give a little bit on our expectations going three or four years and what the value was and his expectations on what his value was if he stays healthy,” Armstrong said. “I think there’s a little bit of risk on both sides. But ultimately, what we did talk about was that our goal is for him to stay healthy and produce the way we need him to produce to be a successful team.”

If Perron produces in the way Armstrong envisions, there are many reasons to be eager about the winger’s stability in St. Louis. Perron showed resilience last season. He returned from a brutal head injury sustained after a check from San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton on Nov. 4, 2010, and became one of coach Ken Hitchcock’s most versatile threats near the net in the regular season: He was second in goals scored, behind center David Backes’ 24; he was fifth in assists with 21, behind defenseman Alex Pietrangelo’s 39; he was fifth in points, behind Backes’ and winger T.J. Oshie’s 54.

Those numbers are telling of Perron’s impact in a small window of opportunity. Of the players who appeared in at least 25 games for the Blues last winter, only seven skated fewer times than Perron.

 “I think we all saw the difference he made to this team offensively coming back this year,” former Blues center Bernie Federko, a Hall of Famer, told “He scored 21 goals after missing a whole year. I think it took him awhile to get back in the swing of things. But when you see the number, it’s pretty impressive. I think that bodes well for the talent that he’s got. Obviously, this is a team that continues to get better and better. … He’s one of the nucleus players on this team. Signing him to a four-year deal, I think it bodes well for him, and it bodes well for the Blues.”

Still, there are reasons to wonder if Perron’s health will cooperate. Much like Blues winger Andy McDonald, another player who has battled concussions throughout his career, Perron exists within the fine difference between high possibility and a career cut short too soon because of head injury.

There’s concern in the unknown. Take questions surrounding Sidney Crosby’s 12-year, $104.4 million extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins signed in late June. Sure, talent is valued. But so is an ability to contribute with consistency, and like Crosby, Perron has a checkered past with concussions.

Because of this, Armstrong had to consider tough questions before passing on a short-term offer for his young star. Among them: Can Perron avoid dangerous collisions? Can the player be trusted to make the most of a long-term deal? What happens if the gamble doesn’t produce the desired results?

Armstrong has been smart about his approach. He understands the risk-reward nature of Perron’s contract. In the end, though, Armstrong considered Perron’s potential too great not to secure him for the near future.

Will his choice be the right one? It looks promising now. Perron thrived after his recovery last season. It’s fair to say the Blues’ best campaign in a decade would not have been as memorable without him.  

“I don’t think the Blues or David have touched what his potential is,” Tony Twist, a former Blues winger, told “I think everyone has a reasonable idea. But I think that potential and his work ethic and his desire to improve and to be a better player each and every day he steps on the ice constitutes a really good, hard look (at a long-term deal). Because of that, the Blues see that he’s a dedicated player. He’s not going to give up.”

The Blues showed they have faith in Perron by offering him a long-term contract. It’s a deal that includes risk, but the payoff could be large for everyone involved if Armstrong’s vision becomes reality.