Blues Quandry....Sign or Trade Chris Stewart?
What should Blues GM Doug Armstrong do with Chris Stewart?
Here’s a player who did everything asked of him during the offseason and then some. No one in the NHL expected this from the Scarborough, Ontario native who’s playing as well as any forward in the league.
His rebound from last season is more than the 20 pounds he dropped over the summer. It’s a complete overhaul of how he approaches his life and his career. Recently engaged to be married, Stewart told me before the season it was time to grow up and be a pro.
The Blues had every right to be upset with Stewart’s commitment and performance a year ago. And they were angry, but they chose to stick with him for at least one more season and they’re now being rewarded.
Stewart has been the Blues most productive scorer leading the team in goals and points. He currently sits in the top 20 in points and top 10 in goals in the NHL. His 15:20 of ice time is the lowest average among the top 67 scorers in the league.
Again what do you do with Chris Stewart?
Coming into this season many believed Stewart’s days as a Blue were numbered. With core players Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Patrik Berglund eyeing lucrative extensions where would Stewart fit in?
Do the Blues, a true budget team, have the funds to keep all four of these players?
Not to mention Andy McDonald and Kris Russell, two players who play a prominent role for the Blues, also playing out their contracts.
Are the Blues in a tough spot?
If the Blues hang on to Stewart are they prepared to make him a core piece of the organization? Much like they’ve done in recent years with David Backes, David Perron, and T.J. Oshie.
In other words are they prepared to put $25-$30 million in his pocket?
Oshie hit a bump in the road a few years back before proving to the team last season his issues were behind him. The team felt comfortable giving him a five-year extension after scoring a career best 19 goals last season.
In other words Oshie, who brings more to the table than scoring, took care of his business and the organization took care of him.
The Blues haven’t forgotten what happened last season nor should they. You can’t just dismiss it but if you look at Stewart’s body of work he’s been a productive player every year except 2011-2012.
Stewart’s numbers actually compare favorably to James Neal prior to the Penguins handing him a six year, $30 million contract. Neal went on to score 40 goals last season and has 17 already this year. This guy is a talented goal scorer but certainly is taking advantage of being surrounded by some of the best players the NHL has ever seen.
Could Stewart score 40 in Pittsburgh?
Montreal awarded Max Pacioretty with a six year, $27 million deal after scoring 33 goals last season. This was the first time Pacioretty had scored more than 17 in his career.
Philadelphia locked up Stewart’s best friend in Wayne Simmonds with a six year contract nearing $24 million after he scored more than 16 goals for the first time in his career.
Even Jakub Voracek, who has never scored more than 18 in a season, sees his salary jump to $4.5 million next season.
Arbitration is an option both sides could explore. This would allow the system to determine his salary while buying the Blues another one or two years. Facing each other in an arb case wouldn’t be fun for either side. Not to mention you might increase your chance of losing him in another year or two.
If the Blues aren’t willing to go long-term with Stewart a shorter three year deal would probably be acceptable as long as the money was right.
Comparing Stewart with Stanley Cup winner Milan Lucic might be a stretch, but he did sign a three year $18 million contract with Boston.
If you can trust this is the Stewart you’ll be getting for the next three years it would be money worth spending.
Then again the question becomes, can Stewart do enough in a shortened season to convince the Blues? Is he playing for a contract or is this the real Chris Stewart?
Those who know him going back to his days with the Kingston Frontenacs tell me this is the player they projected him to be. This is why he was taken in the first round.
Then again the Blues need a D-man to solidify the left side. Is Stewart the guy to fetch that player in return? Whoever wants him will have to pay a price. The Blues have the leverage and his price tag is only going up.
If you move Stewart who’s scoring goals for the St. Louis Blues? Can you trust the three players returning from injury will stay in the lineup?
One of the biggest surprises of Stewarts play is his ability to elevate those around him. No matter who Ken Hitchcock has put him with he’s scoring goals. He’s done it with three different centers in Berglund, Alex Steen, or David Backes. He’s also scoring in a variety of ways.
It’s no coincidence rebounds are finding his stick. He’s pulling off highlight reel goals while showing he can snap it and score from distance. Not to mention the strength and explosiveness in open ice to separate from defenders.
His eleven even strength goals has him among the NHL leaders as well.
And there’s still room for improvement. While he’s competing harder there’s another level of consistency for him to reach.
Stewart’s teammates say he’s become one of the better leaders in the dressing room which he’s demonstrated throughout the year. His willingness to drop the gloves has given him more room on the ice and his confidence is at an all time high.
The Blues traded former number one overall pick Erik Johnson to get a premier talent in return. They just so happened to get two as he and Shattenkirk have shined in a Blues uniform.
Armstrong is faced with the difficult task of keeping his roster intact while satisfying each individual. He’s done well since taking over for Larry Pleau but his toughest challenge is around the corner.
More to come,
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