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Short-term deal for Parayko isn’t worst-case scenario for the Blues

St. Louis is seeking a two-year contract with Colton Parayko through arbitration, and while it may not be the deal the Blues wanted, there's actually some value in signing the defenseman short term.

As the off-season approached and the St. Louis Blues took stock of what they needed to accomplish, the most obvious need was a new contract for defenseman Colton Parayko. The 24-year-old rearguard had impressed as a rookie in 2015-16, earning Calder Trophy consideration, and further developed into a bonafide top three defender in his sophomore campaign. In just two short seasons, Parayko was already looking like a cornerstone of the Blues’ defense.

So, with that in mind, the assumption was that Parayko was in line for a long-term contract and a cap hit commensurate with other young, top-flight defenders. But unless the two sides have laid the groundwork to get such a contract in place by Thursday, it doesn’t appear that’s going to be the case.

Earlier this month, Parayko was one of 30 restricted free agents to file for salary arbitration and on Thursday, he and the Blues are slated to have a hearing in Toronto where the parties will plead their case in an attempt to hammer out a new deal. And according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, there’s a gap for Parayko and the Blues to bridge. What the Blues are reportedly seeking is a two-year deal with the defenseman worth $3.5 million per season, whereas Parayko is after a one-year contract that will pay him $4.85 million this coming campaign.

The shocker here is that even though there’s still time to come to terms on a deal, many expected this to be done and over with, that Parayko would be inked to a new, long-term contract. After all, there was some very clear value to signing Parayko to a long-term deal at this point in his career.

First and foremost, locking Parayko up long-term, say to a six-year deal, would have potential to pay major dividends for the Blues in two or three years’ time in the sense that he could be under contract for far less than he’s worth given the way he has developed. In addition, signing Parayko to a lengthy deal would eat into a significant number of unrestricted free agent years. And none of this is to mention that locking Parayko up long term simply made sense. He passes the eye test, he’s one of the favorites of those who value advanced statistics and he still has boatloads of promise as he’s yet to reach his prime. Keeping him around as long as possible only serves to strengthen St. Louis’ blueline now and in the future.

But should the two sides head to arbitration and go through the process, a short-term deal is headed Parayko’s way. And that isn’t exactly the worst-case scenario. Undoubtedly, as noted above, there’s a lot of benefit in locking Parayko up to a lengthy contract and there’s little doubt it’s what the Blues were chasing to begin with. But if St. Louis has to settle for something short term, a two-year contract — the maximum allowable length through arbitration — isn't entirely without value.

What such a contract would give St. Louis is flexibility. Currently, the Blues have roughly $7.6 million in cap space, and a deal for Parayko that comes in around $4.2 million would leave St. Louis with $3.4 million with which to add to their roster. While the Blues don’t have any glaring holes, having cap space to add in case of a season-ending injury, patch up any soft spots in the lineup or bring in a potential top-tier talent at the deadline would allow St. Louis to compete in a division that looks to be as tough as any in the league next season. Additionally, signing Parayko for two years at a modest cap hit allows the Blues to potentially take two runs at the Stanley Cup with a roster that is the same or similar to the group they’re currently icing. That could mean no sacrifices need to be made due to a cap crunch.

Of course, some will argue paying Parayko short term now means long-term pain as he’s likely to be command more in two seasons’ time than he is now, a scant two years into his career. But a two-year deal, like the one St. Louis has proposed, actually shouldn’t put the Blues in all that great of a salary cap bind.

The timing on a contract that carries Parayko through to 2019-20 would be near perfect for the Blues. As of today, St. Louis is set to have upwards of $32-million in cap space come the 2019-20 campaign with three sizeable contracts coming off the books just as Parayko would be ready for his next contract to kick in. Those deals, all for defensemen, include $5.4 million per season for Jay Bouwmeester, $2.9 million per season for Carl Gunnarsson and $1.15 million per season for Robert Bortuzzo. All the available cap space would assuredly allow the Blues to meet Parayko’s salary demand, even if it happens to be millions more than what he’s asking this summer. That could even be the case next summer, as Paul Stastny’s $7-million cap hit will come off the books when 2017-18 concludes, freeing up plenty of money to ink Parayko.

The upshot is that signing Parayko to a long-term deal has always made sense, but there’s some reasoning behind a potential short-term contract for the up-and-coming star defenseman, too. No one is denying the value in getting Parayko locked up now, especially as he’s going to be in line for a long-term, big-money payday at some point in the near future. But if the Blues can find a way to keep him signed for one or two years at a relatively low cap hit, it gives St. Louis salary cap flexibility and the chance to chase a Stanley Cup while Parayko’s contract is still relatively cheap.

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