When word spread two years ago that minority owner Tom Stillman had offered “only” $110 million to buy the Blues even fans who supported the local owners questioned whether the group could afford the club. Even if Stillman and Co. could finance the purchase of the franchise which they did by bucking up to $130 million could they bankroll the Blues and keep the club competitive from a player-salary standpoint? With about a month left before training camp the Blues have $57 million committed in cash payroll for the 2013-14 season. That’s an increase of $4.8 million from last year’s payroll ranking fifth among NHL teams in biggest boosts this offseason — behind Nashville ($8.6 million) Columbus ($7 million) Los Angeles ($6.8 million) and Edmonton ($5.2 million). The Blues’ figure doesn’t account for the re-signing of restricted free agent Alex Pietrangelo. If the defenseman is paid more than $3.8 million in 2013-14 the Blues will leap over Nashville to No. 1. If more their payroll could climb to as much as $62 million — up nearly $10 million from a year ago. “When we purchased the Blues a little over a year ago we said that our plan was to straighten out the business side and put a strong competitive contending team on the ice” Stillman said. “In my view all we’re doing here is following through on what we said we would do. We’ve invested more heavily in the team itself and we’re doing that because we want to win. We also think that is a smart investment because that is what’s going to make the franchise stable and sustainable as a business.” The increase in player salary doesn’t mean that the Blues added those dollars this offseason. Contracts already on the books called for more cash in 2013-14 including raises for David Backes ($4.75 million from $3.75 million) T.J. Oshie ($4 million from $3.3 million) and Roman Polak ($3.1 million from $2.4 million). That’s a different situation than teams such as Columbus which signed free agent Nathan Horton ($5 million in ’13-14) and Nashville which brought in free agents Matt Cullen ($3 million) and Victor Stalberg ($2.5 million). But the Blues’ situation was different this offseason. Their need was keeping its core group together and while Pietrangelo remains unsigned the Blues did extend restricted free agents Kevin Shattenkirk Chris Stewart and Patrik Berglund. “If you look at our roster we had a young team that is coming into the middle stages of their careers where they’re going to start to get paid more” Stillman said. “If we were going to keep them together it meant a higher investment level. “If we weren’t willing to invest more we were going to have to lose some key pieces and that’s not what we wanted to do. It would be hard to maintain the contending team that we want to have but it would also send the wrong message to our fans and supporters.” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong locked up Shattenkirk with four-year $17 million contract and re-upped Stewart (two years $8.3 million) and Berglund (one year $3.25 million). Those three players alone accounted for $4.3 million in increased payroll from a year ago but represented reasonable raises.
Blues beefing up payroll under new owners
St. Louis Post-Dispatch | Aug 11