We are officially in the dog days of the NHL offseason when news is few and far between. Training camps do not open up for another month and most of the marquee free agents have already signed. However, there are players still available that could be that missing piece to a championship puzzle. St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong has been known to make additions late in the offseason in the past such as signing Mike Hoffman in January and trading for Justin Faulk during training camp in 2019. Let’s take a look at three players who are still unrestricted free agents that could wind up wearing the blue note this season.
The first name on the list is a fairly obvious one. Tyler Bozak has been a member of the Blues for the past three seasons, winning the Stanley Cup in his first year in St. Louis. Heading into the offseason, there appeared to be mutual interest in a return and the fact that Bozak is still available makes a return make that much more sense. Armstrong already knows what Bozak brings to the table and how he fits in Craig Berube’s system. As the roster currently stands, the Blues’ depth at center is a bit concerning. After Ryan O’Reilly on the top line, there are some question marks. Brayden Schenn can play both center and wing, but is preferred at center and is ideal for the 2nd line role. Oskar Sundqvist or Ivan Barbashev are serviceable as 3rd line options but ideally are on the 4th line on a Stanley Cup contender. Robert Thomas has yet to prove he’s ready to take the next step, so Bozak would be the perfect player to plug in on the 3rd line and provide some leadership and consistent two-way play.
Perhaps the biggest name available based on name alone, Zdeno Chara is an intriguing option on the blue line. At 44 years old, he can’t be expected to be the team’s #1 defenseman, but he won’t be asked to be. With playmaking defensemen such as Torey Krug and Faulk logging a majority of the minutes, Chara could be a good fit in a shutdown role. St. Louis struggled defensively last season after losing Alex Pietrangelo to free agency. Chara would bring the defensive prowess and leadership that can transcend an entire defense. Can you imagine Chara alongside Colton Parayko to close out games? Their sticks would cover the entire width of the ice. Blues fans love their players to be tough and gritty and Chara is the epitome of grit. Few will forget Chara breaking his jaw in the 2019 final against the Blues and not missing a game. That’s the kind of player that Blues fans who idolize Bobby Plager and Chris Pronger will fall in love with.
If the Blues decide to not have a reunion with Bozak, Eric Staal is an interesting option for depth at the center position. At this point in his career, Staal will be looking to play for a contender, which the Blues project to be. After reaching the Stanley Cup Final with Montreal last season, the 36-year-old center will be itching to get back and try to add a 2nd title to his resume before he hangs up his skates. While his offensive production has dropped since having a career resurgence with Minnesota a few years ago, Staal would be counted on to provide depth and leadership for younger players like Thomas.
The common theme with these three options is leadership. The Blues lost Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, and Alexander Steen in one offseason and that lack of veteran presence seemed to hurt them down the stretch last year. All three of these free agents know what it takes to win a Stanley Cup, which can only help a team with championship aspirations.
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