St. Louis Blues Sign Carl Gunnarsson to Three-Year Contract Extension

Feb 14, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; St. Louis Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (4) during the first period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 14, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; St. Louis Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (4) during the first period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The St. Louis Blues gave Carl Gunnarsson a three-year contract extension, which figures to lock in the entirety of their lefthanded-shooting defensive corps through at least 2018-19.

In a somewhat surprising turn of events, the St. Louis Blues announced on Friday evening that they’ve signed defenseman Carl Gunnarsson to a three-year contract extension. Gunnarsson, who the Blues acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Roman Polak last offseason, will be paid $8.7 million over the duration of the contract and will have a cap hit of $2.9 million per season. That’s a solid payday for a defenseman who has four goals and 15 assists over 123 games in a Blues uniform.

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The Blues’ decision to extend Gunnarsson inspires further questions as to what the Blues will do with their captain, David Backes, and star defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk this coming offseason. Backes, who has played all 716 games of his 10-season career with the Blues, is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, while Shattenkirk will be entering the final season if his contract and is expected to command much more than his current $4.25 million-dollar yearly salary once he hits the open market. The Blues, who have had serious issues with staying under the salary cap for the past several seasons, will have some major decisions to make this offseason.

Whereas many expected the Blues to let Gunnarsson walk after this season and replace him with a younger, in-house option–likely Petteri Lindbohm, who impressed in spot duty during 2014-15 and has a cap hit of $636,667 next season–the organization now seems primed to continue operating tightly against the cap, as Gunnarsson will have a cap hit of $2.9 million over the next three seasons. Though the Blues could shed as much as $13 million from this season’s payroll, depending on what they decide to do with upcoming free agents Backes, Troy Brouwer, Kyle Brodziak, Steve Ott, Scottie Upshall, and Magnus Paajarvi, they’ll almost certainly have to move a player to keep their core together next season.

Jaden Schwartz is due a major pay increase as a restricted free agent next offseason, while Joel Edmundson will also probably receive a raise as a RFA. In addition, Colton Parayko and Jake Allen are restricted free agents after 2016-17, while Alexander Steen is unrestricted, so the Blues will need to build further wiggle room into the long-term budget if they plan on retaining those players.

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With Gunnarsson and Jay Bouwmeester signed through 2018-19 and Joel Edmundson still on his entry-level contract, the Blues have their lefthanded-shooting defensemen locked in for the foreseeable future. That will likely make the 22-year-old Lindbohm, who was seen as such an intriguing young player when he debuted in the NHL last season but who has spent all but seven games of this season in the AHL, a trade chip this offseason. Shattenkirk’s potential availability via trade could create an opportunity for a righthanded-shooting defenseman to join the club next season.

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With Alex Pietrangelo (signed through 2019-20, Robert Bortuzzo (signed through next season), and Colton Parayko (still on his entry-level deal) locked in, though, the Blues have a serious logjam of young defensive talent. In addition to Lindbohm, the Blues have former first-rounder Jordan Schmaltz, second-rounders Vince Dunn and Tommy Vannelli, and other intriguing players with NHL potential like Jake Walman, Niko Mikkola, and Dmitrii Sergeev. If they need to acquire more established offensive talent this offseason, they could easily draw from their excess of young blueliners as they try to put together a trade package.