Monday, September 29, 2014

Schwartz: "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else"

Blues winger returns to practice after signing 
two-year contract; report: Blues to bring Gainey aboard

ST. LOUIS -- After signing a two-year, $4.7 million contract Saturday, Jaden Schwartz filled the last piece of the puzzle for a Blues team working towards the Oct. 9 season-opener against the New York Rangers.

But Schwartz, who will get $2 million this season and $2.7 million in 2015-16, would have been a big void to fill had the Blues moved forward without him in the lineup after breaking out with 25 goals and 56 points last season.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jaden Schwartz returned to the ice Monday for the first time since signing a
new two-year contract.

That is all a moot point now, and Schwartz, who missed 10 days of training camp, hopes to get caught up after his first practice on Monday.

"It was my first negotiation," Schwartz said. "My agent (Wade Arnott) does most of the work, but I'm involved a little bit. I learned a lot. I understand both sides have a job to do and both sides maybe have different views, but in the end, we came to an agreement and I'm really happy to be here and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

"I've been skating a lot. I got a power skating coach back home, Brent Bobyck's his name, so I've been working with him a lot in the mornings and working out and I kind of had the rest of the day, did a little bit of golfing, but I stayed in the loop with what was going on here."

The 22-year-old Schwartz, who completed the final year of his entry-level contract last season, never had any hard feelings during the negotiating process. Neither did the Blues. And as general manager Doug Armstrong put it, there was never a question of whether Schwartz would sign a contract. The question was when. 

"When you're projecting term on any player, it's easier to do when they have a longer resume," Armstrong said. "Jaden had a great year last year. I think if he's a three-time 25-goal scorer, he's going to be paid at a much different rate than we're paying him at now. But we just want to make sure when he gets there, we're ready to pay him that type of compensation. We just want to make sure that's the consistent player we're going to get moving forward. I think these bridge deals are only done to allow both sides to get comfortable where players fit into the league.

"In Jaden's case, it was never any question on the year he had last year. It was never any question on his character (or) on his professionalism. This was basically a contract that got done off the collective bargaining agreement, the way we viewed it and the way he viewed it and his representative. Neither side was wrong in their position, but we both had to take a little while to understand each position before we could get something done." 

Schwartz said the process of staying away was made easier by being able to lean on teammates who have been through similar situations, specifically close friend Alex Pietrangelo.

"He was a big part of it, but there were other guys too," Schwartz said. "I kept in touch with a lot of them. That helped out."

Pietrangelo, who went through a similar situation prior to last season before signing a seven-year, $45.5 million contract, was glad to help.

"He knows a lot of what I went through last year since we've become pretty good friends," Pietrangelo said of Schwartz. "I was kind of able to help him through the process. If I could just become another ear for him, or to have someone to talk to, to get some sort of opinions of things, obviously I was glad to help. He's here now for the next few years and we don't have to worry about it.

"But I think all the guys are excited to have him back. He's an important part of the team on the ice. He obviously contributes to a number of different areas. Everyone's excited to have him back. He's such a great guy to have in the room. To add another important piece to the puzzle from last year, it's always a good feeling. I know he's certainly excited to get back with all the guys. We're obviously excited to have him back."

Ken Hitchcock will waste little time getting Schwartz acclimated with the surroundings and practices. The Blues' coach will insert Schwartz into the Blues' preseason game Thursday against the Minnesota Wild and on Saturday at Minnesota.

"Whether we play him as a left wing or center iceman, we wanted him to look at him at center ice (Monday) and we'll continue to do that through Wednesday," Hitchcock said. "If he can play that position, boy, that really adds another element to out team.

"I don't know how he felt at the end of practice because this was -- from a practice standpoint, this was way, way up there from where we were two days ago. We'll see how he feels, but he looked awfully good, especially the first part."

Both sides discussed both a long- and short-term deal, and in the end came to the conclusion that the bridge contract was the way to go.

"The two-year contract is good for both parties," said Armstrong, who also said the Blues will not have to make any more moves to get in under the salary cap. 

"It gives Jaden the opportunity to establish himself in the NHL," Armstrong added. "In two years, he'll have four years under his belt and we'll be able to talk about something with some greater term and some more certainty. I think it's a really good deal, term and financially for both sides."

Schwartz made a change from No. 9 to No. 17 to honor his sister Mandi, who passed away from acute myeloid leukemia in 2011. He's where he wants to be and is ready to focus on hockey now that his initial jaunt into the business side is in the rear view mirror.

"It means a lot. It had a big meaning in my life. Obviously my sister had a big impact on me. She wore (No.) 17 her whole life. I used to back in the day and kind of got away from it. When the opportunity came up, it was a no-brainer. I kind of wanted it right away. I was lucky that they let me switch. I'm excited to wear it and it's going to be pretty nice for my family and me.

"We talked about longer, we talked about shorter [contracts]. Both sides agreed a two-year deal would be good for both sides. I'm happy with where I'm at and hopefully I can sign for more years down the road in St. Louis."

Schwartz skated on a line with Steve Ott and Maxim Lapierre, switching between center and wing with Lapierre. Hitchcock said he wants to get a look at Schwartz down the middle, and with the Blues already with enough depth at the position, it can really enhance things.

"We have so much size there right now," Hitchcock said. "We'll see, but we've got options. We've got (Patrik) Berglund, who we put on the wing today, Bergie can move back in the middle; we've got (David) Backes, who maybe could play some wing here. We've got real opportunities. This is another option for us. This is going to really enhance our team.

"The good play of (Jori) Lehtera so far has really allowed us to have more flexibility than we originally thought because you always thought where Lehtera was going to fit, but he looks like he's a legit top nine guy that's going to be a very good player for us. This gives us all kinds of options that we've never had."

Schwartz was all smiles on the ice at practice, and he wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else, even with Hitchcock running a full-scale and hard workout.

"It was good. It was fun," Schwartz said. "It was nice seeing everyone at the rink this morning. I just had butterflies coming in to finally get back here and on the ice. There's a lot of lines, so little bit of rest between drills. Overall, I thought it was a good practice and felt pretty good.

"... I've been working hard to stay in the best shape I could. I haven't been here for the whole camp and those guys might have an edge, so I'm going to work as hard as I can the next few days. I'm hoping a few preseason games will help me get the legs back under me. ... It took a lot longer than what I would have liked, and probably this is obviously longer than what Doug would have liked too, but I'm here now and looking forward to catching up and being here with everybody."

* Gainey on board -- TSN reported Monday afternoon that Bob Gainey, former head coach of the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars and Montreal Canadiens, will be brought on as a coaching consultant with the Blues this season. 

Gainey was also the general manager of the North Stars/Stars when Blues GM Doug Armstrong, who took over at Dallas for Gainey. Gainey will speak with Hitchcock throughout the season, according to the report.

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