Becoming an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, the process is something Paul Stastny said he wouldn’t wish upon anyone. The overwhelming pressure, the tugs and pulls from multiple sources, and the final decision is something that wears down every player. Being the top free agent on the market this year, the process was additionally difficult for Stastny.
“It’s a tough decision,” Stastny said. “I was in a good position. In the end, I had to take a step back, take all of the emotions out of it, and try to realize what was best for me hockey-wise down the road. My family and my fiancé and I decided that going to St. Louis would probably be the best hockey decision for me.”
The 28-year-old center, who has spent the last eight seasons with Colorado, and has never played for another NHL team, made a decision that a lot of players won’t make. He chose to leave an environment he was comfortable in. But if there was any other place in the world that could compare to the comfort level that Stastny had in Colorado, it would be St. Louis.
Stastny, the sibling of Yan, and the son of Peter, grew up in St. Louis. He played hockey at Chaminade Prep, and grew up watching his father play with the Blues. So, when St. Louis expressed serious interest in the free agent, it was hard for him not to be intrigued.
“The League we live in is like a small world,” Stastny said. “People talk, word gets around fast. You know which organizations are first class, what aren’t. To me, I always knew what kind of organization this was. Guys that have played there, guys that were traded there have nothing but good things to say.”
After signing his four-year, $28 million contract with the Blues on Tuesday and parting ways with the team that drafted him nine years ago, the St. Louis native made it clear that his new team is one he feels comfortable playing for, and he has little doubt that he can make a quick transition.
“I definitely wanted to go somewhere I was comfortable with,” Stastny said.
Aside from the city, Stastny is also very familiar with several of his new teammates. This past season, Stastny was a part of Team USA’s Olympic hockey team, along with three of his news Blues teammates: T.J. Oshie, David Backes, and Kevin Shattenkirk. Stastny spent nearly a month with those players in Olympic Village in Sochi, Russia as the team battled for Olympic Gold. The newest member of the Blues was asked if any of his Olympic teammates reached out to him during the week leading up to free agency.
“Shatty,” Stastny said before a brief pause. “But I think everyone knows that, in the end, I don’t think a player is going to sway your decision. I think they just had fun with it. You know, if I needed anything, I knew I could talk to them. At the same time, this was a big decision, but I don’t think any one player is going to sway me to go to one place.”
And while they couldn’t sway his big free agency decision, the familiarity with those three teammates will make him feel more at home on the ice.
“Playing with those guys, knowing those guys, it makes it a little bit more of a comfortable decision knowing what I’m coming in to,” he said.
St. Louis had many draws for Stastny, undoubtedly, but the decision was not based upon growing up in St. Louis. He knows Colorado just as well, if not better. And it certainly wasn’t because of familiarity in the locker room, which is something Stastny gave up when he took St. Louis’ offer. The top center chose St. Louis because of the opportunity he will get on the ice.
“St. Louis had a little bit more for me than Colorado as a hockey player,” Stastny said.
While no final decision will be made until training camp begins in Sept., Armstrong indicated that Stastny could play on the Blues’ top line between Alexander Steen and David Backes. He will get top minutes, and will be a big piece to the Blues’ puzzle. At the same time, he won’t be expected to be a savior.
“We are not asking anyone to come in here with a cape on and be superman,” Armstrong said. “We are just looking for another strong piece to a puzzle.”
The Blues also have a solid core group of players that is expected to be competitive for many years.
“I think they’re still competing for a cup (two or three years down the road),” Stastny said. “I look at St. Louis and their window to win a cup is now and for the next seven or eight years. That’s why I am excited.”
Stastny had a certain known pedigree associated with him, but that doesn’t mean that Armstrong didn’t do his research on the two-time Olympian.
Having seen Stastny play in-person on numerous occasions, the GM knew what the center was capable of on the ice, but he reached out to the players to find out if he would be a good fit for the club off the ice, as well.
“I think having a good feeling of Paul from the competition that we’ve been in against Colorado over the former years, plus talking to our players that know him, I felt the character was very strong and fits well in our group,” Armstrong said.
The newness of St. Louis is something that won’t disappear anytime soon. It will still be there when Stastny faces his former teammates on Nov. 1, and still won’t have evaporated when he returns to Colorado on Dec. 13.
“That’s one thing I haven’t been a part of is going somewhere and playing your old team,” said Stastny. “I have tremendous respect for Colorado and I’m good buddies with all those guys. In the heat of the moment, that’s what happens.”
But Stastny doesn’t have any regrets about his decision. He feels comfortable in St. Louis, playing where both his father and brother did before him. To him, the decision wasn’t easy, but it was comfortable.