Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What you see is what you get

Blues' current roster likely set heading into September training camp

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Now that there have been changes, some new players coming, some players leaving, the Blues appear to be set when it comes to their 2013-14 roster.

Of course there's still the matter of signing restricted free agents Alex Pietrangelo, Chris Stewart, Jake Allen and newly acquired Magnus Paajarvi, but with the additions of Derek Roy, Maxim Lapierre and Keith Aucoin via free agency and Paajarvi via trade that sent David Perron to Edmonton, the Blues appear deeper by position and poised to take the necessary steps up the Stanley Cup ladder.

(Getty Images)
The acquisition of Derek Roy (pictured) was the Blues' biggest thus far this
off-season. Roy adds depth at center for St. Louis heading into 2013-14.
The Blues are losing some grit, experience and veteran leadership with the retirements of Andy McDonald and Scott Nichol as well as the departure of Jamie Langenbrunner (unrestricted free agent) along with the trade of durable defenseman Kris Russell to Calgary, and general manager Doug Armstrong knows there will be a different feel when camp opens in September.

"I think we're different obviously," Armstrong said. "We've added a centerman in Derek Roy. Obviously he's going to give us some play-making ability, maybe something we didn't have last year. The other player, Lapierre, gives us a little bit of grit .. replaces Scotty Nichol. He's a lot like Scotty Nichol, just about five inches taller and about 40 pounds heavier.

"I think we're different, but the core group is back and ultimately the core group is going to dictate how far we go."

That core group includes Pietrangelo and Stewart, who will most likely be resigned at some point, David Backes, Alex Steen, T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, Kevin Shattenkirk, Jay Bouwmeester, Barret Jackman and Roman Polak.

The Blues might look different on paper but won't look too different on the ice aside from converting more of their chances at the opposition's goal, which was a detriment in their early playoff series loss to Los Angeles.

"I think ultimately, we'll play the same style, but hopefully we'll convert on some of our chances," Armstrong said. "I know (coach) Ken (Hitchcock) and his staff have worked since the end of the season to tweak our offense to generate more goals. I think a lot of it is going to do with Bouwmeester and (Jordan) Leopold being here for a full training camp and a full year.

"Our game is going to be predicated on transition and getting the puck in the middle of the ice and up the ice. We need to try and score a little bit off the rush this year than off the cycle and I think that is something Ken and the players will work on in training camp."

The trade that sent Perron to Edmonton caught some by surprise but others not so much. With the signing of Roy (one year at $4 million) pushed the Blues closer to the salary cap number of $64.3 million and still work to do in order to sign those key RFA's. Perron was viewed as a salary dump and in some sense it was, but the Blues did get a player back in Paajarvi that was the 10th pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, is only 22 years old and has plenty of upside with his size (6-foot-3, 208 pounds) and speed.

So unless there's some other unexpected deal Armstrong has up his sleeve, the group that's current is the one expected to be on the ice when camp opens in mid-September.

"We're very comfortable with the group that we have right now," Armstrong said. "We do have two key pieces that we do have to get signed and it's going to take the majority of the gray matter from this day moving forward to get Alex and Chris Stewart signed. When we do that, we'll have a clear understanding of how much money we have spent. We're excited this year with the salary cap coming down and our internal payroll going up. We're going to be competitive with all of the NHL as far as payroll. That equal footing is important and we have to make hay when the sun is shining."

Stewart's arbitration hearing was announced today by the NHLPA to be on July 22, but much like the case with Oshie last summer, Stewart could get the multi-year extension he;s seeking before his case goes to an arbitrator on Monday. But as of Tuesday, both Stewart and Pietrangelo remain unsigned. Pietrangelo does not have arbitration rights and received a qualifying offer from the club.

"I wouldn't characterize it one way or the other," Armstrong said of the negotiations. "I find that these deals, they happen very quickly. You seem like you're not close and all of the sudden, you hang up and you're calling each other saying, 'We're glad you're back.' It could happen today, it could happen in September, I'm not really sure when. I'm very comfortable getting both of those guys in here at the right time."

There's also the glutton in goal the Blues have to deal with, as both Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott will play out the final years of their respective contracts. Throw Allen into the fold and it's another case of three's a crowd.

Rumors circulated that Halak was on the block but nothing has materialized and the Blues' netminder has spent his summer in St. Louis working fiercely after an injury-plagued season that saw Halak suffer through a pair of groin injuries. And while it's not common to go to camp with three NHL-ready goalies expected to be on the opening day roster, Armstrong doesn't feel compelled to deal away any of his goalies before camp opens.

"No I don't," Armstrong said. "Jake came up and played very well for us last year, but he still has some growth he can do. I don't think playing in the American Hockey League would stunt his development. Jaro and Brian Elliott won the Jennings (Trophy) two short years ago. Last year was an interesting season in the sense of how quickly we started up and neither guy had played. If we go into the season with these three goalies, that's our depth."

(Getty Images)
The Blues acquired Magnus Paajarvi (91) from Edmonton that sent David
Perron to Alberta. Paajarvi adds size and speed at wing for St. Louis.
The Blues were picked by many to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final this year but failed to live up to expectations following their ouster by the Kings in the first round. They will be a darling pick in the West again this season and are eager to utilize their depth to carry them to a successful regular season and a deep playoff run.

"We don't have that elite, talented player but I would say around the league, probably only eight or nine teams have that player," Armstrong said. "Usually you have to pick first overall. You get a (Steven) Stamkos, you get a (Sidney) Crosby, you get an (Alex) Ovechkin, you get a (Patrick) Kane, but those players are hard to find. When I look at the depth of our roster, the 14 players that we have signed or own the rights to up front, seven defensemen and the three goalies, I find it hard to believe there are many teams deeper than us. But we have to put that on the ice and we have to come up on the top end of that.

"One of the things I'm holding my hat on right now is that Vegas, they're not usually stupid, and they have us either picked third or fourth likeliest favorites to win the Cup. We're doing something right here."

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