Around this time last year, Vladimir Sobotka came close to returning to the St. Louis Blues, but in the end the Czech center decided to spend at least one more campaign in the KHL. But with the Blues’ season over and Sobotka having an apparent window to return to the NHL, it looks as though he could actually make the jump back to North America this summer.
During an end of season press conference, which was used in part to announce a one-year contract extension for coach Ken Hitchcock, Blues GM Doug Armstrong said that he has been in consistent contact with Sobotka’s agent over the past two seasons to “find out what’s going on.” And Armstrong, who said he thinks Sobotka will be back, sounds confident the 28-year-old pivot will be wearing a Blues uniform next season.
“I thought he was going to come back — a couple times during the season, we had conversations, he was getting himself out of his KHL deal, they (asked) me if we had room for him and I said we’d make room for him,” Armstrong said. “For whatever reason, it just didn’t work out…I’ve never read his KHL contract. I’ve never seen it. I don’t know what the window is. I’m going on reports that he has a window. If he exercises the window, he’ll be a St. Louis Blue. I’d love to have him back.”
This may sound eerily familiar, and it’s because a similar saga played out last season. At first, it appeared likely that Sobotka would exercise his option to leave his KHL deal and return to the Blues, but as the reported window began to close, Sobotka’s KHL club, Avangard Omsk, announced that he was staying in the primarily Russian league.
The entire situation, however, dates all the way back to the 2013-14 campaign. Sobotka scored nine goals and 33 points during that campaign for the Blues, but following the season he and St. Louis were unable to come to terms on a new contract. Sobotka, a restricted free agent, went to arbitration with the Blues and was awarded a one-year, $2.725-million deal. Instead of remaining in St. Louis, though, Sobotka accepted a three-year deal from Omsk worth a reported $12 million. Because of the arbitration deal with the Blues, though, St. Louis owns Sobotka’s NHL rights. If he chooses to come back to the NHL, Sobokta owes the Blues one season at $2.725 million.
Sobotka has scored 28 goals and 72 points in 97 games during his past two seasons in the KHL while averaging second-line minutes. In St. Louis, though, Sobotka was used more in a second- and third-line role, which is likely to again be the case if he comes back in time for the 2016-17 campaign. During his four seasons with the Blues, Sobotka scored 29 goals and 101 points in 247 games.
Sobotka will be playing in North America next season regardless of whether or not he chooses to return to the NHL. However, his stay could be brief. Sobotka was selected to the Czech Republic’s World Cup roster, and he should be suiting up at the tournament in September.