Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Mixed emotions for Cole after trade to Penguins

Defenseman excited to join Cup 
contender, disappointed not ti fulfill goal with Blues

ST. LOUIS -- When the Blues and general manager Doug Armstrong traded for Arizona Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek at the NHL Trade Deadline on Monday, Ian Cole saw the writing on the wall.

Cole, one of three first-round picks (18th) for the Blues in 2007 (Lars Eller 13th and David Perron 26th being the others), makes it a clean sweep. The Blues are now without any of their three top picks from that year.

Eller was traded as part of the deal that brought goalie Jaroslav Halak from Montreal in 2010, and Perron was  traded to Edmonton in 2013 for Magnus Paajarvi and a 2014 second round pick (that turned into Ivan Barbashev).

Cole, who was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the NHL Trade Deadline on Monday for fellow defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who coincidentally was the Penguins' third round pick in 2007.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Ian Cole (28) fights off San Jose's Barclay Goodrow in
a game earlier this season. Cole was traded to Pittsburgh on Monday.

It marked the end of what was a very adventurous five seasons for Cole with the Blues. There's always a high upside for first round picks with the hopes that the team that drafted the player hit a home run. 

The experience with Cole, who had nine goals and 31 points in 167 career regular season games with the Blues, didn't appear to fully develop.

In the past two seasons, Cole was finally given more of a top six role on the blue line after being relegated to more of a seventh or eighth defenseman. There were many recalls from the American Hockey League, then assignments back to the AHL, mostly in Peoria.

But this season, Cole had already played in a career-high 54 games with the Blues. But with Kevin Shattenkirk, who is rehabbing from abdominal surgery, and Michalek now in the plans, the writing appeared to be clear.

Cole had conversations on multiple occasions with Armstrong about his role. There was no animosity. Just straightforward honesty. Cole's desire was to get a role in the top four. 

With Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Shattenkirk and Carl Gunnarsson this season and others before this season's crop, that opportunity never presented itself.

"I told him if I'm not gonna play here, then I need to play somewhere," Cole said by phone Monday night. "Making the move to get Michalek, fine, no problem. I just didn't want to sit here by the wayside and do nothing. And that's fine, but (Armstrong) said if that was going to be the case and I was gonna sit and not play, then he would trade me. He did. He's a 100 percent man of his word and followed through and I can't thank him enough for saying he was going to do something and actually do it. It's rare to have someone say they're going to do something and to actually follow through and do it. I have the utmost respect for him. Obviously the job he does without a doubt one of the best, if not, the best in the league. He's a great GM on not a huge market team, puts together a fantastic team every year. Can't say enough great things about Doug Armstrong. I have a ton of respect for the guy, a really stand-up guy and a really great guy."

Cole's Monday was chaotic. The Blues, who had a late Sunday game in Vancouver, didn't arrive in St. Louis until roughly 6:30 a.m. Monday morning. By the time he got to bed at 8 and getting the call from Armstrong that he'd been traded, it was hard to process.

"Absolute whirlwind," Cole said. "... Hearing you get traded and find out you get traded to an absolute contender in Pittsburgh, it's crazy. It's exciting, it's a whole bunch of emotions. It's all crammed together. It's one of those things where it's never happened before. I didn't really know what to expect when it was going to happen, but it's been a very exciting day and I'm definitely excited to continue this journey to the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh."

But flip the coin, and Cole is saddened. The Blues drafted him, nurtured him, groomed him and the players he called teammates were the only ones of his professional career.

The majority of them called or text Cole to offer best wishes.

"This is the only organization I've ever played for," Cole said. "These are the only teammates I've ever had professionally. It's really strange to be leaving all these guys, the only guys I've ever known as teammates. There's definitely a lot of apprehension in that fact. And then, on the flip side of that coin, going to such a great team and great organization in Pittsburgh, it's really exciting. It's going to be another team very capable of winning a Stanley Cup. We saw firsthand a week ago. An extremely good team that can beat any other in the league without a doubt.

"... It's been a great stretch of years here, a great experience here in St. Louis. Definitely grown as a person and as a player. ... I love these guys. It's family. It's tough leaving family. I'm looking forward to seeing them, especially in two weeks." 

Cole, who left St. Louis on Tuesday to fly to Denver to meet his new teammates, where the Penguins will face the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, he gets the opportunity to play with a team more offensive-oriented and playing with superstars like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin offers a different element.

But Cole, quickly quipped he also gets to be reunited with, "David Perron and Max Lapierre. And I get to play for (former Blues assistant coach) Gary Agnew again. I don't know a ton of guys there, but I know a few. I'm sure it'll be a smooth transition. From everything I've heard, they have a great locker room and great bunch of guys. I'm really excited to get going."

Cole touched base with Penguins GM Jim Rutherford and coach Mike Johnston but didn't go into too much detail.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Robert Bortuzzo, shown here playing against the
Blues recently, was acquired for Ian Cole Monday.

"Didn't get too much into expectations," Cole said. "Talked to them all, talked to Bill Guerin, which was pretty cool and was able to touch base with all of them and say hi. I'm sure the expectations are going to be the same as they were here: win games, put a great product out on the ice and win a Stanley Cup. For any good teams, that's what the expectations are." 

Cole's biggest regret is not winning a Stanley Cup in St. Louis but feels the Blues will continue that march forward.

"For us in St. Louis, our goal is to win the Stanley Cup," Cole said. "My first year, it was to get back in the playoffs. For the past two, three years, it was to win the Stanley Cup and we haven't done that. 

"It is a little sad in that we weren't able to do it while I was here. I would have liked to bring the Stanley Cup to St. Louis, parade it down Market Street. It would have been fantastic, but it didn't happen for whatever reason. We weren't able to pull it together in the playoffs. St. Louis Blues are another fantastic team this year, another very talented team, another very, very good team. That opportunity is most certainly still there, but the same can be said for Pittsburgh too."

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