Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Blues resign Leopold, Russell clears waivers

GM Doug Armstrong talks about team's
interest in Vincent Lecavalier, goalie situation

By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues faced the prospect of losing Jordan Leopold in the unrestricted free agent market but it never got to that point.

The Blues and Leopold came to terms on a two-year contract worth $4.5 million ($2.25 annual average value) on Wednesday morning which allows the Blues to retain the veteran defenseman after acquiring him late last season from the Buffalo Sabres.

The 32-year-old Leopold, who posted two assists in 15 regular season games as well as six playoff games with the Blues last season, was acquired on March 31 for a pair of 2013 draft picks.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jordan Leopold agreed to a two-year contract worth $4,5 million to remain
with the Blues and pass on becoming an unrestricted free agent.
"He was here for a short period of time and I thought certainly his experience was something that was beneficial to our team," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said of Leopold. "I thought he and (Kevin) Shattenkirk found a comfort level with each other.

"I think now with (Jay) Bouwmeester, Leopold, (Barret) Jackman on that left side and our right side is, I think, our strength. I think that gives us maybe one of the strongest defenses in the league with both experience and youth. It's something that's a good fit for us."

The 6-foot-1, 206-pound Leopold is a 10-year NHL veteran that includes stints with the Blues, Calgary, Colorado, Florida, Pittsburgh and Buffalo. Leopold has 204 points (65 goals, 139 assists) in 625 regular season games as well as 16 assists in 65 postseason games.

"He has that personality that I'm starting to understand as I meet him," Armstrong said of Leopold, who will take a reduction in salary from $3 million a year ago. "He's just an easy guy to talk to, easy guy to be around. He's very good on the bench. (Assistant coach) Brad Shaw told me that he's an excellent communicator on the bench. He knows right from wrong. He knows what it's going to take for us to get to the next level. Those are things when I look at this group moving forward, having him here for the next couple of years just solidifies that group."

Leopold's signing definitely leaves a cloud over the future of defenseman Kris Russell in a Blues uniform. Russell, a restricted free agent, was placed on waivers Tuesday but went unclaimed and the Blues retain his rights.

Russell was part of eight players that were given qualifying offers on Tuesday and he could accept the Blues' qualifying offer of $1.3 million on a one-year deal or exercise his arbitration rights.

"Right now, we're talking to Kris," Armstrong said. "We talked earlier about seeing if we could come up with a compromise to keep him here right when the season ended. We just couldn't agree on the compensation. That took me to a different area with Jordan.

"Kris is here. We sent him a qualifying offer. Worst case scenario or best case scenario -- however you want to look at it -- we'll come to training camp with eight defensemen. Kris has shown the versatility to play left wing also. Right now, if I have Kris on the left side as a forward, we have 13 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies and (it's) a pretty strong group. If there's an ability to find Kris a spot where he can flourish in his career, we'll certainly work with him to do that."

Armstrong also addressed and confirmed the Blues' interest in center Vincent Lecavalier, who on Tuesday chose to sign with the Philadelphia Flyers. Lecavalier, 33, will get a reported five-year, $22.5 million deal with the Flyers.

The Blues' contingency, which included Armstrong, coach Ken Hitchcock, Al MacInnis and two of Lecavalier's former teammates in Tampa Bay (Rob Dimaio, the Blues' director of pro scouting and Tim Taylor, the Blues' director of player development) made their pitch to Lecavalier and his representation, led by agent Kent Hughes, on Saturday.

"Myself, Al MacInnis, Ken Hitchcock and two of Vinny's former teammates Rob Dimaio and Tim Taylor from our staff met with Vinny and his agent at the Mariott Marquis of New York City on Saturday," Armstrong said. "We probably spent the better part of an hour with him describing our team, Ken described the structure of our play, Al was very strong and passionate about the city of St. Louis. One of the great things about having Al on our staff is he's a little bit like Vinny in the sense he was playing his career in one area and he got moved. And as Al said 20 years later, 'I'm still here.' He was able to explain about the great fans of St. Louis but also the city and a great place to raise a family.

"I thought we hit all the things that were important that Vinny wanted to hear," Armstrong said. "I actually talked to Vinny two days ago and he thought our presentation was (one) of the tops of the people that made them as far as informative. He didn't have any questions after that. His agent echoed that, too. We're disappointed that we didn't get the player but very appreciative of the work that went into it by the rest of our staff and the opportunity to meet with Vinny. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. He was a player, he's a big centerman that I thought would fit into our group at no cost. He ended up choosing the Philadelphia Flyers, but at the end of the day, I'm glad we went through the process."

Lecavalier, who has 1,083 games played over a 14-year career that includes 383 goals and 874 points, drew interest from a dozen or so teams after the Lightning used a compliance buyout on the seven years and $45 million remaining on his original 11-year, $85-million contract.

"Our sale to Vinny was if you're a center iceman and you know that you have Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk and Bouwmeetser at that time, you're going to get the puck on your stick, you're going to get it in flight and you're going to get in a position to make a play," Armstrong said. "... I think the strength of our team on the right side, you're going to either play with either (Chris) Stewart, (T.J.) Oshie or (Vladimir) Tarasenko and the left side you're going to play with (Alex) Steen, (David) Perron and (Jaden) Schwartz. We don't have to say to a player, 'You're going to come in here and play with this guy.' That's where Al was outstanding with Vinny. He said, 'We brought Wayne Gretzky into the St. Louis Blues, the greatest passer to ever play with Brett Hull, the greatest scorer to ever play and they didn't find that chemistry.'"

Armstrong was asked if he expected to have deals in place with Stewart and Pietrangelo by Friday. He said, "No."

Both players will then become restricted free agents, but the Blues' GM said he expects to have deals in place for both at some point and that not having them now will not affect what they do Friday.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Kris Russell (4) cleared waivers Wednesday and will
become a restricted free agent on Friday.
"I don't think it has a great affect now," Armstrong said. "We've got some other guys signed now. We have a number in place for both of those guys. Stewy, we have an arbitration number. ... There's enough contracts out there for Petro that I know the high and the low end of that. We're comfortable we're going to get these guys in the range that we have budgeted ... whether it's now, September, October, November, I don't know that answer. But I'm comfortable that we'll get them in the areas that we believe are fair."

Also, with the NHL Draft gone now and nothing on the burner, a goalie was not traded away, which means to expect Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott and Jake Allen all to be a part of training camp come September.

"I would say now that all indications are that Jaro, Brian and Jake will be the three guys in camp," Armstrong said. "... When the season ended and the emotions subside and I talked to Ken about this more than anything, we keep coming back to a year ago, we won the Jennings (Trophy), where would we be if we didn't have one of the three guys last year? If there's something as a way to improve our team, you always look at doing that, but it's a strength again for me after a time of reflection."

Halak is coming off a pair of groin injuries as well as a heated argument with Hitchcock during the Blues' first-round playoff loss to the Los Angeles Kings over playing time.


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