George McPhee warned us.
"You have to make some cold, hard decisions," said McPhee of his UFAs at the Draft.
On July 1st, David Perron left for St. Louis to sign a four-year, $16 million dollar deal. McPhee noted that term was the difference in these negotiations.
Meanwhile, McPhee inked Nick Holden to two years for $4.4 million to replace Luca Sbisa. He also brought in Paul Stastny in a three-year, $19.5 million dollar contract.
Then yesterday, James Neal went to Calgary for five years and $28.75 million.
And just like that, it feels like a brand-new team without the playmaking of the gregarious Perron and the scoring touch of the mercurial Neal. Neal, especially, was a powerful personality in a tight-knit locker room.
Just a month ago, the Golden Knights were in Washington, D.C., playing for the Stanley Cup. They were on the cusp of writing a happy ending to perhaps the most improbable story in hockey history.
"You move on," said McPhee.
I'm not moving on quite yet.
I had a couple nagging thoughts about Perron's departure, so I spoke to Jeremy Rutherford
of The Athletic about them. Naturally, I also asked Jeremy about Stastny, who continues the St. Louis-Vegas connection, as he skated for the Blues from 2014-18.
Perron leaves town, adding a career regular season and another so-so playoff to his resume.
Here's the thing about Perron that will be fascinating to watch next year:
I wonder, at some point, if they try Perron with a natural goalscorer like Vladimir Tarasenko. In 2016-17, he played just 78:46 at 5v5 with the Russian sniper, compared to 637:31 with his most frequent linemate Patrik Berglund.
We'll see if Perron can continue this Joe Thorntoneque revival of his career. If he does, he'll be a bargain for the Blues.
As for the playoffs, the winger has had just 23 points in 57 postseason games; in St. Louis, Rutherford has seen a lot of them.
Even before July 1st, many Vegas fans were critical of Perron for not being a "playoff player." I wondered if there was any substance to this, besides the obvious counting stats.
However, Rutherford couldn't point to anything in particular which would explain Perron's lack of post-season productivity.
He did note, just like Vegas dropping Perron to the third line this spring, that St. Louis cut his icetime in the 2017 playoffs (17:18 ATOI in the regular season to 14:27). This was, according to Rutherford, in part because of Vladimir Sobotka's return from the KHL.
"David needs other players around him, playing well, scoring," indicated Rutherford. "When that's the case, I think he does his thing."
His regular linemates Neal and Erik Haula certainly didn't have explosive playoffs. And Perron was hurt or ill in both the Los Angeles and Winnipeg series.
That said, Perron has to bear some responsibility for his icetime getting slashed and his linemates' lack of productivity. It's just hard to say how much.
"It's such a tough thing to predict," a pro scout told me off the record, about playoff productivity. "So many factors in play."
Personally, he doesn't put much emphasis on it when evaluating players. Perhaps the sample size is just too small.
For what it's worth, a late-career playoff surge is not unheard of. After 41 points in 110 playoff games, a 32-year-old Keith Primeau dropped 16 points in 18 for the Flyers as they reached the 2004 Eastern Conference Final. After 17 points in 41 playoff games, a 33-year-old Ray Whitney scored nine goals to help the Hurricanes hoist the 2006 Stanley Cup.
So the 30-year-old Perron has got time to change his narrative.
Regarding Stastny, Rutherford addressed the perception that the centerman underperformed his four-year, $28 million dollar contract, signed with St. Louis in the summer of 2014. Stastny puttered out 0.65 Points Per Game back home, a bit of a drop from his 0.85 in Colorado.
In St. Louis, they've lacked a top-line center for a long time.
You go into that year of free agency, and oh look, the hometown St. Louisan is cream of the crop.
The Blues knew they were overpaying, but it's free agency. He was not only the best center, he might have been the best free agent that year.
What were your options?
It's worth noting that Stastny was just 28 when the Blues lured him away from the Avalanche.
Rutherford points to injuries and a lack of chemistry as to why Stastny didn't produce at the expected level:
He was dinged up the first two years of the four-year contract.
You can't look at any one or two players and say, wow, he really gelled with Tarasenko. He really gelled with this guy.
However, for Rutherford, Stastny was more than just about the offense:
The offensive numbers weren't there.
But he's so good in his own zone. And obviously, the faceoffs. He's one of the better faceoff guys in the league.
The past four years, Stastny may not have put up 30 goals, 70-80 points, but he was tremendous defensively. He was reliable.
It doesn't take anything else to get him going. He just drips hockey when you're around him.
Paul just needs to find a right fit chemistry-wise to produce.
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