Thursday, April 22, 2010

LET'S GO SHOPPING: Blues have big list to choose from

With plenty of goods to buy; where will
St. Louis go to fill missing gaps for 2010-11

ST. LOUIS -- Now that the current Blues roster has been analyzed, where do the Blues go for help from the outside?

Do they delve into the free agent market to fill those obvious needs going forward? Is that monetarily possible? What about trading from a strength of position to fill a void? And how about going out on a limb and working a contract offer for a restricted free agent?

Those are the glaring questions Blues President John Davidson, incoming general manager Doug Armstrong, vice president of hockey operations Al MacInnis and even outgoing general manager Larry Pleau face as this franchise moves forward under Dave Checketts' declaration that this will be an "ambitious" summer.

In this space, I will break down the Blues' payroll as it stands, where it is after the deductions of unrestricted free agents, where it will be in terms of a salary cap hit before and after resigning restricted free agents and what dollars are available to spend when doors open to Christmas in July for NHL free agents.

Blues' list of unrestricted free agents: Paul Kariya, Keith Tkachuk, Brad Winchester (UPDATE -- resigned with the Blues for one-year and $700,000 on July 2), Derek Armstrong, Carlo Colaiacovo (UPDATE -- resigned with the Blues for two years and $4.25 million on July 6), Darryl Sydor, Mike Weaver, Tyson Strachan (Group VI) (UPDATE -- signed a one-year, two-way contract on July 15) and Chris Mason (UPDATE -- signed a two-year, $3,7 million deal with the Atlanta Thrashers July 1).

Blues' list of restricted free agents: Alex Steen (UPDATE -- signed four-year extension for $13.45 million on July 1), David Perron (UPDATE -- signed two-year extension for $4.3 million on July 21), D.J. King (UPDATE -- King signed a two-year extension on July 28, then was dealt to the Washington Capitals for LW prospect Stefan Della Rovere), Cam Janssen (UPDATE -- signed a one-year, $600,000 contract on July 8), Matt D'Agostini (UPDATE -- signed a one-year, $550,000 contract), Erik Johnson (UPDATE -- signed for two years, $5.2 million on Aug. 2) and Jonas Junland (playing in Sweden for 2010-11 season).

All players will receive qualifying offers, which means a team has negotiating rights with that player. Players who earned less than $660,000 in the previous season must be offered 110 percent of last season's salary. Players making up to $1 million must be offered 105 percent. Players making over $1 million must be offered 100 percent. If the qualifying offer is not made, the player becomes an unrestricted free agent. If the player rejects a qualifying offer, he remains a restricted free agent.

Players that made less than $660,000: King, Janssen, D'Agostini and Junland. Players making up to $1 million: Perron and Johnson. Players making over $1 million: Steen.

The Blues now have the following players signed with one-way contracts for 2010-11: Andy McDonald, Brad Boyes, David Backes, Jay McClement, T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, B.J. Crombeen, Eric Brewer, Barret Jackman, Roman Polak, Ty Conklin, Jaroslav Halak, Matt D'Agostini, Alex Steen, David Perron, Cam Janssen and Erik Johnson.

Players with two-way contracts: Lars Eller, Alex Pietrangelo and Ben Bishop. * Eller was traded to the Montreal Canadiens on June 17.

Once the Blues tender qualifying offers to all their RFA's, their cap will kick up to approximately $35 million. And once they sign some of these RFA's to long-term deals, it's estimated the cap payroll will be $42 million.

The NHL salary cap is expected to jump up from $56.9 million to $57.8, a $900,000 increase, which means the Blues will have roughly $15-16 million to spend up to the cap, which I doubt they will do despite a slight increase in season tickets for next season.
* (UPDATE) -- It was announced on June 22 that the NHL salary cap would increase roughly $2 million to $59.4 million.

So without further ado, there is an enormous list of UFA's, RFA's and players I feel would benefit this team moving forward through trade.

It's highly unlikely Davidson would throw his hat into the ring and make noise with an offer sheet to a restricted free agent, but there is one guy out there who I'd think the Blues could really benefit from making a contract offer to. More on that player in a bit.

Here is my list of players who could help the Blues moving forward. I'll list those that are RFA's but remember, it's highly unlikely the Blues will go there, especially since these types of deals are pretty scarce these days. The Blues wouldn't want anyone giving them any payback with ridiculous offers to players such as Johnson, Perron, Oshie, Berglund, etc. But this list will also include what UFA's are available and potential trade targets.

* (UPDATE) -- The Blues will not be looking for any goalie on these lists after acquiring Jaroslav Halak from the Montreal Canadiens on June 17 for prospects Lars Eller and Ian Schultz.
RFA list:

RW Bobby Ryan, Anaheim: If there's one player that I'd like to see Davidson go out on a limb and make an offer to, this would be the guy. Why? At 22, I believe Ryan -- already a USA Olympian -- is destined to be a 100-point player in this league. He had 35 goals and 29 assists last season, 31 goals and 26 assists his first full season in 2008-09. The No. 2 overall pick in 2005 has a combination of size (6-foot-1, 218-pounds) and skill that all teams seem to be constantly after, but Ryan's forte is his ability to turn a scoring play into a scoring chance. How many players on this Blues roster can do that on a consistent basis? Ryan combines soft hands and excellent vision and poise. He also excels at protecting the puck with his large frame and cycling along the boards. Experts say Ryan's skating ability is a hindrance and that limits both his play away from the puck and his ability to be a consistent physical presence. I say that's bogus. This guy is the complete package that will continue to get better who made $1.875 million in salary and bonuses this season. I would have no problem making a splash here with a 8-10 year, $5-7 million per year contract; making it something the Ducks would have a hard time matching. A source did tell me that they expected the Ducks to resign Ryan to a long-term contract. They'd be crazy not to, but if this gets to July 1st, you never know. This is probably a fantasy signing, but it's nice to reach for the stars if you're a Blues fan, isn't it?
* (UPDATE) - Stop dreaming Blues fans. Ryan finally worked out a deal with the Ducks on Sept. 12, agreeing to a five-year, $25.5 million contract. This should come as a shock to nobody. The dream was fun while it lasted though, wasn't it?

D James Wisniewski, Anaheim: The 26-year-old has plenty of offensive capability, including the skills to play the point on the power play and is aggressive by nature. Skates very well and is at his best in an up-tempo system and would be an upgrade over Colaiacovo. But he made $2.75 million a season ago and would want $3-4 million per season.
* (UPDATE) -- Wisniewski signed a one-year, $3.25 million deal with the Ducks on July 30, then was traded to the New York Islanders for a conditional third-round pick. It's apparent that the Ducks want a more experienced veteran (Kaberle?) to play alongside first-round pick Cam Fowler. So Wisniewski, who will be a nice upgrade on Long Island, was the odd man out in SoCa.

LW Clarke MacArthur, Atlanta: A relative unknown to the hockey world, but at 24, he offers the versatility of playing either left wing or center with good offensive instincts and NHL speed. He tallied 16 goals and 35 points splitting time with Buffalo and Atlanta. He only made $1.4 million last season, so this would be an inexpensive pickup.
* (UPDATE) -- The Thrashers failed to give MacArthur a qualifying offer, thus making him an unrestricted free agent.

RW Niklas Bergfors, Atlanta: Part of the Ilya Kovalchuk trade with New Jersey, the 22-year-old had 21 goals and 44 points in his first full season in the NHL. He's very good with the puck and has tremendous offensive instincts. He made $500,000 and is inexpensive now, but I think the Thrashers will keep this budding star and he'll get a nice raise.
* (UPDATE) -- Bergfors, part of the big trade that sent Ilya Kovalchuk to New Jersey, agreed a a one-year, $900,000 on Sept. 12 with the Thrashers. Atlanta and its fans will enjoy this player for years to come.

RW Blake Wheeler, Boston: Tallied 18 goals and 38 points with the Bruins this past season. At 22, he has tremendous size for the wing position, as well as good wheels for a big guy. Wheeler controls the puck effectively in the corners and can play on either wing, who possesses a good scoring touch. He made $875,000 last season.
* (UPDATE) -- Wheeler was awarded $2.2 million in arbitration on July 29, and the Bruins accepted the offer on the one-year deal on July 30. Nice raise for a player who has plenty of upside and will only get better.

RW Chris Stewart, Colorado: Davidson ought to go after this guy just to keep him from torching the Blues. But this guy has tremendous size and strength and is at his best when working the corners of the ice. Stewart, 22, is physical and plays with a warrior's mentality who can score goals. A true power forward. He made $850,000 after scoring 28 goals and 64 points. He'll cash in big time.
* (UPDATE) -- Stewart, who made a living off the Blues last year, resigned at two years, $5.75 million on Sept. 3.

C Peter Mueller, Colorado: The Blues were quietly pursuing the 22-year-old from Bloomington, Minn., which is the same hometown as Erik Johnson, before he was traded to Colorado. Has impressive size, hand/eye coordination and reach. Is at his best with the puck on his blade. Can score goals and also set up teammates with equal aplomb. Is versatile enough to play all three forward positions. Made $850,000 last season and thrived after a change of scenery.
* (UPDATE) -- Mueller gets his deal done with the Avalanche on Sept. 10 for two years and $4 million in salary.

LW James Neal, Dallas: This player broke out for the Stars with 27 goals and 55 points by shooting the puck and not being afraid to do it. He's a very versatile player who boasts very good size, which he uses effectively in the corners and in front of the net. Made $720,000 a season ago but I don't see Dallas letting him go.

LW Guillaume Latendresse, Minnesota: talk about a change of scenery doing him good. The 22-year-old broke loose after his trade to the Wild from hometown Montreal and finished 2009-10 with 27 goals and 40 points. He has a nice combination of size and offensive instincts and is equally strong scoring goals or setting up teammates. Displays solid hitting ability. Made $803,000 last season.
* (UPDATE) -- It was reported on June 30 that Latendresse resigned with the Wild, two years and $5 million. That's quite a bargain for a guy that broke out with a 27-goal season and is poised to become a 30-goal scorer in the very near future.

G Josh Harding, Minnesota: The only reason Harding, 25, is not starting in the league right now is because he plays behind Niklas Backstrom. I think he has No. 1 potential because he has an excellent frame and is not a streaky goaltender. He was 9-12-0 last season but made $1.1 million a year ago should the Blues not resign Chris Mason.
* (UPDATE) -- Harding, who was reportedly offered as trade bait to the Blues, with Lars Eller at the topic of discussion, resigned with the Wild to back up Niklas Backstrom for one more season with a base salary of $1.2 million.

G Carey Price, Montreal: Price, 22, needs to get out of Montreal in order to display his full value. He's another one that's destined to be a No. 1 goalie. He has always played under control for a young guy and covers a ton of the net. Jaroslav Halak is the guy the Canadiens are going with as their top guy, so Price will look to move on. At $850,000, the Blues could get Price in a trade and have an inexpensive No. 1 goalie.
* (UPDATE) -- Price finally came to an agreement with the Canadiens, signing on the dotted line for two years and a total of $5.5 million in salary. With the trade of Halak, this is HIS team now. He better make the most of it, cause he'll be under that air-tight microscope of Montreal media and fans alike.

RW Patric Hornqvist, Nashville: Hornqvist, 23, just scored 30 goals and added 51 points, and to think, he was a seventh round pick in 2005. He's a terrific two-way player but thrives in front of the opposition's net and can take a hit doing so. At $620,000, it's safe to say a hefty contract is in his future.
* (UPDATE) -- The Predators for one of their rising stars under contract for three years and $9.25 million on Aug. 24.

D Dan Girardi, N.Y. Rangers: At 6-2, 210 pounds, the 25-year-old offers a rare combination of steady play in his end and better-than-average offensive skills. He did make $1.6 million a season ago and may be out of the Blues' price range but is tempting to look at.
* (UPDATE) -- Girardi avoided arbitration and signed a long-term contract with the Rangers on July 8, four years and $13.3 million. Girardi will average $3.325 million per season. The Rangers were wise to lock up this budding star.

D Marc Staal, N.Y. Rangers: Staal, 23, is as good one-on-one as there is in his own end. At 6-4, 209, he's not afraid to use his long reach and skates very well. Produced eight goals and 27 points. Made $765,000 last season.
* (UPDATE) -- The Rangers and Staal finally came to terms on a new deal, a five-year, $19.875 million contract on Sept. 15, just days before the start of training camp. This was a deal the Rangers simply could not afford to cough up. This is a franchise-type player.

LW Wojtek Wolski, Phoenix: Here's another guy who benefited from a change of scenery, as Wolski, 24, was dealt for Mueller at the trade deadline. After tallying 23 goals and 65 points, this would be a nice upgrade should the Blues go here because of Wolski's excellent scoring instincts and tremendous puck-handling skills who can also handle the physicality because of his size (6-3, 210). He did make $3.1 million this past season and is in line for a hefty raise.
* (UPDATE) -- Wolski will be staying put in the desert after agreeing to a two-year, $7.6 million extension with the Coyotes on June 28. Not quite the raise I figured he'd get after making $3.1 million last season, so a nice keep for Phoenix.

C Joe Pavelski, San Jose: Here's a guy I love because of his ability to play with or without the puck. Pavelski, 25, would be a perfect fit with the Blues because of his playmaking abilities, quickness and shiftiness. He had 25 goals and 51 points in 67 games and is inexpensive after making $1.725 million this past season.
* (UPDATE) -- A no-brainer here, the Sharks wisely locked up Pavelski on June 24 with a four-year, $16-million deal to keep the centerman in a San Jose sweater.

RW Devin Setoguchi, San Jose: This is another Andy McDonald with a bit more size (6-0, 200). The 23-year-old has lightning quick speed and his goal-scoring instincts are coming to light after knocking in 20 this past season. Made $765,000 this past season, and the Sharks will more than likely keep him in the fold.
* (UPDATE) -- Setoguchi was awarded $1.8 million on a one-year contract on July 31. More than doubles his salary from a season ago. His upside is very promising.

C Nicklas Backstrom, Washington: OK, I know this one will NEVER happen, but can you imagine the Blues with two of the top four picks from 2006 (Johnson was No. 1, Backstrom No. 4)? How does 33 goals and 101 points sound from a 22-year-old that displays outstanding patience with the puck, playmaking acumen and is mature beyond his years. If the Capitals were to allow Backstrom to get away, they need to be tested for severe stupidity. Not bad numbers for $850,000, are they? Wow!
* (UPDATE) -- Well, Washington was predictably wise here, as the Capitals announced on May 17 that they signed Backstrom to a 10-year, $67 million extension that will keep the Swedish center in Washington through the 2020 season.

LW Tomas Fleischmann, Washington: This is a very smooth player, and at 23, will only get better after a 23-goal, 51-point season with the Caps. He understands where the puck needs to go and has above average setup ability. Would make a nice fit for the Blues, and at $725,000, would not break the bank.
* (UPDATE) -- Fleischmann and the Capitals avoided salary arbitration after agreeing to a one-year, $2.6 million deal on July 27).

Now we can move out of dream-land and into the list for unrestricted free agents, and guys who can realistically fill in the gaps that could make this team better.

I will say the Blues will not be involved with some of the higher-end UFA's, simply because they'll be involved in bidding wars but I will include them anyway. If they would, I'd be very surprised. However, I will stress the more cost-efficient players and will rank them as HIGH, MEDIUM or LOW regarding need and the opportunity to acquire such a player.

UFA list :
RW Colby Armstrong, Atlanta: Here is a player that can hit the 20-plus goal mark despite only 15 goals in 2009-10. At 27, he's getting into his prime years who works very hard and is a defensive-savvy player, one who could fit into Davis Payne's system. A former No. 1 pick in 2001 by Pittsburgh, Armstrong made $2.4 million last season, so a three-year, $9 million contract could get this one done. MEDIUM
* (UPDATE) -- Armstrong is off the board, signing a three-year, $9 million deal (wow, did I call that contract?) with the Toronto Maple Leafs. A nice pick-up for the Leafs, certainly. Gives them instant character and some scoring punch.

LW Maxim Afinogenov, Atlanta: Signed with the Thrashers for one season at $800,000 and is said to play out of control, but his speed and quick release makes him an attractive -- and inexpensive -- addition. The 30-year-old has four seasons of 20 or more goals, including 24 goals and 67 points this past season. He can be had for 2-3 years at $1-2 million per season. No more, though. MEDIUM
* (UPDATE) -- I'm shocked the lack of NHL interest Afinogenov garnered this summer. And after what the Russian rocket deemed insufficient offers from the league here, he will take his game back home after reportedly signing a five-year contract to play for SKA St. Petersburg, where he will join former NHLers Alexei Yashin, Sergei Zubov, former Blue Petr Cajanek, Nils Ekman, Alexander Korolyuk, Sergei Brylin and Robert Esche. He joins Evgeni Nakakov, who signed a four-year contract earlier this summer.

LW Raffi Torres, Buffalo: Torres is strong and can play with the puck in those hard areas in the corner that has a knack for scoring big goals; a Keith Tkachuk clone. He had a 27-goal season with Edmonton in 2005-06 and tallied 19 this past season with Columbus and Buffalo. I'm not sure he's worth more than the $2.75 million he earned this past season, but anything around there might be worth looking into. LOW
* (UPDATE) -- Torres last long into the free agency period before the Canucks finally bit and signed the well-traveled forward to a one-year, $1 million contract on Aug. 25.

RW Marek Svatos, Colorado: A change of scenery might do this 27-year-old Slovak a world of good. Here's a guy that scored 32 goals in 2005-06 and 26 in 2007-08 but I believe was grossly misused this past season. He has a wealth of goal-scoring talent because of a hard, accurate shot and quality finishing skills. Sign him to a 1-2 year deal at, say, $4 million and tell him to go and earn a big contract. I think it would be a worthy investment. He made $2.35 million this past season. MEDIUM

G Marty Turco, Dallas: I know, I can already see the red flags, but I only say this because of the Doug Armstrong factor. Armstrong signed Turco in Dallas and if the Blues fail to sign Mason, the 34-year-old might be an alternative but NOT for the $5.4 million he made last season. I might look at this for two years and $7 million if Turco is willing to take a pay cut, which he will likely have to. LOW
* (UPDATE) -- Turco was shut out early on in free agency but in the end, he may not have picked up the dollars he wanted but landed with the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks after signing a one-year, $1.5 million contract on July 30. The Hawks, who have done nothing but purge their roster because of cap-related issues, made the 35-year-old Turco their No. 1 netminder after letting go of Antti Niemi, who was awarded $2.75 million in arbitration.

D Brett Lebda, Detroit: If the Blues choose not to bring back Mike Weaver, Lebda, 28, might not be a bad option. He moves the puck well and makes good, solid passes up the ice and I believe has untapped offensive upside to his game. He is small (5-9, 185) but makes up for it in speed. He made $850,000 and would not cost much for the Blues to look into this. HIGH
* (UPDATE) -- Lebda is moving north after agreeing to a two-year, $2.9 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 7. A nice addition to a Leafs lineup that is getting quite the makeover from GM Brian Burke. I really would have liked to see the Blues get in on this one, especially at that price.

LW Alexander Frolov, Los Angeles: This is another player I believe was misused by the Kings, and even so, still scored 19 goals and added 51 points last season. He's been accused of not bringing his 'A' game, but I like that he makes an impact at both ends of the ice and maintains puck possession in tight areas. He has five 20-plus goal seasons, including two with 30 or more and he's still only 27. I wouldn't go $4 million per season -- which he made last season -- but if he'd come for $3-3.5 per year for three seasons, it might be worth the investment. HIGH
* (UPDATE) -- Frolov finally found a suitor when he agreed to a one-year, $3-million contract with the New York Rangers on July 27. This could work out well for both parties, as Frolov could cash on next summer's UFA period if he has a solid year with the Blueshirts, who could also benefit from Frolov's skill level to go along with Marian Gaborik. A terrific value signing for the NYR.

C Tomas Plekanec, Montreal: This player should be high on the Blues' radar. He's 27, and already has four seasons of 20-plus goals and set career highs in assists (45) and points (70) last season. He is the complete package for the Blues: excellent speed, hockey sense and playmaking instincts. He's very polished in the defensive zone and in the face-off circle, which is what the Blues need -- and excels on the penalty kill. Made $2.75 million last season, but I rate him very, very high. This guy may be worth a 4-5 year contract at $3.5-4 million per season. HIGH
* (UPDATE) -- Plekanec will not hit the free agent market after signing a 6-year, $30 million deal to remain in Montreal on June 22. A very wise move here.

D Dan Hamhuis, Nashville: Should the Blues trade one of their top guys, this is a player that can immediately fill a void as a top 2-3 defenseman because of his ability to log lots of minutes and play a sound game in his own end. Hamhuis is a solid puck-moving D-man and is only 27. He made $2.5 million a season ago and could command a nice hefty contract this summer. This would be a nice addition. HIGH
* (UPDATE) -- Hamhuis, a British Columbia native, took less money on the open market and signed for six years and $4.5 million per season with the Vancouver Canucks on July 1. Hamhuis was traded twice (to Philadelphia and then to Pittsburgh) last month but neither team could work out a deal for the highly sought after defenseman.

G Dan Ellis, Nashville: The Blues went to Nashville to fill a void for a No. 1 goaltender once, could they do it again? Perhaps. Ellis, 29, lost his job to Pekka Rinne, but lots of people would lose their jobs to that guy. Ellis is inexpensive ($2 million) and still has good years left in him. This is a guy that makes the most of size (6-0, 188) and does not quit on plays. Would you pay him anywhere from $2-3 million a season to be your No. 1? I'd say chances are slim but not out of the question. MEDIUM
* (UPDATE) -- Ellis has his rights traded to Montreal, but the 29-year-old went into free agency and wasted little time, signing a two-year, $3 million contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He will challenge Mike Smith for the No. 1 job.

RW Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey: Well, well. Finally ... the granddaddy of them all! I'm not even going to describe his assets. He's awesome, plain and simple. The guy is only 27 and is among the elite players in the game. Speed, quickness, tremendous shot, superior skating ability, dominates one-on-one. ... You name it, he's got it. But the Blues are not going to get into a bidding war where Kovalchuk is going to command 10-plus years and $10-plus million on a deal. If Dave Checketts is ready to gamble his investment with this hockey club, this is the way to go. I just can't see it happening. Sorry to burst your bubble, folks. HIGH -- talent; LOW -- cost
* (UPDATE) -- Finally! It's over! The Kovalchuk saga has ended after one contract was turned down by the league. The talented Russian and the Devils get a deal done together, a 15-year, $100 million deal on Sept. 3 after the league initially rejected a 17-year, $103-million contract. Whew! I'm glad this one is over, cause this contract opened up a big problem the league has in the loopholes and how teams look to circumvent the salary cap.

D Paul Martin, New Jersey: A broken left arm limited the 29-year-old to 22 games and kept him off the US Olympic squad. But here is a guy who is very mobile and extremely low-maintenance. He can log huge minutes, has sound offensive instincts and good size (6-1, 200). But Martin's best attribute is he owns good habits, which add to his value. Might be a bit pricey after making $4.5 million last season but worth looking at. I'd say the chances here are below average. LOW
* (UPDATE) -- Martin solidifies the Pittsburgh D-corps after inking a five-year, $25 million contract on July 1 with the Penguins. I thought this might be pricey for the Blues unless they moved some salary, and at $5 million per season, the Blues were never really in the running here.

G Martin Biron, N.Y. Islanders: If all the guys on the UFA/RFA market, I would go this route if the Blues turn the page on Mason. Biron, 32, has a solid 2.63 goals-against average and .910 save percentage for his career. I've always liked him because he's extremely poised and rarely gets rattled after giving up a bad goal. He has tremendous agility and has never had confidence issues, which is a plus for a netminder. He signed a $1.4 million deal with the Islanders this past season and I think the Blues could have him for 3-4 years at $2-3 million per season. HIGH
* (UPDATE) -- Biron stays in New York but not the Islanders. He was the first UFA to sign on July 1, signing a two-year, $1.75 million contract with the Rangers to back up Henrik Lundqvist. I still think this guy can be a No. 1 and at that salary, wow! Some may disagree, but I stand by my feeling on this guy. Biron will be able to give Lundqvist night off or two.

C Matthew Lombardi, Phoenix: How often can you sign a tremendous penalty killer who has offensive upside (19 goals, 34 assists this past season)? Not often. But here is that rare mix that also is good in the faceoff circle that could be an attractive option for the Blues. And at 28 who only made $2.35 million this past season makes him a viable option. He might be worth that 3-4 year, $3-3.5 million per season guy. MEDIUM
* (UPDATE) -- Lombardi found a new home in Music City and will replace the recently traded Jason Arnott, after signing a three-year, $10.5 million deal with the Nashville Predators. This is a nice move for the Preds, who will save $1 million after all the transactions involving Arnott when all is said and done. Lombardi is a real character guy who should blend in well with the Predators.

RW Lee Stempniak, Phoenix: Could we see a reunion of sorts? The best thing that happened to Stempniak, 27, was his trade from Toronto to Phoenix. All he did was score 14 of his 28 goals in only 18 games with the 'Yotes. You all know what kind of player Stempniak is, and he falls into that class under Kovalchuk and San Jose's Patrick Marleau. At $3.5 million, he'll be seeking a salary in the $4-5 million minimum range for 5-6 seasons and I can't see the Blues going there. Sorry. Staying in the desert might be best here. LOW
* (UPDATE) -- Stempniak surprisingly did not get much attention on the free agent market, so he regisned with the Coyotes: two years, $3.5 million in salary, which is a drop of his previous salary despite a 28-goal season. A bit of a surprise here.

D Derek Morris, Phoenix: At 31, might be an option because of his ability to get off good shots from the point who possesses top-end skills. Plays very strong and aggressive in both ends of the ice. The $3.3 million salary might scare the Blues off, but the upside could be worth a look here. LOW
* (UPDATE) -- Morris stays where he wants to, resigning with the Coyotes for four years and $11 million ($2.75 million per season) after the 'Yotes lose Michalek to the Penguins on July 1.

LW Alexei Ponikarovsky, Pittsburgh: This is a good two-way player that possesses a knack for scoring (21 goals, 50 points last season). He's only 30 and at 6-4, 230, he is a strong player in the corners and in front of the net. He has good size and strength and has five seasons of 20-plus goals. Only made $2.5 million so this is an attractive option that could fill an obvious void on a team that likes two-way players. MEDIUM
* (UPDATE) -- Ponikarovsky finally found himself a home by agreeing to a one-year, $3-million contract with the Los Angeles Kings on July 27. After missing out on Kovalchuk and Frolov, the Kings finally landed themselves a nice scoring winger who needed a change of scenery after a less-than-stellar time in Pittsburgh after his trade to the Penguins from Toronto at last season's trade deadline.

D Jordan Leopold, Pittsburgh: I've always liked this guy's game going back to his days with Calgary. At 29, he logs sizeable minutes who can move the puck out of danger areas who has a good transition game. He rarely gets caught out of position, so coverage areas are never an issue. This would be a nice signing by the Blues and one I endorse after tallying a career-high 11 goals this season. At $1.75 million, the Blues will get their bang for the buck. HIGH
* (UPDATE) -- A nice pickup for the Buffalo Sabres after the Sabres lost blueliners Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman on July 1. Leopold signed a three-year contract for roughly $9 million. A nice addition for the Sabres.

LW Patrick Marleau, San Jose: If Kovalchuk is the bride, Marleau, 30, is the bridesmaid. This is a pure goal scorer with terrific speed who will cash in with a big contract this summer after a career best 44-goal, 39-assist season. But how good can he be without Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley as linemates? That's to be seen, but a guy that's scored 28 goals or more in six of the last seven seasons is worth looking into. He made $6.3 million this past season and will get into that $8-10 million range as well. Blues will be out of the loop here. HIGH -- talent; LOW -- cost
* (UPDATE) -- In what can be deemed a bit of a surprise, Marleau will not hit the free agent market after agreeing to resign with the Sharks on June 24. Along with Kovalchuk, Marleau was one of the two most sought-after forwards that would have become an unrestricted free agent but chose to stay with the Sharks, agreeing to a four-year, $27.6 million contract.

G Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose: This is probably another red flag for fans and I agree. But he is one of the premier names as far as goaltenders is concerned that will hit the market. But the numbers don't lie despite playing for an elite team: 131 wins in the last three seasons, including 44 this season. He has a career 2.39 GAA and .912 save percentage. But Nabokov, 34, is getting up there in age and realizes this could be his final big-pay contract, and after making $6 million this season, the Blues likely won't touch this. LOW
* ( UPDATE) -- Nabakov is taking his skills overseas after agreeing to a four-year, $24 million contract to play for SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL. Nobody in the NHL was going to come close to giving Nabakov the $6 million he made last year in San Jose, where he spent the last nine seasons.

LW Alex Tanguay, Tampa Bay: I don't know why, but I've always been enamored with this player. He scored 20 or more goals in four straight seasons and five of six from 2000-2007. Tanguay, 30, is gifted, has good speed, is versatile, is good one-on-one and makes terrific passes. He's a little smallish at 6-1, 189 but makes up for it in talent. Made $2.5 million this season, but I wouldn't go more than that for 2-3 years. Could be a nice signing in the right system. MEDIUM
* (UPDATE) -- Tanguay goes back to Calgary, signing a one-year, $1.7 million deal with a no-trade clause on July 1. Takes a pay-cut from his salary a season ago in Tampa Bay.

RW Pavol Demitra, Vancouver: Another former Blue who will be looking for work. At 35, his best days are clearly behind him but if the Blues turn the page on Kariya, he could be a stop-gap for a 2-3 seasons that can still fill a scoring need. I would not pay him the $4 million he made this year, but if he would like to come full circle, this could work for around $2-2.5 million per season. LOW
* (UPDATE) -- Demitra, with some rumors swirling that a return to the Blues was possible, squashed those inklings after signing a one-year contract to play with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the KHL on July 15. It seems that his NHL career has come to an end.

D Joe Corvo, Washington: After 14 goals and 38 points with Carolina two seasons ago, this defenseman slipped to 6 goals and 18 points this year. But Corvo, 32, still has a good scoring acumen who knows how to run a power play. He does play a risky game, which unfortunately involves turnovers, but these are the risks of an offensive-minded player. He made $2.75 million a season ago and if he would go for $3 million per season for 2-3 years, the Blues might be interested. MEDIUM
* (UPDATE) -- Corvo is going Back to the Future, agreeing to a two-year, $4.5 million contract to return to Carolina on July 7. This is a nice signing, since he actually took a pay cut over his salary a season ago. He would have been a nice addition to anyone's blue line (Blues) with offensive prowess. Good move on Carolina's part.

As Davidson eluded to be recently, trades can be tricky and done with the intent of trading from a position of strength to improve an area of weakness. I don't have a number of players on the list here, but here are a few that I find attractive and how they can benefit from coming to St. Louis:

RW Jarome Iginla, Calgary: Yes, 'Iggy' still has three years and $21 million left on his contract, but if the Blues are going to make a above-average splash, this could be somewhere to look. Iginla is 32 but his numbers (32 goals, 69 points) would have been tops on this team. He is two seasons removed from 50 goals and 98 points. And he's played in all 82 games four of the last five seasons. Calgary may want to move their captain and totally revamp their squad, and the Blues could use Iginla's speed, strength and very lethal shot. And he drops the gloves when necessary.

D Tomas Kaberle, Toronto: The 32-year-old Czech republic native has one year and $4.25 million left on his contract and it's been no secret that the Leafs would love to get something in return before he becomes a UFA in the summer of 2011. Kaberle could fill a need for the Blues with his ability to join the attack on the rush. He's an excellent skater and possesses good hockey smarts and makes sound passes. For this to work with the Blues, they'd obviously want to lock Kaberle up long-term since Davidson and Co. don't like to take risks on losing someone if they have to deal away assets. Toronto will want a D-man or two in return and the Blues can afford to deal from this position because it's their strength.

Well folks, this wraps up my very opinionated version of what the Blues will be faced with this summer. Remember, these are only my opinions and don't mean the Blues will follow this as if it were a blueprint.

It should be an interesting summer, one I'm sure Blues fans will keep a very close eye and ear on. Because remember, Checketts says it will be an ambitious summer.

Stay tuned.

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