Butler, Jaskin, Lindbohm assigned to AHL's Chicago Wolves,
Fabbri assigned to juniors; Mueller opts out of AHL assignment
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues announced their 23-man roster ahead of Tuesday's 4 p.m. (central time) deadline, and general manager Doug Armstrong didn't really reveal any surprises.
The team announced that 2014 first round pick Robby Fabbri was assigned to his junior team, the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League and the team assigned forward Dmitrij Jaskin and defensemen Chris Butler and Petteri Lindbohm to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.
Armstrong also announced that defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, recovering from off-season hip surgery, will begin the season as a non-rostered player and was not put on injured reserve but his salary does count against the cap.
That means that Chris Porter and Magnus Paajarvi made the cut but start the season as the extra forwards and the Blues will carry six healthy defensemen when the 2014-15 season gets underway Thursday at home against the New York Rangers.
"Part of the reason we're doing this is part of the salary cap era, you want to preserve as much salary cap space as possible," Armstrong said. "The longer we can keep our roster at 23, that money grows as the season goes on. We want to be very prudent with our dollars. The good thing is we don't have any back-to-back games until next weekend. If we need a player, we can get him up from Chicago very quickly, but right now, I'm trying to preserve the cap space as much as possible."
Also, Armstrong confirmed that forward Peter Mueller, signed to a one-year, two-way contract in July, has decided not to report to the Wolves after he was assigned on Sunday. Mueller, a first round pick in the 2006 NHL Draft, cleared waivers last week and was put on unconditional waivers by the Blues Tuesday for the purpose of releasing him from his contract with no buyout.
If Mueller clears by 11 a.m. Wednesday, he will be released from his contract ($700,000 NHL/$250,000 AHL) and free to sign with a team of his choice, and that choice appears to be in Europe, where Mueller played last season in Switzerland.
"He doesn't want to go to Chicago," Armstrong said of Mueller, who played in four preseason games with the Blues. "We put him back on unconditional waivers today. If he clears tomorrow, we'll talk one more time and make sure that he no longer has the desire to stay in North America. He'll be released out of his contract, no buyout."
Mueller was originally penciled into the Blues' top nine but didn't make the cut as camp progressed. But the team signed him with the assumption that Mueller would report to Chicago should be not make the opening night roster and work his way back to St. Louis.
"That was a difficult one obviously for the organization and for Peter," Armstrong said. "We thought he had a good camp. He was in our group of nine players that were going to start in our first three lines and we viewed him as a top nine player. He just doesn't feel like he has the desire to go to the American Hockey League at this time and work his way back up. I have to respect that and we'll move forward with that.
"I don't think we would have gone down this path if I thought that was the possibility. What we promised him was a fair shake in training camp. Come back, get into an organization that's going to try and put you in the best position to try and have an NHL career again. I thought that if we got to this point, he would go down, he would push and prod and wait for his opportunity to get back up. He just doesn't have the fight to do that right now. What we talked about (Monday) was 'If you're not 100 percent committed to that battle, then it's probably doing a dis-service to yourself and selfishly to the St. Louis Blues to have you down there if you're not committed.' He's wrestled with that and I think his mindset is Europe might be the best option now."
The biggest surprises from camp came from Fabbri and Lindbohm, who came out of nowhere (he's a 2012 sixth round pick) than the Blues were going to look at initially the first couple days and then go back and play in Finland. But the 21-year-old from Helsinki, Finland impressed coach Ken Hitchcock and the organization so much that the team approached Lindbohm about going to Chicago so they can keep within arm's length.
"Lindbohm, I talked to last week. He had the opportunity to go back to Finland to play, but after watching his progress, we think that he's close to being an NHL player," Armstrong said. "He's decided to go to Chicago instead of Europe. I think it's a great decision and really shows where his mindset's at and it also shows how close we really think he is to being an NHL player.
"He was supposed to stay here for the first four days of camp, get one game and go back. And in Traverse City, we said, 'Lets take a look at him.' We played him one game and we said, 'We'd like you to stay another week.' That's when I said to Ken and Ken and I discussed it, 'Let's put him in difficult situations, Let's not protect him. Let's get him out there against Carolina with 'Petro' against their best players and see how he responds.' Minnesota, that game got a little bit gnarly in here and he didn't back down. It was deep enough into the game where he knew who their physical players were and he responded to those players. He just got better and better as camp went along. After the Minnesota game last Friday, I talked to him about, 'We'd like you to stay. We think you're closer than further.' With no hesitation, he said, 'I'm a North American player now.'"
Fabbri, who injured his shoulder against the Wild in the final home preseason game, is another player who has shot up the depth chart after a stellar camp.
The 18-year-old, who was the 21st pick in the draft this past summer, gave it a run for his money and stuck it out until the final cuts were made when nobody thought he would make it this far. But much like Lindbohm, Fabbri impressed so much that his Blues career looks to be on the horizon much sooner than expected.
"Fabbri was outstanding in training camp, really from Traverse City on," Armstrong said. "He's a player, from my experiences, these players come and it's their Stanley Cup. It's a preseason game for David Backes ... it's Fabbri's Stanley Cup. It's his first time in here. But as the camp progressed and I thought water finds its level, I thought he would go down a notch or two and he didn't. He was actually able to maintain his position with better players. I thought Ken did a fabulous job in camp putting he and Lindbohm in positions to fail as much as succeed. ... These guys held serve and that's really impressive.
"What I said to Robby was, 'When we drafted you, I expected you to be two years in junior hockey and a year in the minors and then we'd get a look at you. You've impressed us enough now that if you go down to the Canadian Hockey League, have a good World Junior, have a real good season, we have to look at you as a potential player on our roster next year.' That's a great month's work for him."
Armstrong said the decision to send Fabbri back was not an easy one.
"He was making it more uncomfortable on the manager than the coach," Armstrong said. "Ken's job is to think in the here and the now. (Fabbri) wasn't going away. He was pushing and he was prodding. As a manager, you want to make sure you're putting these young kids in positions to succeed and not fail. I don't think our organization's at a point now where an 18-year-old is going to be the final piece to the puzzle that pushes us over the top. But he was making it very difficult.
"Now what it does is allows us more maturation next summer and one of Robby's biggest things is going to be maturing off the ice in a physical standpoint. A full season with (strength and conditioning coach) Nelson (Ayotte) will do him a world of good. Also, you have to look at it from a business standpoint, once he starts that seven years before free agency, it starts. Selfishly, I'd rather have these players at 26 and 27 than at 18 and 19. He might push the point next year where we have no choice but put him on the team."
Jaskin, the Blues' second pick in 2011, was a player that also took his fight to make the team down to the wire, but Armstrong said, "He really can't do much more than he's done."
"I just talked to him," Armstrong said of Jaskin, who he thought over the summer would make the team. "He's very upset, obviously, and he should be. That's what I really like about him. When I made that proclamation, we didn't have (Paul) Stastny, we didn't have (Jori) Lehtera, we didn't have Lindbohm and right now, he's not in our group of 12 and at that age, I think he's better to play and play a lot than to sit here and practice. I told him to go down there. He controls how long he comes back up here. What he needs is an opportunity, and when gets that opportunity, he has to make sure that there's no question that he'll ever go back down.
"It's a difficult day for the player and I think he's going to use the motivation correctly to go down there and play very well. Not just Dmitrij, but with any player, if they go down there and they don't play very well, they're just extending their time at that level."
One of the players who jumped up and grabbed a job was Joakim Lindstrom, who signed a one-year, $700,000 contract in May to compete for a job. Lindstrom, who had arguably his best preseason game Saturday at Minnesota, won the job fair and square.
"He was a player that we monitored in Europe, but we hadn't really honed in on him until the end," Armstrong said of Lindstrom, who scored two goals and had two assists in the preseason. "We saw him at the World Championships, we had talked to him. Alex Steen was obviously a very big proponent of him and I trust Alex's opinion. He came over here with the understanding that he had to make this team. His speed, his savvy I think puts him in a good spot. Ken has him certainly in that group of nine now."
A veteran defenseman of six seasons, the 27year-old Butler, who's also a Kirkwood native, did not survive the final purge.
Butler would have had to push Jordan Leopold or Ian Cole out of a job.
"I would say he didn't define himself in the camp to where we had to push a current player off our roster," Armstrong said of Butler. "I don't think he had a bad camp, but the tie goes to the runner in these situations. He had to come in and he had to knock one of the seven guys that are currently here, six and Gunnarsson out of work. I thought his camp was adequate but not enough to push one of those guys out where they had to go on waivers or be traded."
Gunnarsson, who was in a pumpkin orange jersey Tuesday, said the projected six-month timetable for his injury is right on course, considering he had hip surgery on April 23.
"We set a timeline and we're kind of right around there," Gunnarsson said. "I expected when I had the surgery maybe I come back for the first couple games. If not, maybe another week or two. This is right around crunch time. Hopefully, we're sticking to the plan.
"It's been alright. Today was a good day just moving out there. That's been the toughest part. We're getting real close here."
Gunnarsson, who was ruled out for the game Thursday against the Rangers and when the Calgary Flames visit St. Louis on Saturday, is day to day.
"It's tough to say. I'm at kind of day to day," Gunnarsson said. "Today was a good one. I had a bad one a couple days ago. But overall, it just feels good to do all the things the boys are doing doing. Doing the battle drills and just trying to push it.
"I've been watching the home games at least and trying to figure out systems and practices, too. I'm getting there. There are a couple things you've got to get used to, but I'm trying to watch and learn a little bit here. ... We've got to get the timing down. I haven't played a game. That takes some time, too. It's a good test for me to get out there. I told the boys even though I'm wearing a pumpkin sweater, I used a little bit of contact just to get used to it."
Armstrong said when Gunnarsson is ready to play, he'll jump back in the lineup without a conditioning stint in Chicago.