With the announcement today that the Blues have signed Chris Stewart to a 1 year, 3 million dollar contract, the continue to toe the line they began in 2007. The line began with the Blues GM Larry Pleau resigning Lee Stempniak to a reasonable and fair contract. Stempniak had scored 41 goals over 139 games with the Blues, including a 27 goal, 52 point campaign in 2006-2007. The contract was one that set the bar for how the Blues would handle restricted free agents and five years later it still holds. The Blues were not hamstrung by Stempniak’s contract. Stempniak was eventually traded to Toronto for Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo and a deal that proved to be a strong one for St. Louis.
Since the Stempniak deal, have signed restricted free agent forwards David Perron, Patrick Berglund, TJ Oshie, and others to contracts ranging from 1-3 years. They have avoided paying too much for too long on players they are just not sure exactly how they will continue to develop in the NHL. The contracts have kept the young Blues core hungry while still rewarding them fairly over a shorter term for what they have done in the NHL with a sprinkle of promise still mixed in.
While the Blues had a good season as a team last year, it was not a good one for Chris Stewart in a contract year. It may have proven to benefit the Blues. Stewart was coming off 28 and 27 goals seasons, which included a stretch of 15 goals in 26 games after being traded to St. Louis. Had he followed that up with at least another 25 goal campaign, the case could be made for a longer term higher valued contract. Instead he sputtered through a season with just 15 goals in 79 games and also found himself a healthy scratch in the post season. His conditioning to play the style expected by Ken Hitchcock was challenged and his season never really found consistent traction.
As a result Stewart ended the season leaving questions to be answered as to just what type of NHL player he can be. He is only 24 and turns 25 at the end of this coming October. He has the size and the ability to be one of the top power forwards in the NHL. Armed with his new 1 year contract, both Stewart and the Blues are hoping he proves it. The contract respects the success he has had in the NHL while also adds the motivation of proving he can be among the elite and deserves a longer and bigger contract.
If he realizes that potential, both he and the Blues will win. If he does not, his contract becomes moveable for the Blues if another team thinks they can use him. Chris Stewart now finds himself in a spot very familiar with several of his teammates. Oshie just finished a one year contract. The Blues have continued a trend they began back in 2007. They leave it up to the players to dictate what comes next. It’s Stewart’s turn. What will he do with it?
Chris Kerber, the voice of the St. Louis Blues, is a host on “The Sports Hub” on KMOX.