ST. LOUIS -- Forward Jaden Schwartz agreed to a five-year, $26.75 million contract with the St. Louis Blues on Friday to avoid an arbitration hearing that was scheduled for Wednesday.
Schwartz, 24, was a restricted free agent. The contract runs through the 2020-21 season, has an average annual value of $5.35 million, and according to General Fanager includes a modified no-trade clause for the last two years.
"He's an important player for us now and an important player in the future," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said of Schwartz. "He's entering the best part of his career, and to have him signed, having [Vladimir] Tarasenko signed, we've got Jake [Allen] signed now for five years and [Alex] Pietrangelo for four more, we have access to [Robby] Fabbri and also to [Colton] Parayko, so the nucleus of our team is obviously getting younger.
"Getting key players signed to term under contract, it's good for the organization, and we can now build around these players."
The signing of Schwartz and Tarasenko, also a 24-year-old forward, and the trust they've placed in forward Fabbri (20) and defenseman Parayko (23) is a clear indicator the Blues are getting younger and faster and placing trust in their younger players. They allowed veteran forwards David Backes, the captain since 2011 and 10-year player with them, Troy Brouwer and Steve Ott to leave as unrestricted free agents. Goalie Brian Elliott was traded to the Calgary Flames.
Video: Schwartz avoids arbitration, agrees to five-year deal
"You have to evolve the way the League evolves, and there was a core group of players here that has now matured," Armstrong said. "Now it's time for the next wave to take charge. I don't think it's that we're trying to make a statement. It's just the reality of the business that Tarasenko and Schwartz and Allen and Parayko and [Pietrangelo (26)] now are entering the part of their careers now where they need to be the ones to do the heavy lifting."
Schwartz, who is on vacation and unavailable for comment, played 33 games last season; he missed 49 after fracturing his left ankle at practice on Oct. 23. He had 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists), then had 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in 20 Stanley Cup Playoff games, helping the Blues reach the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2001. They lost to the San Jose Sharks in six games.
"We had hoped to get something done [before the arbitration hearing Wednesday]," Armstrong said. "We actually started talking about this last year at the start of the season about a new contract and term, but the injury happened [and] both sides thought it was best to put it off at that time knowing we would get back to it. Then you get into the postseason, and it takes a little time to put these deals together. ... Ultimately, both sides were able to find the right amount of years and the right dollar value."
The Blues are less than $4 million under the salary cap with 22 NHL contracts, but that doesn't include when forward Vladimir Sobotka rejoins the team, which is expected this summer. Sobotka will carry a $2.725 million salary-cap charge on a one-year contract he was awarded in arbitration in 2014; he is expected to opt out of his contract in the Kontinental Hockey League, where he played for Omsk Avangard the past two seasons.
"This year it looks like we're in a solid spot now," Armstrong said. "Obviously next year, we have some key players that are unrestricted free agents (forward Alexander Steen and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk) that we'll have to either re-sign or open up space for us to do other things.
"With the cap staying relatively stagnant the last couple years, we forecast it would stay the same and we think we're in a good spot with the contracts that we have moving forward. You want a core group of players with their contracts extended out and then you fill support around that."