Monday, September 9, 2013

Bouwmeester focused on hockey

After signing off-season extension,
defenseman eager to help elevate Blues' stock on ice

By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- As Jay Bouwmeester sat at his stall following an informal skate last week at the Blues' practice facility, normally his defensive partner would be there next to him.

But not only was the space empty, it was occupied by another player for the time being. However, not is all lost, and not only does Bouwmeester expect to see a lot of Alex Pietrangelo next to him at the Ice Zone, he expects to see him relatively soon.

Bouwmeester's partner would be Pietrangelo, but with Pietrangelo -- a restricted free agent -- without a contract as the opening of training camp is a couple days away, Bouwmeester is faced with the prospect of beginning his first full season with the Blues without his running mate.

(Getty Images)
The Blues have defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (pictured) locked up for
six years after the blueliner agreed to a five-year extension last month.
But the 29-year-old Bouwmeester, who settled his immediate and long-term future when he signed a five-year, $27-million extension last month, believes it's only a temporary stumbling block as far as his partner's status is concerned.

The two of them spend a couple days together recently at Canada's Olympic Orientation Cap, and Bouwmeester got the sense Pietrangelo was eager to rejoin his teammates in St. Louis.

"I saw him at that camp. We were rooming together, actually," Bouwmeester said of Pietrangelo. "We're already ahead of the game, but that (contract) stuff, it happens. Everyone wants him back and he'll be back. It's just a matter of time."

In the meantime, the Edmonton native Bouwmeester, who still has one year remaining on a contract he signed in 2009 on top of the extension, comes to camp with a clear head. It's one in which he doesn't have to think about off-the-ice stuff, such as contract issues and where he may have to move his young family of a wife and daughter again after spending the last four years in Calgary before being traded to St. Louis.

He can now call St. Louis his home, at least his winter home.

"There's really none of that going on in the back of your mind ... I don't think that would have really bothered me anyways," said Bouwmeester, who had a goal and seven points in 14 regular season games with the Blues last season and averaged 24 minutes, 38 seconds of ice time on the season. "But now you can kind of make it home, you know there's not that question of what would happen at the end of the year and that sort of thing.

"Definitely for me and my family, it's probably all off-ice stuff. It makes it a lot easier trying to get settled. It's just one less thing to worry about."

Blues president of hockey operations/general manager Doug Armstrong was happy to get Bouwmeester into the fold long-term after trading away two prospects (defenseman Mark Cundari and goalie Reto Berra) and this past summer's No. 1 pick to acquire the smooth, puck-moving defenseman. Add in the fact that Armstrong doesn't like to negotiate extensions during the season, this one worked out well for both sides.

"When we traded for 'Bouw,' we knew the player we were getting," Armstrong said. "When he got here, we were comfortable with what we were getting. Now we're comfortable in the player we know we're getting for the next six years."

Bouwmeester, the third pick of the 2002 NHL Draft by the Florida Panthers, will be the highest-paid Blues defenseman on payroll (depending on what Pietrangelo signs for). And getting traded to St. Louis late last season, Bouwmeester feels like he already has a leg up on his first training camp in St. Louis and is eager to get the season rolling.

"Last year, you get traded and you jump right into it, you're just playing games and all of the sudden, you're part of the team," Bouwmeester said. "That's part of the transition. You have that out of the way. It's not like you're just a fresh face coming in here not knowing anybody and that sort of thing. As far as that goes, it just seems like you're going back to your team. A couple off-ice things you have to sort out and then you're on your way. It's definitely a comfort level there."

Bouwmeester, who has 72 goals and 307 points in 764 career games that includes the league's top ironman streak of 635 consecutive games played, likens the Blues' defensive unit more so than any one he's played with in the past. With Kevin Shattenkirk, Barret Jackman, Roman Polak and Jordan Leopold rounding out the top six, and Ian Cole as the No. 7, Bouwmeester feels like it's a unit that's capable of great things.

"We have a lot of guys that can do a lot of things, guys that can play in different situations and can spread those minutes around," Bouwmeester said. "It's a long year with this year being 82 games and with the Olympics, some of those days are also going to be compressed. The more depth you have, it only helps. That's the big thing. We have a lot of really good players and that's always good."

(Getty Images)
The Blues are put their stock and faith in Jay Bouwmeester (left) by
signing the defenseman to an extension that will keep him in St. Louis
for the next six years.
Bouwmeester has been a part of teams expected to win. It had never happened for him before coming to the Blues. He got his first taste of playoff hockey after 700-plus regular season games in the league last spring. Now, the motivation is there to improve and it's an exciting feeling for Bouwmeester and his teammates, and the expectations are running high, which means added pressure.

He and Pietrangelo will be the team's top defensive unit and minutes eaters, and Bouwmeester is looking forward to the challenges that are ahead.

"As far as the outside hype and that sort of thing, you try and keep yourself away from that," Bouwmeester said. "I know personally and from a team standpoint, it is exciting because we know how it ended last year. We really have pretty much the same group, you add a few guys. There are high expectations, but that's a good situation to be in because that's the business we're in.

"We want to win. I think we've got a group here that's got as good a chance as anybody."


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