Friday, July 19, 2013

Blues, Stewart avoid arbitration

Power forward signs two-year contract worth $8.3 million

ST. LOUIS -- With Chris Stewart's arbitration hearing just three days away, both the player and the Blues shifted gears into overdrive to get a deal done.

Maybe the fact that Stewart is getting married had a little something to do with it as well.

It happened Friday afternoon on the eve of his wedding when Stewart and the Blues avoided arbitration by agreeing to a two-year contract worth $8.3 million (4.1 million in 2013-14 and $4.2 million in 2014-15).

Stewart is coming off a shortened season in which he led the team in goals (18) and points (36) in 48 games, a season in which the Blues were eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in six games by the Los Angeles Kings.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Chris Stewart (25) avoided arbitration with the team by agreeing
to a two-year contract for $4.1 million in 2013-14 and $4.2 million in 2014-15.
"He's a player, and I've said this to Chris, and I truly believe this: for us to be a good team, we need Chris to be a good player," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said via conference call.

The 25-year-old Toronto native has 100 goals and 202 points in 319 career games, including 48 goals and 89 points in 153 games with the Blues. Stewart was part of the blockbuster trade in 2011 that also saw the Blues acquire defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk from Colorado for defenseman Erik Johnson.

But Stewart, has certainly seen his peaks and valleys in the League since entering it in 2008. He was the 18th pick in the 2006 NHL Draft.

"I think we'd probably like to smooth out the rough edges, as I'm sure Chris would," Armstrong said. "When you look at the totality of his time here, he came here and played very well. The second season wasn't great (15 goals, 15 assists in 79 games). Last year, the point total was at the top of our team, but there's maybe bigger ebbs and flows within the season. I think consistency is the mark of a good team and then consistency is ultimately the mark of a very good player.

"I appreciate the statistics that he puts up, but at the end of the day, that's his yearly numbers and those are very strong -- the best on our team. But we'd like all of our players to have less peaks and valleys and more of a steady game. That (way), we're going to know what we're going to get every night. Probably the last three weeks and the playoffs, he was like a lot of our players that the puck just wasn't going in the net, and for a player that you look to get that job accomplished, he probably got a little bit more of my focus on why (he's) not scoring because that's his job responsibility. But basically, he was in a group of players that did that."

The Blues were in a similar position with right wing T.J. Oshie a year ago when the two sides came to an agreement on a five-year, $20.875 million contract on the eve of Oshie's arbitration hearing.

"The NHL by nature is a deadline league, trade deadline or draft or arbitrations," Armstrong said. "Both sides were in discussion. We finally came to a common ground knowing we were going to have to board flights tonight and exchange briefs in the morning. Any time you have to exchange the briefs, the player has to put his best foot forward in his comparable group that probably is outside the realm of what we're comfortable with. For us to have a chance to get an award we're comfortable with, you have to really dig into some of the negative parts of a player. ... I think this was a fair deal for both parties. Obviously Chris would have liked a little more and we would have liked a little less, so that indicates to me that it's probably fair."

The two sides came to a conclusion that a two-year deal would benefit both sides. Stewart can become an unrestricted free agent after the 2014-15 season when he's 27 and can cash in on a big payday should the next two seasons go well for him. For the Blues, it gives the team a full season to negotiate a longer-term contract while watching Stewart's progression in the system.

"There's two ways to look at it," Armstrong said. "One, we could have taken a one-year award. The issue that sometimes comes into play is then you have to sign the player to a longer-term deal one year out. You're almost paying him as an unrestricted free agent that year. Right now, what we do is we have a two-year award but next July 1st, both parties can engage in a long-term contract which is just strictly unrestricted years. I think the two-year award allows us to have a full year to negotiate the UFA years without having to go through this process of signing him as a UFA a year in advance or doing a one-year deal and then giving yourself only six months to sign him to a UFA contract. This allows Stewy to come in and know that everything's in place for two years knowing that if he has a good year and the team has a good year, we can start talking about an extension that's exclusively for UFA years."

(Getty Images)
Chris Stewart (right) led the Blues in goals (18) and points (36) during the
2012-13 season. He avoided arbitration by agreeing to a two-year deal.
The Blues, who are roughly $8.8 million under the salary cap figure of $64.3 million, still have to get restricted free agents Alex Pietrangelo, Jake Allen and newly acquired Magnus Paajarvi signed. Paajarvi came to St. Louis in the trade that sent David Perron to Edmonton last week.

Armstrong was asked if Stewart's signing gave the team a clearer picture of getting Pietrangelo signed and what it will take.

"No," Armstrong said. "In a sense, I think I've been pretty clear to everybody (that) I think Petro has the opportunity to become an elite player. We are going to do what is necessary to get him signed. Whether we decide to go short-term based on what Alex wants or long-term based on a mutual desire, we weren't going to put ourselves in a position where anything was going to jeopardize us bringing Alex back."

Armstrong did say that getting Paajarvi signed would happen soon but that there's some personal issues that need to be taken care of on the part of Paajarvi's negotiating agent.

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