Saturday, September 28, 2013

Blues would bring Whitney back under right circumstances

No room for veteran d-man, let go from professional tryout; Cole earns
seventh spot, gaining trust from coaches, management; Porter on waivers
ST. LOUIS -- In a perfect world, the Blues would have kept Ryan Whitney for depth purposes and given them the option of going to eight NHL-ready defensemen.

But the Blues had to make a choice sooner or later, and on Friday, they chose to cut loose the veteran Whitney from his professional tryout.

Whitney, who did not register a point in three preseason games, was invited into Blues camp after getting no free agent offers during the summer after completing a six-year, $24-million contract originally signed with Anaheim. The Blues liked Whitney's ability from the left side and would have liked to add him to fortify the depth but chose to keep Ian Cole, a 2007 first round pick, as their seventh defenseman. Cole signed a two-year contract over the summer.

(Getty Images)
The Blues released Ryan Whitney on Friday from his
professional tryout and kept Ian Cole (pictured) as the
team's seventh defenseman.
"I thought 'Whits' had a good training camp," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said of Whitney, who played the last four seasons with Edmonton. "I thought Ian played really good in the last game, too (in Minnesota Wednesday). We had to get down to our group of seven and we decided we'll stick with Ian and that was really the competition.

"'Whit' came in here and did a really good job, but we're going to go with the seven guys that we have."

Whitney was not interested in a two-way deal, as he indicated early in camp. It was obviously an option on the table that the 30-year-old decided was not in his best interests.

If the Blues could have signed Whitney to a two-way contract, they could have sent him to the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves and not be in danger of going over the salary cap. But Armstrong said the decision whether to keep Whitney or not never was about money.

"It was never about dollars," Armstrong said. "We're only going to carry seven defensemen. There had to be a marketable difference. To me, I thought Ian came in, he saw the challenge there and I thought he competed at a high level and he made sure he kept that space and that job, which was what we wanted to see.

"I think when Ian plays the game, gets the puck, moves it quickly, supports the play with his feet, that's when he's at his best. I think we saw that in Minny the other night. I think right now where Ian is, he can watch (Barret) Jackman, he can watch (Roman) Polak and that simple, quick puck play is going to be his friend. He's got experience now and we're a team that is looking to have a good regular season. You want to have experience and now I look at our seven defensemen, I know they all have experience. They've all played different amounts in the league. When we need Ian to go in there, that's a coach's decision when he goes in, we're very comfortable."

Armstrong talked to Whitney after Friday's practice.

"We had a good chat today," Armstrong said. "That's always the hard part of the job and making hard decisions, but that's what we have to do. We just wanted to stay true to our word that he was going to come in here and get an opportunity. We think he was given that. he played with good players who played a number of games. I thought he handled himself very well and showed very well. He's certainly an NHL player. I said that to him and his agent. He's a good enough player to be in this league, no question. Just on our team, we went with the seven we had to go with."

Cole, 24, who has 67 games of NHL experience spanning three seasons, is glad to be sticking around but is not content.

"Obviously they wanted to check out 'Whit' and he's a great player, a top 4 d-man in Edmonton last year," Cole said. "I don't know what became of that, or what was offered or anything like that. I only know that for me personally, I love this team, I love the guys on this team, so I'm really quite thankful that I still have a spot on this team.

"I'm definitely not content being a seventh d-man, not content playing some of the games. It's not what I'm looking for. It's one of those things where you try to at least put that doubt in the coach's mind. Like, 'He really did have a good camp and he can have an everyday role ... he showed an improved focus, improved attention to detail through the entirety of the games and all the practices.' I'm just trying to make as good of an impression as possible and be able to show that I can play every game, every night in a top-six role. That's what the goal is. The goal is not to be out of the lineup for two-and-a-half months like I was at the end of last year."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock echoed Armstrong's comments regarding the seven the Blues have but would love to have Whitney back if possible.

"The seven guys we have here, they're good players and continuity's going to be important," Hitchcock said. "We looked more in sync with the rotations we played (Friday). But 'Whit' was a good player for us. His best game was his game in Minnesota. ... If things don't work out (with another NHL team), I think we're all hopeful that he comes back to the organization and gives us more depth. I just don't think you can have enough defensemen. I think if you're looking at your team, you've got to play nine guys. We've got to find another two to play, so if he's a part of the organization, that would be nice if he can't get work. But we're happy with our seven. Cole has improved to where there's a lot of trust to where he can play pretty much high-teens minutes, which is a good sign. So we're comfortable with our seven right now."

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Ryan Whitney came to the Blues on a professional tryout
but was released by the team Friday.

The Blues will move look to some inexperienced players should anyone need to be called up from the Wolves in case of any injuries here.

"You have (Taylor) Chorney that's played games, (Jani) Hakanpaa's played in the men's league (in Finland) before and (Joel) Edmundson ... we're not deep as maybe some teams may be through eight or 10 and 11," Armstrong said, "but we're a lot deeper one through seven."
The Blues also placed fourth-line winger/center Chris Porter on waivers, reducing their roster down the NHL maximum of 23 players.
Teams have 24 hours to claim the 29-year-old Porter, who signed a two-year, $1.35 million contract last spring that's a one-way deal.
The roster deadline is set for Monday, which now makes the Blues compliant.
It's believed that the Blues, who needed to make a roster move after they signed veteram Brenden Morrow Monday, were deciding between Porter and perhaps Adam Cracknell, but by placing Porter on waivers, it removed a glutton of left wingers the team currently has with Morrow's addition as well as give teams something more to think about if Porter is claimed.
If Porter gets claimed, teams would be responsible for the entire length of Porter's contract, whereas Cracknell is on a one-way deal as well but for only one year and $600,000, which is more affordable and more likely to get picked up.
Porter was originally drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the ninth round of the 2003 NHL Draft but was signed by the Blues as a free agent in 2007. He has 10 goals and 24 points in 127 career NHL games spanning four seasons.


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