Blues Left to Ponder Next Move; Parise, Suter, Carle, Garrison Get Contracts with Big Signing Bonuses, a Trend Tied to Labor Situation; Team Is Still Expected to Consider a Trade That Would Bolster Defense

Article excerpt

Since the NHL lockout in 2004-05, the surprise in the size of the contracts signed in the opening week of free agency has worn off.

But with another lockout potentially looming, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said that teams were dealt another "eye- opening" financial obstacle when they went searching for free agents this month.

The headline players in the class were forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter. The Blues were not involved with either of the players, who eventually signed monstrous, matching 13-year, $98 million contracts with the Minnesota Wild.

But included in each of those deals, a byproduct of players' fears about the collective bargaining agreement expiring Sept. 15 and lockout ensuing, were $10 million signing bonuses.

The Blues did express interest in free-agent defensemen Matt Carle and Jason Garrison, and in fact were heavily involved in negotiations with Carle. But he signed a six-year, $33 million contract with Tampa Bay, and Garrison inked a six-year, $27.6 million deal with Vancouver.

The annual average for Carle ($5.5 million) would have given him the highest cap hit on the Blues' roster next season, while Garrison ($4.6 million) would have been slightly under the current highest average on club (Andy McDonald, $4.7 million).

In addition to those hefty contracts, Carle and Garrison each received $3 million signing bonuses. According to, those bonuses are ranked ninth-highest in the NHL, tied with Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, who scored 60 goals last season, and twice as many as Chicago's Duncan Keith, who has won a Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman.

"I guess I'm never really surprised at what happens in the NHL on certain dates," Armstrong said. "Any time there's an artificial deadline, there seems to be a lot of activity. We certainly saw some very lucrative contracts handed out, some lucrative contracts with signing bonuses handed out, which seems to be a phenomenon that you only have as you're entering into the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement. I don't know if surprised would be the right term as it is eye-opening."

So now, after coming up empty in free agency, the Blues are expected to carry out their search for a top-four defenseman exploring the trade market. Calgary's Jay Bouwmeester and Phoenix's Keith Yandle might be available, according to reports, and the Blues are thought to have some interest. …


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