The St. Louis Blues’ season has been over and done with for nearly two months, which has given GM Doug Armstrong plenty of time to shift his focus to the off-season and take a look at what his roster needs. He has seen the departure of David Perron via the expansion draft, moved Ryan Reaves to the Pittsburgh Penguins and made an excellent acquisition by nabbing Brayden Schenn from the Philadelphia Flyers for two first-round picks and Jori Lehtera.
But there’s still one 6-foot-6, 226-pound piece that Armstrong has yet to strike off of his summer to-do list, and it’s going to remain right at the top of his docket until he finally finds a way to get 24-year-old defenseman Colton Parayko under contract.
Some may have assumed that Parayko, who has been a standout in St. Louis since his arrival in 2015-16, would have had a fresh, new deal by now. After all, it was clear that Parayko was one of the most important off-season signings the Blues had to make, and as a restricted free agent, it wasn’t like St. Louis was at all that much risk of losing the rearguard. But he remained without a deal through the end of the regular season, continued to go unsigned through the playoffs, hit the off-season sans contract and now, two days before the NHL’s signing season opens, Parayko’s still seeking a new deal.
There are no doubt reasons for the holdup. Term is always a big question when it comes to young RFAs, but money, as one could guess, is likely the biggest, and Armstrong jokingly addressed that issue on Wednesday. Asked about a deal, Armstrong quipped that Parayko “wasn't ready to play for the love of the game anymore,” according to NHL.com’s Lou Korac. The implication there, of course, is that Parayko is searching for a big payday, and it’s not unjust for the upstart defenseman to be looking to cash in after two seasons in which he’s gone from a top-four to top-pairing rearguard. Make no mistake, either: Parayko certainly deserves to be paid as a top-two defender.
For those who may not watch St. Louis on a consistent basis, Parayko’s name may not carry the same clout as the likes of Alex Pietrangelo or Jay Bouwmeester, but Parayko has been just as good as or better than his fellow Blues blueliners over the past two seasons. Since the start of the 2015-16 campaign, Parayko has the best goals for per 60 minutes rate at 2.63, the second-lowest goals against per 60 rate at 1.85 and the best possession rate at 53 percent of all Blues defensemen at 5-on-5, all while facing the third-highest quality of competition. Parayko has also put up 13 goals and 68 points over the past two campaigns while averaging more than 20 minutes per game.
But what is that worth to the Blues and what is Parayko commanding?
Some recent signings in the past few years may give an indication, including those of Rasmus Ristolainen, Hampus Lindholm, Aaron Ekblad, Seth Jones and Morgan Rielly. Of those five defenders, Rielly, a standout for the Maple Leafs, has the most cap-friendly deal at six years and $30 million, an average of $5 million per season. On the high end is Ekblad, who turned his Calder-winning season and stellar second campaign into an eight-year, $60-million contract which carries a cap hit of $7.5 million. The average cap hit among the rearguards, however, is $5.7 million.
And while that may seem like a fitting number for Parayko, there’s an interesting wrinkle to consider. Unlike Ristolainen, Lindholm, Ekblad, Jones or Rielly, Parayko carries arbitration rights as he heads into restricted free agency. So, while he may not hold all the cards in his negotiation with the Blues, he holds at least one that can help push his average salary higher than the average of some comparable defenders.
One suggestion that has been floated in recent weeks is Parayko signing a deal that is worth in the $6 million range, possibly even closer to the $6.5 million per season that Pietrangelo, the highest paid rearguard in St. Louis, earns. That doesn’t seem too far-fetched. Parayko may not produce the offense that Pietrangelo does, but Parayko is in position to take another step forward and earn a bigger role this coming season. The extra responsibility could have him interested in earning bigger pay, and rightfully so.
He’s worth that, too. Parayko has mountains of potential and he’s only just getting started. Statistically, he can produce as the No. 2 guy and it’s clear the defensive side of his game has come along as well as anyone could have hoped. If he’s not going to skate top minutes, there’s no doubt that he can anchor the second pairing, and he’s working his way to becoming a power play quarterback for the second unit. Parayko at $6 million could end up becoming a contract with incredibly good value, especially if he continues on his upwards trajectory.
However, the feeling may be that it’s only worth spending that much on Parayko should he decide to stick around long-term. That’s to say a max eight-year deal that keeps him in town, or at least locks him in with St. Louis, until he’s 32. Such a contract would make sense, too. But it’s not the only way the Blues can go. Other defenders have taken shorter term bridge deals with the promise of potentially hitting the open market in their prime, and that’s something Parayko could be interested in. That said, bridge deals tend to carry a lower salary, and Parayko likely wouldn’t earn much more than the aforementioned average on a deal that takes him into his late-20s.
Regardless of the price, though, there’s no way the Blues are going to let Parayko, far and away the most promising defender in St. Louis, slip away or allow the contract negotiation between team and player to become too contentious. The Blues have the money — more than $11.5 million to spend this summer — to make it work, and though the two sides have yet to put pen to paper, it’s only a matter of time before Parayko signs on the dotted line.
(All advanced statistics via Puckalytics)
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