Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cracknell grateful, relieved to make Blues' squad out of camp

Forward does so at expense of teammate,
friend; Porter clears waivers, sent to AHL Chicago

ST. LOUIS -- As Adam Cracknell sat at his locker after Sunday's practice, the Blues' forward could crack a few mild smiles.

Mild is all Cracknell could muster up after some tense days and hours leading up to the Blues' decision of who would be the odd-man out of a cluttered mix of forwards.

The Blues had to make a decision by today to get down and be compliant with the 23-man NHL roster limit, and when they placed fellow fourth-liner and 'CPR Line' member Chris Porter on waivers Saturday, it spelled Cracknell was safe -- for now.

(Getty Images)
The 'CPR Line' consisting of Chris Porter (32), Adam Cracknell (79) and
Ryan Reaves (right) will be minus Porter at the start of this season.
But it comes at the expense of a good teammate and friend as Cracknell and Porter were the two candidates the Blues were deciding to expose on waivers.

"Me and Chris, we've played together going on our fifth year now," Cracknell said. "We know what kind of hard work we've put in to get here.

"You never know what their decision was, maybe it was a different plan than they thought. … That's what makes this team so good, tough to make. In the summer you didn't see this happening, but it gets closer to camp, and still out there in free agency, it works like that. That's part of the game and unfortunately, some guys, that happens. Thankfully (I'm) still here, but at the same time, I've got to prove that they made the right decision. It's just going to be a day by day process and keep working hard."

And when the Blues open the regular season Thursday when they host the Nashville Predators, the 28-year-old Cracknell will be on an opening night roster for the first time in his career.

And even though Cracknell has 46 games of NHL experience, it marks the first time in what will be his fourth season in the NHL that the Prince Albert, Saskatchewan native won't have to fight his way onto a roster.

"I'll tell you when I get there. It's huge," Cracknell said. "Eight years and kind of an up and down last few years. Very exciting, being part of the playoffs last year gave me a lot of drive to come back here this year. Very exciting but at the same time we know that expectations are high and everyone is going to compete. We are all friends in here, but at the same time we're all trying to make a career for ourselves. The more we push each other, the better we're going to be as a team."

Cracknell, who said he found out what the team's plans were on Twitter Saturday while at the Cardinals-Cubs game at Busch Stadium, has been through it all. From the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League to the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights of the American Hockey League to the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL to to the Quad City Flames (AHL), back to the Wranglers, back to the Flames, then signed as a free agent with the Blues and shuttling back and forth between St. Louis and Peoria which earned Cracknell five two-way contracts, the 2004 ninth round pick of the Calgary Flames has seen everything from bus rides to planes, trains and automobiles.

"The road here keeps me pretty humble," Cracknell said. "You never forget where you came from.

"To be in the minors, the East Coast, missed pretty much a full year my first year pro (season) with a broken ankle, so that was pretty discouraging. Playing in the East Coast, it is a grind, the bus rides and then the American League … being a free agent and then St. Louis gave me a chance … five one-year deals. Very happy where I came from, but I'll never forget where I came from as well. I think that's why guys like me, Reaver (Ryan Reaves) and Ports, we've all done it together and I think that's what makes us hard workers and at the same time appreciate what it took to get here."

Porter, who cleared waivers Sunday and was assigned to the Blues' AHL team in Chicago, signed a two-year, one-way contract last spring and seemingly earned a permanent spot on the Blues through hard work and relentless determination. But he got caught up in a numbers game on left wing with the trade for Magnus Paajarvi and most recently, the addition of Brenden Morrow as a free agent. Add in Alexander Steen, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Sobotka, it became a crowded cabin. Also, the Blues likely had a better chance of passing Porter through waivers without a team taking on a two-year contract as opposed to Cracknell's one-year deal and only $600,000.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who multiple times raved about Porter's play last season, said it's just the way these things work out sometimes.

"I saw 10 teams let go of NHL players (Sunday)," Hitchcock said. "It's just the depth of the league. This whole thing is what happens when younger players are ahead of the curve. Every team's got five, six, seven younger guys under 25 who are good players who eat up minutes. So it exposes that 26- to 32-year-old group.

"I'm looking at 10 names that I like as players who are on waivers. That's just the way the business is right now when you get so many good young players who are ready to play at an early age. Before, you didn't even look at a guy until he was 23. Now this guy is three years in the league at 23."

It just proves the depth for the Blues up front is loaded with middle-of-the-pack players that they can bring up at any time in case of injury and exposes someone with NHL experience.

"You look at who was on the roster yesterday going there's 24 great hockey players, great people that we'd love to have in this room, but unfortunately there's only 23 spots on a roster, so there was going to be one guy that wasn't going to be very happy about a change and 23 other guys who are going to help us moving forward," said captain David Backes. "That being said, Ports is a guy … I think he'll still be a valuable part to this team this season. It's just right now, it’s a packed house. Yeah it says a lot, but we only get to dress 20 and those guys have to make due and put the work in on the ice and we've got a great group of guys in here committed to do that."

Right wing T.J. Oshie, a close friend of Porter's and teammate when the two were at the University of North Dakota, spoke to Porter.

"He's doing OK, as good as somebody can be doing after that situation," Oshie said. "It's hard for him. He had plans here, a place here and wife is on her way here. It's just tough losing him. To work so hard so long to get a one-way and go back down … but he's a team guy in the end and right now he's probably pretty frustrated. But he's going to be up here, he's going to be up somewhere, he's going to keep working until he is."

(Getty Images)
Adam Cracknell (left) will be on an NHL opening day roster for the first
time in his career for the Blues Thursday.
"Ports is a guy that's one of the best guys in this locker room." Reaves said. "He deserves to be here just as much as anybody else, but that's the nature of the beast. It's tough to see a guy like that leave, but we've got a lot of good players here fighting for spots.

"It's fun when you have that competition fighting for spots. I think it motivates you more. When you're in a position of a fourth line, you're always wondering if your spot's safe. It just pushes you harder. Ports will go down there, be the top scorer on that team, he'll be the hardest worker there. Coaches and management will notice that here ... he'll be back up."

So for now, a line that captivated a fan base late last season and into the playoffs, the 'CPR Line' is currently on hold, not dead.

"Without those guys, I was nothing," Cracknell said fellow linemates Porter and Reaves. "They helped me get a deal here. We made each other successful. I know Chris, down in Chicago, he'll do well and he'll be back here in no time.

"... You do feel bad for Chris. He signed a two-year deal and unfortunately that's how it happened. But he's a guy that's never going to quit, never will and never has. You expect him to be back here soon. He's a guy that can stick around and play in this league. Unfortunately it was a numbers game."

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