By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues wanted to accommodate veteran defenseman Jordan Leopold and did so early Saturday afternoon.
Needing some cap relief and wanting to give a veteran player ice time he wasn't going to get here, the Leopold to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Blues acquired a 2016 fifth-round from the Blue Jackets for the rights to Leopold, who played in seven games this season but with the recent return of Carl Gunnarsson from a hip injury and the steady play of Barret Jackman and Ian Cole on the blue line, Leopold, 34, was a healthy scratch for seven straight games and eight of the past nine. So the Blues accommodated Leopold by dealing him to a Blue Jackets team that's been decimated by injuries and where he will step right in and play.
The Blues, who host the Washington Capitals on Saturday, have recalled defenseman Chris Butler from the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.
The Blues will retain $500,000 pro-rated of Leopold's $2.25 million salary that's in the final year of a two-year, $4.5 million contract.
"In the situation that we're in right now and where Jordan is, he wants to obviously continue to play and as a seventh defenseman, his ice time was going to be predicated on injuries and I think it's a difficult time obviously for Jordan to be moving, but I think it's going to help him get back on the ice on a regular basis in Columbus," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "It's going to also relieve some cap space moving forward.
"We've kept $500,000 pro-rated in the salary. ... What it's going to do is create $1.1 million pro-rated cap space for us moving forward and that obviously grows as you get closer to the deadline. We've been very close to the salary cap this year and this creates a little more room for us moving forward if we want to try and do some other things to improve our team from this day forward. Our cap space is a little greater."
Butler, who makes $650,000 NHL salary, puts the Blues at roughly $2.35 million under the cap.
Armstrong identified the play of Butler, Petteri Lindbohm and Brent Regner with the Wolves as reason to believe the depth of the organization on the blue line enabled them to move the veteran Leopold, who is expected to make his Blue Jackets debut Saturday when Columbus hosts the San Jose Sharks.
"I talked to (Wolves assistant coach) Mark Hardy today and Chris has played very well," Armstrong said of Butler. "We believe in the depth there, and also Lindbohm that came over from Finland wasn't really on our radar screen in the summer.
"In talking to the guys last night, (Lindbohm) played his best game as a pro [against] Utica. There's some positive things there and Regner's played well down there. We believe we have some depth. If we get pushed and taxed, we also have the cap space to do other things if we need to."
Leopold, who has 66 goals and 210 points in 659 NHL games, never requested a trade.
"We talked over the summer," Armstrong said. "You try and have that relationship with the guys. We said Ian Cole's going to get a big opportunity this year. Leo said, 'I love St. Louis, I want to be a Blue but I also have a career to worry about.' It never got into 'I demand this.'
"I understand where he's at. He loves the game and he wants to play. The way you get contracts is to be on the ice and prove people that you're a contributing player. I think he's going to get that opportunity in Columbus. Right now, he wasn't getting that here and he most likely wasn't going to get that here unless there were injuries."
Lindbohm's impressive training camp and ascension up the organization's depth chart made this a win-win for both sides.
"Yeah it did, and Regner quite honestly," Armstrong said. "He's played very good for us down there.
"We have six healthy guys now; Butler will be seven. I do like the depth that we have down there. We don't do things just to make players happy, but I also understand that Jordan at this part of his career needs to play to extend his career. Hopefully this works out for everybody. Obviously we are not as deep as we were, but we have gained what is important in this era is cap space."
Butler had nine points (eight assists) in 14 games with the Wolves.
"He's played very good," Armstrong said. "Mark said that he's been their most consistent player. His skating, his physical play ... what they have told me is he's playing in the wrong league in the American Hockey League, and what we saw from him the last few years as an NHL player was he got caught in a numbers game in a situation where a lot of guys cleared waivers at the start of the season. We view him as an NHL player and he's going to get that opportunity to get back up here as part of our seven. I hope that we stay healthy.
"I like our group of six right now. I think Barret Jackman is playing some of his best hockey of recent over the last three or four years since I've been here. I really like the way he's playing right now. We saw Gunnarsson take a huge step forward the other night. His ice time got up into that 17-18 minute range. Obviously the goal and the helper's always nice, but I just like his steady play. I think the depth and the quality of the way our guys are playing right now has made this something that we feel we can do.
"I think if you look at Ian's minutes, his plus-minus ... all his stats are turning in the right direction. He was told he was going to get an opportunity this year to come in and play, and he's had some really good games. He's had some games, I guess the best way to describe it is the valleys aren't nearly as low as they may had been in the past, which means he's become a steady contributor that we know what we're going to get. We always like those upside nights, but we also know as a coaching staff, I'm sure Brad and Ken want to know what the downside's going to be. A much more competent, a much more level player than in the past and we only expect him to get better."
Butler is expected to arrive in St. Louis Sunday evening and be on the ice for practice Monday.
"Go to Chicago, pack up, be happy about that move, get in the car and drive down the highway tomorrow and he should be here for Monday's practice," Armstrong said.
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The Blues (27.1 percent) and Capitals (25.9 percent) rank 2nd and 3rd respectively in power play percentage this season. St. Louis’ power play has converted in five of their last six games (8 of 20, 40 percent), while they are 8-1-0 when scoring on the power play this season.
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Patrik Berglund-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Joakim Lindstrom
Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Steve Ott-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Barret Jackman-Ian Cole
Brian Elliott will get the start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Chris Porter, Magnus Paajarvi and Chris Butler.
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The Capitals' projected lineup:
Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Jay Beagle
Marcus Johansson-Andre Burakovsky-Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera-Eric Fehr-Joel Ward
Liam O'Brien-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Michael Latta
Brooks Orpik-John Carlson
Karl Alzner-Matt Niskanen
Nate Schmidt-Mike Green
Justin Peters is expected to start in goal. Braden Holtby, who stopped 27 shots in a 1-0 loss Friday against the New Jersey Devils, would be the backup.
Jack Hillen is the expected healthy scratch. Brooks Laich (shoulder), Tom Wilson (lower body), Dmitry Orlov (wrist), John Erskine (neck surgery) have been out with injuries, but Wilson could return to the lineup tonight. O'Brien also sustained a lower-body injury Friday and is a game-time decision.