Jackman, Backes return to role; Steen, Johnson
to serve for first time; Brewer returns as captain
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Three days after general manager Doug Armstrong made it an open-and-shut case regarding who the Blues' captain was for the 2010-11 season, head coach Davis Payne let it be known who would wear the 'A' on their sweaters as well.
After Armstrong emphatically said Tuesday that defenseman Eric Brewer would serve as the team's captain for a third season, Payne on Friday identified Barret Jackman, David Backes, Alex Steen and Erik Johnson as the team's assistant captains (or alternate captains) for the upcoming season.
Payne, beginning his first full season as the Blues' head coach, said Backes and Johnson would each wear the 'A' together on game nights, and that Jackman and Steen would do the same as a pair. One pair will be designated for home games and the other for away games, but that decision hasn’t been made yet.
For Jackman and Backes, it's familiar territory, as both have served in that role in the past, but for Steen and Johnson, it will be the first time each has served in what is known as a leadership role.
"We spent a lot of our time this summer ... a lot of times myself and Doug and in conversations with our coaches as well is (talking about) how do we strengthen the group, how do we encompass the group and have leadership kind of gain an opportunity to grow from within," Payne said. "We feel this does that.
"We also feel we have areas of the team covered for be it a young guy (Backes and Johnson), be it a guy's who's got a European background (Steen), be it a guy who's got some experience (Jackman). We feel we've got everybody represented in that group. ... It also gives us great opportunity to cultivate some of that leadership going forward and have strong voices so that our group has not only a great voice but a great example to follow on a day-to-day basis."
It's quite a big step for Johnson, the team's No. 1 pick and top overall selection in 2006, who will begin his third season on the heels of a 39-point campaign last year. He missed all of 2008-09 after suffering a knee injury.
"It says a lot about where we think Erik is as a player, it says a lot about where we think he is as a person," Payne said. "He's a guy who's got a lot of pride in not only his performance but the St. Louis Blues' performance and where we're going as an organization right here in this city. He's a guy who's got very strong beliefs in that direction, he's also a guy who relates and speaks well and takes that younger portion of our hockey team and gives them a voice. We feel he's going to have a little bit of time to, within that group, kind of monitor how things work. He's a guy we expect a strong example and a strong voice to come from now and down the road."
Some may be surprised that veteran Andy McDonald or Jay McClement, who's worn the 'A' previously, were not among the selections.
Payne explained that it's not a knock against either player.
"I had that conversation with Andy. This is something where we want to make sure we're cultivating leadership from within our room and also making sure that guys like Andy, guys like Jay McClement continue to put forth the example that we need from them," Payne said. "They have very consistent work ethic, they have very consistent attitudes, they have very consistent drive to make themselves and make their teammates better. We don't expect that to change now."
As for Brewer, who's garnered the respect and attention from management and teammates, there seems to be a difference of opinion between the fans and those within the organization. And frankly, the Blues can't seem to understand why there's discontent there.
"I'm not sure what that is," Payne said. "We know that over the last couple years, Brew has had some struggles with some injuries and there is nothing more difficult than to try and represent and try to lead when you're from a position of disadvantage based on that stuff. I think for everyone to understand, here's a guy that cares deeply about the organization, our performance, his teammates and conducts himself accordingly. It's more of an internal decision based on what we feel and what we believe. He does a great job with it, he will continue to do a great job with it and we feel that his role and his performance within his role is crucial to our hockey club. There's not a concern of Eric Brewer filling that role."
Armstrong added, "When (it was) said Eric Brewer's the captain now, no. Eric Brewer's the captain. Not (just) now ... he's our captain. There's no question he's going to be our captain. He's going to be part of the leadership group that Davis will define.
"Eric Brewer was never a problem here. He's a good captain. He has the pulse of this team. He's an Olympian, he's won a gold medal, he's been around the league. Eric Brewer's a good captain. Eric Brewer's the captain of our team."