Monday, August 29, 2011

Blues ready for healthy competition with camp around the corner

Battles will be fierce for playing time,
roster positions as St. Louis unveils deep roster

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- B.J. Crombeen knows the drill. He understands the situation.

The Blues will enter the 2011-12 season with as deep a roster as they've had in quite a few seasons, which makes for some interesting camp battles when practice begins on Sept. 16.

Crombeen, beginning his fourth season with the Blues after signing a two-year, $2 million contract, understands that competition will be fierce, playing time is at stake and there's always someone out there that will be nipping at his blades trying to take away his job.

"It's always that way," Crombeen said. "There's always somebody that wants your job and you always want someone else's job. It's kind of that way for professional sports.

"I think everyone has a competitive nature. You always want to do better, you always want more. I think that's good to have on a team when you have guys pushing you and on your back biting on your heels to take your job. It pushes you to be better."
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B.J. Crombeen begins his fourth season with the Blues.

While Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said the top slots probably won't be at stake, the playing time that goes with it won't be guaranteed.

Armstrong, who orchestrated the deals that solidified the roster said, "Davis is going to have some different options that he's going to use there. I don't think we're going to be any different than any other team. Players that deserve to be here are going to be here.

"There's a lot of guys that are going to be here. We know it and they know it. One of the things I'm excited about is that maybe in the past, players have gotten ice time by default. I don't think that's going to be there right now. I think the default is gone now. They're going to have to earn that ice time. ... If we're talking about wanting to be a competitive team, we have to make hard decisions on players. If they're not pulling their weight and they have to go to the minors on a one-way deal, so be it. If we have to make space by making trades, so be it. You have to manage your assets and you have to manage expectations. But ultimately, if a player shows he should be here on a regular basis because of his play in training camp or his play in the minors, we'll make space for him because we're in the winning business."

Right now, Crombeen is penciled in among the top 12 forwards on the team, likely teamed up with Scott Nichol and Vladimir Sobotka on the team's fourth line. But make no mistake: each player will be geared to make the best impression possible.

"Everyone's looking forward to a healthy competition. It never hurts the team," Crombeen said. "As you've seen, you get injuries and things happen. To have the depth that we have right now, I think everyone's pretty excited about it and looking forward to getting going for the year."

Especially the likes of Ryan Reaves, Chris Porter, Stefan Della Rovere, Evgeni Grachev, who was acquired in a draft-day trade with the New York Rangers and even Jonathan Cheechoo, a former 50-goal scorer with the San Jose Sharks who the Blues signed to a one-year, two-way deal over the summer in hopes of rejuvenating his career. These guys would surely like to stay in St. Louis instead of making the trek north to Peoria and playing in the AHL.

"It's a statement that these guys want to come in and make," said Blues coach Davis Payne, who will have plenty of camp decisions to make before the Blues open the season Oct. 8 against Nashville. "We may have guys slotted here, we may have this opinion and impression where they fit in. They've got to come in and change our minds.
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Evgeni Grachev is a player who gets a close look in camp.

"They've got to come in -- whether it's a Cheechoo or Grachev -- and say, 'I belong back or in this league on a permanent basis.' Whether it's a guy like (Matt) D'Agostini, who had a solid year but saying, 'Hey, this is where I fit. I am a top six guy going forward. End of story.' Whether it's a (Stefan) Della Rovere coming in and saying, 'You may think one thing but I'm going to play to the point where you can't ignore me.' The statements they've got to make and how that changes the mix every single day ... a guy has a great performance and all of the sudden, you start leaning on him and say, 'This guy's really shifting the whole dynamic of what he had pictured here.' That's their job. That's what training camp's for."

And the mentality of the Blues' players these days is not only expecting to making the playoffs but expecting to win the top prize: the Stanley Cup.

"You never want to say 'I hope,'" Crombeen said. "Every player comes and they expect to win every night. You look at our team, and there's no spot there where you can say, 'Oh, you don't have this, or you don't have that.' You look at our roster and we have it and we expect to win every night. Everyone's expecting to make the playoffs and go deep in the playoffs. You come into the year expecting to win the Stanley Cup.

"... We do have one of the younger teams, so to get some older guys that have won some Cups and have that experience, it's only going to help your team."

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