Friday, July 5, 2013

Blues stay relatively quiet as free agency period opens

Team adds depth players, also signs Lapierre; Russell traded to Flames

ST. LOUIS -- Vincent Lecavalier, Stephen Weiss, Valtteri Filppula ... the names were linked to be fits with the Blues, who came into the July 5 free agent feeding frenzy searching for a playmaking center.

There were more names, but those were three the Blues coveted.

And all of them basically said thanks but no thanks.

Lecavalier chose Philadelphia Tuesday at five years, $22.5 million, Weiss went to Detroit on Friday with a five-year, $24.5 million and Filppula went to the Tampa Bay Lightning with a five-year, $25 million deal.

With $300 million-plus -- and counting -- being dolled out to National Hockey League free agents on the opening day of free agency, or in this case, Black Friday in July, the Blues were only left to deal with a couple minor transactions.

(Getty Images)
Maxim Lapierre (right) inks a two-year, $2.2 million contract with the Blues
on Friday. he spent the past two-plus seasons in Vancouver.
Late in the day Friday, they added a No. 3-type center when they signed Maxim Lapierre to a two-year, $2.2 million contract.

Lapierre, 28, is a 6-foot-2, 207-pound center that is coming off a 10-point season in 48 games with the Vancouver Canucks. An eight-year veteran with Montreal, Anaheim and the Canucks, Lapierre 54 goals and 113 points in 463 games.

But the two biggest fish the Blues were after, they could not latch them on with the hook.

"We had interest in those two players specifically," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said of Weiss and Filppula. "Those are two players we thought would fit into our team the way we are now and the way we are moving forward. We had good conversations with both players. I thought we put in a very good presentation. Our term and dollars were in the competitive range. Ultimately the players decided to go a different direction. This is the time of year you pinpoint the players that you're interested in and you go after them. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Today, the guys decided to go in different directions."

The Blues alleviated a glutton they had on defense with the trade of Kris Russell to Calgary for a 2014 fifth-round draft pick only days after Russell cleared waivers, and the Blues dipped their feet ever so slightly in the free agent waters. They did address the center position on the backend with the signing of Keith Aucoin, formerly of the New York Islanders, to a one-year contract worth a reported $625,000 and a one-year, two-way contract for former Phoenix Coyotes depth guy Alexandre Bolduc.

Russell became expendable when the Blues, who looked to re-up with the restricted free agent defenseman after the end of last season, chose to resign veteran Jordan Leopold to a two-year, $4.5 million contract.

Russell, 26, is from nearby Caroline, Alberta and makes his off-season home in Red Deer, Alberta and was a childhood fan of the Flames. He goes to Calgary with the opportunity to play after being cast as an extra defenseman by the Blues, who have Leopold, Jay Bouwmeester and Barret Jackman as their top three from the left-handed side.

Upon his trade to the Flames, Russell signed a one-year contract for a reported $1.5 million. He has 23 goals and 95 points in 364 career games with the Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets.

"I'm really appreciative of the opportunity the Flames have given me after trading for me," Russell told the Flames' website. "It's going to be special to put on that jersey.

"It means a lot more knowing that I'm not too far from home."

Once Leopold, who was brought in late last season, resigned with the Blues, and Ian Cole was resigned for two years, ice time would have been tough sledding for Russell in a Blues uniform moving forward.

"If we had been able to come up with an agreement prior to the last 10 days or so, he would have stayed here," Armstrong said of Russell. "He would have fit nicely into our group of six, but we weren't able to do that so we had to go look to a different player and that was Jordan. When we signed Jordan, I talked to Kris' agent (Allain Roy) and said for his career, the best thing for him is for us to find him a place where he can play a lot and have a good season heading into unrestricted free agency.

"It's difficult because I have the utmost respect for someone like Kris. He's earned every minute of ice that he gets. He's such a good competitor and I had a good chat with him today and I thanked him. The great thing about the NHL is you never say never. he's certainly a guy I would have no hesitation bringing him back in the future."

In Aucoin, 34, the Blues get a veteran center that ultimately replaces Scott Nichol, who recently retired to become the director of player development with the Nashville Predators.

Aucoin is an eight-year veteran, recently of the Islanders where he had a career-high six goals and 12 points in 41 games. Aucoin has 17 goals and 49 points in 143 games with Carolina, Washington and the Islanders.
(Getty Images)
Valtteri Filppula turned down the Blues and signed
a five-year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.


Bolduc, 28, has five years' experience and was added as depth to the American Hockey League affiliate in Chicago. He has five points in 62 career games with Vancouver and the Coyotes.

The Blues also signed 27-year-old forward Mark Mancari to a minor league contract. 

Both players will have the chance to compete for a roster spot in training camp.

Armstrong wouldn't say whether the Blues are done dealing or if they will go the trade route to make improvements, so stay tuned.

"I don't want to characterize what we're going to do," Armstrong said. "Today was the first day of free agency. There were a couple players that we had talked to. Now there may or may not be other guys. There may or may not be a trade that we'd consider. Those things are better left behind closed doors.

"I don't view it as a missed day. Today is a day for free agency, but teams aren't built on free agency. I view it as a day where like the trade deadline, it's a day everyone circles on the calendar and you either do things or you don't do things."

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