Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Blues bring back Bishop, sign Nichol to one-year deals

Netminder was restricted free agent; center played for San Jose last two seasons

ST. LOUIS -- It took a unique and promising situation for Scott Nichol to leave a winning organization.

He saw one here in St. Louis and couldn't pass up the opportunity.

The Blues continue to fill gaps and make tweaks to the lineup, today resigning restricted free agent goaltender Ben Bishop and signing veteran unrestricted free agent center Nichol to one-year contracts.

Bishop's deal is a two-way contract worth $600,000 NHL and $105,000 AHL, while the 36-year-old Nichol, who played for San Jose the last two seasons, gets $600,000 in base salary plus $100,000 in performance bonuses.

Ben Bishop will compete for the backup job next season.
Bishop is expected to compete with newly signed Brian Elliott for the backup job to starter Jaroslav Halak. Both have the exact same contracts.

The 6-foot-7, 215-pound Bishop, who was born in Denver but grew up in St. Louis and went to Chaminade High School in Creve Coeur, was 3-4-0 for the Blues a season ago with a 2.76 goals-against average and .899 save percentage and one shutout. He was 1-1-1 in 2008-09 for the Blues.

Bishop, 24, played in 35 games last season for the Blues' American Hockey League affiliate in Peoria and posted a 17-14-2 mark with a 2.55 GAA and .914 save percentage to go with two shutouts.

Bishop was originally drafted by the Blues in the third round (85th overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

The 5-9, 180-pound Nichol spent the past two seasons with the San Jose Sharks. Last year, he dressing in 56 games and had four goals and three assists.

Nichol, who has 10 of his 52 career goals against the Blues, is a face-off specialist that provides depth at the center position.

"We're bringing in a guy that I think finished in the top 15 last year, and we need him to finish there again this year," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said of Nichol. "He's a quality veteran that's going to help on the face-offs, help on the penalty kill, and he's got the proper attitude. He brings the right elements to the rest of the group with his work ethic and how he prepares every day. That's an added bonus knowing what he can do on the ice for us. He's a quality veteran leader that we believe can still play and give us important minutes ... and he makes us deeper and stronger."

Nichol is a veteran of 11 NHL seasons, which include stops in Buffalo, Calgary, Chicago, Nashville and recently San Jose. In 552 career regular season games, Nichol has 52 goals and 66 assists.
The Blues expect Scott Nichol to fill a depth role.

"I love their style of play," Nichol said of the Blues. They're big and strong, a very young team that's up and coming. When they went (9-1-2) at the start of the year, I think it opened everyone's eyes.

"They gave us huge fits all year long (in San Jose). I just love the up-tempo, in-your-face, hitting, blue collar style of hockey. I think it'll be a real good fit for my game."

Nichol won 59.4 percent of his face-offs a season ago out of 485 draws (288 wins) and will be more than a suitable replacement for Jay McClement, who was traded last season to Colorado. Nichol is also a penalty-killing extraordinaire.

"I think I'll help on the face-off circle. That's one thing that I take a lot of pride in," Nichol said. "It's not just myself, it's my linemates. When we were in San Jose, we were really team conscious of our face-offs and starting with the puck. Hopefully I can carry that on to the St. Louis Blues. Start with the puck and get a lot more scoring chances.

"I've always killed penalties and if I can help in that aspect, I'd be more than happy also. Just a little bit of experience of being to the Western Conference finals the last few years, being so close and how hard it is and how stressful it is ... but on the other hand, how fun it is and how rewarding it is. I'm looking forward to it, that's for sure."

According to capgeek.com, the Blues have committed roughly $48.5 million in relation to the salary cap next season, and Armstrong said that the team isn't necessarily done polishing up the current lineup.

"We're still looking," Armstrong said. "This doesn't preclude us from doing other things if we want to improve our team. I think right now, I'm comfortable with our roster, but I'm always looking to improve it.

"We're deeper now than we have been in the past. If we can get deeper still, we will. It's not just in free agency. Other teams now are starting to take trades. If we can still improve it, we will. But getting another player in here with NHL experience (in Nichol) that has leadership, it helps our forward group."

Nichol, who played in the Western Conference finals in each of the last two seasons in San Jose, was asked how close he believes the Blues are to taking the next step and becoming a contender. He quickly without hesitation, "They're really, really close. Right on the cusp."

On Sunday, the Blues made another depth move after they came to terms with free agent Brett Sterling, who played in the Pittsburgh Penguins system last season.

Sterling, who signed a one-year, two-way contract, inked a $600,000 NHL deal and $200,000 AHL deal.

Sterling, 27, spent the majority of last season with the Penguins' AHL team Scranton Wilkes-Barre.

He dressed in 65 games and scored 27 goals and added 26 assists. The 5-7, 175-pound forward also appeared in seven games with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season, recording three goals and two assists.

Sterling's signing replenishes what was lost with Nick Drazenovic, who signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

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