Friday, February 18, 2011

Blues deal away captain to Lightning for prospect, pick

Brewer waives no-trade, heads to Tampa Bay for
defenseman Beukeboom, 2011 3rd round draft choice

ST. LOUIS -- With a flurry of trades already underway well in excess of the Feb. 28 trade deadline, the Blues finally dipped their feet into the mix.

But maybe it wasn't the immediate impact deal Blues fans were looking for.

The Blues made a major move, dealing away defenseman and captain Eric Brewer Friday afternoon to the Tampa Bay Lightning. In return, they acquire the rights to defenseman Brock Beukeboom along with a 2011 third-round draft pick.

The Blues, who are 26-21-9 after Friday's 3-0 shutout victory in Buffalo, sit in 13th place in the Western Conference with 61 points, seven in back of eighth-place Anaheim, who the Blues happen to host tonight.

And with an uncertainly of making the playoffs and a chance to join a contender, Brewer, 31, opted to join not only a playoff contender but also a Stanley Cup contender in the Lightning, who are second overall in the Eastern Conference (34-18-6). He waived his no-trade clause in order to do so.

"I talked to Eric earlier on in the week and told him the direction we were leaning," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "Then I had a conversation with his agent (Don Meehan) and we talked about some teams. Tampa Bay was a team that he expressed interest in. Then I talked to (Tampa Bay GM) Steve Yzerman, and once I had gone to Eric and given him the direction we were taking the St. Louis Blues, today just happened to be the day that made the most sense for all parties involved."

Brewer, who has been the Blues' captain since Feb. 8, 2008, was in the final year of a four-year, $17 million contract, with $4.5 million in salary ($4.25 million cap hit) remaining this season. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent in July and has been with the Blues since the 2005-06 season.

He was the last piece of the trade that sent Chris Pronger to the Edmonton Oilers.

"Just the fact that (the Blues) were inquiring and wanted to have some dialogue about a possible move ...," said Brewer, who two weeks ago welcomed a newborn daughter into the world along with wife Rebecca. "I think in the end, you just want to make a good decision for everyone and put yourself in a really good spot to play hockey for a long time. Playing in Tampa will certainly change that this year."

The player the Blues get out of this is Beukeboom, whose father Jeff played for the Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers.

The younger Beukeboom, 20, was the Lightning's third-round pick in 2010 (63rd overall) but did not sign a contract. He has played in 44 games for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this season, recording eight points on a goal and seven assists.

The 6-foot-2, 199-pound defenseman has spent each of the last three seasons with Sault Ste. Marie, accumulating 45 points (10 goals, 35 assists) and 144 penalty minutes in 165 games. He was rated as the Lightning's top defensive prospect according to

"We were looking to add some assets, some future assets," Armstrong said. "You never know what interest there's going to be, what the level of interest will be.

"I think getting Brock Beukeboom, who is a very early third-round pick last year, and a third-round pick this year, gives us another bullet in the chamber at this year’s entry draft and it gives us another young prospect on defense. I had information from people at Hockey Canada about him. They said very good things about him. I was very comfortable with the prospect and the pick is something the scouts obviously want you to get more of. It was a return that I felt was satisfying enough to make the deal now."

The Blues have a glutton on defense, making Brewer somewhat expendable even in the midst of a playoff chase that may never materialize. But the emergence of young d-men Nikita Nikitin and Ian Cole allowed Armstrong to not only accommodate the veteran Brewer but it will also give the Blues the time to get extensive looks at their future prizes.

"After seeing Nikitin play and seeing Cole, we think that these players are going to have a good chance to push," Armstrong said. "A little bit like we did earlier this year. Unfortunately for David Perron it didn't work out well, and quite honestly for T.J. Oshie, we created that space in the summer. We wanted them to come in and express themselves for a season to see how they were going to play. And I think if we want to find out about Nikitin and we want to find out about Cole, we have to play them and we have to create opportunities.

"What it does, it springboards us the opportunity to find out how they play in a very intense time and a very hectic schedule, how they respond to the NHL environment, how they're going to respond to games played. Nikitin is in here now. If another player gets called up, he's going to have that opportunity. But it gives me a much better feeling of what we're dealing with over the summer once we find out how these guys play in the spring."

Cole said via text Friday night, "I'll miss him. Great guy who was definitely a mentor to me. It's easy for older guys to ignore the younger call-ups, but he was always teaching me a ton and I really appreciate everything he did for me and the team."

Armstrong said there was interest from multiple teams but that some of those teams wanted to wait closer until the deadline to make a move. But when this package presented itself, Armstrong felt like it was a plus-plus on both ends.

"I was quite honest with Eric that where we are in the standings is an uphill battle," Armstrong said. "I believe strongly in our team that they're going to push and that they're going to fight. But with Eric's situation and our young players moving forward, I thought it was an obligation of the franchise to be honest, what direction we were going to go over the summer with our defense. It gives Eric a chance to go to a Stanley Cup contending team that has a chance to play into May and June. It allows him to show his worth, show his skills and it allows us to get some things for the future.

"I wanted to try and get him into a location where he was comfortable and Tampa Bay was high on his list and I focused in on that group for him."

Brewer, who played 332 games over six seasons with St. Louis, had eight goals and six assists along with a plus-1 rating in 54 games this season after being slowed by injuries the previous two years. He totaled 30 goals and 95 points with the Blues, but his defining moment in a tenure marred by inconsistent fan appreciation directly related to the Pronger trade was being the leader of this hockey club.

"I was very, very proud to be named captain of the Blues," Brewer said. "It was one of the biggest compliments I've ever gotten. It's a position I really truly loved ... just being a guy that's relied upon for a variety of different things. It was really quite enjoyable and got a view from the coaches' side of things, which helps you understand why things are done a certain way. But at the end of the day, you're there for the guys, and the guys were wonderful for me. I think for the most part, they thought that I was a guy that was there for them."

Armstrong said that this deal was not particularly made as prelude of things to come but that anything's possible.

"I'm not sure we'll be busy. We're going to be active, certainly making phone calls," Armstrong said. "We're going to be active listening to what's available. I think quite honestly, when I look at our roster now, I would say the deals that we'll make moving forward will be more 'hockey trades' than trades for futures. Obviously, Eric's the one. He's an Olympian. He's our team captain. He had an excellent reputation around the league. He was someone that I felt was going to garner some interest from teams that were looking to add. I think it speaks well for him. But I think the deals now we have moving forward are going to be more hockey-oriented than draft pick oriented."

Armstrong also said that the team will not replace Brewer immediately with a new captain and that the team will utilize its four alternates (Alex Steen, David Backes, Barret Jackman and Erik Johnson).

"What we're going to do is we're going to play the rest of the season with the assistant captains that we have," Armstrong said. "We'll evaluate the organization from this point forward with regards to leadership. Then (head coach) Davis (Payne) and I will sit down and we'll discuss who's the next captain of the St. Louis Blues, or if we don't find the right person, we may continue with the assistant captains.

"We hope that someone steps up and takes grab of the locker room. But you never know what might happen. There might be a new player come in from a different organization between now and then that has captain written all over him. So for the rest of this year, we're just going with the A's as they are."

As for Brewer, he was always open to resigning with the Blues and wouldn't be opposed to it this off-season.

"It was always probably our first choice," Brewer said. "I guess it sounds weird now that I've been moved, but we've always liked (St. Louis). But both myself and Army decided that we'd move on with it. It went very well and that was that. But we certainly had lots of thoughts and were of the mind that we would stay, but stuff changes pretty quick.

"We've always really liked it in St. Louis. It's been easy to live there and been easy to like the people around us."

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