The St. Louis Blues made two moves on Wednesday afternoon. The first move was to re-sign fourth-line center Steve Ott to a 2-year, $5.2 million contract. Their second move was to allow Vladimir Sobotka to walk off of their team and into the KHL. Sobotka and the Blues had been negotiating since early June, and Blues GM Doug Armstrong stated that he had offered Sobotka a range of deals between three and five years, all of them worth more than $3 million per year, with their final offer being for two years and $6 million. Sobotka decided that that wasn’t enough money for him, and on Wednesday evening he signed a 3-year contract with Avangard Omsk of the KHL. The complete details of his new contract have not yet been released, but it is believed to be worth over $4 million annually.
I believe that the Blues should have let Ott walk, freeing up cap space to re-sign Sobotka. Reports are that the Blues and Sobotka were very close to getting a deal done, but not close enough for either parties liking. If they had given in just a little bit to retain Sobotka, they would have been able to keep one of the best third-line centers in the league. Both Ott and Sobotka hit, fight, block shots, and are good in the faceoff circle, but Ott doesn’t have the offensive upside of Vladimir Sobotka, and Ott, who is 31, has none of the speed or agility that the 27 year old Sobotka possesses. With the free-agent signing of Paul Stastny, Sobotka got pushed further down the depth chart, and I imagine that that is another one of the reasons he left for the KHL.
Over the past few years, the NHL has lost many players to the KHL, the most notable ones being Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Radulov. The NHL is still the best league in the world, but still the allure of playing closer to home for many Europeans, as well as the KHL’s ability to offer players more money, is something that the NHL doesn’t have. Situations like the one between Sobotka and the Blues don’t happen very often, but when they do it’s a shame because more often than not we end up losing the ability to watch a good player every night, and while the NHL team loses a player, it’s really the fans who get hurt.