Forward coming off down year offensively could have been restricted free agent
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues have taken one of their restricted free agents off the market ... at least for another year.
The team announced on Thursday they've resigned power forward Chris Stewart to a one-year contract extension worth a reported $3 million.
Stewart, coming off his least productive season with 15 goals and 30 points, was a healthy scratch at times during the regular season and playoffs due to ineffective play after coming off back-to-back 28-goal seasons, including 16 with the Blues after arriving last season as the centerpiece to the trade with Colorado that also brought defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and yielded 2006 No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson, center Jay McClement and last season's No. 1 pick (11th overall). Ironically, Stewart was originally drafted by Colorado 18th overall of the 2006 NHL Draft.
Chris Stewart agreed to a one-year contract extension to remain in St. Louis.
There was much hype that after 56 goals in the last two seasons as a 22- and 23-year-old, Stewart could reach the 35- or even the 40-goal mark and have a breakout season.
The 24-year-old Stewart did appear in 79 games last season and seven playoff games. He made $3.25 million a season ago and had a cap hit of $2.875, so the new deal is a slight reduction in pay from a season ago but higher than the annual cap hit.
"Stewy's a guy that's a big part of our future and getting him done for next season, it's nice to have that behind us and it's also nice for him to have that put away so he can focus on his training and preparing to have a good season," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said.
"We had never contemplated on giving up on him," Armstrong added. "We traded for him for a reason. He had back-to-back 28-goal seasons. That's an accomplishment in a league that's hard to score in. Obviously he didn't produce those numbers this year, but he's still only 24 years old. Power forwards are very difficult to find.
"Our belief is that we want to work with him and we want to give him the opportunity to have a really good season next year. He wants that challenge and I think it's a perfect match for both sides."
The ruling on restricted free agents is in order to retain a player's rights, the team must give a qualifying offer of 100 percent for players making $1 million or more. But the Blues had the option of asking for salary reduction in an arbitration case, which means an arbitrator has the option of reducing the monetary amount by no more than 15 percent. A reduction could have dropped Stewart's salary for the upcoming season to $2.76 million, and the Blues had an arbitration deadline of Friday.
"Both sides had talked and there was genuine interest in getting something done quickly," Armstrong said. "We wanted to negotiate off of the player that he is and I think he has the opportunity to get back to the level that he had those last couple years. I'd like to negotiate a longer-term deal off of that. I think he certainly more comfortable negotiating off of a better season and a longer-term deal. I want to pay him fairly and I want to pay him what the market dictates to do that. We need to have that statistical season heading into that."
Upon his exit interview, after the Blues were swept out of the Western Conference semifinals by eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles, Stewart said he would be working on his conditioning this summer and has taken up shop with well-known Toronto-area trainer Matt Nichol.
Conditioning was an area talked about as the key flaw to Stewart's down year. But he's determined to come to camp for the 2012-13 season in the best shape of his career.
"I've got to get back to being Chris Stewart, just be me and playing my game," Stewart said then. "I got myself into this. I'm the only one that can get myself out of it and I'll do it.
"... I'm going to train with them for the first time in the summer and do the usual stuff, work with my track coach and really work on the speed aspect of my game, go to a nutritionist, get on a diet aspect, come into camp in good shape and get ready to go next year."
Since joining the Blues last season, the 6-2, 232-pound Toronto native has dressed in 105 games, totaling 53 points (30 goals, 23 assists). Stewart has played in 271 games during a four-year NHL career, totaling 82 goals and 84 assists with the Blues and Avalanche.
"I think this is probably the biggest summer of my career," Stewart said. "I'm coming off my worst season offensively, so I'm going to go back to the drawing board, work on the skills and get back to the player that I was the year before."
The Blues were faced with a similar scenario with T.J. Oshie a year ago and worked out an agreement on a one-year contract.
Stewart and Oshie, along with David Perron, represented the Blues' restricted free agents, a number now reduced to two.
Armstrong gave every indication that both remaining RFA's will get deals to stay here but there is no rush.
"I plan on them being in our lineup on opening night," Armstrong said of Oshie and Perron. "If we get them signed quickly, great. If it takes a little bit longer in the summer, that's fine also."