The St. Louis Blues have had an exciting offseason, but it also has had its tumultuous moments. It looks like the summer could end on a tumultuous note, too. The club still needs to re-sign restricted free agent forward Jaden Schwartz and it doesn't sound like that is close to happening.
Schwartz finished with 56 points in his third NHL season. That total ranked fourth on the squad, while his 25 goals were third best on the Blues. The now 22-year-old took a big step forward last season and will be a key player heading into the 2014-15 campaign.
Schwartz's agent, Wade Arnott, told Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his client and the Blues are “significantly apart” in negotiations for a new contract. That is not good news.
"I would characterize it as the discussions are ongoing,"Wade Arnott, Schwartz's agent, told the Post-Dispatch Wednesday. "We've had lengthy discussions over the past few weeks with (Blues general manager) Doug Armstrong regarding Jaden's situation. We remain significantly apart on our respective positions at this point."
Both sides informed Rutherford that the talks are gravitating towards a short-term bridge deal, which seem to be all the rage right now among restricted free agents. Sometimes they don't burn teams and others they really do when the player far out-performs his contract (SEE: P.K. Subban).
There are plenty of contentious negotiations out there with restricted free agents, like there seems to be every season. The nature of restricted free agency makes it so, but when a player has as good a season as Schwartz did last season, it makes negotiations even trickier.
It's not terribly hard to see where the Blues are coming from at this point either on wanting to keep things short term. Schwartz has one lockout-shortened season and one full season under his belt, plus his brief seven-game stint in 2011-12, which only kind of counts. Last year may have been a sign of things to come, but was it enough to go big on a new deal? Armstrong doesn't think so.
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"He doesn't have enough of a history in our game right now," Armstrong said. "He's had a shortened lockout season and one (full) season in the NHL. I think there's more data to be given on exactly where he's going to fit in. We're hoping he's an NHL all-star, first or second team all-star, and he's a 35-40 goal guy. If that happens, he's going to be rewarded very handsomely and fairly by the St. Louis Blues.
"We hope to get something done on a bridge contract that makes him feel comfortable and be back negotiating January this year or July next year on a longer-term extension with more substantial data on the player."
That's been the play for a lot of teams with players coming off of entry-level contracts. The teams are in a tough position because they obviously want players to play like stars on their second NHL deal, but in most cases they aren't willing to pay the players like stars. Not yet, at least.
The Blues also have that pesky salary cap to keep in mind.
As it stands, St. Louis has approximately $2,783,333 remaining in salary cap space according to CapGeek.com. Schwartz is really the only player they have to get under contract for next season after Vladimir Sobotka opted to go to the KHL next year.
Schwartz has a good case for a raise from the $1.166 million he made in each of the first three years of his entry-level contract. How much of one appears to be the difference in this negotiation and the Blues' cap situation isn't Schwartz's problem either. He still has to get the deal he feels is fair, while it's Armstrong's job to manage the cap.
After the Blues already lost Sobotka in a money dispute, they don't want to drag this Schwartz negotiation out any longer than it has to be. The clock is ticking as the Blues open training camp in two weeks.
Schwartz has to be a big part of the Blues plans and they have had negotiations stretch into camp before, like a year ago with Alex Pietrangelo. It might take a little extra time, but something will eventually get done between the two sides. These things always seem to find a way of working themselves out.