Thursday, June 30, 2011

Free agency period set to begin Friday

Blues likely more inclined to target mid-range players

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- A year ago at this time, when big contracts were unveiled to some of the big names that entered unrestricted free agency, the Blues weren't totally left in the dark, but they weren‘t shelling out offers left and right either.

In 2010, the big names that received big-dollar and long-term contracts were blue liners. In the meantime, the Blues were busy taking care of their own. Alex Steen and Vladimir Sobotka re-signed contracts, but that would be the extent of it for the Blues and free agency frenzy.

With the opening of the 2011 free agent bonanza set to begin Friday at 11 a.m. (St. Louis time), the Blues in all probability will be limited bystanders as the free agent crop begins to fall like dominoes, and as was the case a year ago, don't expect Blues general manager Doug Armstrong to whip out Dave Checketts' checkbook and start free-wheeling.

In other words, don't expect any Brad Richards splashes from the Blues when the doors open for business Friday morning.

"We're looking to improve our team, but in a fashion that's responsible to the organization," Armstrong said. "We'll have the flexibility to add players, but we have to be cautious. We'll start with the group that's on our list."

Armstrong and the Blues won't look to make up the landscape of their team during free agency. Consider them to be filling the gaps.

"You look to fill your holes," Armstrong said. "... You look at trying to improve your team and you use whatever assets you have available to try and improve it. What we're finding out now is that teams are making their decisions on their free agents a little bit like we did with David Backes much earlier and you lock those guys up.

"The free agent pool seems to be diluted to what it was even 72 hours ago. The teams are making their decisions on their players, signing them and not letting them get to free agency. I read a quote today from (Toronto assistant GM) Dave Nonis that said, 'Free agency is a time to augment your team, not make your team.' I would have to 100 percent agree with that. Now's the time to add to what you have. If you're trying to create your team on July 1st, I think that's a very slippery slope."

While the Blues won't be in the market for any marquee-named players, they're more likely interested in a forward of the third-line mix, possibly a veteran left-handed defenseman and a backup goalie.

"There are some very good players at each position, but not the depth in the past years," Armstrong said. "There are players that can come in and fill important roles for a team. They might not be the marquee names, but they're important players who can help you be successful."

With the Blues' ownership situation currently still up in the air, the Blues aren't going to come nearly close to the salary cap maximum of $64.3 million. They'll be much closer to the cap floor, which is $48.3 million. The Blues will likely be on the lower end of the $50-55 million range.

Some interesting names that could help the Blues are Colorado winger Tomas Fleischmann, Carolina winger Erik Cole, Chicago goalie Marty Turco, Avs netminders Peter Budaj and Brian Elliott, Columbus winger Scottie Upshall, Jackets defenseman Jan Hejda, Dallas winger Jamie Langenbrunner, Detroit winger Patrick Eaves, Minnesota goalie Josh Harding, Nashville winger Joel Ward, Wild center Andrew Brunette, Montreal defenseman Brent Sopel, Nashville defenseman Shane O'Brien, Pittsburgh's Tyler Kennedy and Maxime Talbot, Tampa Bay winger Sean Bergenheim and Philadelphia winger Ville Leino.

"We're looking to improve our team, but in a fashion that's responsible to the organization," Armstrong said. "We'll have the flexibility to add players, but we have to be cautious. We'll start with the group that's on our list."

Otherwise, the Blues will once again look from within to make the leap forward.

"We're going to have to do that. That's our mandate," Armstrong said. "I believe that we have to use this season to find out are we building with the right pieces. Do we have the right core pieces here to take this organization to the next level? The only way you find that out is you put them on the ice in those situations and you see how they respond.

"I was hoping quite honestly this was going to happen last year, but we had two major injuries (to David Perron and T.J. Oshie) that happened in hockey and that's just the way life is. I'm not sure where they fit in with the hierarchy of being a top echelon team. We need to find that out so we need to know what guys we move forward with or do we have to alter a few players to take a different approach."

The Blues only made one deal that the draft, acquiring 21-year-old Russian Evgeny Grachev from the New York Rangers for a third-round pick. Armstrong says Grachev, who is 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, will have a chance to compete for a roster spot.

"He's a player that we think can come in and compete for an opening-night spot," Armstrong said. "He's got pro experience now, he's got size, he's got raw attributes. Now he has to put that together and impress the coaches. But he'll be given every opportunity."

* Blues, D'Agostini still talking -- While there is no new news to report on impending unrestricted free agent Matt D'Agostini, Armstrong indicated that the sides continue to talk.
D'Agostini, 24, could become a UFA Friday at 11 a.m. (St. Louis time) if a deal isn't reached before then.

"We're still having dialogue over the last 48 hours with Matt D'Agostini," Armstrong said. "If we can push that ahead, then we'll have two players (Ben Bishop and Ryan Reaves) that are restricted that I'm pretty comfortable (and) I know what their pay scale is going to be."

* Cracknell signs -- The Blues have also reportedly come to an agreement on a one-year contract with forward Adam Cracknell. Cracknell received a two-way deal that will pay him an NHL salary of $575,000 and a $90,000 AHL salary, according to

Cracknell played in 24 games with the Blues a season ago and scored three goals and added another four assists.

* Perron update -- Armstrong also mentioned the possibility of David Perron being ready for opening night this season. But the Blues' winger, who has done very little hockey-related activities since suffering a concussion from San Jose's Joe Thornton, still has not resumed any workout-related activities.

"We're hopeful. He's still not to the part where he's doing any off-ice training yet, but every day, there seems to be a positive sign that he's getting a little bit better, a little bit stronger," Armstrong said of Perron. "We were hoping to have everything resolved on that issue on July 1st. That's not going to happen. He's not going to work out tomorrow. I think he's closer than further. I would say we're cautiously optimistic that he's going to be available for the start of the season."


  1. I hope the Blues get leino. but when it comes down to it we need Perron. Hope he recovers.

    Thanks LK!

  2. Hearing Leino's pricing himself pretty high, like in the $4 million range. If that's the case, Blues will be out of the bidding.