Thursday, June 30, 2011

Blues, Oshie come to terms on one-year contract

Forward agrees to $2.35 miilion deal, would have been restricted free agent Friday

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Twenty-four hours away from hitting the free agent market, the Blues and T.J. Oshie put those anxious moments to rest Thursday.

The Blues signed Oshie to a one-year, $2.35 million contract, thus avoiding salary arbitration with the 24-year-old who would have been a restricted free agent and susceptible to offer sheets.

"It feels great. I couldn't be happier. Glad to be back in St. Louis," Oshie said Thursday from St. Louis Mills. "I always knew that was going to be the end result. (We had to) just come to a number. I'm very excited. Now I can just focus on working out."
T.J. Oshie avoids free agency, signs a one-year contract with Blues.

The one-year deal represents a contract that is suitable for both parties, according to Blues general manager Doug Armstrong. The monetary figure represents a number higher than the ones the Blues gave to David Perron ($1.8 million) and Patrik Berglund ($2.25 million) in the first years after their entry-level deals expired. But Perron and Berglund each received two-year contracts.

Oshie, the Blues' top pick in 2005, played in 49 games this past season and recorded 34 points on 12 goals, 22 assists. It's going to be an important year to prove his value and worth that could potentially parlay into a long-term deal down the road.

"I think coming off the injury, it's important that T.J. comes in and establishes himself with a healthy season and contribute at a 75-plus game mark and then we'll move on to looking at a longer-term deal after that," Armstrong said. "It gives him obviously some security on a one-year deal. The compensation is fair, I think, for both sides, but it allows him to continue to put that one full season together that will really show that his health is nothing to be concerned about.

"It's a contract that I believe is right in a lot of ways. With the arbitration rights he had, he obviously had different rights than some of the other players that we've negotiated with to this point."

Oshie could have waited until Friday to see if there would have been any offer sheets made and he had the option of salary arbitration to the July 5 deadline. Both were intriguing options.

"A little bit, but I think mostly I just wanted to sign, just wanted to get here," said Oshie, who has 44 goals and 77 assists in 182 career games. "I couldn't imagine playing anywhere else. I'm very happy with it. I'm glad it's finally done."

The Blues were ready if the route to go was arbitration.

"I'm comfortable with arbitration. I'm comfortable with the process," Armstrong said. "My philosophy going into that is you have to obviously have a meeting with the player and say this is the business side of it. You're going to go in and tell us why you're Wayne Gretzky and we're going to go in and tell you why you're not.

"I'm not adverse to the process, but if you can find something that everyone's comfortable with, I'd rather not go through (arbitration). Sometimes arbitration can be really inflationary. With T.J., I wasn't concerned that it was going to be a number that we weren't going to be able to live with one way or the other."

Make no mistake, the Blues are basically telling Oshie to prove he's worth a long-term, big-dollar deal.

"We wanted to provide him the opportunity to separate himself from other players in our organization, as we wanted to provide that opportunity to some of our other guys the last couple years to separate themselves," Armstrong said. "… For us to be successful, we're going to need some of these guys to separate themselves and become higher-producing players than the 45-50 points. We're going to need some of these guys to get into that 60-, 65-, 70-, 75-point range and that 30-, 35-, 40-goal mark to move forward."

Oshie, whose season was cut short last year when he missed 31 games due to a broken ankle suffered Nov. 10 in Columbus, would have preferred the term to be bigger but understands the task at hand: proving himself and then reap the rewards.

"I was just talking to (Patrik Berglund) a little bit ago and talking about how guys our age are looking bigger and looking stronger in the weight room," Oshie said. "I think that's going to carry over onto the ice. I'm being expected to be in that core group of guys and who's expected to produce, I think having good summers is a big part of playing good during the season.

"... Not going to the World Championships, I started working out a good month earlier than I usually do. I'm working out hard. I'm having the best summer of my career so far and hopefully that'll lead to the best year."

The Blues would like to see some of Oshie's solid defensive responsibilities to parlay into some more offensive output.

"I think there's more to spell out," Oshie said. "I think I've done pretty well in the defensive zone. I think I need to excel in the offensive zone. I think that comes with a lot of video, a lot of realizing when you can and can't make plays and just building chemistry with the players. We were talking about it this summer who we want to play with next year, who we're comfortable with. Hopefully I can start off with a bang right away and keep it going."

Armstrong added, "He's certainly right now a top-nine NHL forward without any question. Can he get into that top six, which is your consistent 60- to 60-plus (point player) or can he get into that top three, which is your consistent 70- to 75-plus guy? He touches the game in so many different ways, from penalty-killing to power play to five-on-five play and his ice time up in the 19-minute mark, which is quite a bit for a forward in our organization.

"If healthy, we know he's going to be a 50-point player. That's my feeling, at least, at the minimum. What level can he take it to? The commitment that he's showing in conditioning and to wanting to be that player and take his game to the next level, he's going to be given that opportunity. You can sense by the way the coach uses him that he trusts him. Now the canvas is clean and he's got to paint the portrait the way he sees it."

Oshie says his body fat is around 9.8 percent, down from the 11.3 percent he was at a season ago. His goal is to get down to 9.5 percent.

"I definitely feel a lot leaner. I'm a little light right now, but I think that's just because I'm getting my body fat down quite a bit," Oshie said. "I've just been working out longer. I'm already a week into my third phase. Usually I'd be starting my second or mid-second right now. It's going really well so far."

Oshie says the broken thumb he suffered April 6 in Chicago is fully healed. Better to use it to deal with the elevated amounts of dollars he now has.

"To see the number, I was talking to my agent (Matt Oates) and he asked, 'Do you want to go for more? Is this good," Oshie said. "I looked at the number and said, 'That's plenty.' That's all I need."

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