It didn’t take long for the Blues to make the big free-agency splash that they needed. In fact, it took less than 30 minutes for the club to finalize an agreement with center, and St. Louis native Paul Stastny.
Stastny, 28, inked a four-year, $28 million contract with St. Louis on the opening day of free agency, after deciding to test the market rather than return to Colorado.
“It’s a very exciting day for the St. Louis Blues,” said Blues general manager Doug Armstrong.
Stastny will be paid $6.5 million in 2014-15, $7 million in '15-'16 and '16-'17, and $7.5 million in '17-'18. He also received a full no-trade clause as part of the deal. He is now the Blues’ highest paid forward, a title recently held by Alexander Steen, who re-upped last season.
“I reached out to Steen and to David Backes, two of our go-to forwards, two of our leaders,” said Armstrong. “I told them if we got into the free agent market, there has been a shift since they signed and we would have to go substantially past what your annual compensation is. Both players, to their credit, not surprisingly, said you do what you have to do to make us a better team.”
However, while money was an issue, the deal centered more on term. The club was not willing to go much past four years, and wanted a contract that took Stastny through his prime. When Stastny’s deal with the Blues concludes, he will be 31.
“The dollar figure is very large, but the term was as important to our organization as the dollar,” Armstrong said. “There’s no question in my mind that Paul can keep this level and even get better in areas of his game during this contract. What we wouldn’t have been able to get into would have been a six or seven-year contract.”
The Blues knew from the get-go that they would have to pay heavily for Stastny, who drew 15 suitors in the first few days of the NHL’s new ‘courting' period. Heading into Tuesday, the Blues were on Stastny's short list of preferred destinations, which the center and his agent, Matt Keator, worked on throughout the day on Monday.
The Blues weren’t certain heading into Tuesday that Stastny would choose to join their organization, though it’s believed they had a pretty good indication they were the favorites. But without guarantee, Armstrong became a bit worried when the Blues’ fallback option, Jason Spezza, was traded to Dallas.
“I was certainly hoping that we were going to get into the final grouping,” said Armstrong. “I was a little bit nervous this morning when Dallas made their acquisition. Paul was certainly someone that we had focused.”
A two-time Olympian, Stastny, for the most part, had his pick of teams with such a large crop of suitors with interest. The center appreciated the Blues’ straightforward dealings and the interest they showed in him early and often.
“It’s like you are a college recruit,” Stastny explained. “The first couple of teams that go after you obviously have the most interest. Once other teams find out they become interested and come in later. The Blues were one of the early teams and that plays a big factor.
“You don’t want to go somewhere where the team comes in late. You want to play somewhere where you are wanted. St. Louis showed that.”
And while the St. Louis native drew an average annual value worth $7 million from the Blues, he had better offers on the table.
“I had good offers from a lot of places,” said Stastny. “But that wasn’t the most important thing. I feel very blessed.”
The deal came to fruition over the last week. The finishing touches were put on the contract this morning after it became clear to the Blues that Stastny had significant interest in St. Louis.
“We dealt with the agent, we gauged the interest, which was there, I talked to Paul, explained who I was, what my background is, what I am trying to construct, I had the coach talk to him, and then Paul leaves the direct conversation and we go back to dealing with his representative,” Armstrong said, while explaining the process.
“Today, when the bell rang, we had an idea as to what the parameters were, what Paul was looking for. We got on the phone, we both knew what was important, so we tidied up the loose ends and you have a four-year, $28 million deal sitting there.”
Stastny provides a significant upgrade down the middle with a unique set of skills that have been absent from the Blues’ lineup for a while.
The 6-foot, 205-pound center was 21st in points amongst NHL centers last season and is coming off of a 60-point campaign with the Avalanche. The Blues' highest scoring center last season was David Backes, who had 57 points.
“I think we have a lot of different options now,” Armstrong said. “ It might take a little bit of time to find a constant rhythm and the right pairings.”
The former Chaminade Prep hockey player is the third member of the Stastny family to don the Note. His father Peter and his brother Yan also played for the Blues during their respective careers. He asked both for their advice throughout the process.
“They’re both excited,” Stastny said. “They think it was a good decision.”
Stastny wasn’t the Blues’ only addition at center on Tuesday. In the first hour of free agency, the club also agreed to terms on a two-year contract with 2008 draft pick, Jori Lehtera. Lehtera’s deal came as a bit of a surprise after the center declined a chance to play with the Blues last season and chose to remain in the Kontinental Hockey League.
“I had a good chat with (Lehtera) at the Olympics,” said Armstrong. “I told him we were disappointed that we couldn’t come to an agreement. He said at the end of the day he felt he made a mistake, which was the first step in saying if you can rectify that mistake, get out of your contract, we’d love to have you.”
Lehtera, 26, was able to get out of his contract with Sibir, and has been working ever since to reach an agreement with the Blues. Had Lehtera returned to the KHL next season, the Blues would have lost exclusive negotiating rights to the forward.
“This was our last, and only, opportunity to deal with him without outside competition,” said Armstrong.
Lehtera will make $5.5 million over the next two seasons.
With their two additions today, the Blues sit approximately $6 million away from the League’s $69 million cap ceiling with Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Sobotka still in need of contract extensions.