Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Blues bolster lineup by signing Arnott, Langenbrunner

Both veterans get one-year, $2.8 million contracts, add to crowded forward crop

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Wanting to add more depth to their lineup, the Blues dipped into the free agent poll and signed a pair of veterans with experienced playoff pedigrees and a penchant for winning Stanley Cups.

The Blues signed center Jason Arnott and winger Jamie Langenbrunner to one-year contracts on Wednesday to bolster up and add to an already crownded forward group.

Each player will earn $2.5 million in base salary, plus $300,000 in bonus incentives. A late report also indicates Arnott gets a no-trade clause.

The 36-year-old Arnott is a 17-year veteran in the NHL, most recently with the Washington Capitals and New Jersey Devils where he scored 17 goals and added 14 assists in 73 games. The 35-year-old Langenbrunner, a 16-year NHL veteran, was Arnott's teammate last season in New Jersey before being traded to Dallas. He scored nine goals and added 23 assists in 70 games.
Jason Arnott hopes to win his second Stanley Cup in a Blues uniform.

Arnott said there were other offers but St. Louis was the best fit.

"I had a few offers," he said. "But I heard nothing but great things about the organization from players that I've played with, and it seemed like a great fit for me ... come in and be a guy to help out the young guys and contribute as much as I can."

So in the last five days, the Blues have added Arnott, Langenbrunner, center Scott Nichol and defenseman Kent Huskins. Their average age on the 20-man game roster went from 25.3 to 27.3 with the addition of the aforementioned foursome and goalie Brian Elliott.

"Veteran presence is important on our team," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "We don't have a lot of players that have that been-there, done-that experience. We saw that last year when we got on some positive trends, maybe our emotions got a little too high, or when we got on some negative trends, we couldn't shake it quick enough to get focused again. I think what these players are all going to bring, added to Andy McDonald and Barret Jackman, they're really going to bring us that experience of understanding of what it's going to take."

The Blues appear to be done tweaking the roster for the time being ... unless something unexpectedly crops up.

"We feel we've really improved our team since July 1st," Armstrong said. "I would say this is the group of players that you would look to see heading into training camp barring any unforeseen trades or anything coming up. Right now, I think we're very comfortable with the group that we have. I think there will be very good competition for ice time."

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Arnott has played in 1,172 games and has 904 points, including 400 goals and 504 assists. He also has a Stanley Cup to his resume with the Devils in 2000.

His goal is simple.

"Just do what I can to help the team make the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup," Arnott said. "First off, you've got to make the playoffs and I definitely believe that we have a team that can make the playoffs and do some damage when we get there."

Arnott served as captain of the Nashville Predators for three seasons (2007-2010) and ranks sixth among active players in career games played and seventh in points, scoring 20 or more goals 12 different seasons.

"You start with Arnott, a big body that can play in the middle," Blues coach Davis Payne said, obviously pleased with Wednesday's developments. "Obviously face-offs and possession that comes from that's important. His ability to shoot the puck and contribute offensively, he'll be a big, physical body to lean on people. That's something that we value very high."

The 6-1, 205-pound Langenbrunner, who was captain of Team USA at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, has appearing in 1,035 games and has 638 points on 237 goals and 401 assists. He owns a pair of Stanley Cups, one in Dallas in 1999 and one in New Jersey in 2003. He was the Devils' captain from 2007-2011.

Jamie Langenbrunner would like to add a third Stanley Cup in St. Louis
"You talk about Langenbrunner, a guy where his strength is in the battle," Payne said. "It's the one-on-one situation, it's coming up with the puck, it's providing an emphasis in the fore-check, providing great defensive play, providing some shot-blocking, a great nose for the net and a guy that plays on the interior."

The Blues, who after today's signings have $52.65 million cap space committed to next season, certainly addressed the fact they could use some more added veteran leadership in the locker room, guys that may hold some of the younger players accountable throughout a rugged season.

"When I looked at our team starting July 1st, we were a very young team," Armstrong said. "Right now when I look at our roster, we have 12 players that are 25 or under and we have eight players which you would say that are in the meat of their careers between 26-33. I thought we were a little bit young and some experience can be used there. We've added three players over the age of 34 the last couple days here (including the 36-year-old Nichol Tuesday) and I think we have a really good mix from veteran players to players right in their prime to players that are just on the cusp of being in their prime."

The addition of Arnott and Langenbrunner also gives the Blues an influx of forwards. Huskins' signing on Saturday solidifies a deep defensive corps as the Blues will guard against any injuries heading into 2011-12 after losing over 300 man games due to injury last season.

"The mandate was to try and get deeper," Armstrong said. "I believe you should estimate having one guy out of your lineup all year long. ... You want to make sure you have depth. We're going to have some tough stretches. We have a lot of road games early and we have some games packed in there. The NHL is a very difficult league and you end up losing players. My goal this year would be to carry the maximum number of players allowed -- 23 players at all times -- if possible. Create that competition. I think right now when you look at our lineup, everybody's got not some NHL experience, significant NHL experience."

Payne will now have the luxury of rolling four lines that have a little bit of everything added to each mix. It was an area all parties involved felt needed to be polished up.

"I think we addressed a lot of our needs and added the depth to our club," Payne said. "It really gives us an opportunity to roll three, four lines and continue to come at you all night long.
"All these guys come with a track record of winning and having success and understanding what it takes. That's the next hurdle for our hockey club."

Expect both Arnott and Langenbrunner to get third-line minutes, which Armstrong says will be in the 14- to 17-minute range. The Blues will expect the core group (David Backes, Chris Stewart, Andy McDonald, a healthy David Perron, Patrik Berglund, Alex Steen, T.J. Oshie and Matt D'Agostini) to provide the bulk of the offensive punch. Throw newly acquired Evgeny Grachev into an already crowded forward mix. Both Arnott and Langenbrunner had down years a season ago but have a proven track record of producing.

"We believe that the bulk of our offense is going to come from those players we discussed earlier," Armstrong said. "These players are coming to help complement that. I expect these players to play between 14- (to) 16-17 minutes a night, some nights a little more.

"We're bringing these players in, knowing what they are. They're mature, older players that have great experience, but they're not 26 or 27 anymore. I'm very comfortable Davis will use these players correctly to give them their rest so they can have the energy on the ice. But these are the players we want to help us play into April and May. The heavy lifting is going to be done by the young legs that we've talked about."

If the Blues' season opened tomorrow, Backes, Berglund, Arnott and Nichol would be the four-line centers.

"We talked about wanting to add depth. We feel that we've done that. We've done it through the middle with Arnott and Nichol," Payne said. "We've done it with Langenbrunner as a guy who can play in a number of different roles. These guys are workers. They're guys who understand what it takes. They'll set a great example for our guys. ... We fully believe that the core of our group and heavy lifting is in that room, and these guys are gonna add to that."

* Blues ownership update -- A report in Wednesday's Bloomberg News indicates that Blues owner Dave Checketts said he has three "very strong" bidders to purchase the franchise.

Checketts says in the report that he would be granted an extension to repay a $120 million loan from a Citigroup Inc.-led syndicate, giving him more time to sell the team.

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