Monday, June 29, 2015

Pronger elected to Hockey Hall of Fame

Former Blues defenseman gets in on first 
ballot; played nine of 18 seasons in St. Louis

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Chris Pronger's NHL career blossomed in St. Louis. And although his terrific career that included one Stanley Cup in 2007 and spanned 18 seasons, one of the greatest defensemen in the modern generation, saw his NHL career take off here.

His career cut short because of concussion issues, Pronger reached the pinnacle of the hockey world when he was part of the 2015 class inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, announced on Monday afternoon.

Pronger, the No. 2 pick of the 1993 NHL Draft who spent nine seasons in a Blues uniform after being acquired from the Hartford Whalers for Brendan Shanahan in 1995, was the NHL MVP and Norris Trophy winner in 2000 when he put up 62 points in 79 games.
Chris Pronger

Pronger was selected in his first year of eligibility after last playing for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010. He still is technically an active player who has a contract signed through 2017. 

Pronger, 40, was traded to the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday at the NHL Draft that will help the Coyotes reach the salary cap floor. Pronger carries a $4.9 million cap hit for the next two seasons and can't technically retire as a player after signing a seven-year contract with the Flyers in 2010.

However, a change in rules last year allows players who are still under contract but haven't played for a minimum of three years be eligible for the Hall of Fame.

In nine seasons with the Blues, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Pronger played in 598 regular season games and had 356 points (272 assists).

Pronger, who put up 698 points (572 assists) in 1,167 regular season games, won the Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks. He was traded from the Blues to the Edmonton Oilers coming out of the 2005 lockout in one of the, if not the, worst trades in franchise history.

Bill Laurie, the Blues' owner at the time, was in the process of selling the team and felt it would be easier to sell the team with Pronger's contract off the books. Pronger was to be an unrestricted free agent after making $9.5 million in the last year of his contract with the Blues. And so to make him attactive to prospective buyers, the Blues traded Pronger to the Edmonton Oilers for defensemen Eric Brewer, Jeff Woywitka and Doug Lynch. 

The Blues would go on to have the NHL's worst record in 2005-06 and miss the playoffs in five of the next six seasons. Brewer was serviceable at best and played five-plus seasons in St. Louis and is currently on he Toronto Maple Leafs roster; Woywitka played in parts of four seasons and two stints with the Blues  but is playing in the Deutsche Eishockey League with the Augsburg Panthers and Lynch never saw a game with the Blues. He's currently also playing in Germany with Salzberg EC. 

Meanwhile, Pronger would help the Oilers reach the Stanley Cup Final in his first season in Edmonton, but the Oilers lost to the Edmonton Oilers in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes.

After the season, Pronger was traded to the Ducks. Reports abounded that his wife Lauren, who is from St. Louis, was not happy living in Edmonton, and thus forced the Oilers' hand and Pronger asked for a trade.

He won the Stanley Cup in his first season with the Ducks with former Blue Andy McDonald and played three seasons with the Ducks before being dealt to the Flyers for Joffrey Lupul, defenceman Luca Sbisa, two first round draft picks and a conditional third round draft pick. 

Pronger helped the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 but he has not played since 2011 when he played 13 games. 

Pronger led the NHL with a plus-52 the season he won the Hart and Norris and helped the Blues claim he Presidents' Trophy and teamed with Al MacInnis as arguably one of the best defensive pairings.

He was named captain of the Blues his third season with the Blues when he was 23. 

Pronger joined Brett Hull as the only Blues to win the MVP. He and MacInnis are the only Blues to win the Norris. A four-time all-star in St. Louis (five overall), Pronger was a four-time member of Canada in the Winter Olympics and won the gold medal twice (2002 and 2010).

Another former Blue, Phil Housley, also was part of the 2015 Hockey Hall of Fame Class. Housley, an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators, played 26 games with the Blues in the 1993-94 season and was traded to the Calgary Flames for MacInnis.

Along with Pronger and Housley, Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov and U.S. Olympic women's player Angela Ruggiero. Hockey Hall of Fame chairman Bill Hay and Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos Jr. were elected in the Builder category.

Sobotka to remain in KHL

Blues confirm the forward will play in Russia for 2015-16 season

BY LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues finally confirmed what was likely the answer they knew for some time: forward Vladimir Sobotka will not return; at least for another year.

The Blues announced Monday morning that Sobotka will remain in the KHL and not return to the club for the 2015-16 season.

Sobotka, 27, and his agent Petr Svoboda confirmed to Blues general manager Doug Armstrong that he will stay and play a second season with Avangard Omsk and thus remain on the team's reserve/suspended list.

Sobotka left the Blues last summer in a contract dispute after he became a restricted free agent. He was asking the Blues roughly $3 million on a new contract but was awarded just north of $2.7 million by an arbitrator. 

(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues confirmed that Vladimir Sobotka has
decided to remain in the KHL for 2015-16.
It was under the impression that Sobotka had an out clause in his contract, a three-year contract north of $12 million he originally signed with Avangard in the off-season last year, and could opt to return to the NHL and the Blues, who own his rights for one season after an arbitrator awarded him a $2.7 million contract when he became an RFA. The out clause was supposed to have run through the end of May, but the Blues never confirmed one way or the other despite a report from the Avangard website and their team that Sobotka would remain with their club for 2015-16.

"... We had a conversation with Vladimir Sobotka, and we agreed that he is a player of our club for another season," said Vladimir Shalaev, the club's president, according to the report. "... Vladimir said that he likes to play in our team. ... He understands that he has become one of the leaders of the team."

If and when Sobotka, who had 33 points (nine goals, 24 assists) in 2013-14 for the Blues, returns to the NHL, he owes the Blues one year of service and Armstrong has maintained that stance that he will play here when and if he returns.

Armstrong, on a visit to the Czech Republic for the World Championships, spoke with Sobotka's agent regarding the Blues' interest of his return.

"It's his call," Armstrong said at the time of Sobotka, who had 40 points (29 assists) in 57 regular season games for Avangard this past season. "I talked to his representative in Prague when I was there. I just said, 'We'd love to have him back in the NHL.' He's coming back through St. Louis whether it's this year, next year or in four or five years. If he wants to come back in the NHL, he'll waltz through here at some point."

The earliest that point will have to wait until at least the 2016-17 season.

The Blues can at any point trade Sobotka's rights but seem determined to have at the very least, owe them the one year of service.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Local goalie part of Blues' six draft picks on second day

Team leaves South Florida without making any hockey trades despite heavy 
dose of action throughout weekend; Armstrong said team won't "force something" 

By LOU KORAC
The second day of the NHL Draft came and went without the fanfare fans were expecting from the Blues.

The Blues, who were quiet Friday with a lack of a first round pick that was traded in 2014 that brought a package that included goalie Ryan Miller from Buffalo, had six picks in Rounds 2-7 that included a variety of players, including a goalie that has been right in their back yard.

The Blues' second round pick was used on defenseman Vince Dunn, who played the past two seasons for the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League.
Vince Dunn

Dunn, 18, saw his draft stock soar throughout the year. He went from 53rd on the Central Scouting Rankings as a midterm ranking all the way up to 32nd. He's 6-foot, 187 pounds and is a left-handed shot.

Dunn, a Lindsay, Ontario native who wears No. 4 in honor of hockey idol Bobby Orr, tied for fourth on the team and was sixth among OHL defensemen with 56 points (18 goals, 38 assists) in 68 games last season. He grew up a Los Angeles Kings fan and his favorite player is Drew Doughty.

Dunn was hoping for a first round selection, but was glad to have his name called nonetheless.

"It was butterflies all day; I was just waiting for my name to be called," Dunn said. "It's such an honor to be picked by St. Louis. 

"... I bring a lot of offense; I consider myself an offensive defenseman. I like to join the rush and I'm not afraid to jump up in the play."

"We were excited to get him because the way he played at times this year, he was a first-round pick," said Blues director of amateur scouting Bill Armstrong, who felt Dunn was best player available. "With the depth of the draft, he just got pushed down. We were excited to get him because he is almost like a (Brent) Seabrook. ... Maybe he's more similar to a guy like Duncan Keith. He's got some traits where his skating and his compete, his ability to move the puck and he can play the power play. We're really excited."

The Blues didn't have a pick in the third round, which was used in a trade that sent David Perron to the Edmonton Oilers in 2013 that brought Magnus Paajarvi, a 2014 third-round pick and a 2015 fourth-round pick. 

So with the pick they acquired in the fourth round from Edmonton (No. 94), the Blues used it on center Adam Musil, son of former NHL player Frantisek Musil who played for Red Deer of the Western Hockey League.

Musil, 18, whose uncle is two-time Stanley Cup champion Bobby Holik (New Jersey Devils), is listed at 6-3, 202 pounds who scored 15 goals and added 24 assists in 66 games for Red Deer along with 71 penalty minutes that plays a big, physical game.

The right-handed Musil is an Ottawa, Ontario native.

"You've got a big 6-foot-3 guy that can skate," Armstrong said of Musil. "He's still got pounds to pack on. He's a good player that can go up and down and can crash and bang and get to the heavy areas of the ice. He's got some good skill. ... He's a big man that can skate and that's what we needed."

Musil's brother David was a 2011 second round pick of the Edmonton Oilers.

With the 116th pick in the fourth round, the Blues went center again and selected Glenn Gawdin, who played for Swift Current of the WHL last season.

Gawdin, 18, is 6-0 and weighs 191 pounds who had 15 goals, 39 assists and 59 penalty minutes in 72 games for the Broncos last season.

"Glenn Gawdin's a two-way player," Armstrong said. "He makes great plays off the rush in zone. He's a responsible player. He's one of those kids that coaches love because he's always in the right position. He's certainly got something to add to us. He's a smart, savvy player." 

The fifth round also had the Blues selecting twice, including No. 127 with defenseman Niko Mikkola from Kalpa Jr. of the Finland-JR league last season.

Mikkola, 19, is large (6-4) and lanky (185 pounds) who had nine goals, 23 points and 80 penalty minutes in just 37 games last season for Kalpa Jr.

"He's a super sleeper," Armstrong said of Mikkola. "Our guys saw him and they just fell in love with him. He's almost like a (Colton) Parayko in a sense of how much he's grown in the last few years. I think he was 5-11 a year and a half ago. How he's close to 6-foot-4, which is just one of those freak things." 

The feel-good story enters for the Blues at pick 146, where goalie Luke Opilka was chosen.

Opilka is a native of Effingham, Ill. who was developed with the St. Louis AAA Blues program. He moved to St. Louis in the sixth grade and attended Lindbergh High School and grew up a huge Blues fan, hoping to be selected by his childhood team. He played for former Blue Keith Tkachuk, whose opinions of Opilka helped sway the Blues' decision to use the pick on him.

"He's a guy I've known for the last five or six years; I've coached him and he played with my son," Tkachuk said after the draft. "I know what he brings. He's a tall (6-1, 192 pounds), athletic goalie who does a good job of finding the puck. He's a great kid and shows great character. He had a great couple last years at the US program. We're really happy. ... He deserves this." 

Opilka's younger days consisted of playing at the Affton Ice Rink and the U.S. Ice Sports Complex in Fairview Heights, which is no longer operating.

"It's an unbelievable feeling being drafted by the home team," said Opilka, whose favorite player is Montreal's Carey Price. "They were my favorite team growing up. It's definitely unbelievable.

"... I'm still kind of in the moment. It feels really good. I wasn't sure I could get the jersey over my head I was shaking so much. ... My mom was pretty into it. She had the best reaction out of all of us."

Opilka, 18, who played for the USA's U-18 squad and had a 2.70 goals-against average in 33 games, is not only living out his dream of one day playing for the Blues but he nearly quit playing hockey altogether.

He began as a skater before switching over to goalie, and the change paid huge dividends.

Opilka is now the No. 1 goalie in the United States Team Developmental Program.

Opilka will follow in the footsteps of current Blues goalie Brian Elliott and play at the University of Wisconsin in 2015-16.

"We think he's underrated," Armstrong said of Opilka. "... He's a kid that competes. He's a very focused kid with good size and good athletic ability. (Keith Tkachuk) is a huge part of our (scouting) group."

With their final selection of the day (in the sixth round, pick No. 176), the Blues chose left wing Liam Dunda out of Owen Sound of the OHL.

Dunda, 17, who split time with Owen Sound and Plymouth of the OHL last season, is big and powerful at 6-4, 212 pounds.

"Our scouts were at the end of the table pounding, wanting us to take this guy," Armstrong said of Dunda. "They feel he's really raw. He's another big guy that can skate. ... He can fight and he's got the ability to get there for the hits."

It was a draft the Blues were pleased with, despite no No. 1 pick and no immediate trades.

"To sit there and walk out of those earlier rounds with Dunn and Musil, that's exciting," Armstrong said. "They're two guys that can skate, that can add something and all the late picks that we added, they're exciting players. 
Luke Opilka

"You always want to pick early. That's where the (Connor) McDavids and the (Jack) Eichels and the Austin Crouses are, but you've got to work the draft and it is what it is. You try and squeeze as much out of that draft as you can no matter where you are in it."

As for the trade front, more players were moved on the second day but none involved the Blues, something general manager Doug Armstrong said was a possibility when discussing the lack of pulling the trigger on a trade Friday night.

"I have a real good comfort level for who's available and what's available," Doug Armstrong said. "Now we just sit back and wait to see what everyone wants to do. 

"I think what you'll find is you have now and then free agency's a time where if people's needs aren't met in unrestricted free agency, then the trade calls start again. You'll get to the middle of July and it'll go extremely quiet until training camp. We're more than prepared to come back with the group that we have now. It's a long time before the next trade deadline and we're not going to force something."

Friday, June 26, 2015

Blues quiet on first day of NHL Draft

Team was minus first round pick, quiet on 
player trades on day when many others made deals

By LOU KORAC
That sound of crickets emanating from the BB&T Center, where 30 teams converged for the 2015 NHL Draft, came from the Blues' draft table Friday night.

Without a first round pick at their disposal (the Blues traded it away in a package to the Buffalo Sabres that brought goalie Ryan Miller to St. Louis in March of 2014), the Blues had to sit idly and watch 30 teams make picks.

Trades were made -- some significant players moved -- and some were made for teams to get into the first round that weren't there before. The Blues were not one of them.

The Boston Bruins made the most significant moves, trading potential cornerstone defenseman Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames, then dealing power forward Milan Lucic to the Los Angeles Kings. Center Ryan O'Reilly went from the Colorado Avalanche to the Sabres, who also acquired goalie Robin Lehner and center David Legwand from the Ottawa Senators. 

General manager Doug Armstrong said while there's been plenty of trade chatter, the Blues exited the arena floor on Friday night without a draft selection and without any player personnel moves.

"Obviously Boston is the team that made the most drastic change to their roster," Armstrong said. "They've obviously gone in the direction to go for tomorrow. That's a big change from where they've been the last little while and teams make those decisions and I respect Donny (Bruins GM Don Sweeney) for standing up and going in that direction.

"Other than that, the trades you see today are mostly trades of teams going in one direction and another team going in another direction. Quite honestly, hockey trades often happen at the trade deadline. There aren't many hockey trades the first day of the draft."

Armstrong said teams have talked to the Blues but wouldn't discuss specific players involved.

"I have a real good comfort level for who's available and what's available," Armstrong said. "Now we just sit back and wait to see what everyone wants to do. I think what you'll find is you have now and then free agency's a time where if people's needs aren't met in unrestricted free agency, then the trade calls start again. You'll get to the middle of July and it'll go extremely quiet until training camp. We're more than prepared to come back with the group that we have now. It's a long time before the next trade deadline and we're not going to force something."

In other words, Armstrong won't sell the Blues short. If the Blues leave Florida without any player personnel changes, they're willing to be patient.

"The deals made today are teams building for tomorrow using today," Armstrong said. "We're still in the hockey trade route."

Which will be difficult to pull off in today's salary cap era, which is at $71.4 million (the Blues have roughly $56.4 million committed to 15 players). Plus, the Blues have restricted free agents that they have to sign, namely Vladimir Tarasenko, who is in line for a hefty pay raise. 

The Blues were brought up in various trade rumors throughout the day Friday, and T.J. Oshie's name was mentioned more than any. For a team that exited the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the first round for a third straight season (the Blues have dropped four straight playoff series), fans are clamoring for change.

The Blues are prepared to be patient for the right deal, or deals.

"We understand our roster. We understand we'd like to maybe make some alterations, but it has to make sense," Armstrong said. "When I say that, I look at 29 other teams that haven't made hockey traded either.
Doug Armstrong

"Today was more about ... you don't see many hockey trades today. That obviously would have started last Monday and Tuesday in Las Vegas. That's when you could have imagined having some hockey trades. Today there wasn't a lot of discussions because mostly teams are focused on moving around in the first round and gaining picks and that's what you saw today or going in a different direction. Obviously you saw Edmonton making a big deal at (No.) 16 exiting for a very good young player (Griffin Reinhart). Those are trades that we just weren't going to get involved in this season."

As for the draft on Saturday, the Blues (unless they make any transactions) will have the 26th pick (56th overall) in the second round and have a today of six picks in Rounds 2-7. 

"Tonight's an important night. We're going to go back and spend time with our amateur staff. We work our list now," Armstrong said. "We've seen 30 players get claimed. That shouldn't have a huge affect because we're picking 56, but there's some players that we had a little bit further down the line that have gone, which is good for players we obviously had further up the line. The guys are excited. They think it's a good draft. Our second round pick is important for us and then having that early fourth, we have extra picks later on, but our second round pick will be important.

"... Moving into the first round was going to be difficult based on what our purpose is for next season."

Thursday, June 25, 2015

2015-16 ST. LOUIS BLUES REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE

OCTOBER
8 -- EDMONTON, 7 p.m.
10 -- at Minnesota, 7 p.m.
13 -- at Calgary, 8 p.m.
15 -- at Edmonton, 8 p.m.
16 -- at Vancouver, 9 p.m.
18 -- at Winnipeg, 2 p.m.
20 -- at Montreal, 6:30 p.m.
24 -- N.Y. ISLANDERS, 7 p.m.
27 -- TAMPA BAY, 7 p.m.
29 -- ANAHEIM, 7 p.m.
31 -- MINNESOTA, 7 p.m.

NOVEMBER
3 -- LOS ANGELES, 7 p.m.
4 -- at Chicago, 7 p.m.
7 -- at Nashville, 7 p.m.
10 -- at New Jersey, 6 p.m.
12 -- at N.Y. Rangers, 6 p.m.
14 -- CHICAGO, 7 p.m.
16 -- WINNIPEG, 7 p.m.
17 -- at Columbus, 6 p.m.
19 -- BUFFALO, 7 p.m.
21 -- DETROIT, 7 p.m.
23 -- at Buffalo, 6 p.m.
25 -- at Pittsburgh, 6 p.m.
28 -- COLUMBUS, 7 p.m.

DECEMBER
1 -- FLORIDA, 7 p.m.
4 -- at N.Y. Islanders, 6:30 p.m.
5 -- TORONTO, 6 p.m.
8 -- ARIZONA, 7 p.m.
10 -- PHILADELPHIA, 7 p.m.
12 -- DALLAS, 7 p.m.
13 -- COLORADO, 5 p.m.
15 -- at Winnipeg, 7 p.m.
17 -- NASHVILLE, 7 p.m.
19 -- CALGARY, 2 p.m.
21 -- at Philadelphia, 6 p.m.
22 -- at Boston, 6 p.m.
26 -- DALLAS, 7 p.m.
27 -- at Dallas, 5 p.m.
29 -- NASHVILLE, 7 p.m.
31 -- MINNESOTA, 7 p.m.

JANUARY
2 -- at Toronto, 6 p.m.
4 -- OTTAWA, 7 p.m.
6 -- at Colorado, 9 p.m.
8 -- at Anaheim, 9 p.m.
9 -- at Los Angeles, 9:30 p.m.
12 -- NEW JERSEY, 7 p.m.
14 -- CAROLINA, 7 p.m.
16 -- MONTREAL, 6 p.m.
18 -- PITTSBURGH, 7 p.m.
20 -- at Detroit, 7 p.m.
22 -- at Colorado, 8 p.m.
24 -- at Chicago, 6 p.m.

FEBRUARY
2 -- at Nashville, 7 p.m.
4 -- SAN JOSE, 7 p.m.
6 -- MINNESOTA, 7 p.m.
9 -- WINNIPEG, 7 p.m.
12 -- at Florida, 6:30 p.m.
14 -- at Tampa Bay, 5 p.m.
16 -- DALLAS, 7 p.m.
18 -- LOS ANGELES, 7 p.m.
20 -- at Arizona, 8 p.m.
22 -- SAN JOSE, 7 p.m.
25 -- N.Y. RANGERS, 7 p.m.
27 -- at Nashville, 2 p.m.
28 -- at Carolina, 2 p.m.

MARCH
1 -- at Ottawa, 6:30 p.m.
6 -- at Minnesota, 7 p.m.
9 -- CHICAGO, 7 p.m.
11 -- ANAHEIM, 7 p.m.
12 -- at Dallas, 8 p.m.
14 -- at Calgary, 8 p.m.
16 -- at Edmonton, 8:30 p.m.
19 -- at Vancouver, 9 p.m.
22 -- at San Jose, 9:30 p.m.
25 -- VANCOUVER, 7 p.m.
26 -- at Washington, 6 p.m.
29 -- COLORADO, 7 p.m.

APRIL
1 -- BOSTON, 7 p.m.
3 -- at Colorado, 7 p.m.
4 -- ARIZONA, 7 p.m.
7 -- at Chicago, 7:30 p.m.
9 -- WASHINGTON, 7 p.m.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Blues' Prospect Camp to take place July 6-9

Top picks Fabbri, Schmaltz, Barbashev among players to attend

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues announced Monday afternoon that a Prospect Camp will take place July 6-9 at the team's practice facility, the Ice Zone inside St. Louis Outlet Mall.

There will be practice sessions beginning at 2 p.m. and each is free and open to the public. Each session will be followed by a 4-on-4 scrimmage at 3:15 p.m.

Some of the players scheduled to participate include first-round picks Robby Fabbri (2014) and Jordan Schmaltz (2012), second-round selections Ivan Barbashev (2014) and Thomas Vannelli (2013) along with St. Louis-born prospect Zach Pochiro.

Players drafted by the Blues at the 2015 NHL Draft in Florida, which will take place Friday and Saturday, are also expected to participate in the camp.

Here is a tentative camp roster (will be updated as needed):

Forwards: Ivan Barbashev, Samuel Blais, Jaedon Descheneau, Robby Fabbri, Mackenzie MacEachern, Zachary Pochiro, Austin Poganski, Dwyer Tschantz, C.J. Yakimowicz.

Defensemen: Colton Parayko, Jordan Schmaltz, Dmitrii Sergeev, Thomas Vannelli, Jake Walman.

Goalies: Ville Husso.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

ST. LOUIS BLUES 2015-16 PRESEASON SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER

* 22 -- COLUMBUS, 7 p.m.
* 22 -- at Columbus, 6 p.m.
24 -- DALLAS, 7 p.m.
26 -- at Chicago, 7:30 p.m.
29 -- at Dallas, 7:30 p.m.
OCTOBER
1 -- CHICAGO, 7 p.m.
* -- split squad game