Thursday, June 28, 2012

Blues bring veteran Nichol back with one-year contract

Team also names Bruce Affleck as COO

ST. LOUIS -- Being a 37-year-old player in the NHL, Scott Nichol is not looking for the greener pastures.

The veteran center wants to win.

So in signing a one-year, $650,000 contract to return to the Blues, Nichol is banking on the Blues being a contending team once again in 2012-13 after a 109-point season a year ago. And after
appearing in 80 games with the Blues last season, posting eight points (three goals, five assists) and leading the club with a 57.6 percentage in the faceoff circle, Nichol wanted to remain a part of what the Blues are building.
(Getty Images)
Scott Nichol, who played in 80 games for the Blues last season, will return
for the 2012-13 season after signing a one-year contract. 

"For sure we wanted to go back to St. Louis," said Nichol, who signed a one-year contract last summer to come to St. Louis from San Jose. "The success that we had and the strides that we made all season long ... as I go in my career, I want to win. We had as good a chance as anybody to win last year. We made huge strides and it's going to be another challenge for us next year.

"We're not going to sneak up on anybody next year. People are going to know when the rankings come out, we're going to be right up there to have a great year and challenge for the Stanley Cup. As an athlete, that's what you want. You want to have that pressure and you want to have the goal to be the best. This organization, this team ... that's what we got."

Added Blues general manager Doug Armstrong: "His work ethic and professionalism are second to none and he serves as an excellent role model for our young core."

The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Nichol, who played a key role centering the Blues' fourth line a season ago, will be entering his 13th season in the NHL. The opportunity existed to enter July 1 and test the free agent waters, but that never seemed to be of interest to Nichol.

"I've been fortunate in my career. I've always signed early," Nichol said. "The way I look at it, if you're a good fit and you have success on a team, stay on that team. Sometimes the grass isn't always greener. We like St. Louis. We're not chasing money anywhere. I want to win. I want to win the Stanley Cup. I want to make the playoffs. That's what I want to play for. It's not anything else.

"We go on year to year deals just to see how the body holds up. I felt great. I felt like I still had lots of jump. They brought me in for faceoffs and penalty kill and I think for what I bring, that's exactly what they needed. It worked both ways. It's a good fit for us. That's why we ended up going back."

Nichol, who has 55 goals and 126 points in 632 career games, feels the Blues can grow off their 49-22-11 season. Being humbled by the Los Angeles Kings in the second round of the playoffs serves as a motivational tool the Blues hope to bring into the next season.

"We have a young team with a lot of youthful enthusiasm," Nichol said. "Any time you win and have success, it's fun. There's a fine line in the NHL between winning and losing. We competed every night and it was good to see everyone compete hard every night. If we keep growing, the sky's the limit."

* NOTES -- The Blues also announced on Thursday that they have named Bruce Affleck to the position of Chief Operating Officer.

Bruce Affleck

Affleck played in five seasons for the Blues beginning in 1975. In his most recent work, he has been involved with many local charities, including the St. Louis Blues Fourteen Fund (the Blues’ charitable trust), the March of Dimes, and the St. Louis University Lupus Foundation. He also helped start the Blues Alumni Association and the St. Louis Amateur Hockey Hall of Fame into which he was inducted in 20111.

"Bruce Affleck embodies our vision of a Blues franchise that is closely tied to its history and its community," chairman Tom Stillman said in a statement. "He wore the Blue Note as a player; he has worked in the Blues organization for 25 years, managing several key areas of the business. He is a longtime St. Louis resident, and he is well respected within the Blues organization and throughout the local community."

Affleck will be responsible for running the business side of the Blues, along with the Scottrade Center and related operations.

"Having played and worked for the St. Louis Blues for so many years, I am honored that our new local ownership group has given me this opportunity," Affleck said in a statement. "Our goal is to build a strong and successful business operation, enabling the Blues to be a serious contender here in St. Louis for many years to come."

Affleck returned to the Blues organization in 1987 as Sales Manager. During his time with the Blues, Affleck has held a number of positions, including Vice President of Sales and Vice President of Broadcasting and Alumni. Affleck has also handled the “color” or analyst duties for Blues radio and television broadcasts.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hitchcock gets one-year extension

Veteran coach locked up through 2013-14, has mutual option for 2014-15 

ST. LOUIS -- The marriage between the Blues and Ken Hitchcock got off to such a rousing start, both parties figured to keep the honeymoon rolling.

And as long as the 60-year-old still has the energy and passion to continue to coach a generation Hitchcock said "where less is more," the job is his as long as he wants to keep it.

The Blues rewarded their veteran coach, who took over early last season, with a one-year extension through the 2013-14 season that includes a mutual option between the two sides through at least the 2014-15 season but will certainly extend beyond that.
(Getty Images)
Ken Hitchcock (top) signed a contract extension on Wednesday that will
keep him behind the Blues bench through at least the 2013-14 season.

Hitchcock, who last week won the Jack Adams Award for NHL Coach of the Year, took over the Blues when they were 6-7 and general manager Doug Armstrong relieved Davis Payne from the position. Hitchcock promptly led the Blues to the second-best record in the NHL (with 109 points at 49-22-11 behind Vancouver), their first division title since 2000 and their first playoff series win since 2002.

The Blues were 43-15-11 under Hitchcock, who originally signed a two-year contract upon his arrival in St. Louis from Columbus, where he was an advisor for the team after being fired as the head coach in 2010. He indicated that this would be his final destination as a head coach in the NHL and wants to make the best of the situation.

"I'm really grateful to Doug and (team president) John (Davidson) and (owner) Tom (Stillman) for offering this extension to me," Hitchcock said. "I'm really happy here in St. Louis. I'm really happy with the relationship we as the coaches have with the players. I think all of us are excited by the opportunity that's in front of us over the next coming season.

"For me, this is a great opportunity to continue to grow with the players. We've got some exciting young guys in here and some more guys coming into the fold. It's that window that we're watching unfold here in St. Louis that really has me excited."

Armstrong, who worked with Hitchcock in Dallas when he was the assistant GM under Bob Gainey and will likely get a contract extension himself at any time from the Blues, feels the stability Hitchcock brings was a necessary component to keep for multiple seasons.

"I think it's important to have a good coach under contract for the next couple years and we've been able to accomplish that," Armstrong said. "... I knew as an organization, John and myself felt (Hitchcock) was an important person moving forward. To get him here for the next two years is paramount for us. Ken put it best: we'll go year to year after that to make sure he still has the same energy level, the same fire and drive to do it. I hope that he does for a number of years past that.

"Ken did a fabulous job when he came in here. Obviously he was recognized as coach of the year and we're really excited to move forward with him."

Hitchcock has mellowed out with the times and has adapted to the new style of the game and its players from his old-school mentality, transitioning himself well with the younger Blues players and immediately clicked with getting a simple message across.

One of those players is rising star Alex Pietrangelo, who finished fourth in voting for the Norris Trophy this year and had his best season as a pro with 51 points. He was tied for 16th in the NHL in average time on ice at 24:43.

"He's allowed me to go out there and play my game, let me do what I do best," Pietrangelo said of Hitchcock. "He's going to make me accountable for my play. He's going to make sure that I'm playing at my best at all times. That's what you need. Hitch is a good person to talk to away from the rink and off the ice. He's a guy that you can just chat about normal, everyday things. It's another thing I really respect about him.

"It's a relief for not only us, but for Hitch to know that he's going to be there for a couple years and he can kind of build this team moving forward. We certainly think that we have a good enough team to contend for a Cup, but it's a process and now Hitch can work at it for a couple years. It's a calming thing for us to know that we're going to have the same guy back there leading the charge for us for a couple years or maybe more. ... He's obviously deserving. The amount that he's accomplished in his coaching career and winning the award this year, it's an example of why it's such a good thing to have a guy like that around. His experience and what he's been through is obviously something that's helped along the way and we as players definitely have that respect for him."

The contract for Hitchcock is rewarded well for someone that's 
13th all-time in games coached (1,110) and 11th in wins (576) with four franchises (Dallas, Philadelphia, Columbus and now St. Louis). In playoff history, Hitchcock ranks 8th all-time in games (130) and 11th in wins (70).

"For me, I'm grateful that there's an extension and after the extension is over, I just felt that if I don't have the energy at the end of the current term ... I don't want to do the job," Hitchcock said. "I know the energy and the discipline that it takes to do the work. I don't think it's fair to anybody for me to do it any further if I don't have the necessary energy to do it. I'm happy with the way it works and I'm sure we'll find a way to make it work providing that all of us think that I have that necessary energy. I don't feel, from my standpoint, that it's as important as the working relationship I have with everybody. I know the necessary demands that this position has. I don't want to do it if I don't have that energy."

And Hitchcock wanted to make it clear that he's not only in this just to see the Blues through the final goal: winning the Stanley Cup. There's more to it than the ultimate goal. It's about the big picture and long-term future of the franchise.

"Regardless of what happens in a few years, I want to stick around for a long time," Hitchcock said. "This is it for me, this is my last stop. I want this to be a successful franchise for the next 10-15 years and I want to be part of it, even if I'm not coaching. I want this franchise to be successful because of the people I'm working with I admire and I like a lot. I want to stick around those people.

"We're going to have ups and downs; we're going to have good times and bad times, but to me, I really trust the people in management, the scouting and everything here. There's a great working relationship with the coaching staff, which for me is very unique in sports. It just feels like it did way back in Dallas and that's why I want to stick around."

That's why Blues management is confident moving forward with the setup it has with Hitchcock. Management realizes the veteran coach will let it know when he's had enough.

"I don't see it dwindling over the next 24 months, but ultimately it's going to dwindle," Armstrong said. "You saw it with Scotty Bowman. ... Ken will know it. He'll know well before it shows to you or myself and the organization. He'll let us know. He's honest to a fault in some of those areas. He'll let us know when he feels it might be best to transfer it to somebody else.

"One thing he'll never do is lose his passion for hockey. He's going to be a really big part of this organization for the next two years and I see beyond that because he has so much knowledge he can give, not only to the players but to myself, to senior management, minor league coaches. His knowledge will never wane. We're going to keep him here as long as we can."
(Getty Images)
Ken Hitchcock guided the Blues to a 43-15-11
record after taking over for Davis Payne early
last season. They  finished with 109 points

For the time being, Hitchcock will continue to work a group that will be 95 percent in tact from a season ago and looks forward to dealing with that group on a regular basis.

"This is a generation where less is more in a big way," Hitchcock said. "Getting the players' attention has to come, for me, from lightening the load. The players have so much individual pressure on themselves nowadays and there's so much stress from other avenues other than coaching that I think with the amount of information that we supply to them, we can put them in overload position very quickly. For me, this is a generation where if you can keep it light, if you can keep the information simple and short, I think there's a much better response because they're getting it from everywhere and anywhere before they even get into your office.

"Years ago, you were the first and only form of information, but now it's coming everywhere. We end up being kind of the group that dissects the information for them more than provides it. It's hard to keep it simple nowadays. It's hard to keep it short, but it has a much more positive impact if you do that."

And while Hitchcock admits that coaches, "at this time of year, we're better off getting lost and letting management do their thing," he doesn't feel the Blues need to change much ... if at all.

"I think what's really exciting for us right now is we don't need to make a lot of changes," Hitchcock said. "There aren't a lot of gaping holes in our hockey club. We've got a great nucleus here and a lot of younger guys that are going to get better just because they're a year older. We're in a different boat than a lot of other teams are in. That's what's got everybody on the coaching staff so excited. ... Ninety-five percent of our team is coming back and we had 109 points. I think that's a real good thing for any team to be in right now."

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Blues pick MacEachern living dream after briefly leaving hockey

Blues finished draft weekend with seven picks; no activity on trade front

Mackenzie MacEachern wasn't even playing hockey two years ago. Saturday, he was living the dream of slipping on a National Hockey League jersey.

The Blues completed their 2012 NHL Draft at Pittsburgh's CONSOL Energy Center with seven selections, including the Bloomington Hills, Mich. native MacEachern, picked in the third round Saturday morning.

The Blues completed the two-day event with eight picks, focusing more on defense but picking a player from each position.
(Getty Images)
Blues draft picks on Saturday includes third-round selection Mackenzie
MacEachern (left) and second round pick Sam Kurker. 

The 6-foot-3, 183-pound MacEachern, who played in 29 games last season with Brother Rice High School in Michigan, scored 42 goals and totaled 90 points in only his second year of prep hockey. The 18-year-old left winger was ranked 138th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting after taking up the sport he loved as a kid. But after a brief hiatus of a couple years to try his luck at lacrosse, MacEachern was back on the ice.

"It's pretty unique how I've come out of high school and I'm in this situation," said MacEachern, who will attend Michigan State University this fall. "Two years ago, I was playing lacrosse not even focusing on hockey. (But) I gave up lacrosse my junior year just to focus on hockey.

"I played hockey growing up, since I was three. But going into high school, lacrosse was probably my main sport. ... Our school was focused on lacrosse. we won like 10 state championships in a row. I just put hockey to the side to focus on one thing. As I got older, I wanted to keep pursuing hockey. The love of the game came back. I kind of lost it at one point. But then it just came back to me."

MacEachern, who considers himself a power forward with good skating ability, didn't care where he was picked. He came to Pittsburgh with an agenda, and that was to go somewhere ... anywhere.

"I came here hoping to be selected anywhere in the draft," said MacEachern, who in 59 games in high school had 76 goals and 162 points. "It's an awesome feeling. Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to play in the NHL. This is one step closer. I've got to keep working. Maybe one day, I'll be there."

Blues director of amateur scouting Bill Armstrong really likes MacEachern.

"He's really athletic, a very athletic kid," Armstrong said of MacEachern. "... He's one of those guys that's got some intriguing qualities about him."

The Blues, after taking defenseman Jordan Schmaltz with the 25th pick in Friday night's opening round, grabbed 18-year-old Sam Kurker, who will attend Boston University this fall, in the second round.

Kurker played in 24 games last season with St. John’s Prep in Massachusetts and recording 60 points (32 goals, 28 assists) and in two seasons, scored 52 goals and totaled 97 points in 49 games. The 6-2, 208-pound right winger and native of Boston who has met fellow Bostonian Keith Tkachuk, was ranked 36th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting and is considered a power forward along with MacEachern.

"I can't be more happy where I got picked," Kurker said. "I'm really excited. I don't even know how to describe it.

"I like to watch guys like David Backes. Just got to go hard to the net, make it hard to back down and really get the nose dirty."

The Blues, who used the pick on MacEachern that they got from the Brad Winchester trade in 2010 from Anaheim, picked right-handed defenseman Colton Parayko later in the third round with their own pick.

Parayko, 19, played in 53 games last season in the Alberta Junior Hockey League with Fort McMurray, recording 42 points (nine goals, 33 assists). The 6-4, 191-pound Parayko is a native of St. Albert, Alberta.

The Blues grabbed another defenseman in the fourth round, going with 6-2, 187-pound Nick Walters. The 18-year-old left-hander played last season in the Western Hockey League with Everett. He had 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) and 95 penalty minutes in 62 games played.

Walters attended Canada’s National Men’s Summer Under-18 Team selection camp in Calgary last July and won a bronze medal with Team Pacific at the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Winnipeg. The Edmonton, Alberta native was ranked 67th overall among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting.

"The intriguing quality about him is his size and his will," Armstrong said of Parayko. "Walters is a competitive kid. He put up more fights than any other draft-eligible defenseman. But I don't think he's a fighter. ... He's almost like a Roman Polak. He plays that kind of style."
(Getty Images)
Blues President John Davidson (left) greets goalie Francois Tremblay, the
team's fifth round selection upon being picked Saturday.

The Blues went goalie in the fifth round, taking 18-year-old Baie-Comeau, Quebec native Francois Tremblay.

The 6-2, 195-pound Tremblay played in 57 games last season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for Val-d'Or, recording a 22-28-4 record with two shutouts, a 3.79 goals-against average along with a .882 save percentage. Tremblay was ranked 5th overall among North American goaltenders by NHL Central Scouting.

"I'm really happy and I'm proud to be a part of the St. Louis Blues," said Tremblay, who models his game to that of Montreal's Carey Price. "I'm a big goalie, a strong goalie. I'm very calm.

"To wear an NHL sweater, I'm so happy. ... I had a great interview (with the Blues) at the combine. I had a great feeling."

The Blues finally went across the ocean with their sixth round pick, going to get Finnish defenseman Petteri Lindbohm, who played with Jokerit Jr. in Finland's Junior League last season.

The 18-year-old Lindbohm played in 41 games last season and registering 10 points (three goals, seven assists). At 6-3 and 209-pounds, the native of Helsinki, Finland was ranked 46th among European skaters by NHL Central Scouting.

And with their final pick in the seventh round, the Blues went with a center, grabbing Tyrel Seaman of Choiceland, Saskatchewan.

Seaman, 18, played in 32 games last season with Brandon in the Western Hockey League and recording 19 points (six goals, 13 assists). The 6-2, 196-pounder was ranked 104th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting.

It was another successful draft, according to Armstrong.

"I think we targeted our guys," Armstrong said. "The guys that we wanted, we really targeted them. Just looking at the sheet, those are the guys that we really wanted. It's important not that you like them, but we want somebody you really want. And you look down the list for us, the guys that we got, our scouts really put a lot of enthusiasm into really wanting that guy.

"If you look at the overall draft, there's skilled defensemen, two big power forwards that are in the middle with some good size. ... I think they all just fell in our lap, but I think everybody was over 6-1, 6-2. The average was probably about 6-2, 6-3 and good skating (ability). We were happy with all those elements. It's certainly a draft that we're excited about. I'm kind of looking forward to seeing the kids progress."

There were some trades, one particular whopper that saw Carolina acquire center Jordan Staal from Pittsburgh, and plenty of scuttlebutt for other deals -- including the Blues -- but nothing happened on the home front. But one can be sure general manager Doug Armstrong was busy working his phone and talking to other GM's looking to fill pieces in the current lineup, possibly setting up framework for a deal(s) to get done.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Blues go defense in first round

USHL's Jordan Schmaltz taken with 25th pick; team has seven more picks today

There were players left on the board late in the first round that were projected to go higher. The Blues ignored all the pundits and went with a project they had their eye on.

The Blues selected a player that will not offer immediate help, but on they feel will be a household name in the future, as they went with 18-year-old defenseman Jordan Schmaltz of the United States Hockey League with the 25th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft Friday night at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

The 6-foot-2, 189-pound Madison, Wisc. native, who will attend the University of North Dakota in the fall, split the 2011-12 season between the Sioux City Musketeers and Green Bay Gamblers, ranking second among USHL defensemen with 41 points (10 goals, 31 assists) in 55 games.
(Getty Images)
Blues' 2012 first round pick Jordan Schmaltz slips on his new
sweater as director of amateur scouting Bill Armstrong looks on
Friday night.

Schmaltz played 46 of those games for Green Bay, leading the team’s defensemen in assists, points and power-play goals. He added seven points (two goals, five assists) and had a plus-10 rating in 12 playoff games for the Clark Cup Champions.

Projected as a late first rounder, early to middle second rounder, Schmaltz was thrilled to hear his name called.

"It's awesome. I can't really describe it," said Schmaltz, who patterns his game to Phoenix's Keith Yandle and Los Angeles' Drew Doughty and was the 34th-ranked North American skater according to the Central Scouting Service. "It's just a great feeling. Just to hear your name called is pretty surreal. I'm excited and it's awesome."

A puck-moving defenseman with offensive skill, the Blues are projecting Schmaltz to be a key piece of their future ... and they project him to be high on the charts as well.

"The one thing that we really love about the kid is he's a top-four defenseman," said Bill Armstrong, the Blues' amateur director of scouting. "He's got some high-end skill on the power play. That was probably one of the strongest things that we liked about him, that he can run a power play from up top. He's got some great qualities to move the puck …really sees the ice well and he has the ability to jump up."

The NHL's Central Scouting Report said: "This is the type of player everybody wants on their team because he's a puck-moving offensive defenseman who can see opportunities, spring forward and make the great pass from any situation. He loves to join in the rush and has that skating ability to sort of take the risk of taking the puck deep, and being able to get back using his skating ability."

Schmaltz agreed.

"I think I'm an offensive defenseman," he said. "I can quarterback a power play. I use my mind and I think my hockey sense is pretty good as well."

Schmaltz, who said he didn't really know if the Blues were interested or not after meeting with them, will attend the University of North Dakota, where the Blues' T.J. Oshie and Chris Porter crafted their respective arts, as well as Chicago Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews.

"It's the best path for me and it's going to help me develop," said Schmaltz, who comes from a football family, with father Mike playing football for the Fighting Sioux as well as two of his uncles. Younger brother Nick will play for the Fighting Sioux in 2014.
(USHL Photo)
The Blues made Jordan Schmaltz the 25th pick in the
NHL Draft Friday night in Pittsburgh

And on a night where defenseman were key targets for the 30 picks on the first round, the Blues saw one they really were impressed with.

"We targeted him down the stretch," said Armstrong, who will help the Blues through a second, two thirds, a fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh round picks today. "You draw up a plan, you do your homework and you hope it works. It’s a credit to our staff. They really did the research and that’s one of the guys we targeted … we really wanted him."

Now Schmaltz, who grew up a Blackhawks fan and lists Patrick Kane as his favorite player, will work on winning over Blues' fans.

"That'll change quick, I guess," Schmaltz laughed.

Other notable players the Blues selected around this spot in the draft include T.J. Oshie at No. 24 in 2005, Patrik Berglund at No. 25 in 2006 and David Perron at No. 26 in 2007.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

2012-13 St. Louis Blues Schedule

11 -- at Colorado, 8 p.m.
13 -- at Nashville, 7 p.m.
18 -- DETROIT, 7 p.m.
20 -- MINNESOTA, 7 p.m.
23 -- CHICAGO, 7 p.m.
25 -- COLORADO, 7 p.m.
27 -- at Dallas, 7 p.m.
30 -- LOS ANGELES, 7 p.m.
1 -- at San Jose, 9:30 p.m.
3 -- at Los Angeles, 3 p.m.
6 -- DALLAS, 7 p.m.
8 -- COLUMBUS, 7 p.m.
10 -- at Nashville, 7 p.m.
13 -- at Toronto, 6 p.m.
15 -- at Minnesota, 7 p.m.
17 -- NASHVILLE, 7 p.m.
21 -- at Detroit, 6:30 p.m.
23 -- N.Y. ISLANDERS, 3 p.m.
25 -- WASHINGTON, 6 p.m.
29 -- COLUMBUS, 7 p.m.
1 -- OTTAWA, 6 p.m.
2 -- CALGARY, 6 p.m.
6 -- at Pittsburgh, 6 p.m.
8 -- at N.Y. Rangers, 11 a.m.
9 -- at Chicago, 6 p.m.
12 -- MINNESOTA, 7 p.m.
14 -- CALGARY, 7 p.m.
15 -- CHICAGO, 7 p.m.
18 -- PHOENIX, 7 p.m.
20 -- at Phoenix, 8 p.m.
21 -- at Dallas, 7 p.m.
23 -- VANCOUVER, 6 p.m.
26 -- COLUMBUS, 7 p.m.
27 -- at Colorado, 8 p.m.
29 -- PHILADELPHIA, 7 p.m.
31 -- at Vancouver, 9 p.m.
3 -- at San Jose, 9:30 p.m.
5 -- at Los Angeles, 3 p.m.
6 -- at Anaheim, 7 p.m.
11 -- NASHVILLE, 7 p.m.
13 -- MONTREAL, 6 p.m.
15 -- at Columbus, 6 p.m.
16 -- at Chicago, 7 p.m.
18 -- VANCOUVER, 7 p.m.
20 -- DETROIT, 6:30 p.m.
22 -- SAN JOSE, 7 p.m.
29 -- at Boston, 6 p.m.
31 -- at Columbus, 6 p.m.
1 -- at Detroit, 6:30 p.m.
3 -- at Buffalo, 2:30 p.m.
5 -- at Winnipeg, 7 p.m.
7 -- EDMONTON, 7 p.m.
10 -- DETROIT, 6:30 p.m.
13 -- at Vancouver, 9 p.m.
15 -- at Calgary, 8 p.m.
16 -- at Edmonton, 9 p.m.
19 -- WINNIPEG, 7 p.m.
21 -- ANAHEIM, 7 p.m.
23 -- SAN JOSE, 7 p.m.
26 -- at N.Y. Islanders, 6 p.m.
28 -- at Nashville, 7 p.m.
1 -- NEW JERSEY, 7 p.m.
3 -- PITTSBURGH, 6:30 p.m.
5 -- COLORADO, 7 p.m.
8 -- at Anaheim, 9 p.m.
9 -- at Phoenix, 7 p.m.
12 -- EDMONTON, 7 p.m.
14 -- DALLAS, 7 p.m.
16 -- CAROLINA, 7 p.m.
23 -- at Edmonton, 9 p.m.
24 -- at Calgary, 6 p.m.
26 -- PHOENIX, 7 p.m.
28 -- LOS ANGELES, 7 p.m.
30 -- at Minnesota, 7 p.m.
31 -- ANAHEIM, 6 p.m.
2 -- NASHVILLE, 7 p.m.
4 -- at Tampa Bay, 6:30 p.m.
5 -- at Florida, 6:30 p.m.
7 -- at Detroit, 6:30 p.m.
9 -- at Columbus, 6 p.m.
12 -- at Chicago, 7:30 p.m.
13 -- CHICAGO, 7 p.m.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Blues clean up at NHL Awards

Hitchcock named coach of the year, Armstrong GM of the
year; Backes second in Selke, Pietrangelo second-team all-star

ST. LOUIS -- It was a memorable season for the Blues and their ascension in the NHL ranks.

For their efforts, the league rewarded them royally.

The NHL handed out its 2012 awards on Wednesday night at the Wynn Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, and the Blues were front and center on stage as Ken Hitchcock became the fourth coach in franchise history to claim the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year, Doug Armstrong claimed the General Manager of the Year Award and the goalie tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott were on hand to be recognized as the Jennings Trophy winners.
(Getty Images)
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock addresses the audience after winning the
Jack Adams Award for coach of the year for 2012.

Hitchcock won in a landslide, beating out the New York Rangers' John Tortorella 355-108. Ottawa's Paul MacLean, a former Blue, came in third place.

It was an amazing job by Hitchcock, who was brought into the foray when Davis Payne was fired after the Blues began a season filled with promise at 6-7-0, good for 14th place in the Western Conference at the time. Hitchcock, who was living in Columbus and an advisor for the Blue Jackets, was able to change the culture of the team and go 43-15-11, helping the Blues finish with the second most points in franchise history (109) and two points behind Vancouver for the Presidents' Trophy. The Blues won the Central Division title for the first time since 2000 and advanced to the second round of the postseason for the first time in a decade.

"I just feel like ... you know, I'm 60 years old and I feel as current as any coach in the league," Hitchcock said afterwards. "I know what's going on. I feel like it just validates my belief system and the commitment by the players.

"The award is a voting process and who knows where that goes. But I think when you get nominated, it validates our team play and elevates the commitment by the players."

Hitchcock, who was named the 24th coach in franchise history, joined
Joel Quenneville in 2000, Brian Sutter in 1991 and Red Berenson in 1981 as previous Blues coaches to win the award.

Hitchcock, whose Blues were beaten by eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles and Brian Sutter's brother Darryl, joked, "Darryl, I wish you would have stayed in Viking (Alberta)."

"It's a really volatile business right now and being able to survive this long, I'm really proud of that," said Hitchcock, who during his speech thanked Tampa Bay assistant coach and personal friend Wayne Fleming, who is fighting brain cancer. Hitchcock and Fleming worked together when the Blues' coach was coaching in Philadelphia

Hitchcock finished the regular season with 1,110 games coached, which is 13th all-time and he's 11th in wins (576). In playoff history, he ranks 9th all-time in games (127) and 11th in wins (70).

This is Hitchcock’s first Jack Adams Award and fourth time being nominated, as he finished second in 1997 and third in 1998 and 1999.
(Getty Images)
Blues GM Doug Armstrong addresses the audience after winning
the 2012 General Manager of the Year Award.

Armstrong was the orchestrator not only in making the change to bring Hitchcock in but also helping construct a lineup that was short on superstar-caliber talent but it carried a plethora of grit, heart and determination that culminated into one strong group.

The Blues were in the bottom 10 in payroll this past season (23rd), but Armstrong was able to tweak a younger cast and add some important veteran pieces to elevate the Blues into a playoff position for the first time since 2009 and only the second time since the lockout.

"The thing that I'm very proud of is to me, this is an organizational award," Armstrong said. "It encompasses the marketing, finance people and everyone. To have a season like we did, it takes everyone pulling in the same direction and I really did accept it on behalf of the entire St. Louis Blues family."

The Blues broke or tied 13 franchise records this season, including a 21-game home points streak and 30 home wins. They allowed the NHL's fewest goals against (165), the fewest shots per game (26.7) and posted the most shutouts (15).

Many of those numbers came with Halak and Elliott the backbone of the team's defensive posture in goal.

The duo combined for a league-high 15 shutouts, which tied a modern NHL record set by the Chicago Blackhawks in 1969-70 and surpassing the club mark of 13 set by Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante in 1968-69. Elliott (nine) and Halak (six) also are the first tandem in NHL history to record at least six shutouts apiece in the same season.

Halak (26-12-7) ranked fifth in the NHL with a 1.97 goals-against average and posted a .926 save percentage. He won a career-high eight consecutive decisions, including six straight on the road, Feb. 23-March 11.

Elliott (23-10-4) led the NHL with a 1.56 GAA and .940 save percentage. He set franchise records for shutouts (nine) and a 241:33 shutout streak, also personal bests. His three consecutive shutouts from March 22-27 equaled the franchise mark set by Greg Millen in 1988-89.

(Getty Images)
Blues goalies Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott pose with the
Jennings Trophy at the 2012 NHL Awards in Las Vegas. 

Elliott and Halak finished fifth and sixth, respectively in voting for the Vezina Trophy.

Captain David Backes fell short in his bid to win the Selke Trophy, given to the forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive part of the game. Boston's Patrice Bergeron won the award, with Backes placing a distant second -- ahead of Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk -- with 24 first place votes.

Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was named to the NHL's second-team All-Star squad and finished fourth in the Norris Trophy voting. Ottawa's Erik Karlsson won the award this season.

All-in-all, it was a good night for the Blues, as they received a big dose of recognition, and if the summer is any indication, Armstrong will be busy constructing more components to add to what was a solid year.

"We're going to be active this summer and we're going to hope to keep moving forward," Armstrong said. "This season was a perfect storm in many ways. Unfortunately, we couldn't get to where we wanted, we fell 12 wins short. But this is a good stepping-stone."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

2012-13 St. Louis Blues Preseason Schedule

25 -- at Nashville, 7 p.m.
26 -- at Tampa Bay, 6:30 p.m.
27 -- at Minnesota, 7 p.m.
28 -- MINNESOTA, 7 p.m.
29 -- TAMPA BAY, 7 p.m.
  2 -- NASHVILLE, 7 p.m.
  3 -- at Dallas, 7:30 p.m.
  6 -- DALLAS, 7 p.m.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Blues bring back veteran Jackman

Defenseman, set to become UFA on July 1, gets a three-year, $9.5 million deal

ST. LOUIS -- Barret Jackman may be a British Columbia native, but St. Louis has been home for the last decade.

Jackman is going to stay home.

The veteran defenseman, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1, has resigned with the organization that selected him 17th overall. It's a three-year contract worth $9.5 million, an annual cap hit of $3.16 million.
(Getty Images)
Barret Jackman will continue to call St. Louis home.

Jackman, 31, was picked in the first round by the Blues in 1999 and is the longest-tenured Blue as well as the longest-tenured professional athlete among St. Louis teams.

Jackman expressed his desire to remain here at season's end but was prepared for anything. That won't be necessary now.

"It's nice to get it over with and know exactly where I'm going to be," Jackman said. "I'm not going to free agency or house hunting. I think St. Louis is the best fit for everybody.

"It really only took a few days of talks with (Blues general manager Doug Armstrong). The organization was great with me. We had a couple of conversations about my role and where I fit in. St. Louis was obviously my first choice and we were easily able to get the deal done and now I look forward to next season."

Jackman had arguably one of his best NHL seasons for the Blues in 81 games last season, playing the majority of that season alongside of promising young d-man Kevin Shattenkirk. He recording 13 points (one goal, 12 assists). Jackman tied for second on the club with a +20 rating and led the team in blocked shots (153) and shorthanded time on ice per game (3:26).

There was some debate whether the Blues would bring Jackman and fellow defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo back. It left a void along the left side of the defensive unit, but with Jackman, who completed a four-year, $14.5 million contract, the Blues have filled a void with one of their own.

"We had a good discussion after the season ended when I got back from the World Championships. We wanted to make sure that Barret felt that this was still the right place for him to continue his career," Armstrong said. "He felt he wanted to stay here and continue to build what we have right now. It became a business decision, an economic decision and we were able to work through that. I think both sides are satisfied and excited moving forward.

"We looked at him this year and his contract only takes him through 33 years old. We think he's still got a lot of good hockey left in him. We felt we had five defensemen; we needed seven. Jacks gives us six and now we're on the hunt for one more."

The 6-foot, 205-pound Jackman, who won the Calder Trophy in 2003, has had a 10-year career with the Blues, compiling 139 points (20 goals, 119 assists) in 598 games.

The 598 games is tied for 10th overall on the franchise list. With the young Blues defensive corps with Alex Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk, Kris Russell, Roman Polak and Ian Cole, Jackman's veteran savvy was something the team could not afford to overlook.

"He obviously played very well last year and he's been through a lot of experience here in St. Louis," Armstrong said. "We needed a player first and foremost and leadership was a secondary thing. The games are won on the ice and what you do on the ice.

"Jacks because of his tenure here and the role he played on our team ... not only on the ice but leadership, he was a primary guy for us to go to. He was the first player in that area that we went to and we wanted to get a quick solution with him to make sure he stays here."
(Getty Images)
Barret Jackman will receive $9.5 million with his new three-year contract.

The Trail, BC native Jackman could have gone to July 1 and unrestricted free agency to see what could have been out there. The pastures could have been greener but it's obvious that wasn't what Jackman was looking for.

"Obviously money is a part of it, but obviously I love St. Louis and wanted a chance to be a part of this team for many years to come," Jackman said. "My family is here, my friends ... just the work I've put into the organization ... I want to be a part of it when there is a parade down Market Street. I want to be in a Blues uniform for as long as possible."

It's not that seeing what else could have been out there wasn't on Jackman's mind. He signed his last contract before becoming a UFA and has never taken part in that process.

"Yeah. You have to prepare yourself for everything, but at the end of the season, Army was really great," Jackman said. "He had a meeting with me, and we had three or four different conversations about (that) possibility. We talked about free agency and talked about the pros and cons of it. I felt very comfortable talking with Doug.

"Free agency was on my mind, but first and foremost, it was check out the options with St. Louis. I was glad to get something done."

As for Colaiacovo, who just completed a two-year, $4.25 million contract, it appears that he will test the free agent waters on July 1. The Blues are in search for a top four defenseman and could test the free agent market or through a trade to bring in someone, but Colaiacovo is hopeful that he and the Blues can reach a deal.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Blues, Stewart agree to one-year extension

Forward coming off down year offensively could have been restricted free agent

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues have taken one of their restricted free agents off the market ... at least for another year.

The team announced on Thursday they've resigned power forward Chris Stewart to a one-year contract extension worth a reported $3 million.

Stewart, coming off his least productive season with 15 goals and 30 points, was a healthy scratch at times during the regular season and playoffs due to ineffective play after coming off back-to-back 28-goal seasons, including 16 with the Blues after arriving last season as the centerpiece to the trade with Colorado that also brought defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and yielded 2006 No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson, center Jay McClement and last season's No. 1 pick (11th overall). Ironically,
Stewart was originally drafted by Colorado 18th overall of the 2006 NHL Draft.
(Getty Images)
Chris Stewart agreed to a one-year contract extension to remain in St. Louis.

There was much hype that after 56 goals in the last two seasons as a 22- and 23-year-old, Stewart could reach the 35- or even the 40-goal mark and have a breakout season.

The 24-year-old Stewart did appear in 79 games last season and seven playoff games. He made $3.25 million a season ago and had a cap hit of $2.875, so the new deal is a slight reduction in pay from a season ago but higher than the annual cap hit.

"Stewy's a guy that's a big part of our future and getting him done for next season, it's nice to have that behind us and it's also nice for him to have that put away so he can focus on his training and preparing to have a good season," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said.

"We had never contemplated on giving up on him," Armstrong added. "We traded for him for a reason. He had back-to-back 28-goal seasons. That's an accomplishment in a league that's hard to score in. Obviously he didn't produce those numbers this year, but he's still only 24 years old. Power forwards are very difficult to find.

"Our belief is that we want to work with him and we want to give him the opportunity to have a really good season next year. He wants that challenge and I think it's a perfect match for both sides."

The ruling on restricted free agents is in order to retain a player's rights, the team must give a qualifying offer of 100 percent for players making $1 million or more. But the Blues had the option of asking for salary reduction in an arbitration case, which means an arbitrator has the option of reducing the monetary amount by no more than 15 percent. A reduction could have dropped Stewart's salary for the upcoming season to $2.76 million, and the Blues had an arbitration deadline of Friday.

"Both sides had talked and there was genuine interest in getting something done quickly," Armstrong said. "We wanted to negotiate off of the player that he is and I think he has the opportunity to get back to the level that he had those last couple years. I'd like to negotiate a longer-term deal off of that. I think he certainly more comfortable negotiating off of a better season and a longer-term deal. I want to pay him fairly and I want to pay him what the market dictates to do that. We need to have that statistical season heading into that."

Upon his exit interview, after the Blues were swept out of the Western Conference semifinals by eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles, Stewart said he would be working on his conditioning this summer and has taken up shop with well-known Toronto-area trainer Matt Nichol.

Conditioning was an area talked about as the key flaw to Stewart's down year. But he's determined to come to camp for the 2012-13 season in the best shape of his career.

"I've got to get back to being Chris Stewart, just be me and playing my game," Stewart said then. "I got myself into this. I'm the only one that can get myself out of it and I'll do it.

"... I'm going to train with them for the first time in the summer and do the usual stuff, work with my track coach and really work on the speed aspect of my game, go to a nutritionist, get on a diet aspect, come into camp in good shape and get ready to go next year."

Since joining the Blues last season, the 6-2, 232-pound Toronto native has dressed in 105 games, totaling 53 points (30 goals, 23 assists). Stewart has played in 271 games during a four-year NHL career, totaling 82 goals and 84 assists with the Blues and Avalanche.

"I think this is probably the biggest summer of my career," Stewart said. "I'm coming off my worst season offensively, so I'm going to go back to the drawing board, work on the skills and get back to the player that I was the year before."

The Blues were faced with a similar scenario with T.J. Oshie a year ago and worked out an agreement on a one-year contract.

Stewart and Oshie, along with David Perron, represented the Blues' restricted free agents, a number now reduced to two.

Armstrong gave every indication that both remaining RFA's will get deals to stay here but there is no rush.

"I plan on them being in our lineup on opening night," Armstrong said of Oshie and Perron. "If we get them signed quickly, great. If it takes a little bit longer in the summer, that's fine also."

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Tarasenko chooses St. Louis over KHL

Blues' 2010 first-round pick will sign entry-level contract in July;
turns down reported lucrative deal to stay with SKA St. Petersburg

ST. LOUIS -- 'The Tank' has made his decision. In the end, the Blues prevailed victorious.

After pondering about his immediate and long-term future, the Blues received the news early Saturday morning from Vladimir Tarasenko that had some wondering if the NHL would be placed on the back burner again.

Tarasenko, the team's 2010 first round draft pick (No. 16 overall), who has been playing in the Kontinental Hockey League the last four seasons, has informed the Blues he is coming to the NHL next season and has agreed in principle to a three-year, entry level contract. He is expected to sign his contract on July 1st.
(Getty Images)
Vladimir Tarasenko, the 16th pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, has finally
welcomed the Blues and the NHL with open arms.

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said that under the current collective bargaining agreement, which is set to expire on Sept. 15, no unsigned draft choices are allowed to sign after 5 p.m. (local time) on June 1st through June 30.

Tarasenko, 20, informed Blues general manager Doug Armstrong with a phone call at 6 a.m. this morning. Armstrong, who is in Toronto for the NHL combine, received a call from Tarasenko's Russian-based agent Alexei Dementiev at 1:30 a.m. and was glad to get the news Blues fans have been waiting to hear.

"I did talk to (Tarasenko) this morning," Armstrong said. "It was just a brief conversation telling him I knew it was a difficult decision he had to make both professionally and personally to come over the North America and how excited we were to have him come and how I'm looking forward to working with him over the summer.

"The timing of the call was he was working under some KHL deadlines. He wanted us to know about his decision before he had to announce it in his hometown, which I believe is a 12-hour time change from here. I understood the call. I appreciated it and was very excited to get it."

"We believe he's a top prospect and we're excited to have him come into North America," Armstrong added. "We think he's a player that has done all the things he could do outside of the NHL and we feel he's ready for the next step. We're excited to have that behind us."

In 54 games with Sibir Novosibirsk and SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL last season, Tarasenko tallied 47 points (23 goals, 24 assists) along with 10 goals and 16 points in 15 playoff games with St. Petersburg, which was eliminated in the conference finals.

According to Sport-Express, Tarasenko had a two-year contract on the table from St. Petersburg -- which traded for Tarasenko last season -- that would have made the Yaroslavl, Russia native one of the highest paid skaters in the KHL.

"(Tarasenko) decided he had a childhood dream - to play in the National Hockey League," Dementiev told Sport-Express of Russia. "This decision is perhaps the most serious in his life. (It) was very difficult to decide on it. Still, he liked everything in the SKA, it is one of the best clubs in Russia, St. Petersburg -- a wonderful city with great fans and the financial conditions offered are very good."

But Armstrong indicated that Tarasenko will be with the big club and that as long as he earns his spot on a Blues team that finished with 109 points last season, he had the ability to be a top-nine player.

"What I said to Vlad was, 'I view you as a St. Louis Blue. We have a roster spot for you. You're going to be told to get an apartment, you've got to get a place to live,'" Armstrong said. "But at the end of the day, the NHL doesn't give jobs away. He's got to come in and maintain it. We really believe he has the skill-set to do that though or we wouldn't be saying that."

The 6-foot, 202-pound Tarasenko was captain of Russia's gold medal-winning world junior team in 2011, where he tallied four goals and seven assists in seven games. However, he was left off of Russia's world championship squad last month for undetermined reasons. But quietly, there was speculation that Tarasenko's uncertainty to return to the KHL upset national team officials.

The Blues never doubted his ability. Armstrong met with Tarasenko personally in Helsinki, Finland at the World Championships and knew Tarasenko was serious about joining the Blues then after an 11-hour train ride for a two-hour meeting and another ensuing 11-hour train ride back home. However, Armstrong doesn't want expectations on Tarasenko joining the Blues to be too high.

"As an organization, we all want to control unrealistic expectations," Armstrong said. "He's coming into a team that had 109 points, he's coming into a team that had the second-most points in the NHL. We expect him to come over here and compete for a job in our top nine. We think he has that ability, but we're not putting unrealistic expectations on him. He needs to just become a good NHL player.
(Getty Images)
Vladimir Tarasenko, here playing for Russia in 2011 at the World
Championships, has decided to play in the NHL and the Blues for 2012-13.

"He did play well in Buffalo at the world juniors and how well he's played in the KHL, there's going to be expectations for him to produce right away. I think he will have the ability to produce right away, but it's not something that we're going to force-feed or put him in situations where he's not going to be able to be himself."

Tarasenko took his time to decide, and some speculation circulated that the uncertainty of the NHL's CBA would scare Tarasenko away from coming across the Atlantic but that was never the case.

"The uncertainty of the CBA not only affects Vlady but it affects all NHL contracted players," Armstrong said. "Whatever happens with the collective bargaining agreement, the NHL will play at some point. I'm hoping it plays on Sept. 15th and he's ready to go. We didn't talk a lot about it. If there is a work stoppage of any sense, we'll want to make sure that he's still playing."

Armstrong said he'd like to get Tarasenko over here as soon as possible but needs to work that out with Dementiev and former Blues goalie Mike Liut, Tarasenko's North American-based agent.

"I've gone through this stuff in my mind but I haven't talked to Vlady or his agents yet about that," Armstrong said. "That's something over the next week, we'll decide what the timing is. I think getting him here sometime prior to training camp will be beneficial for him, but I have to work with him on that.

"I don't know if it's going to be difficult, but it's going to be something he's going to have to adapt to. That's why hopefully we get him over here in the summer and we can continue to both on and off the ice prepare him. That's going to be beneficial for him. It's like if we were to send a Jaden Schwartz, a Ty Rattie or someone over to play in the KHL. The most natural time they're going to have is the three hours a day at the rink. The other 21 hours is where you have to adapt to the culture. I think it's going to be smooth, but I don't think it's not going to have some growing pains to it. That's why getting in here sooner or later is going to be better for both sides."