Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tarasenko staying in Russia

2010 No. 1 pick decides to play in KHL at least one more season

ST. LOUIS -- When the Blues were having exit meetings and Doug Armstrong was having his "exit" interview with the media in mid-April, the Blues' general manager was asked if he'd like to have 2010 No. 1 pick Vladimir Tarasenko here as soon as possible.

"We'd love to get him signed, we'd love to get him over here," Armstrong said at the time.
Well, that time apparently isn't now or any time this year.

It looks like the Blues will have to wait at least one more year, as it was confirmed today by Armstrong that Tarasenko, the No. 16 overall pick in last summer's NHL Entry Draft, has decided to play one more season in the KHL.

Tarasenko, who is vacationing after playing for Russia at the IIHF World Championships earlier this month, will play a fourth season with Sibir Novosibirsk after making a short, to-the-point internet announcement on Sibir's team website this morning. It was first reported by Allesandro Seren Rosso of russianprospects.com.

"Dear Sibir's fans," Tarasenko declared in the video. "I decided to spend a further year with the club. I hope to please you with my play. Thank you for the support."

Armstrong spoke with former Blues netminder and Tarasenko's agent Mike Liut before confirming the end result. He would not say what kind of offer was made.

"At the end of the day, (Tarasenko) feels that it's best for his development to spend one more season in the KHL, and we certainly support that decision," Armstrong said. "At that age, 19, I'm sure he had to take a look at all the different options he had. Obviously he felt that playing in the KHL and staying in an environment he was comfortable with will increase his development and make him a better player in North America when he gets here."

There's growing concerns among Blues fans that the team could lose Tarasenko, as NHL teams normally have two years to sign European and/or junior players from the time they're drafted. But since Russia is not part of the International Ice Hockey Association transfer agreement, there is no deadline on signing Tarasenko.

Reports coming out of Russia are that Sibir is prepared to offer Tarasenko a two-year extension. He still has one year remaining on his current contract. But Armstrong was unaware of an impending new deal.

Sibir general manager Kirill Fastovsky told SovSport.ru that the Blues made an "exclusive offer" to Tarasenko, "like no other ... guaranteeing he'd play (in the NHL)," per Yahoo hockey writer Dmitry Chesnokov.

Armstrong was not so forthcoming on that guarantee.

"You can't guarantee anyone anything coming into the NHL," the Blues' GM said. "I think my philosophy is you can't guarantee something you can't fulfill ... it's just going to put a strain on the relationship.

"He was told that there was a great opportunity here, that his game would transcend to the NHL quickly. But we were crystal clear that he has to come and earn that job. Ultimately, he had to come and earn the job. We weren't just going to give them away. You have to earn your spot in the NHL."

There is a growing sentiment that the reason many European players balk at moves to North America immediately/if at all is that the player fears being moved to play in the American Hockey League. Players want that guarantee that they'll play in the NHL.

"When I did talk to (Tarasenko in recent months), I did tell him that I thought there was a very good opportunity for him to come and compete for a spot in St. Louis," Armstrong said. "With our roster, there are jobs to be had."

Those jobs will be filled by players on the current roster and possibly players that could be brought in through free agency and/or trade.

"Obviously it's going to create some more opportunities for some other players," Armstrong said. "It's a space that we thought he might compete for. So now do we look to fill that spot via trade? Do we look at filling that spot via free agency or internal competition?

"The positive is that we have the information (on Tarasenko) now and we can move forward and look to see how we can make our team better."

In three seasons with Sibir, the 6-foot-1, 198-pound Tarasenko tallied 29 goals and 23 assists in 122 games, including nine goals and 19 points in 42 games this past season.

Tarasenko, a co-captain, also had four goals and 11 points in seven games while leading Russia to the World Junior Championship in January.

Friday, May 13, 2011

2011 Stanley Cup Conference Final (Predictions)

1. Vancouver Canucks vs. 2. San Jose Sharks
Well, as the seeds have picked out for us, the west's top two will battle it out for right to represent in the Stanley Cup finals. Both squads needed to dispose of a pair of pesky Central Division foes -- Vancouver knocked out Nashville in six games, San Jose over Detroit in seven -- to get to where they are today. There are a number of factors that can play out that could very well determine who wins and who goes home between these two teams. Both are loaded up front, both have a solid d-core and the goaltending has been as good as advertised even though both Roberto Luongo and Antti Niemi have had their moments. However, both were very good in the conference semifinals. What can the Canucks do to get the Sedins going? Neither have been effective in some time and it will be hard for the Canucks to succeed too much longer without some contribution from Daniel or Henrik. Alex Burrows has held up his end of the bargain and Vancouver has seen some better-than-expected play from third- and fourth-line members. As for the Sharks, they finally got some clutch play from Patrick Marleau, who was thrown under the bus from former teammate-turned-commentator Jeremy Roenick, as the Sharks nearly saw a 3-0 series lead turn into disaster if they would have went down in a seventh game. Devin Setoguchi was money against the Wings, Ryane Clowe was a welcomed sight in Game 7 and Joe Pavelski was the clutch player in the first round against the Kings. I'll cut to the chase because this series is so close, cutting it with a knife may not decide it. The two players that will decide this series are: Ryan Kesler of the Canucks and Joe Thornton of the Sharks. Forget Luongo, forget Niemi ... OK, they'll have to be clutch for their respective teams, but I believe this comes down to Kesler and Thornton. They better get used to one another, cause they'll be seeing each other a ton throughout this series. I'll tell you this, the Nashville Predators are one of the most -- if not the most -- structured and disciplined defensive teams in the NHL. And look what Kesler did to them. This guy is one of the best two-way players in the game and is only getting better. I'm just having a hard time believing the Sharks can hold him back. They may slow him at times, but hold him down ... not a chance. But I think the Canucks' underrated defense can slow Thornton, Marleau and Dany Heatley in check. They haven't been to the finals since falling to the Rangers in 1994 but they get back there with a hard-fought series win in what will be a great series. ...

3. Boston Bruins vs. 5. Tampa Bay Lightning
Who are these teams anyway? When did they last play? Unlike the west combatants, the Bruins and Lightning easily made quick work of their conference semifinal opponents with sweeps of the Flyers (Boston) and Capitals (Tampa Bay). When I look at the Bruins, I see blue collar. I see talent but guys working their tails off for every inch they get. I see Tim Thomas unwavering and unflappable. I see Zdeno Chara imposing his will at both ends of the ice. I see David Krejci finally unleashing his full offensive throttle and slowly bringing Milan Lucic along with him. You get the picture here. When I see the Lightning, I see star-studded players. Marty St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos and ... Sean Bergenheim? Really? They have quick-striking ability. Just ask the Penguins and Capitals. And now they have former Blue Eric Brewer anchoring what coach Guy Boucher likes to call a tough-minded, hard-nosed defense to play against now. And they have the ageless Dwayne Roloson, who can steal games as has been witnessed in these playoffs and in playoffs past. I'm also going to say this series will come down to two players. Both have been instrumental to their respective teams and both will need to come up huge if they want their team to represent the east in the Stanley Cup final. This series, I believe, comes down to Thomas and Roloson. Both have been stellar, both have shown some creaks in their respective games but overall, they've taken on a heavy burden ... and thrived in the process. I give the nod to Thomas simply because this has been his calling for an entire season, not just in the postseason. I believe the Bruins' D gets a slight nod over Tampa's revamped unit and helps Thomas outduel Roloson here. Thomas may be all over the place, but the guy has been on a mission this season, and that mission leads the B's to the finals for the first time since 1990. ...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Blues, Davidson agree to contract extension

Team president's current contract was to expire at end
of June; four-year deal in place despite ownership questions

ST. LOUIS -- With the Blues' ownership situation up in the air, John Davidson had a decision to make.

The Blues' president likes what he sees, and he wants to continue to be a part of the building process.

Davidson's contract was all set to expire at the end of June. His five-year term after being hired by Dave Checketts as the Blues' team president was coming to a close.

And with an impending change in ownership for the Blues as a looming factor, there were questions whether Davidson would continue on in his current position.

Davidson laid those questions to rest Tuesday when the Blues and Davidson reached agreement on a contract extension, with a source indicating that it is for four years.

Davidson, 58, was about to finish up a $10 million contract but an extension has been in place for some time. Putting the finishing touches on the new deal was apparently put on hold while Checketts and his company, Sports Capital Partners Worldwide, were in the process of putting the Blues up for sale.

That debate is now a moot point.

"John was our first hire as an ownership group" Checketts said in a statement. "We believed then and still believe now in his ability to rekindle the passion of the Blues in St. Louis .

"Along the way John has played a lead role in helping to rebuild the St. Louis Blues both on and off the ice. He became the face of the franchise at a time when it was dearly needed and his hands have been on the wheel steering it in the right direction ever since. ... The Blues are now well positioned for long term success."

Davidson, a goaltender who the Blues chose in the first round in 1973, and his contract will now go along with the price tag that the franchise will have for a prospective new owner. But if the team is sold to a group led by local businessman Tom Stillman, the team's current minority owner who apparently has made the only offer for the franchise thus far, that won't be a problem.

Stillman has previously endorsed the job Davidson and management have done guiding this franchise.

For Davidson, the time was right.

"For me, it's a case of enjoying the city of St. Louis, my family really enjoys it," Davidson said. "That plays into it, no question.

"Wherever the ownership thing goes, for me, it's more about the team. I like where we're sitting. I like the direction we've gone. I like the acquisitions we've made. I like the future that I sense we're getting close to. I want to be a part of that. We've gone through a lot of pain here over the years and we've made gains. We're not where we want to be obviously, but we're getting closer and I have a good feeling about this group."

Under Davidson's guidance, the Blues have only qualified for the playoffs once but they have assembled quite a cast of young talent through drafting, free agency and trades, they've seen attendance rise in each of Davidson's five seasons -- they sold out all 41 games this past season -- and they've rejuvenated fan interest. Davidson's also entrusted the guidance behind the bench to one who was groomed within the organization in current head coach Davis Payne.

"We've found a way to get as many talented kids as we could," Davidson said. "And in turn, we've been able to make a couple deals because of it. It includes Erik (Johnson), it includes the (Jaroslav) Halak deal.

"We're trying to find a way to continue to tweak this lineup by finding ways to get itself to the next level. We're working at that. We're a team that's built from within. Our fans have had a great opportunity to come see us grow as a group. I think they've enjoyed that. They're striving for results like we are, too. I think we're in a position to do some good things."

Davidson's ultimate goal is obviously a Stanley Cup, which would be the franchise's first, but there have been some bumpy decisions along the way (free agent contracts to Paul Kariya and Jay McKee as well as the dismissal of coaches Mike Kitchen and Andy Murray to name a few). But overall, it's evident the Blues are making the necessary strides in the difficult National Hockey League.

"I think when you look back, you look back with an open mind (wondering) what could you have done better," Davidson said. "Certainly there's things in the world of sports that you can always do better. There's nothing that's pure. There's nothing that's exact.

"The team has made strides both off the ice and on the ice. The fans have a real good, strong feeling about this group. I like the way our players over the years have reconnected with the city. ... We have a long road trip to go on. When I first got here, there weren't a lot of people in the building. The people that were in the building were great. There was not a lot of anything, so we've worked at it and worked at it and worked at it. Obviously, you try and make intelligent moves. Some work, some don't and you learn from them. We've stayed with our game plan, and in doing so, I think we've put ourselves in position to take that next step, and I feel good about it."

Davidson will stay the course and continue to build upon the game plan that he and management feel is important to get this hockey club where it needs to go.

"The biggest challenge and what I've learned most is to stay with the plan that you've devised," Davidson said. "In turn, a lot of times you have an opportunity to make short-term gains that are going to hurt you in the long-term. We stayed away from that.

"The patience level, it's hard, especially those early years. Some of those early games, we weren't even in some games. Now I see us play and we're in all these games with an opportunity to win. The old days, that just wasn't happening. ... We started at 30th (in the league) and I respect all those players that came through here. Most of them are gone. They did their part in trying to get us in a position where we can move forward. Now I feel when we come to camp this season, we should have a chance to play with anyone in this league, and I like that."