Monday, March 2, 2015

Blues trade for injured defenseman

Team acquired Zbynek Michalek from Arizona for prospect Letunov
trade Cole to Penguins for Bortuzzo, add Jokinen for Lindstrom, pick

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues bolstered their defensive corps by acquiring Arizona Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek and a conditional 2015 third round pick for prospect Maxim Letunov.

However, Michalek is currently on injured-reserve, and the condition on the third round pick has been reported as being how many games Michalek plays with the Blues.
(Arizona Coyotes photo)
The Blues have acquired Arizona defenseman Zbynek
Michalek at the NHL Trade Deadline.

Letunov, the Blues' second round pick in 2014. Letunov is currently playing with the Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League. He is committed to playing at Boston University next season.

The Blues weren't done, as they acquired defenseman Robert Bortuzzo from the Pittsburgh Penguins for defenseman Ian Cole and added veteran winger Olli Jokinen from the Toronto Maple Leafs for forward Joakim Lindstrom and a conditional sixth-round draft pick in 2016 that, according to reports, can become a fourth round pick in 2015 if the Blues reach the Stanley Cup Final and Jokinen plays a role in it.

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, who clarified that the conditional pick goes back to Coyotes once Michalek plays a game and becomes a player for player trade. He said the Blues had interest in Michalek before his injury and it slowed the process, but had to assume some risk with the trade deadline approaching.

"Working with (Coyotes general manager Don Maloney) and getting the doctors and trainers in touch with each other, we had to get to a decision point last night that we were ready to assume some risk on an injured player," Armstrong said. "... Michalek brings us a player that has played against the other team's top players now for a number of years. He plays in all the key situations. ... He's a guy that can give us minutes, and he's a guy that is comfortable defending against the other team's best players. It gives us a deeper group of players to play against."

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Michalek, 32, has not played since sustaining a concussion on Feb. 14.

"It's another step in the recovery and I'm hoping it won't be too long before I'm back on the ice playing," Michalek said. "It could be a few more days or weeks, you just never know with this type of injury."

A right-handed shot, Michalek has 73 hits and ranks 12th in the NHL with 130 blocks in 53 games this season. He’s in the final season of a five-year, $20 million contract.

ESPN and TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported that the Coyotes will retain 50 percent of Michalek's salary the remainder of the season.

It is believed that once he joins the Blues, Michalek, who averaged 21:05 ice time with the Coyotes, will be paired with Barret Jackman on the Blues' third defensive pairing. He arrived in St. Louis on Monday night and will skate Tuesday for the first time.

With Kevin Shattenkirk (abdominal surgery) sidelined week to week, the Blues felt they needed to fortify their blue line, but Armstrong said Shattenkirk will accompany the Blues on the remainder of their road trip to Philadelphia and Toronto to see the specialist in Philadelphia who performed the surgery on him. 

Shattenkirk was injured Feb. 1 against the Washington Capitals but has since started skating on his own. His return is still to be determined.

Michalek is a minus-6 on the season but was one of the top Coyotes defenseman with a 51.87 SAT percentage.

Michalek said he's looking forward to helping the Blues in a deep playoff run after speaking with Maloney.

"It means a lot," Michalek said of the Blues taking a risk on him. "I appreciate that somebody took a chance on an injured player and I just hope that I can be back soon and prove that they didn't just waste their draft picks or prospects for nothing. I want to repay them and do whatever I can to get back on the ice soon.

"... I have to move on and right now, I'm really excited to join a really good team and getting healthy and hoping to help them make a deep run in the playoffs." 

Michalek has two goals and six assists this season and 38 goals and 129 assists in 696 games over 11 seasons with the Minnesota Wild, Pittsburgh Penguins and Coyotes.

The addition of Michalek likely spelled the end of Cole's tenure in St. Louis. 

A former first round pick by the Blues in 2007 (18th overall), the 6-1, 219-pound Cole, 26, played in a career-high 54 games this season after spending the past four seasons getting in and out of the lineup.
Robert Bortuzzo

He had a career-high four goals this season to go with nine points and has nine goals and 31 points in 167 games in five seasons.

The 6-4, 215-pound Bortuzzo, 25, gives the Blues a physical, abrasive edge to his game who is known more for his physicality than his scoring and is another right-handed defenseman, something the Blues were lacking. He was a third round pick, coincidentally, in the same 2007 draft with Cole.

Armstrong said he talked to Cole on a couple occasions throughout the season and that Cole's goal was to play in the top four on defense, and if not, he'd welcome a trade.

"His goal was to be a top-four player here and get those type of minutes," Armstrong said of Cole. "The feeling was if we couldn't find the proper fit, he would accept a move to a different organization for a fresh start.

"Ian was a great pro here. He was a healthy scratch at times. He might not have gotten the ice time, but he showed up every day to work. It was a good opportunity to give Ian a fresh start and also bring in a player that we felt is a dimension that we don't have in our back-end."

Bortuzzo has two goals and four assists with 68 penalty minutes in 38 games this season and four goals and 20 points in 116 games in four seasons.

"Bortuzzo is another right-shot guy, brings a physical element certainly on the back-end," Armstrong said. "... That was a win-win for all the parties involved."

Both players' salaries were similar, but Cole made slightly more and the Blues retained a portion of his salary to even out the dollars for each player.

Jokinen, 36, will be playing with his third NHL team this season and 10th in all. The 17-year veteran, who started this season with the Nashville Predators before being traded to the Leafs, had three goals and seven points (three goals, three assists in 48 games with Nashville, one assist in six games with Toronto) this season.

"Jokinen just brings us an experienced player," Armstrong said. "When I look at our roster, I like our group of 12 very much, but our ability when a top-nine player gets injured and has to come out of the lineup, the guys that we have ... we really didn't have a player that can consistently play in that top nine. I think Jokinen coming in is a player that's comfortable. He's played in that environment before and he has experience in those areas." 

Jokinen, the third overall pick in 1997 (Los Angeles Kings) has played in 1,223 regular season games and has 320 goals and 747 points. But Jokinen has only been involved in one playoff series (2009 with the Calgary Flames) and had two goals and three assists in six games.
(file photo)
Olli Jokinen (left) will join his third team this
season after being acquired by the Blues. Here he's
playing for Nashville in a game against Toronto,
who he also played for.

"In talking to Olli, I really got the sense he's excited," Armstrong said. "He said he knows what it feels like to win the lottery. ... He hasn't played in many playoff games. He wants to play deep, he wants to win the Stanley Cup and he told me he's willing to take whatever role, if it's a daily basis or platooned in. He's 100 percent committed to doing whatever hecan do to be a great teammate and also give us the depth if necessary."

Lindstrom, who was signed to a one-year, $700,000 contract, was brought in to play in the top-nine and played in 34 games. However, the offensive production was limited to three goals and three assists and had been a recent healthy scratch. With the emergence of Dmitrij Jaskin, it would have been tough for Lindstrom to find his way back into the lineup.

"He had lost his roster spot to Jaskin recently and was a player that wasn't getting a lot of ice time on our team," Armstrong said of Lindstrom. "Hopefully he goes to Toronto and he may get an opportunity to play there and earn himself an NHL contract for next year also."

The Blues did option (paperwork-wise) Petteri Lindbohm to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League for the purpose of having him on the AHL roster by the 2 p.m. (CT) deadline to be eligible for the playoffs. He was immediately recalled back to the Blues.

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