As the first day of free agency in the NHL comes to a close, two of the Blues’ three unrestricted free agents have officially left the club and signed new deals elsewhere. Jaden Schwartz signed a 5 year deal for $27.5 million ($5.5 million AAV) with the Seattle Kraken while Mike Hoffman agreed to terms with the Montreal Canadiens for 3 years and $13.5 million ($4.5 million AAV). In an offseason in which St. Louis has already lost Carl Gunnarsson to retirement and Vince Dunn to the expansion draft, these two deals mean that the Blues will look a lot different come opening night.
Schwartz’s career in St. Louis
Prior to signing with Seattle, Jaden Schwartz was the longest-tenured Blue on the roster. He was originally drafted by St. Louis with the 14th pick in the 2010 NHL Draft and made his professional debut in the 2011-12 season and was a mainstay in the team’s top six for the past decade. Schwartz’s unique combination of offensive skill and gritty back-checking helped set the identity for one of the most successful clubs in the last ten years. His presence on both the power play and penalty kill will be missed, though the hope is that the newly acquired Pavel Buchnevich will eat up those minutes. Appearing on TSN shortly after the deal was announced, Schwartz mentioned wanting to be closer to family after the passing of his father as a major factor in deciding where he would land, which everyone can understand and respect.
When healthy, Schwartz has consistently scored in the neighborhood of 55 points per season though he is perhaps best known for his extraordinary run in the Blues’ 2019 Cup run when he tallied two hat tricks and even scored more goals in the playoffs (12) than he did in the regular season (11). Always up to the challenge of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Schwartz leaves St. Louis having tallied the 5th most points and 4th most goals in franchise history in the playoffs. Schwartz’s contributions to the team’s first championship will live on in the hearts of Blues fans and while he hasn’t had a career destined for the Hall of Fame and his #17 sweater surely won’t be retired, he will be fondly remembered as one of the all-time great Blues. Schwartz finishes his time in St. Louis having played parts of ten seasons and scoring 154 goals and 385 points in 560 games.
Hoffman heads to Montreal
While Hoffman was only in St. Louis for the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season, the club liked what they saw from the power-play specialist and it has been reported that the team was involved with negotiations all the way to the very end. Ultimately, Hoffman signed a multi-year deal with Les Habitants and the Blues will have to look to replace the pure goal-scoring element he brought to the club. Hoffman’s one season in the Gateway City was not all sunshine and roses though, as a disconnect between the player and the coaching staff led to Hoffman being left a healthy scratch while the Blues were struggling in the playoff race. As it turned out, Hoffman caught fire as did the Blues as he and the team had strong finishes to the season. That positive lasting impression led the two sides to have a mutual interest in a return, though one may wonder whether that earlier disconnect with Craig Berube‘s staff led Hoffman to decide to apply his trade elsewhere. Hoffman finishes his brief stint with the Note having scored 17 goals and 36 points in 52 games.
Where do the Blues go from here?
Blues GM Doug Armstrong did not jump into the free-agent frenzy on the first day and outside of a potential return of center Tyler Bozak or a deal for the surprisingly still unsigned Brandon Saad, it appears unlikely that he will go the free agency route. Armstrong has a history of making blockbuster trades, which seems the likelier option. If there are not any trades to Armstrong’s liking, St. Louis could be in for a transition year with younger players like Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas taking on increased roles.
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