ST. LOUIS -- Instead of allowing Jay Bouwmeester to play out the final year of his contract and risk losing him to free agency, the St. Louis Blues locked up one of their top defensemen beyond the 2013-14 season with a contract that will take him well into his 30s.
The Blues extended Bouwmeester on Thursday, agreeing with the Edmonton, Alberta native on a five-year, $27 million contract, an average annual value of $5.4 million that begins with the 2014-15 season.
Bouwmeester, who has one year remaining at $6.6 million from a five-year, $33.4 million contract signed with the Calgary Flames in 2009, was acquired by the Blues on April 1 in a trade for minor-league defenseman Mark Cundari, the rights to goalie prospect Reto Berra, and a first-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.
Electing to not play out the final year of his contract and head for perhaps a bigger payday, Bouwmeester said he felt comfortable from the moment he got to St. Louis and was eager to work out an extension and not test the free-agent market next summer.
"[The Blues] mentioned something at the end of the year that at some point over the summer they'd be in touch, throw things around and see where everyone's at," Bouwmeester said. "... It helped that we got on a pretty good roll and won a bunch of games. That makes things more fun and easier for everyone.
"The fact that it's a real good young team, it seems like that they've got pretty much everyone signed now through at least the next couple of years. You've got that nucleus of guys that probably aren't going anywhere. I had a lot of fun being part of it."
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said Bouwmeester and his camp helped secure the extension.
"The credit on this deal goes to Jay Bouwmeester for stepping up and leaving the potential of free agency and not worrying about that," Armstrong said. "He's excited about our team, he's excited about where we're headed and he wants to be a part of it. You take the money and the years out of the conversation, here's a good player that wants to be a part of our team, and that's exciting for me."
Bouwmeester, 29, was brought in to form a top defensive pairing with Alex Pietrangelo, who is a restricted free agent yet to be re-signed. Bouwmeester fit in well with Pietrangelo, finishing with one goal and seven points in 14 regular-season games. Bouwmeester had seven goals and 22 points in 47 games with the Blues and Flames last season.
He has a consecutive-games played streak of 635, longest among active players, most for any defenseman, and fifth all-time.
"We certainly looked for a left-shot defenseman that could play a lot of minutes," Armstrong said. "We were looking for that for the better part of a year and we were able to bring Jay in.
"We paid a handsome price. We paid a first-round pick and two prospects. We felt it was worth that for this [past] year and next year. When we got here, it just became more obvious to us that players like that are very hard to obtain."
The Blues were hoping to get an extension done with Bouwmeester during the summer and were able to do so with the sides working collectively. It was an important factor because Armstrong said there would have been no negotiations during the season.
"When we talked at the end of the season, we were going to try and talk over the summer to get an extension done, but if we didn't get it done over the summer, we weren't going to talk about it over the year," Armstrong said. "... I don't want any distractions during the year. You want to play for the year, and now we can do that. Now we don't have to worry about what we're going to do at the trade deadline ... are you going to get value, and so forth. We know we have the player, we know he wants to be here. Selfishly, or conceitedly, when I look at our defense, you have the rights to Alex Pietrangelo for at least four years, you have Kevin Shattenkirk and Jay Bouwmeester, it's hard for me to believe there are three better defensemen than those three."
Add into the mix veterans Barret Jackman, Jordan Leopold and Roman Polak, along with Ian Cole, the Blues feel like they have one of the best defensive units in the NHL.
"I find it hard to believe there's a team in the NHL that wouldn't take our six for their six," Armstrong said. "I don't want to sound too self-centered. I like our defense, but the NHL is built on a good goalie, good defense and good center icemen. You would certainly have a good team. I think our goaltending depth is as good as anyone in the NHL. I think our defense is as good as anyone's in the NHL, and with our center ice of [David] Backes, [Patrik] Berglund, [Derek] Roy and [Maxim Lapierre], I like being good where you're supposed to be good. I think we are good in those areas.
"... When we traded for [Bouwmeester], we knew the player we were getting. When he got here, we were comfortable with what we were getting. Now we're comfortable in the player we know we're getting for the next six years."
The contract could be the last big deal Bouwmeester gets. It will take him to age 35, and unlike the contract he signed with the Flames, security was more of a factor than dollars.
"You're at a point in your career when you start thinking about some security," said Bouwmeester, the third pick in the 2002 NHL Draft by the Florida Panthers. "I've got a young family now, so all that stuff comes into it. I think the first offer that was talked about was for that length. For them to show that interest and I guess have faith in me for that period of time, as a player, you view that as a real positive thing. That was never an issue. For them to realize that you're in the long-term plans, that's what every player wants to hear.
"It's always nice to get those things out of the way sooner rather than later and just move on."
Now all the Blues have to do is lock up Bouwmeester's partner, Pietrangelo. Armstrong said Bouwmeester's signing and term have nothing to do with ongoing negotiations with Pietrangelo, the fourth pick in 2008.
"Jay's contract is actually more expensive in the years that Alex is going to sign any year," Armstrong said. "It has no correlation."
Without Pietrangelo's contract and salary, the Blues have $19.25 million tied into their remaining six defensemen for the 2013-14 season. According to Capgeek.com, the Blues are spending an average of $3.3 million per defenseman, which is fourth in the League.