Thursday, September 18, 2014

Schwartz a no-show as camp opens

2010 first round pick is still without a contract; no talks planned

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Most of the Blues have been skating informally for weeks now. They'll take the ice Friday afternoon for the first time in an official capacity. However, there will be a noticeable omission.

Jaden Schwartz, who along with Vladimir Tarasenko was a 2010 first round pick by the team, is still without a contract and is officially a no-show. Schwartz was not on hand for off-ice testing Thursday at the Ice Zone inside St. Louis Outlet Mall.
Jaden Schwartz

The 22-year-old Schwartz, who had a breakthrough season with 25 goals and 31 assists in 80 regular season games, completed his three-year, $3.5 million entry-level contract signed prior to the 2011-12 season. He has 34 goals and 72 points in  138 regular season games over three seasons and has been at an impasse with the Blues regarding a new contract.

"We've had dialogue recently, but I don't know when he's going to be here. He's not here today and I don't expect him here tomorrow," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said Thursday morning. "We're just going to now concentrate on the players that are here, try and find some synergy with centermen that are in camp with some wingers and when Jaden reports and when we find out we can get a contract done, he can work his way back into that group. Right now, it's a focus on the guys that are here.

"(We're) just going with the flow now. The thing that would be best for the process is to keep (negotiations) between Jaden's representatives and myself from this point forward. The next time that I'll talk publicly about Jaden is when we sign him."

The Blues were faced with a similar situation prior to camp last season when defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was without a contract after completing his entry-level deal. The two sides came to terms on a seven-year, $45.5 million contract on the first day of camp and all was well. 

Armstrong didn't give any indication the Schwartz situation would be a prolonged affair, but he wasn't forthcoming on when it would end either.

"Well, there's obviously some similarities ... he's not in training camp," Armstrong said, comparing Schwartz to Pietrangelo's situation. "But other than that, every negotiation, every player is his own independent contractor when it comes to negotiating deals. 

"We have to find common ground that Jaden's comfortable with, that the St. Louis Blues are comfortable with. There's a host of dynamics that are involved from his performance on the ice, his character off the ice. He's got two check marks in both of those areas. Now we have to look at the collective bargaining agreement and use the system to put him in where he should be based on his play and also based on the right that he has and based on the right the team has."

The Blues have just under $2.8 million of cap space remaining with 23 players under contract, of which 21 have one-way contracts. Schwartz had a base salary of $900,000 but a $1,166,667 average annual value with performance bonuses and a signing bonus. It's not out of the equation that he could triple his salary or get more with a one- or two-year bridge contract.

Schwartz cannot receive an offer sheet nor does he have arbitration rights because of a lack of games played in the league.

"Not really. I think it's more based on just a belief in the system," Armstrong said when asked if negotiations can be tricky because of the Blues' spending to the cap. "There's certainly no question of the belief in the player. It's a belief in the system.

"... One of the things is that we're in a different spot than we've been in the past here. We've been active in free agency. In my view, we signed three top free agents, not one. We signed Alex Steen, we signed Jay Bouwmeester and we signed (Paul) Stastny; all players that were going to be unrestricted free agents this summer. One got there, two didn't. We didn't let them get there. We're spending to the cap and we're paying the players like what the market dictates for unrestricted free agents is different than what the rights on the market for restricted free agents or the level of restrictions that you have as an athlete."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jaden Schwartz, who scored 25 goals and had 56 points last season, is a 
no-show for the start of training camp. Schwartz is still without a contract.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who initially planned to start Schwartz in a pairing with Dmitrij Jaskin, has to move forward with the players he has in camp.

"He's not going to retire, so you just move on," Hitchcock said of Schwartz, who along with Tarasenko is becoming a prominent player in the organization. "Once you start your first day of camp, you focus on the guys that are here and you let that play out and materializes as training camp goes through. It's not a big deal for us. It gives us more room to work with some other younger players and get them up to speed and see where they're at in their careers.

"I'm like every coach. We go from 'Summer Hitch' to 'Training Camp Hitch' to 'Winter Hitch.' Tomorrow morning, I'll be 'Training Camp Hitch' and that's OK. If we get to 'Winter Hitch,' you can come write a story. We're not there. You can come write that 'Winter Hitch' story in a few weeks. We hope we don't write it, but I'm getting out of 'Summer Hitch' mode where I was friendly to everybody and I'll be a bear with little teeth and I'll be growling pretty hard in a few weeks of something doesn't happen."

Schwartz is represented by Wade Arnott, who also is the player agent for Blues captain David Backes.

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