Armstrong maintains Sobotka to return to Blues; Steen healing well following
surgery; Shattenkirk, Tarasenko earn 'A's; Bouwmeester's selection to Canada
ST. LOUIS -- Doug Armstrong doesn't seem worried, despite what began as growing concern that's turned into frustration among Blues fans.
The Blues' general manager, after announcing Alex Pietrangelo as the franchise's 21st captain and the rest of the leadership group, was faced with the questions again regarding forward Vladimir Sobotka.
What's the latest? Is he returning to St. Louis after two seasons with Avangard Omsk or not?
If one believes recent reports out of Russia, Sobotka will return to Omsk for a third season after the club brought in a new head coach, which was at the root of the problems facing Sobotka.
Armstrong maintained his stance Thursday as nothing different that what he's been saying all summer: Sobotka, 29, will return to the Blues after talking with agent Petr Svoboda.
"I've talked to Petr Svoboda, I would say, daily over the last few weeks and every other day the weeks prior to that, and nothing has changed," Armstrong said. "I talked to him again today, (Sobotka) is getting ready for the World Cup. He's planning on staying here when that's over and coming back to our franchise. He's excited about it. It's one of those ones where I understand everyone's nervousness because he's not here. But he's not going to be here until after the World Cup, so I think the questions are going to persist until he gets off the plane at Lambert and comes into the Mills or to Scottrade and when he does that, this will finally be behind us."
Sobotka, when he finally returns to the NHL, will have to play out his arbitration-awarded one-year, $2.725 million contract. He originally signed a three-year contract to play with Omsk but had an opt-out clause after the first year.
Sobotka has put up 28 goals and 44 assists in 97 games in the KHL, including 18 goals and 16 assists in 44 games this past season. His last season in the NHL with the Blues in 2013-14, Sobotka had nine goals and 24 assists in 61 games.
Armstrong said he's spoken directly with Sobotka over the phone but looks forward to talking to him in person in Toronto at the World Cup
"Yeah, we'll certainly meet there," Armstrong said. "I've talked to him on the telephone over the summer. His focus right now is obviously preparing (for the World Cup). Ironically that's the first team that Canada plays that 'Petro' plays against and I'll be working for Canada. So we'll get an up close look at him very early. But I'll certainly try and bump into him there like I will all of our players."
Sobotka reportedly sustained a shoulder injury in the KHL but has been cleared to play.
"Yeah, he's passed all the physicals, he's ready to play for the Czech national team and he'll be ready for our team also," Armstrong said.
* Steen on track -- Alexander Steen, who had left shoulder surgery on June 3 to repair an injury originally sustained Feb. 20 in Arizona, has been healing nicely according to Armstrong.
Armstrong said the recovery and re-evaluation timeline originally was 4-6 months, which would at the earliest put Steen at Oct. 3, or nine days before the season-opener.
The Blues are optimistic that time frame is closer to the four months rather than the later, since Armstrong said the rehab time is going well.
"Very good. He came in, met with our doctors," Armstrong said of Steen. "He had pushed very hard to be able to participate in the World Cup. It was a 4-6 month injury, going to be re-evaluated in four, which is October 3rd. He worked very hard, it's just not going to happen. But he looks like he's in great shape, he's ahead of schedule and we're hoping that he's ready for Game 1 and if not Game 1, very early in the season, but all things are very positive.
"We're still quite a ways from camp, but I would think he'll jump right into the flow drills, that's the idea now. But we're not going to be penny-wise, pound-foolish. Whether he participates in battle drills in early September or mid-September, I'm not that concerned about."
Steen, 32, who enters the 2016-17 season in the final year of his contract, was among the finalists for the 'C' that was awarded to Pietrangelo.
"Alexander is a great player and he's a huge part of this leadership group," Armstrong said. "'Petro' understands that. I've met with all the assistant captains, or talked to them all, and told them how important their job responsibilities are for this team. Like Alex last year and like Alexander last year and this year, if you're a true leader, you don't really need a letter to prove it, and these guys don't need that. They've been leaders on this team and on prior teams, and nothing is going to change for Alexander Steen. He's a top player for us, as are the other players that we named assistant captains. And now it's just a recognition publicly of what we've known privately, that they're a huge part of our leadership group."
* Shattenkirk, Stastny, Tarasenko also named alternate captains -- Kevin Shattenkirk, Paul Stastny and Vladimir Tarasenko were named with Steen as alternate captains for the upcoming season, two for home games and the other two away, and the pairs will alternate home and away at the midpoint of the season.
Shattenkirk, who was the subject of trade rumors, most heavily at the NHL Draft in June, enters the final year of his four-year, $17 million contract that pays him $5.2 million this season.
Rumors were running rampant at the draft that Shattenkirk would most certainly be dealt, but now it's almost a certainty that Shattenkirk will open the season with the Blues and any lingering trade rumors can be put to rest.
For the time being.
"I think when you're building your team, it would have been a disservice not to make him an 'A,'" Armstrong said. "He's earned the right. As I said, this is just a public recognition of something we've known privately. He's a big part of this team, he's a very good player, and more importantly he's a very good leader."
As for Tarasenko, who was the target of criticism towards the end of the Blues' playoff run, which ended in the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks, he indicated that he'd like to be part of the leadership group and management has rewarded him with that honor.
"I think he's probably where 'Petro' was a few years ago when he first got the 'A,'" Armstrong said of Tarasenko. "You want to get into the league and you want to find your way around the league. You want to find out where the locker rooms are in each building, you want to find out which hotels are good and what hotels are bad. When you've done that, you want to become a confident player on the ice. Obviously Vladi has done that, he's been a 40-goal scorer, a second-team All-Star and this is just a natural progression as his growth as a person and a player. We expect great things of him on the ice and now this is an additional responsibility off the ice."
One player who didn't get a letter but will be counted on is Jaden Schwartz, who was drafted in the first round with Tarasenko in 2010 and will be counted on to take a bigger role on the team after signing a five-year, $26.75 million contract this summer.
"Another player that's going to share in that load, that's not wearing an 'A' right now is Jaden Schwartz," Armstrong said. "These players have to take a bigger part of our group and they can't be looking over their shoulder now for other guys to do the uncomfortable things. They have to start doing those things themselves."
* Bouwmeester's addition to Team Canada -- When defenseman Jay Bouwmeester was named as a replacement for injured Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith, names like P.K. Subban, Kris Letang and/or Mark Giordano surfaced as possible replacements.
But Armstrong, the GM of Team Canada, opted for a guy he's familiar with and a guy that was on Canada's gold medal-winning team at the 2014 Sochi Olympics despite some criticism over the decision.
"Well, once we found out 'Dunc' wasn't going to be able to join us at the World Cup, we got all the managers and coaches on the phone," Armstrong said. "What we're looking at is building a team there and in a team, you need different elements. We felt comfortable when we named our initial roster to have four right-handed defensemen and three left-handed defensemen and when we lost a left-handed defenseman, we felt it was very important to replace that. When you look around the NHL, there's an abundance of left-handed defensemen and not as many right-handed defensemen, and you'll see a lot of lefties play the right but you very rarely see a right-handed defenseman play the left. So the thought process was, worst-case scenario, you go into the tournament and you lose a left-handed guy, can you support five right-handed defensemen on one team? Ultimately we felt that we couldn't, so we wanted to go with a lefty and 'Bouw's resume speaks for itself. Obviously two World Championships, being a gold medalist in Sochi, logging 25-plus minutes for the last decade, he's earned the right to be there and certainly familiar with (Team Canada coach) Mike Babcock and myself, so it was an easy decision."
* Could Blues bring in more PTO's? -- The Blues already have two veterans (wing T.J. Galiardi and defenseman Mike Weber) coming to training camp on professional tryouts and depending on the results of the World Cup, could add more.
Galiardi, 28, most recently played in the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets during the 2014-15 season and had one goal in 38 games; he played for the Malmo Redhawks last season in the Swedish Hockey League and had three goals and 12 assists in 29 games,
Weber, 28, split the 2015-16 season with the Buffalo Sabres and Washington Capitals, where he one goal and four assists in 45 games (all five points coming with Buffalo in 35 games).
"Marty Brodeur, Kevin McDonald and Rob DiMaio are heading that up," Armstrong said regarding the PTO's. "They're talking to different guys. We may need now with Bouwmeester going off to the World Cup, we'll probably look to make sure we have enough to make sure we have a really strong, solid training camp. And with injuries in today's game, you want to make sure you have enough healthy bodies.
"I think we're a good sale for PTO's because we had two guys earn contracts last year (Scottie Upshall and Scott Gomez)."
Martin Havlat also earned a contract after a PTO but cut short his NHL comeback after just two games. Havlat did score one goal (a game-winner) in his Blues debut at New Jersey last season.