Blues to Chris Stewart:
The Blues have elected to retain Chris Stewart with a one-year, $3 million deal. In essence the contract can be summed up with two words: Prove yourself. Stewart slumped in 2011-12 after a 2010-11 season that saw him display some lethal offensive talent. Now the Blues have made an ultimatum to their winger – produce or move on.
I let this deal sit for a few days before writing about it. Prior to hearing the news I’ve been pretty undecided about what I wanted for Stewart. I hated the idea of the Blues bailing on a player that showed so much offensively just one season ago. I also hated the idea of the Blues having to overpay for Stewart’s services in order to avoid cutting him loose too early. It was safe to predict that should Stewart test free agency he would attract several interested teams.
The Blues responded to my fears by giving Stewart a one-year, $3 million deal. This deal answers both issues I have with the whole Stewart situation. First, I’m glad the Blues are willing to wait one more year until deciding what to do with Stewart beyond the immediate future. At this stage I don’t think any analyst or GM can give an accurate opinion about which Stewart is the true version (successful 2010-11, awful 2011-12) without it being any more than a guess. Secondly, I’m glad that the Blues were able to negotiate a deal without allowing Stewart to test free agency. The ultimate price, $3 million, falls exactly what I had hoped the Blues would pay Stewart if they retained him.
We’ve seen this type of deal in the past. T.J. Oshie signed a one-year, $2.35 million contract prior to the 2011-12 season. The message here was that Oshie needed to pick up his game on the ice while cleaning up his game off the ice if he wanted more money and more years from the Blues in the future. Simply put, the Blues told Oshie to prove himself. The message the Blues sent was received and Oshie had a very productive 2011-12 both on and off the ice.
For Stewart, the message is the same. No one knows what he will bring to the table in 2012-13. Can he respond after a disappointing 2011-12? Will his old fire and passion return? If the answers to these two questions is a resounding “Yes”, the Blues will have made an extremely intelligent $3 million gamble. If the answer is “No”, the Blues can let him walk after 2012-13 and avoid the embarrassment of cutting ties with a potential potent weapon prematurely.
It’s impossible to predict how Stewart will respond to the team’s challenge. When Stewart was sent a message in the playoffs by being benched, he looked improved in the early stages of the following game but soon trailed off. This time the message is a bit more serious – produce or start looking for a new club.