ST. LOUIS -- With Chris Stewart's arbitration hearing scheduled for Monday, he and the St. Louis Blues shifted gears into overdrive to get a deal done.
It happened Friday afternoon on the eve of his wedding when Stewart and the Blues agreed to a two-year contract.
The right wing is coming off a season when he led the Blues in goals (18) and points (36) in 48 games.
"He's a player, and I've said this to Chris, and I truly believe this: For us to be a good team, we need Chris to be a good player," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said via conference call.
The 25-year-old Toronto native has 100 goals and 202 points in 319 NHL games, including 48 goals and 89 points in 153 games with the Blues. Stewart was part of a trade in 2011 that saw the Blues also acquire defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk from the Colorado Avalanche for defenseman Erik Johnson.
Stewart has seen peaks and valleys in the League since entering in 2008. He was the 18th pick in the 2006 NHL Draft.
"I think we'd probably like to smooth out the rough edges, as I'm sure Chris would," Armstrong said. "When you look at the totality of his time here, he came here and played very well. The second season wasn't great (15 goals, 15 assists in 79 games). Last year, the point total was at the top of our team, but there's maybe bigger ebbs and flows within the season. I think consistency is the mark of a good team, and then consistency is ultimately the mark of a very good player.
"I appreciate the statistics that he puts up, but at the end of the day, that's his yearly numbers and those are very strong -- the best on our team. But we'd like all of our players to have less peaks and valleys and more of a steady game. That [way], we're going to know what we're going to get every night."
The Blues were eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in six games by the Los Angeles Kings. Stewart had one assist.
"Probably the last three weeks and the playoffs, he was like a lot of our players that the puck just wasn't going in the net, and for a player that you look to get that job accomplished, he probably got a little bit more of my focus on why [he's] not scoring because that's his job responsibility," Armstrong said. "But basically, he was in a group of players that did that."
The Blues were in a similar position with right wing T.J. Oshie a year ago when the sides came to an agreement on a five-year deal on the eve of Oshie's arbitration hearing. Stewart and the team were expected to trade arbitration briefings Saturday.
"The NHL by nature is a deadline league, trade deadline or draft or arbitrations," Armstrong said. "Both sides were in discussion. We finally came to common ground knowing we were going to have to board flights tonight and exchange briefs in the morning. Any time you have to exchange the briefs, the player has to put his best foot forward in his comparable group that probably is outside the realm of what we're comfortable with. For us to have a chance to get an award we're comfortable with, you have to really dig into some of the negative parts of a player. ...
"I think this was a fair deal for both parties. Obviously Chris would have liked a little more and we would have liked a little less, so that indicates to me that it's probably fair."
The sides came to the conclusion that a two-year deal would benefit each. Stewart can become an unrestricted free agent after the 2014-15 season, when he's 27 and can cash in if the next two seasons go well for him. For the Blues, it gives them a full season to negotiate a longer-term contract while watching Stewart's progression in the system.
"There's two ways to look at it," Armstrong said. "One, we could have taken a one-year award. The issue that sometimes comes into play is then you have to sign the player to a longer-term deal one year out. You're almost paying him as an unrestricted free agent that year."
"Right now, what we do is we have a two-year award, but next July 1 both parties can engage in a long-term contract which is just strictly unrestricted years. I think the two-year award allows us to have a full year to negotiate the UFA years without having to go through this process of signing him as a UFA a year in advance or doing a one-year deal and then giving yourself only six months to sign him to a UFA contract.
"This allows [Chris] to come in and know that everything's in place for two years knowing that if he has a good year and the team has a good year, we can start talking about an extension that's exclusively for UFA years."
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