(HockeySTL)-- With training camp less than two weeks away, Blues players are migrating back into St. Louis to begin their informal skates. A vast majority of the team has already made its way to the practice rink to begin their preparations for the season, and all should be back in town by the end of next week. However, one player could be missing in action when camp begins later this month.
Free agent Jaden Schwartz and the Blues have yet to reach an agreement on a new contract. Without a new deal, Schwartz will be unable to participate when camp begins on the 18th. And if the dispute lingers too much longer, the forward could miss regular-season games, as well.
Schwartz, 22, just completed the final year of his entry-level contract. The former first-round pick is looking for fair compensation after coming off of a season in which he was fourth on the team in points (56), third on the team in goals (25), and first on the club in plus/minus (plus-28). The problem remains that the Blues don’t have enough data on Schwartz to issue a high-paying, long-term contract.
Schwartz has been a part of the Blues’ roster for the better part of three seasons, but has just one 82-game campaign under his belt. While Schwartz has put up consistent numbers through his first 132 NHL games, the history is too small for Blues general manager Doug Armstrong to risk handcuffing the organization with a long-term deal.
“He doesn’t have enough of a history in our game right now,” Armstrong told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Wednesday.
Armstrong has been involved in talks with Schwartz’s agent, Wade Arnott, since mid-July, but a wide gap currently remains between the two sides, Arnott told the Post-Dispatch earlier this week.
“We remain significantly apart on our respective positions at this point,” Arnott told the Post-Dispatch on Wednesday.
With the rest of their roster set, the Blues have been focused on locking up Schwartz for a few months now. It is suggested that the Blues were uncomfortable giving Schwartz a long-term deal and turned the negotiations towards a short-term contract, also referred to as a “bridge deal”.
Armstrong has always been in favor of bridge deals because they allow the team more time to evaluate the player with little risk involved. If an agreement on a short-term deal is reached and Schwartz continues to produce, the pricier, long-term contract would be discussed the next time he is a free agent. Arnott told the Post-Dispatch that he foresees no problem with discussing a shorter contract, which means the main, and perhaps sole issue preventing a deal from happening is the compensation.
The Blues currently sit just $2.78 million under the NHL’s cap ceiling. Assuming they re-sign Schwartz, the club will sit extremely close to the $69 million ceiling. Armstrong would like to sign Schwartz and leave enough “wiggle-room” to make in-season changes if necessary. Logic dictates that Schwartz is likely looking for a deal that pays him somewhere close to $3 million. The Blues are likely hesitant at this point to go too much over $2 million.
Schwartz will not be joining the club on the ice while the holdout persists. A year ago, top defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and the Blues underwent a similar negotiation and Pietrangelo missed a portion of training camp before a deal was ultimately ironed out.
Rarely do these types of negotiations linger into camp, but if they do, the Blues have stocked their forward depth this offseason and are prepared for the worst, if it comes. However, it would not be remotely surprising to see the two sides reach an agreement in the coming weeks.