Tarasenko contract signed; team signs trio to two-way contracts
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- As the NHL opened its free agency doors on Sunday, enabling teams to spend gobs of money and in certain cases, throw an abundance of years at players, the Blues talked and they listened.
However, no deals were struck ... aside from making three minor moves for depth purposes.
Phone calls were made, conversations were had, but for a team that was near the top of the NHL standings a year ago and one looking to make the franchise work economically in order to be resourceful, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong was busy trying to lay groundwork for interested players. He was hoping to do so responsibly.
Vladimir Tarasenko, shown here after being drafted in 2010, signed
his entry-level contract with the Blues Sunday.
For the most part, those players will still be on the board when management wakes up Monday morning and goes at it again. But for one day, it was all about window shopping as far as the Blues were concerned.
"We were active in talking to some players that we thought could help our team," Armstrong said. "But we might be a little bit different than some teams. ...we're pretty finite on what we need. A lot of the players that were signed today, they didn't fill a need or desire for our team.
"It has to play out. The players that we're looking at, there's probably two-thirds of the league looking at them. So, I think it's something that you just have to let it play itself out."
The Blues did bring in depth for their roster in Peoria, signing goalie Mike McKenna, a native St. Louisan who was on Ottawa's minor league squad a year ago. They also brought back a familiar face in defenseman Taylor Chorney, who the Blues claimed on waivers a season ago from Edmonton and was reclaimed by the Oilers, as well as veteran defenseman Scott Ford, who played for Nashville's AHL team in Milwaukee last year.
Also, the verbal agreement of the entry-level contract between the Blues and 2010 first round pick Vladimir Tarasenko was consummated with a contract signing today. So officially, Tarasenko is a Blue after a verbal commitment early last month.
"We sent his contract in to be registered today," Armstrong said. "... We signed everything and we just had to wait until today to put it through to the league and we did. Everything is good.
"I took him for his word and he took us for our word. I wasn't surprised. I wasn't nervous at all that we wouldn't get to this point. He sent back the documents and they were sent into the league and he's a St. Louis Blue."
The Blues, who have not hidden from the fact they are looking for a top four defenseman, preferably someone to play alongside Alex Pietrangelo on the top unit, and perhaps a third-line center, were not completely left out in the cold Sunday. Most of their targets are still on the board.
As for the big free agent dominoes, which include New Jersey winger Zach Parise and Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter, a lot of big numbers were bandied about regarding their value and worth and what it would take to get them signed. But as of Sunday evening, neither planned on making their respective decisions on Day 1 and none of those dominoes fell.
Both players are most certainly out of the Blues' price range and term, but one one player talked about as a fit with the on defense was Florida's Jason Garrison, who bolted South Florida to play in his native British Columbia, inking a six-year, $27.6 million deal ($4.6 million average annual salary) with the Vancouver Canucks. Other notable players to change uniforms Sunday included winger Ray Whitney, who left Phoenix to sign with Dallas; winger P-A Parenteau switched conferences, leaving the New York Islanders to sign with Colorado and defenseman Filip Kuba, another left-handed defenseman tabbed as a good fit for the Blues, signed with Florida. Also, former Blues' Brad Boyes signed a one-year deal with the Islanders and Jay McClement inked a two-year deal with Toronto.
"Right now, we have 13 forwards under one-way contracts and then we have very good depth in (Evgeny) Grachev, (Jaden) Schwartz, (Philip) McRae and (Adam) Cracknell," Armstrong said regarding the forward position. "If there's an area that we can improve before now and the start of the season, it's to our defense. That's what we'll look to do. With that being said, whether it's through free agency or via trade, I think it can be accomplished in a couple of different ways."
"I think you talk to people that you think are going to be active," Armstrong said. "You just try and let people know what your needs are, what you're looking for. By signing one player might make another player available on your roster. So you just say, 'If you get into this situation let me know and I might have interest' ... not the free agent but to trade a player. And then I contacted some players I thought would be a good fit for our team. Some of them have signed with different teams and some of them have yet to sign."
Last season, the Blues were active and open to the free agent market -- despite the limited access to payroll with the ownership influx. But coming off a 49-win, 109-point season, Armstrong feels that other than a couple tweaks, there's no need for any sort of overhaul.
"To me, I think it's different every year. Last year, I thought we had to be much more active than this year," Armstrong said. "We had multiple holes and were coming off a poor season. I thought we had definite areas where we needed improvement. This year, I feel very comfortable that we're going to be healthy and everyone left the season expecting to be back at training camp in 100 percent condition. We didn't have that a year ago. This year, the needs on our team are much different than they were a year ago. That makes this process a little more selective. But when you're more selective, you're less involved.
Unrestricted free agent defenseman Matt Carle is certainly on the Blues'
radar. He's one of the most sought after defenseman on the market.
"A lot of this has to do with what other teams do. A lot of this is predicated on other teams making decisions on unrestricted free agents also. So it's difficult. I know the fans want to see instant results, but I think this is something that could play out into the fall or into the season."
Armstrong has had conversations with veteran Jamie Langenbrunner, but the winger has not come to an agreement with the Blues and is open to sign elsewhere. Other UFA's include center Jason Arnott, winger Chris Porter and defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo, whose door is not completely closed regarding a return to the Blues.
Monday brings a new day, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that Armstrong is able to strike a deal with one or more of the players the Blues are coveting. But they'll stay the course and remain patient.
"More of the same. Stay current with what's happening and see if there's something there," Armstrong said on his plans for Monday. "I feel for the fans in the sense that they want something to happen. But we're not in a position where we have a lot of holes. If the right player is there, we'll make the right decision. But we're not looking to do something just for the sake of us saying we were active."
As for Tarasenko, he's not in St. Louis and there is no definitive date when he gets here.
"We don't know when he's coming," Armstrong said. "Because his contract couldn't be registered until today, we haven't been able to work on a visa. We would expect him to be here sometime over the summer."