St. Louis Blues forward Ryan Reaves seems to have regained his spot in the lineup, as the 27 year old is dressing for his second straight contest after being a healthy scratch for the previous two. The benching acted as a wake-up call for Reaves, who had a bad stretch of play, but it’s a bit offsetting when you consider that he has the longest contract of any forward on the team.
Under the new ownership of Tom Stillman, the Blues have broken a rather longstanding trend and been big spenders. While it’s nice that management is fully devoting themselves to winning, how much of that spending is actually merited?
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock made a statement concerning his relationship with general manager Doug Armstrong, which could be considered a bit disturbing by some, saying, “I don’t like to even know what’s being considered or talked about. I feel like if I have any information, I might look at the player differently, might coach him differently, might react differently…I don’t want to know.” While this comment was made while talking about the rumors surrounding players who have a chance of being traded, specifically forward Chris Stewart, the recent trends surrounding the Blues’ lineups and roster activity indicate that maybe this applies to how the team is approaching in-house spending as well.
The most substantial evidence to support this claim involves the team’s financial commitment to the “CPR” line (Adam Cracknell, Chris Porter and Reaves), which brought them a high amount of success down the stretch last season. While the Blues have upped their investment in all three of these players over the past year, none of them are being placed in a situation to succeed by Hitchcock at the moment.
Porter has been the biggest bust of the three during 2013-14. After spending six years in the Blues organization, he broke out in 2012-13 by registering eight points in 29 games and providing a valuable presence on the boards. The Blues promptly rewarded him with a two-year, one-way contract that pays him $675,000 per season.
Management’s opinion of him obviously changed quickly though, as they went out and signed veteran Brenden Morrow while assigning Porter back to the AHL in advance of the season. Porter has been up with the team on two separate occasions to provide injury relief and has skated in 10 games this season, but that is certainly not the kind of value the organization must have envisioned him providing when they chose to give him a multi-year, one-way deal. It sent a message when the Blues had an open spot on their roster following an injury to Reaves, yet decided to operate at less than full capacity rather than recalling Porter immediately. Obviously, they don’t like the way his contract is affecting the salary cap, as they placed Porter on waivers early in the season in an attempt to try to get him another NHL job. Porter now seems to have been passed up on the organizational depth chart by 20-year-old Dmitrij Jaskin, and it’s possible that he will not get another chance to contribute to the team until rosters expand after the trade deadline.
Cracknell, a longtime minor leaguer who was given a one-year, $600,000 one-way contract, has had a slightly more favorable situation, but certainly not one befitting of a player with a one-year deal. Despite spending the majority of the season on the active roster, he was inserted into the lineup just 17 times and was frequently passed over for more untested players like Jaskin. When the team decided to stick with eight defensemen several weeks ago, Cracknell was made expendable and sent back to the AHL.
Though Reaves has delivered an impact this year, he may end up being the worst investment if current trends continue. The Blues signed him to a four-year, $4.5 million deal last month, but seeing as how Reaves had lost his spot before Vladimir Sobotka’s injury forced him back into the lineup, it makes you wonder whether Hitchcock and Armstrong were on the same page regarding his long-term potential.
All in all, it’s difficult to complain about the Blues considering that they have been so successful during 2013-14. But with as tight as they have gotten with the salary cap, you have to wonder if they can keep the success up without becoming more careful with their spending.