Thursday, August 29, 2013

Blues ready to unleash Lapierre's "reckless" style

Center fortifies team's depth down the middle,
eager to play whatever role team expects

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Known for his menacing style of play on the ice, it would be natural if the curious mind wondered if Maxim Lapierre has some sort of wild side off the ice.


"Most people expect me to be the same type of guy off the ice," said Lapierre, who signed a two-year, $2.2-million contract with the Blues after spending the last two-plus seasons with Vancouver. "I'm the total opposite. I'm pretty quiet. I consider myself a really respectful person. I'm not that chirping, (bleep) disturber guy off the ice. I'm a family guy, got a wife, a pregnant woman and we're just a quiet couple. I'm definitely not the guy I am on the ice off the ice.

(Getty Images)
Maxim Lapierre (40), shown here playing for Vancouver
against Minnesota, signed with the Blues over the summer.
"I'm just the quiet guy that plays scrabble with his wife or I spend a lot of time with my parents and sister. I'm really, really quiet so sometimes people think the guy that's a (bleep) disturber on the ice, he must be a party guy or something like that. Not at all. I'm just really quiet and enjoy life."

The Blues can appreciate that the 28-year-old Saint-Leonard, Quebec native is a model citizen with strong values off the ice, but when they had designs of signing the center iceman to a contract when the free agency period opened July 5, a player with a calm, cool demeanor wasn't what they had in mind.

Lapierre, a 2003 second-round draft choice of the Montreal Canadiens, has been a third- and fourth-line center for the Canucks since his acquisition in 2011. He plays with fire and energy, delivers hits on a consistent basis, gets under opposing players' skin and plays a defensive checking role with a knack for delivering a timely goal here and there. Oh, and there's the important faceoff his former employers trusted him to win as well late in games with the outcome on the line.

Lapierre's career numbers (54 goals and 113 points in 459 career games) might not indicate as much, but the Blues will have a key role for him. And it's one coach Ken Hitchcock said he is he's best suited for after recently watching a number of games involving Lapierre.

The headline might read something like: "Unleash the Lapierre," which is what the Blues intend on doing.

"He was a guy you circled and just said he's a reckless player," Hitchcock said. "... He played a very smart, positionally sound game but conservative. He looked like he was going to get caught with something. He looked like a guy that was one step away from getting suspended, if you know what I mean. He played conservative ... he played cautious, cautious positional hockey because (Vancouver) had him playing with a lot of new players, players that hadn't been there before. He played with (Steve) Pinizzotto, he played with a number of different players. But (former Canucks coach) Alain (Vigneault) really trusted him because he played him late in games, even in the playoffs when the games were tied."

Added Lapierre, who's listed as 6-foot-2, 207 pounds: "I think last year I was second in the league for faceoffs in my zone. It's a role you like. Some guys are happy to come to the rink and score some goals, I'm happy to take a big faceoff and block a shot. Every guy here is really reliable. Guys work hard. They do the little details. It doesn't matter. As long as we win, that's why I'm here."

If Hitchcock and the Blues want him to play "reckless," it's a role Lapierre will embrace. In fact, he'll embrace any role given.

"It's pretty simple in that case. I think my button is what the coach tells me to do," said Lapierre, who also mentioned players have to be aware of suspensions these days. "I've played on some teams and obviously, the coach wanted me to be reckless, and I've played on some teams and they wanted me quiet and a little less physical. I'm sure I'm going to have a chance to talk to Hitch and he's going to (tell) me what he wants from me and I'll answer the bell.

"... I've been around a long time now. If they want me to be a quiet, defensive guy, I'll be that guy. If they want me to be a (bleep) disturber, I'll be the (best bleep) disturber I can be. I can't wait to talk to the coaching staff and see what they expect from me."

There was talk that when Lapierre hit the free agent market, his first option was to return to the Canadiens again and his hometown roots. But Montreal never showed a real interest in bringing the player back they drafted with the 61st pick. The Blues presented a viable option, a team that suits Lapierre's style of play.

"It reminds me a little bit when I was playing in the East against the (Boston) Bruins," Lapierre said of the Blues. "They're a team that's really tough to play against. Every time last year when we came to St. Louis, we were like, 'It's going to be a long night.' We know they hit hard, they work hard, they block shots, they do every little detail that makes a game look longer than it is anyway. I think it fits well for me. I'm a guy that likes to work and be physical."

Not only does Hitchcock want Lapierre to play with reckless abandon, he wants his newly acquired center to be the one that backs up that style of play from all members that could be part of the fourth line, including the "CPR" trio of Adam Cracknell, Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves.

"The way we are with the forwards that he's going to play with, it's a good fit because somebody's going to have to back up the reckless play that's going to be there because that line plays its best when it's reckless and somebody's going to have to be able to back up that reckless play," Hitchcock said. "I think he's going to be a good fit for us, whether it's a Porter or it's a Cracknell or with Revo or whatever, you're going to have a hard-charging line there and somebody's going to have to back that up.
(Getty Images)
Maxim Lapierre (right), scores a goal against Anaheim last
season. The center iceman adds grit and toughness to a deep
Blues lineup.

"I think he's a good fit for us, but we're going to turn him loose to where he was two years ago (130 penalty minutes in 82 games) a little bit more. So he's going to be able to play with a more physical edge just based on personnel. Who he played with in Vancouver, it's a different fit with us. It's going to be a different fit because the times he did play reckless was when he played with (Dale) Weise and (Christopher) Higgins. That's the type of line that we're going to end up having to play with here."

Lapierre is aware that he was a villain here the last couple seasons playing for the Canucks but is anxious to win over Blues fans, especially with the hype the franchise is drawing up as a top contender to win it all.

If Lapierre can bring the style of play opposing teams have grown to despise, Blues fans will be happy with the results. Imagine a bigger version of Vladimir Sobotka. That's what the Blues hope they are getting.

"It takes time to have the fans on your side when you arrive on a new team, but I'm convinced I'm going to do everything I can to make sure they love me," Lapierre said.

"I'm really really happy to be a part of this group here. I think they're the team that's supposed to win in the next three years and I'm really proud to be a St. Louis Blue."

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Leopold never gave free agency a thought

Veteran defenseman, tired of uprooting family, hopes to
make St. Louis last stop after signing two-year contract

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- In what he hoped would be one final time unpacking and settling into a home he and his family could get comfortable with, Jordan Leopold was faced with the task of uprooting again.

That meant moving trucks, packing and unpacking, packing some more and unpacking again.

But then again, the 33-year-old has been down this road far too often.

After being dealt from Buffalo to the Blues late last season, the Golden Valley, Minn. native (just west of Minneapolis) understood the possibility existed again. With unrestricted free agency on the horizon, there was the chance Leopold would have to uproot a young family that includes four daughters and a wife again. Having UFA rights presented that possibility.

However, enough was enough.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Jordan Leopold (33), here against the Los Angeles Kings
during the postseason in the spring, hopes to settle in with the Blues after
signing a new two-year contract.
When Leopold first came to the Blues in late March, he wasn't committing to anything beyond the 2013 season. But in getting to know the roster, coaching staff and understanding what the Blues were all about, Leopold and his family were sold on St. Louis. On the eve of the free agency frenzy, Leopold signed a two-year, $4.5-million contract to remain with the Blues. And he has no regrets about not exploring other avenues.

"Whenever I got traded here and walking into the locker room, I didn't know too many guys," said Leopold, in St. Louis getting an early start on the ice before training camp opens with physicals on Sept. 11. "You get in here and try to learn what the atmosphere is like and try to blend in as quickly as you can. It's a good group of guys, a winning atmosphere, staff, everybody around it. It's a good organization. Number one, that's a nice thing to see. Number two, my family ... they visited and ended up staying at the end last year. They liked it. Moving's never easy for anybody as a family. It's tough on my kids, but at least it's a familiar place versus going someplace that's not too familiar. And on the other side, the organization wanted me back. In order to make that work, we figured out a deal that would make sense for us together and we ended up getting it done before free agency, which is good.

"I didn't really want to explore free agency. I wanted to come back here. It says a lot that Army (Blues general manager Doug Armstrong) and the rest of the coaching staff and even the locker room entertained the thought of bringing me back as well."

Playing in coach Ken Hitchcock's system and working with rising star Kevin Shattenkirk has made this the best case scenario for Leopold. He immediately was able to notice what the Blues players bring and the system implemented. And the thought of a winning environment always satisfies one's appetite.

"The forwards work their (tails) off," Leopold said. "That's number one. When I got here, the forwards are back-checking, the forwards are making the game easy for the d-men. Not to say we don't have a job to do. We do, but when you have a collective group of sticks out on the ice at a time, it makes your job that much easier. Everybody's a key part of that and a key piece to the puzzle. We have a good nucleus, a good group that can do great things going forward. It's a matter of timing and a matter of applying those skills at the right period of time."

And moving forward, Armstrong felt it was necessary to blend in another good veteran to not only be a steadying influence on and off the ice but to be a teacher of the game as well.

"(Associate coach) Brad Shaw told me that he's an excellent communicator on the bench," Armstrong said of Leopold. "He knows right from wrong. He knows what it's going to take for us to get to the next level. Those are things when I look at this group moving forward, having him here for the next couple of years just solidifies that group."

Bringing Leopold back made Kris Russell expendable. Along with Ian Cole back as the seventh defenseman, there was a glutton on the blue line. The Blues accommodated Russell with a trade to Calgary in the off-season. Russell was playing well at the time Leopold was brought in but was on the outside of the top six looking in after the team acquired Leopold.

"I think the signing of Leopold is a big signing for us," Hitchcock said. "... He's such a calming, steadying influence back there. He's a steady, kind of multi-dimensional defenseman.

"He's very good at transitioning the puck. He closes. He's got good mobility at closing defensively 5-on-5. ... He's got good transition speed, he's got good transition instincts. He sees the ice really well. He's a steady guy that's going to really help us."

Leopold, on his seventh stop during a 10-year career, thought he had settled in when he signed a three-year contract with the Sabres in 2010. He's never spent more than three years in one city.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jordan Leopold (33) looks to move the puck against the Calgary Flames
in a game last season.
But after moves to Calgary, then to Denver, back to Calgary, then off to Florida with the Panthers, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and now back to the Midwest in St. Louis, Leopold hopes this is his last stop. He and his family are tired of moving trucks, packing and unpacking boxes and changing zip codes.

"I can say that now being two weeks out of a move," said Leopold, who had two assists in 15 regular season games with the Blues last season. "We ended up selling a house in Buffalo, we ended up saying goodbye to a lot of people that we knew for three years and the school that my kids are very familiar with and comfortable at. To start over is not easy. I say it now, I'm not real excited about moving, but we're grounded now. We're here. It is what it is and we're going to make the best of it. It's going to be home for the next couple years, which is huge. Hopefully it ends up being more than two years, but you never know. I understand the game of hockey. I understand it's a business. I've played in many different places, scenarios, whatever it may be. I've had my fair share of travels because of it. It's all about the experience and we're going to enjoy it while we're doing it."

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Halak feeling at home in St. Louis

Slovakia native spent summer training, conditioning here in hopes
of ridding self of groin ailments after injury-filled 2012-13 season
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Since he arrived via trade in St. Louis in 2010, it's been a common theme for Jaroslav Halak to head overseas to his hometown when the Blues' season ended.

The Bratislava, Slovakia native would incorporate a workout regimen that would get Halak ready for the upcoming season before returning to St. Louis late in the summer.

But this summer, Halak made St. Louis his workout haven.
(Getty Images)
Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak in action last season.

Halak, coming off a pair of groin injuries that limited him to 16 games a season ago, could never quite get over the down time during the National Hockey League lockout that seemingly hampered some goaltenders and made a return to action tougher than usual.

After compiling a 6-5-1 record with a respectable 2.14 goals-against average and .899 save percentage, Halak could not get back to full form and saw frustration reach a peak following a heated argument with coach Ken Hitchcock during the first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings. Halak and the Blues ultimately decided it was time for a change of course.

It was time to put in a heavy workload with strength and conditioning coach Nelson Ayotte, and it was a decision Halak embraced with open arms.

"It hasn't been a tough decision," Halak said. "After the season I had being injured and not staying healthy, I decided to stay here and train with Nelson. We've been working hard getting back on track.

"Unfortunately, it's part of a lot of players' careers. You go through some adversity and it's only up to you how you deal with it. I know some guys who are not fortunate to come back from injury. Hopefully, I'll be fortunate and come back and stay healthy. I want to prove to myself and I want to prove to everybody that I can play."

He added: "I feel good. I've worked hard. We'll see how it goes. I've been skating on the ice for the past two weeks. My body felt good, didn't give me any signs of being tired or anything. It's been perfect and we'll see how it goes next week. I'm looking forward to training camp."

The program entails everything from Halak's lower-body to his upper-body and even involves a dietary program rich in protein and little to no carbohydrates. The current result has seen Halak drop 14 pounds (he's listed at 5-foot-10, 186-pounds) and he's lowered his body fat count down to 9.4 percent.

"No carbs at all this summer," Halak said with a smile. "Once in a while -- maybe once a week -- I can have ice cream. Usually no bread, no rice, no sushi even though I like sushi, I had to cut it. I've got three more weeks of dieting. I'm not saying I'm going to take off and start eating bad again, but obviously I'm going to enjoy sushi again. Steaks were my best friend in the summer. Steaks were really good.

"Last season was a strange season with the lockout. I gained some weight, some body fat and I needed to lose it. I did everything I had to do in the summer to lose what I had to lose and get back to normal."

Hitchcock, who said previously that the spat he had with Halak is nothing uncommon, especially for someone who wants to play. He's ran into his goaltender multiple times at the team's training facility at St. Louis Outlet Mall this summer. 

"He's excited, he's feeling healthy," Hitchcock said of Halak. "Part of it was conditioning, but another part was strengthening that area.

"He's a really young guy (28) and you don't want to have an injury-plagued career. So he wanted take the question marks out of it by having a really high fitness level. He's done a really good job of finding that fitness level."

The lockout really hurt some goalies but some were not affected at all. Halak was one who was not able to overcome the work stoppage. Without the benefit of a full training camp and without playing a regular schedule of preseason games or games in Europe like many other NHL goalies had the benefit of playing, Halak was up against it from the get-go. He wanted to play in Europe but for multiple reasons was not able to do so other than one game in Germany.

"If you look around the league, I'm not saying all goalies had a bad season, some of the top goalies had bad seasons or not the best," Halak said. "I think the big reason why it happened was the lockout. It was eight months. I'm sure goalies, they love to play in Europe, but the teams in Europe, they wanted to get players. It's easier to replace a (skater) than a goalie. If a goalie would play great for a European team and then walk out, the goalie has to go back to their NHL team and that (European) team would have to go back to the original goalie, who I'm sure wouldn't be happy about the fact that an NHL goalie played.

"I wanted to play somewhere. It's just even my insurance was a little bit higher and that was kind of a big reason why I didn't play anywhere."

Halak, who has a career mark of 115-72-22 with a 2.41 GAA and .917 save percentage, is 59-39-15 with a 2.23 GAA and .915 save percentage in his three seasons with the Blues. They're respectable numbers, but Halak feels there's higher ground for him here.

"I want to play my best. I want to play the game the way I'm capable of playing," Halak said. "I know I can play much better than what I did last year. But the big fact was that I was injured and I could not stay healthy. I would come back, get injured and there was always a setback. I needed to obviously work hard to get back, but you still had to wait for a chance to play.

"We'll see how this goes. We've still got three weeks before training camp. I'm taking this one day at a time. It's a long season. Anything could happen."

Anything can happen in training camp obviously, but Hitchcock has called Halak the team's starter and Brian Elliott the backup heading into this season. Jake Allen, who made his name a season ago and helped vault the Blues into the postseason, will likely play with the Chicago Wolves in the American Hockey League this season.
"Halak hasn't lost his starting job due to his play," Hitchcock said. "He lost his starting job due to injury, so there's a difference. If Brian comes in and takes the job, that's one thing. My feeling is training camp is for evaluation, but to me it's status quo as long as both guys are healthy."

That wouldn't be a bad thing, especially if the tandem can repeat the Jennings Trophy-winning numbers Halak and Elliott collectively put up in 2011-12. That would mean roughly 55 percent of the starts go to Halak and 45 percent to Elliott. But Halak isn't taking anything for granted.
(Getty Images)
Jaroslav Halak (right) makes a save in Dallas against the Stars' Michael
Ryder last season.

"It's always nice to hear it. At the same time, I still have to go out there, perform and do the job," Halak said. "Obviously if I don't do it, Ells or Jake will take the spot and I'll be gone. That's the bottom line. You still have to play and you still have to perform at the highest level."

Halak is in the final year of a four-year, $15-million contract he signed following the trade from Montreal. It's obviously a contract year but for him, it's Halak's chance to re-establish himself as one of the game's top netminders as well.

"I'm just focusing on one year -- not even one year -- one day at a time," Halak said. "That's my approach for this season. I'm not worried about what's going to happen for next year. I just have to enjoy what's ahead of us now.

"The summer has been great. ... I feel really good on the ice. I've worked hard. Nelson pushed me. Obviously, not all the exercises were easy. Obviously there were some challenges, but I was able to manage them and go through them and did everything he told me. That's why I was here. I was here to do what I was told to do and what I needed to do."

Friday, August 2, 2013

Blues ink another RFA to contract

Newly acquired Magnus Paajarvi gets two-year deal worth $2.4 million

ST. LOUIS -- When the Blues traded away David Perron for winger Magnus Paajarvi, the Swede was not only excited to be joining his new team but it was the 22-year-old's wish to get a contract extension as soon as possible.

The Blues obtained Paajarvi and a 2014 second-round pick from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Perron on July 10 and it was Paajarvi's wish to get a contract done as soon as possible.

(Getty Images)
Magnus Paajarvi (91), who signed a two-year deal Friday, was acquired
July 10 that sent David Perron to Edmonton.
It took nearly a month but the Blues have another restricted free agent under contract for two years after signing Paajarvi to a two-year contract worth $2.4 million, with an annual average value of $1.2 million.

Paajarvi, who had nine goals and 16 points for the Oilers in 46 games last season, was the 10th overall pick in the 2009 NHL Draft by the Oilers, where he scored 26 goals and had 58 points in 163 career games.

The 6-foot-3, 208-pound left wing is expected to compete with fellow Swede Patrik Berglund on the same line when camp opens in September. He becomes the sixth restricted free agent to sign a new contract and 11th free agent the Blues have added in a busy summer for general manager Doug Armstrong.

"We wanted to add a player that we think fits into our organization where we are today and where we are moving forward," Armstrong said after making the deal. "To get a young player that has obviously been highly thought of in his draft year and come over to North America, has done his apprenticeship in the American Hockey League and we think the future ... he's just starting to enter the real good part of his career at 22 and we have his rights now for the next four years, which is important for us. We just think he adds an element to our team that we don't have."

That element includes size and speed, which should benefit a player like Berglund, who had good chemistry playing alongside Paajarvi at the 2011 World Championships for Sweden.

"Him and Berglund had great chemistry together, two big guys that hung onto the puck," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock recently said about Paajarvi. "It's a month-long competition so how do you know? But all I know is the two guys held onto the puck. Nobody could get the puck away from them and they were hard guys to play against. You've got two 6-foot-4 guys out there grabbing the puck and hanging onto it. They're hard to play against.

"To me, Magnus is just starting to understand what it takes to play as a good player in the National Hockey League. I think he's just starting to become serious about his craft and that's a good thing for us."

When the trade was made, Paajarvi said regarding a new contract: "I want the deal to come as quickly as possible. I'm sure there are details that have to be worked out there as well, but it would be nice."

He also expressed his desire to play with his new team.

"I see what I feel when I play against them. They're a big, strong team," Paajarvi said of the Blues. "They go both ways really hard. They back-check hard and they go forward hard. They're a heavy team, good goaltending and obviously I know the Swedes there with Patrik Berglund and Alexander Steen. They're really really great guys on and off the ice. That's my first thoughts."

Hitchcock said he watched a lot of Edmonton's games involving Paajarvi, particularly those against the Blues, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings ... big, strong teams that play a heavy game. Hitchcock liked what he saw when Paajarvi played with the talented Sam Gagner on the Oilers' third line.

(Getty Images)
Magnus Paajarvi (91) was a restricted free agent but agreed to a two-year,
$2.4 million contract with the Blues Friday.
"He looks like a player that's just starting to take his career seriously," Hitchcock said. "He's getting back from relying on just on his athletic ability and now he's starting to play with an identity. For me, the last 20 games when he played with Gagner ... what he did was, he play with Gagner against top players, and then he played with Gagner killing penalties. So they found this third-line identity for that line, and then he really started to play. His scoring chances didn't diminish. His scoring chances increased because he was getting more odd-man rushes and he started to play with an edge. That's the area we want him to carry forward. The way he played in the last 20 games is what we're going to expect from him."

Along with Paajarvi, the other restricted free agents to sign include Chris Stewart, Kevin Shattenkirk, Berglund, Jake Allen and Ian Cole. Unrestricted free agents to sign on with the Blues include Derek Roy, Jordan Leopold, Maxim Lapierre, Adam Cracknell and Keith Aucoin. Throw in Jay Bouwmeester's extension (he had one year remaining on his contract) and that makes 12 players in total to sign.

The Blues' lone remaining free agent is defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who's restricted but a new deal doesn't appear on the horizon. However, Armstrong continues to insist that one will be forthcoming at some point.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Blues sign Bouwmeester to five-year extension

Defenseman has one year remaining on current deal,
will earn $27 million in next contract through 2018-19 season

ST. LOUIS -- Instead of allowing Jay Bouwmeester to play out the final year of his contract and risk losing him to free agency, the Blues locked one of their top defensemen beyond the 2013-14 season and will take the 10-year veteran well into his 30s.

The Blues extended Bouwmeester on Thursday, signing the Edmonton, Alberta native to a five-year, $27-million contract with an annual average value of $5.4 million that begins with the 2014-15 season.

Bouwmeester, who has one year remaining on his contract that will pay him $6.6 million from the original five-year, $33.4 million contract signed with the Calgary Flames in 2009, was acquired from the Flames April 1 for minor league defenseman Mark Cundari, the rights to goalie prospect Reto Berra and a 2013 first-round pick.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (right) signed an extension that will
take him through the 2018-19 season.
Electing not to play out the final year of his contract and head for perhaps a bigger payday, Bouwmeester felt comfortable from the moment he got to St. Louis and was anxious to work out an extension and not test the free agent market next summer.

"They mentioned something at the end of the year that at some point over the summer they'd be in touch, throw things around and see where everyone's at," Bouwmeester said. "When I got traded there, it was a situation that hopefully it would be beyond the remainder of the contract. When we started talking, it was good, it was exciting. When I got there, it seemed like a good fit, a good spot and it's somewhere that I think I want to be for a while.

"It helped that we got on a pretty good roll and won a bunch of games. That makes things more fun and easier for everyone. The fact that it's a real good young team, it seems like that they've got pretty much everyone signed now through at least the next couple of years. You've got that nucleus of guys that probably aren't going anywhere. I had a lot of fun being part of it."

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said all the credit for working an extension out goes to Bouwmeester and his camp.

"The credit on this deal goes to Jay Bouwmeester for stepping up and leaving the potential of free agency and not worrying about that," Armstrong said. "He's excited about our team, he's excited about where we're headed and he wants to be a part of it. You take the money and the years out of the conversation, here's a good player that wants to be a part of our team and that's exciting for me."

Bouwmeester, 29, was brought in to form a top defensive pairing with Alex Pietrangelo, who is a restricted free agent and has yet to be resigned. Bouwmeester fit in well with Pietrangelo, finishing with one goal and seven points in 14 regular season games. He had seven goals and 22 points in 47 games with the Blues and Flames last season.

"Getting to play with him, you never know unless you actually experience it," Bouwmeester said of Pietrangelo. "I thought we worked pretty well together. If we can help each other, that's always positive. Yeah, I hope everything works out (signing Pietrangelo, a restricted free agent) and I'm sure it will."
Bouwmeester has a consecutive-games played streak of 635, longest among active players, most for any defenseman, and fifth all-time.
"We certainly looked for a left-shot defenseman that could play a lot of minutes," Armstrong said. "We were looking for that for the better part of a year and we were able to bring Jay in.

"We paid a handsome price. We paid a first-round pick and two prospects. We felt it was worth that for this (past) year and next year. When we got here, it just became more obvious to us that players like that are very hard to obtain."

The Blues were hoping to get an extension done with Bouwmeester during the summer and were able to do so with both sides working collectively in doing so. It was an important factor because Armstrong said there would have been no talks during the upcoming season to avoid distractions.

"When we talked at the end of the season, we were going to try and talk over the summer to get an extension done, but if we didn't get it done over the summer, we weren't going to talk about it over the year," Armstrong said. "... I don't want any distractions during the year. You want to play for the year and now we can do that. Now we don't have to worry about what we're going to do at the trade deadline ... are you going to get value, and so forth. We know we have the player, we know he wants to be here. Selfishly, or conceitedly when I look at our defense, you have the rights to Alex Pietrangelo for at least four years, you have Kevin Shattenkirk and Jay Bouwmeester, it's hard for me to believe there are three better defensemen than those three."

Add into the mix veterans Barret Jackman, Jordan Leopold and Roman Polak along with Ian Cole, the Blues feel like they arguably have one of the best defensive units in all of the National Hockey League.

"I find it hard to believe there's a team in the NHL that wouldn't take our six for their six," Armstrong said. "I don't want to sound too self-centered. I like our defense, but the NHL is built on a good goalie, good defense and good center icemen. You would certainly have a good team. I think our goaltending depth is as good as anyone in the NHL. I think our defense is as good as anyone's in the NHL and with our center ice of (David) Backes, (Patrik) Berglund, (Derek) Roy and (Maxim Lapierre), I like being good where you're supposed to be good. I think we are good in those areas.

"... When we traded for (Bouwmeester), we knew the player we were getting. 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."

The contract could be the last big deal Bouwmeester gets. It will take him up to age 35 and unlike the contract he signed with the Flames, security was more of a factor than dollars.

"You're at a point in your career when you start thinking about some security," said Bouwmeester, the third overall pick of the Florida Panthers in 2002. "I've got a young family now so all that stuff comes into it. I think the first offer that was talked about was for that length. For them to show that interest and I guess have faith in me for that period of time, as a player, you view that as a real positive thing. That was never an issue. For them to realize that you're in the long-term plans, that's what every player wants to hear.

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Jay Bouwmeester's extension locks him into a Blues uniform for the next
six seasons. His five-year extension will pay him $27 million.
"It's always nice to get those things out of the way sooner rather than later and just move on."
Now all the Blues have to do is lock up Bouwmeester's partner. But Bouwmeester's signing and term has nothing to do with the Blues' ongoing negotiations with Pietrangelo, the fourth overall pick in 2008.

"Jay's contract is actually more expensive in the years that Alex is going to sign any year," Armstrong said. "It has no correlation."

Without Pietrangelo's contract and salary, the Blues will have $19.25 million tied in to their remaining six defensemen for the 2013-14 season. According to, the Blues are spending an average of $3.3 million per defenseman, which is fourth in the League.