Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Checketts expects to have Blues sold by start of season

Team's owner says developments have escalated in recent weeks 

ST. LOUIS -- Dave Checketts remains status quo publicly as far as the sale of the Blues are concerned.

He says the process is moving along. But there's an internal sense that a conclusion is in sight.

Things seem to be heating up like the St. Louis summer.

Checketts, the team's owner, was in town Wednesday at Barnes-Jewish Hospital to announce that the opening gala performance on Oct. 1 at the Peabody Opera House will include Aretha Franklin and Jay Leno. Proceeds from the opening night will benefit the John L. Trotter Multiple Sclerosis Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine. He also spoke with reporters regarding an update on the sale of the Blues.

Checketts and his group SCP Worldwide, who announced in April along with majority investors TowerBrook Capital Partners, L.P. that they were placing the Blues up for sale, have seen developments in recent weeks heat up.

Blues principal owner and chairman Dave Checketts.                   (AP photo)
Game Plan LLC, a Boston-based firm conducting the team's sale, also was involved in the purchase of the franchise when Checketts bought the team in 2006. They seem to feel like things are progressing in a positive manner.

"I think the statement (from Game Plan Founder and Chairman Robert Caporale) speaks for itself," Checketts said. "There's a lot of interest and I really think Game Plan is really doing a great job with the people we're working with. There will be a successful conclusion."

Although a date is not etched in stone, Checketts expects the sale's conclusion to come by the start of the 2011-12 season. There are reports that as many as five different groups have shown interest in purchasing the franchise. One that was recently reported by the Toronto Globe and Mail is a group led by Matthew Hulsizer, a Chicago businessman who recently pulled out his longstanding bid to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes. There's also a group led by current minority owner Tom Stillman, Chairman and CEO of Summit Distributing in St. Louis.

Checketts would not specifically disclose any names/groups involved but did say that things have certainly moved in the direction they have been looking for. And while Checketts also would not say the Blues are focusing specifically on one particular bidder, he did say, "We'll be there shortly. It's a process. People take a look at things, numbers. It's a sale process. Pretty simple.

"We expect to have something done by the start of the season. ... We expect to have an orderly sale process. It'll be done by the start of the season."

There was also a report in the Globe and Mail that when the sale of the franchise is completed, Checketts could stay on in a minority ownership capacity should Hulsizer's group purchase the team. He denied that anyone has approached him in that regard.

"I haven't been approached by anybody in that way," Checketts said. "I had to put the whole thing up for sale and that's where we're headed. ... We went through that process for awhile. We didn't find anybody that way, and I had to agree with TowerBrook that I'd put the whole thing up for sale."

Checketts seems to be in good position with more potential buyers coming forward, which could drive the sale price of the Blues, the lease to Scottrade Center and the AHL Peoria Rivermen skyward.

With the recent sale and relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg and near-completion of a sale for the Dallas Stars, potential bidders seem to be turning their attentions toward the Blues.

"To go pay $250 (million) for Dallas, how do you justify that? ... That's the price of an NHL franchise in Dallas," Checketts said. "The price of an NHL franchise in St. Louis ... in my view is a healthy franchise. It's a healthy, healthy price because we have a healthy franchise."

Checketts also said today that his affiliation with the NBA's Detroit Pistons is about to come to an end, likely when a new head coach is named. Checketts and Pistons owner Tom Gores are close friends and the Blues' owner was brought in as an advisor. Checketts took some criticism for taking on that role while trying to sell the franchise here. Checketts, when asked if he saw himself back in the NBA one day, said yes, someday.

"People can say whatever they want. Tom Gores is a good friend of mine and he just asked me to take a look at the organization," Checketts said. "That's probably cost me three days.
"I know everybody wants me to get this thing (in St. Louis) concluded, but we're working diligently in that direction."

Checketts also had a message for Blues fans who might be concerned with the direction of the team while awaiting an ownership transition:

"We stepped up and kept our whole team together and added some free agents," Checketts said. "I think (general manager) Doug (Armstrong) and (president) John (Davidson) have really done a great job. I'm really excited about the season. If fans had a reason to be worried, it would be we hadn't signed T.J. (Oshie), we did nothing at the free agent (signing period). That would be a cause of concern. We went out and kept our whole team together. The young talent is back. I think we're solid everywhere. I really feel good about it and we went out and got two guys (Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott) to come into the locker room who have both won Cups. That's what I'm excited about."

Checketts said he in no certain terms hindered Armstrong in any way to try and improve the team.

"We said two things," Checketts said. "We said we want to keep the team together. We believe in what has been done in the past and that we've laid a foundation for success. And in addition, managed the payroll in a way that gives you some flexibility in case something good happens on the free agent market. I think (Armstrong) handled it perfectly. He hung around and hung around, he didn't get in on the early bidding, which was ... that first weekend was stunning. But I think he came up with some really terrific guys to add to our team. I'm very excited about the way this team looks for the (upcoming) season, the way they're going to play and the parts (to the team)."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

D'Agostini eager to prove he's no one-year wonder

Equipped with new contract, forward can fill a number of roles for Blues

ST. LOUIS -- Equipped with a new contract, Matt D'Agostini is geared to join his fellow Blues teammates in fulfilling one common goal.

D'Agostini, 24, doesn't have to worry about his immediate future, with a two-year, $3.3 million deal signed, sealed and delivered. He's had time this summer to allow the reality and financial security to soak in along with focusing on helping the Blues play beyond Game 82.

The Blues have been doing a lot of talking about improving in recent years. The time to have that talk come to fruition is what these players are looking for.

"That was the sense I got even before we broke after the season," D'Agostini said. "And the year they made the playoffs a couple years ago, they got swept in four games in the first round.

"It's enough talk. It's time to put those words into action. We know we have the players, we know we have a good enough team to get it done here and we want to do what's necessary to finally achieve that goal."
Matt D'Agostini has a new contract and new goals for 2011-12.  (Getty Images)

The Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario native was to become a restricted free agent on July 1. And even though the Blues never gave him a qualifying offer -- thus giving D'Agostini the luxury of becoming an unrestricted free agent -- there was an amicable agreement in place before July 1 and leaving here was something D'Agostini never considered.

"That was never really an option," said D'Agostini, who will earn $1.5 million and $1.8 million on his new contract. "I think the whole time we were in talks, we knew we were going to work out something. If not July 1st, right before the deadline there. I was never willing to test the market. St. Louis was always the No. 1 spot."

D'Agostini, who set career highs in goals (21), assists (25) and points (46), proved that if called upon, he can deliver in a top six role. Only David Backes (62), Patrik Berglund (52), Alex Steen (51) and Andy McDonald (50) had more points last season.

The Blues needed scoring once David Perron went down for what turned out to be the rest of the season with a concussion. If Perron isn't ready by the start of the upcoming season, it could very well be that D'Agostini find's himself playing among the Blues' top six. Or in a best-case scenario with a healthy Perron, D'Agostini can provide the Blues with scoring depth playing a third-line role.

"Last year was kind of a breakout year for me," D'Agostini said. "I'm looking to build upon that and help the team in any way that I can.

"I think I proved I can play a top six role, but whatever Doug Armstrong and Payner (Blues coach Davis Payne) ask of me, I'm ready for whatever role I'm given."

But D'Agostini, who's spent his summer training and working out at home in Ontario with a personal trainer, feels like he can build off last year's numbers.

Who's to say he can't reach 25, 30 goals and possibly 60-70 points?

"It was a nice steppingstone for me there (last season)," D'Agostini said. "That was my first year I really got comfortable in the league and saw what I can do. Hopefully the comfort level stays the same and we can put together some wins. With the team success comes all the individual success. Hopefully all the goals will be there just like they were last year."

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said the opportunity for D'Agostini will be there once again.

"He's going to have a good opportunity to be a top-nine forward," Armstrong said. "Now, he needs to take advantage of it and make this the starting block for the rest of his NHL career."

The Blues have added some veteran pieces to the mix, giving the team flexibility and more importantly, depth. Adding forwards Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner and Scott Nichol along with defenseman Kent Huskins gives the team a deeper complexion.

D'Agostini said he's glad to be a part of it.

"We've got a great team, great depth," he said. "We've got everything it takes to be a winner. We've got the leadership and the goaltending and the scoring, the defense and everything else we need. It looks good on paper. We've just got to put everything in action."

D'Agostini, who will be starting his second full season with the Blues and fifth overall (he played in only one game with Montreal in 2007-08), has 35 goals and 71 points in 183 career games. And just like some of the other contracts Armstrong has given to restricted free agents (T.J. Oshie, Perron, Berglund, Erik Johnson), D'Agostini is ready, willing and eager to prove he's deserving of a long-term contract in the future.

"Yeah, I go into next year as another prove-it kind of year and that's a good thing," D'Agostini said. "Sure the security is nice for all players, but that's something you earn over time and I'm willing to do that.

"I'm looking forward to the challenges that will be there. If I can help the team achieve the goals we're striving for, (Individual goals) will work themselves out."

Which is why D'Agostini and his teammates are ready for September and training camp to roll around.

"We're all ready for the season to get going," D'Agostini said. "I know I can't wait."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Blues sign Cheechoo to one-year, two-way contract

Former Rocket Richard winner will try to win job with parent club

ST. LOUIS -- Looking to add more punch to their American Hockey League affiliate in Peoria or seeking to reclaim some semblance of a 50-goal scorer in the NHL. That's what the Blues must decide after singing veteran winger Jonathan Cheechoo.

Cheechoo, who turns 31 on Friday, signed a one-year, two-way contract Wednesday for $600,000 NHL and $225,000 AHL that includes performance bonuses.

The 6-foot, 200-pound Moose Factory, Ontario native is a former Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy winner after scoring 56 goals in 82 games with the San Jose Sharks during the 2005-06 season. He followed that up with a 37-goal campaign in 2006-07, where he was an NHL All-Star. But Cheechoo hasn't played in the league since scoring five goals in 61 games with the Ottawa Senators in 2009-10.
Jonathan Cheechoo scored 56 goals for the Sharks in 2005-06.

Cheechoo, who has 186 goals and 154 assists in 501 regular season games and 59 playoff games, spent last season with the Worcester Sharks of the AHL, San Jose's minor league affiliate after failing to land a job with the Dallas Stars following a try-out.

The right winger will go to camp in September with the Blues and have a chance to win a job. But in all likelihood is bound for Peoria to play for the Rivermen.

Cheechoo, drafted by San Jose in the second round (29th overall) in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, began his career with the Sharks in 2002-03, then scored 28 goals in his second season. He followed that up with a 56-goal, 93-point effort following the lockout season of 2004-05. Then came a 37-goal, 69-point season before his production began to sharply drop.

Cheechoo dipped to 23 goals in 2007-08, then 12 the following year before being traded to the Senators that brought Dany Heatley to San Jose.

Injuries began to mount, including a double sports hernia in 2007-08 despite playing in 69 games that season.

After tallying only 14 points for the Senators in 2009-10, Cheechoo was sent to AHL Binghamton and he hasn't seen an NHL rink since.

Cheechoo, who is a Cree Indian, scored 19 goals and added 29 assists in 55 games for Worcester a season ago and claims to be healthy once again.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Arnott, Langenbrunner have unique opportunity with Blues

Veterans add Stanley Cup pedigree to a lineup aspiring to take next step

ST. LOUIS -- For a team to sign Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner on the same squad, say, 5-10 years ago would have raised a number of eyebrows across the hockey continent.

It would have been called a puck coup.

But the Blues' signing of the veteran pair on Wednesday brings plenty of positive feedback but also does beg one to ask the following questions: how much do they still have in the tank and how can they help a younger squad take the necessary steps to become a playoff team and more importantly, becoming a Stanley Cup contender?

"We're bringing these players in, knowing what they are," said Blues general manager Doug Armstrong. "They're mature, older players that have great experience, but they're not 26 or 27 anymore. I'm very comfortable (Blues coach) Davis (Payne) will use these players correctly to give them their rest so they can have the energy on the ice. But these are the players we want to help us play into April and May."

April and May being the key months here ... and let's not forget about June.

Arnott, 36, and Langenbrunner, 35, both have their names engraved on the hardware players dream of laying their hands on: the Stanley Cup. Langenbrunner owns one each with Dallas (1999) and New Jersey (2003) while Arnott (2000) also has one with the Devils.
Jamie Langenbrunner (left) and Jason Arnott hope celebrations are a
common theme in St. Louis with the Blues in 2011-12.   (Getty Images)

Along with forward Andy McDonald and newly acquired defenseman Kent Huskins (each won the Cup with the Ducks in 2007), the Blues want to mix in a bevy of players that have tasted the Cup before with those aspiring to reach it for the first time.

"Two guys that understand what winning and success is in this league," Payne said of signing Arnott and Langenbrunner. "It's great for our team.

"These guys are workers. They're guys who understand what it takes. They'll set a great example for our guys. ... We fully believe that the core of our group and heavy lifting is in that room, and these guys are gonna add to that."

Both Arnott and Langenbrunner chose one-year deals with the Blues. Arnott's is for $2.5 million in base salary, $375,000 in performances bonuses plus a no-trade clause, while Langenbrunner also gets $2.5 million in base salary plus $300,000 in performance bonuses. Both were reportedly offered two-year contracts.

Both may have gotten more on the open market but feel what the Blues can offer in the immediate future was too good to pass up.

"I had a few offers," Arnott admitted. "But I heard nothing but great things about the organization from players that I've played with, and it seemed like a great fit for me ... come in and be a guy to help out the young guys and contribute as much as I can."

Arnott comes in off a bit of a down season last year with New Jersey and Washington, with 17 goals and 14 assists in 73 games. Langenbrunner also had a bit of a down year last season, too. He played with Arnott in New Jersey before being traded to the Stars. The Duluth, Minn. native only potted nine goals and added 23 assists in 70 games. It was his lowest goal output since scoring two with the Stars in 1995-96.

"I want to put last year behind me," Langenbrunner said. "Before that, I had two of the best years of my career (19 goals and 61 points in 2009-10 and 29 goals and 69 points in 2008-09, playing 81 games both seasons). Unfortunately, it was a tough one last year, but I want to come back and get back to the level where I was. Putting up some points, but also playing the game the right way.

"I think with the depth we have in our lineup, it should be able to come from a lot of different lines and take the pressure off one group to get it done."

Arnott has 400 goals and 904 points in 1,172 career games, while Langenbrunner adds 237 goals and 638 points in 1,035 career games. They also have 252 career playoff games between them on their resumes, something the Blues hope rub off on their core group.

"There's nothing like playing with younger guys now," Arnott said. "They bring a lot of energy to the game.

"Anything that I can do to help, I love bringing them along ... just talking about old times and showing them what it takes to win. That's what I'm there for."

Added Payne, "The conversations with both guys, they understand there's a great, young nucleus here and these guys feel they can supplement that and make us a better team. Our talent is there. How it performs on a nightly basis, I think you can take a look at our top nine, there's a lot of interchangeable parts there. How you want to define lines 1-3, most nights can be pretty difficult."

Adding these guys to the mix may make it pretty difficult to define lines 1-4, and Armstrong, who back in 2002 traded Langenbrunner (along with Joe Nieuwendyk) to acquire Jason Arnott and Randy McKay, is glad to have both aboard.

"I just think they wanted to make sure they were going to a situation that they thought was best for them ... not just for this year, but both players want to play multiple years and I think we give them a very good opportunity to come in here," Armstrong said. "Veteran presence is important on our team. We don't have a lot of players that have that been there, done that experience. ... The thing I like about all these players, their professionalism and how they prepare for the game everyday. They're all well-conditioned athletes and you have to be play this long into their careers. I do think it's a very good mix. It's going to accent the core of our team."

Friday, July 8, 2011

Colaiacovo hoping for bigger, more prominent role

Defenseman spending extensive time in St. Louis to get lighter, leaner

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Instead of spending the summer in his hometown of Toronto, Blues defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo is choosing to get more acquainted with his winter home.

Well, it may not be his winter home anymore. The 6-foot-1 Colaiacovo has a love for St. Louis, and this summer's experiences have fortified those feelings.

"It's been great ... absolutely great," Colaiacovo said Thursday morning at St. Louis Mills. "I've spent the majority of the summer here, mostly by choice. I really enjoy it here. I feel that I'm able to accomplish more while I'm here."

Accomplish more?

It's quite evident that's Colaiacovo's mission before the 2011-12 season begins.

While there may be some fun in the St. Louis sun mixed in, the 28-year-old has an agenda. Taking those necessary steps to get his body in better condition is part of the summer program that Colaiacovo has accustomed himself with.
Carlo Colaiacovo is working towards a more prominent role in 2011-12.

You see, there's a reason behind these relentless, tireless days of getting lean, strong and spending important mornings in the weight room. It may be boring to some, but Colaiacovo has a long-term plan.

"I want to win. I'm sick of watching playoff hockey, I'm sick of saying that we should be there," Colaiacovo said. "This city deserves a playoff team and a winning team. It's about time we give them that.

"I have accomplished more. I've worked extremely hard. I've been getting a lot stronger, a lot leaner, making sure that I'm ready to carry a bigger load this year. I'm depending on that for myself. That's a position that I want to be in."

The Blues will count on Colaiacovo more so than people may realize. He's developed a niche both on and off the ice with promising defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who led all Blues in ice time at 22 minutes per game a season ago. Colaiacovo is looking to add more minutes to his ledger for the upcoming season (he averaged 18:08 himself). He'll have to do so if the Blues plan on using the pairing together.

So Colaiacovo's making it a routine of working out and hitting the weights with strength and conditioning coach Nelson Ayotte, one of the best in the business at getting players in the shape and condition they need to be to get prepared for a rigorous 82-game regular season and any potential postseason run.

"The programs for them are different in the summer," Ayotte said. "The philosophy is the same. With them, it's which area can we gain the most with them and what's going to be the new challenge. ... The first 2-3 years, the program is like an introduction. After that, we start with how can we raise that bar."

Colaiacovo will be entering his eighth NHL season, and he hasn't played more than 67 games in any one season. Getting stronger and leaner is one way of trying to work out the injury bug that's plagued him in years past.

"I always train hard every summer, but I think this summer is just a little more motivation," said Colaiacovo, who finished 2010-11 with six goals and 20 assists in 65 games. "I think I've changed my mindset. I want to play a lot more. I want to make sure that I'm in the greatest shape possible to do that.

"I think I've taken that step. I've lost a little more than 10 pounds. I lost a couple percent of body fat. It's still halfway through the summer, so I'm still hoping to improve a lot more. The biggest thing is I just want to prepare myself to be a go-to guy, a guy that can be counted on, a guy that can -- with the majority of the guys we've got -- help lead us to the playoffs."

Colaiacovo said it's a common theme this summer with a lot of the players.

"A lot of guys have taken the initiative to train extra hard this summer," he said. "Guys have been coming in and out. That's expected every summer. But I think the real focus is that guys are sick of watching playoff hockey. You can tell when we talk about the playoffs and stuff with each guy, we all say that it's our turn, it's our time. It's just a matter of making it happen now."

Pietrangelo has all the promise and last season may have been an appetizer of what's to come, but he will need that veteran, savvy guidance. Colaiacovo seems to be the one that is more than willing to take the initiative.

"We have really good chemistry. We get along really well," Pietrangelo said. "Those things are what trends on the ice. We have great communication with each other, play the same style and know where each other is going to be at.

"We know how each other play. It's not like we just got here and it's our first year. We have some familiarity with each other. We've become really close. That certainly helps. It really helps to play with a guy that's got the experience like he does."

Added Colaiacovo, "I've been there. I've been in the league for a long time. If that's what it takes ... I've become real close friends with Alex. He's definitely come a long way from his draft year. Right now, he's a player that we're going to depend on a lot. I like to help him with little things.

"When you come into the league at a young age ... I found myself looking up to Mats Sundin, Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle (in Toronto). Look where those guys are now. As you grow older, as you learn more each year, you want to share that same information with the young guys. I obviously want to lead by example, but at the same sense, I gotta make sure that these guys are doing the right things to get us there."

Colaiacovo, who averaged 23.6 shifts per game last season, will make the occasional trip back home north of the border. Otherwise, it's the Gateway to the Midwest and a workman-like mentality at the Mills that will stay intact.

"Once August starts, we'll start skating on a regular basis and then get myself ready for September," Colaiacovo said. "Then it's smooth sailing from there. No looking back."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Blues' 2011 draft picks get acclimated with St. Louis

Five of eight selected enjoy city, begin destination that ends in NHL

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Ty Rattie remembers the first time he went to see professional hockey players in person. It was scenario that only dreams are made of for every young boy.

"I'll always remember when I was younger, I went to a Blues practice in Calgary, went into the dressing room," Rattie recalled. "I met (Keith) Tkachuk, I got Brent Johnson's goalie stick. I got pictures (taken) between Tkachuk and (Pavol) Demitra. That was the best moment of my childhood.

"My mom's kind of a believer in that kind of destiny. I kind of believe her now, too. It's ironic, and I'm going to do everything I can for this organization."

Some dreams are meant to come true, and they certainly did for the Calgary native Rattie.

The Blues' first pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft along with four other of the team's draft choices are in town this week partaking in strength and conditioning coach Nelson's Ayotte's summer program and getting familiarized with the organization, the team's training facility, Scottrade Center and the city of St. Louis.
Ty Rattie had 79 points (28 goals) for Portland in WHL last season.

Rattie, picked No. 32 in the second round, saw his dream come true when his name was called out by the Blues.

"That Blues jersey was the first NHL jersey I ever had," said Rattie, who plays for the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League. "Doug Weight was my player. I don't know if it's ironic or if it's destiny, but it's pretty cool and I'm real excited to be here.

"I'm not joking when (I say) they were my favorite team growing up."

Also here this week are defenseman Joel Edmundson (second round pick, No. 46 overall), goalie Jordan Binnington (third round pick, No. 88 overall), winger Yannick Veilleux (fourth round pick, No. 102 overall) and center Ryan Tesink (sixth round pick, No. 162 overall). Second round pick Dmitrij Jaskin, fifth round pick Niklas Lundstrom and seventh round pick Teemu Eronen did not attend.

They're soaking up the atmosphere and also getting accustomed to seeing firsthand the first steps to becoming NHL players.

"Last year, I was hoping to make the (Moose Jaw) Warriors at this time," Edmundson said of his WHL team. "It hasn't really sunk in yet. The last year has kind of gone by so fast. It's been unreal for me and everything's falling into place right and I'm just going to run with it and keep on doing what I need to do right.

"Nelson's been training us for the past two days and the workouts are definitely harder. We've seen a couple guys in the gym, a couple of the players and they go all-out. It's a lot of hard work, but it's willing to be done for sure."
Defenseman Joel Edmundson played in Moose Jaw (WHL) last season.

Ayotte, who begins his seventh season as the team's strength and conditioning coach, says it's all a process for the young kids that begins with identifying what they can and can't do.

"We tested them for three hours, physical testing, upper body, lower body," Ayotte said Wednesday morning. "Right now, the goal is to identify what their weaknesses are. After that, then we tailor a program for them and we started to introduce them to that this morning.

"We look at the player first before the position. When we find the player's weak points, then we apply what should be done according to the position they play. ... We start with weight training. Then the following days, we'll talk about nutrition, supplements and things that they've heard in the field because there's a lot of myth, there's a lot of talk. We'll try to demystify all of that."

Most of the players will come away with the notion that they need to get bigger and work on those weaknesses that Ayotte and the rest of the training staff identify.

"I know I have to put on at least 10-15 pounds before I can make it to the next level, but I also don't want to be too big that I can't really skate as good as I can right now," the Brandon, Manitoba native Edmundson said, who stands in at 6-5 and 190 pounds and models himself after Nashville's Shea Weber. "Just a comfort level would be 210. Definitely 15-20 pounds would help me out a lot. But it doesn't matter. I'm just going to play bigger than I am anyway because I'm going to keep being physical and mean."

With the added muscle and leaner bodies comes the sight of meeting current Blues players and watching what experienced NHL players do to get themselves prepped for a new season.

"You walk in here and you see Carlo Colaiacovo and (David) Backes and all these big names," Rattie said. "You watch them and you know what it takes to be here one day. It's outstanding what they do with you here and I've heard so much about Nelson. I'm looking forward to it.

"There's a lot of things I have to improve on to be here, but at the same time, I'm willing to work on that, I'm willing to do anything I can to get here as quickly as I can."

The 6-foot, 170-pound Rattie was ranked 17th out of North American skaters by the NHL's Central Scouting report. Feeling like he was going to go in the first round, Rattie, 18, says the disappointment has worn off and gratitude should be shown in the Blues for grabbing him.

"The Blues didn't have a first round pick obviously, so I'm kind of treating it like I'm their first pick and I've got to prove to those other teams what they passed up on is their mistake," said Rattie, who scored 28 goals and added 51 assists in 67 games a season ago. "I want to help the Blues, I want to help the Blues win a Stanley Cup and I want that to happen as quick as I can."

The players attended Wednesday night's Cardinals-Cincinnati Reds game but it was back to work before all depart on Friday.

"I really just want to soak it all in," Edmundson said. "Learn about the city, meet the guys and learn about the organization. I also now know how much workouts need to be done to get to the next level. Soaking it all in and learning everything I've heard about the next level. It's been good so far, and it's going to be a couple awesome days coming up.

"When I go back to Brandon, I know I'll have to work that much harder and just look forward to coming back here and making the team."

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Blues bolster lineup by signing Arnott, Langenbrunner

Both veterans get one-year, $2.8 million contracts, add to crowded forward crop

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Wanting to add more depth to their lineup, the Blues dipped into the free agent poll and signed a pair of veterans with experienced playoff pedigrees and a penchant for winning Stanley Cups.

The Blues signed center Jason Arnott and winger Jamie Langenbrunner to one-year contracts on Wednesday to bolster up and add to an already crownded forward group.

Each player will earn $2.5 million in base salary, plus $300,000 in bonus incentives. A late report also indicates Arnott gets a no-trade clause.

The 36-year-old Arnott is a 17-year veteran in the NHL, most recently with the Washington Capitals and New Jersey Devils where he scored 17 goals and added 14 assists in 73 games. The 35-year-old Langenbrunner, a 16-year NHL veteran, was Arnott's teammate last season in New Jersey before being traded to Dallas. He scored nine goals and added 23 assists in 70 games.
Jason Arnott hopes to win his second Stanley Cup in a Blues uniform.

Arnott said there were other offers but St. Louis was the best fit.

"I had a few offers," he said. "But I heard nothing but great things about the organization from players that I've played with, and it seemed like a great fit for me ... come in and be a guy to help out the young guys and contribute as much as I can."

So in the last five days, the Blues have added Arnott, Langenbrunner, center Scott Nichol and defenseman Kent Huskins. Their average age on the 20-man game roster went from 25.3 to 27.3 with the addition of the aforementioned foursome and goalie Brian Elliott.

"Veteran presence is important on our team," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "We don't have a lot of players that have that been-there, done-that experience. We saw that last year when we got on some positive trends, maybe our emotions got a little too high, or when we got on some negative trends, we couldn't shake it quick enough to get focused again. I think what these players are all going to bring, added to Andy McDonald and Barret Jackman, they're really going to bring us that experience of understanding of what it's going to take."

The Blues appear to be done tweaking the roster for the time being ... unless something unexpectedly crops up.

"We feel we've really improved our team since July 1st," Armstrong said. "I would say this is the group of players that you would look to see heading into training camp barring any unforeseen trades or anything coming up. Right now, I think we're very comfortable with the group that we have. I think there will be very good competition for ice time."

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Arnott has played in 1,172 games and has 904 points, including 400 goals and 504 assists. He also has a Stanley Cup to his resume with the Devils in 2000.

His goal is simple.

"Just do what I can to help the team make the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup," Arnott said. "First off, you've got to make the playoffs and I definitely believe that we have a team that can make the playoffs and do some damage when we get there."

Arnott served as captain of the Nashville Predators for three seasons (2007-2010) and ranks sixth among active players in career games played and seventh in points, scoring 20 or more goals 12 different seasons.

"You start with Arnott, a big body that can play in the middle," Blues coach Davis Payne said, obviously pleased with Wednesday's developments. "Obviously face-offs and possession that comes from that's important. His ability to shoot the puck and contribute offensively, he'll be a big, physical body to lean on people. That's something that we value very high."

The 6-1, 205-pound Langenbrunner, who was captain of Team USA at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, has appearing in 1,035 games and has 638 points on 237 goals and 401 assists. He owns a pair of Stanley Cups, one in Dallas in 1999 and one in New Jersey in 2003. He was the Devils' captain from 2007-2011.

Jamie Langenbrunner would like to add a third Stanley Cup in St. Louis
"You talk about Langenbrunner, a guy where his strength is in the battle," Payne said. "It's the one-on-one situation, it's coming up with the puck, it's providing an emphasis in the fore-check, providing great defensive play, providing some shot-blocking, a great nose for the net and a guy that plays on the interior."

The Blues, who after today's signings have $52.65 million cap space committed to next season, certainly addressed the fact they could use some more added veteran leadership in the locker room, guys that may hold some of the younger players accountable throughout a rugged season.

"When I looked at our team starting July 1st, we were a very young team," Armstrong said. "Right now when I look at our roster, we have 12 players that are 25 or under and we have eight players which you would say that are in the meat of their careers between 26-33. I thought we were a little bit young and some experience can be used there. We've added three players over the age of 34 the last couple days here (including the 36-year-old Nichol Tuesday) and I think we have a really good mix from veteran players to players right in their prime to players that are just on the cusp of being in their prime."

The addition of Arnott and Langenbrunner also gives the Blues an influx of forwards. Huskins' signing on Saturday solidifies a deep defensive corps as the Blues will guard against any injuries heading into 2011-12 after losing over 300 man games due to injury last season.

"The mandate was to try and get deeper," Armstrong said. "I believe you should estimate having one guy out of your lineup all year long. ... You want to make sure you have depth. We're going to have some tough stretches. We have a lot of road games early and we have some games packed in there. The NHL is a very difficult league and you end up losing players. My goal this year would be to carry the maximum number of players allowed -- 23 players at all times -- if possible. Create that competition. I think right now when you look at our lineup, everybody's got not some NHL experience, significant NHL experience."

Payne will now have the luxury of rolling four lines that have a little bit of everything added to each mix. It was an area all parties involved felt needed to be polished up.

"I think we addressed a lot of our needs and added the depth to our club," Payne said. "It really gives us an opportunity to roll three, four lines and continue to come at you all night long.
"All these guys come with a track record of winning and having success and understanding what it takes. That's the next hurdle for our hockey club."

Expect both Arnott and Langenbrunner to get third-line minutes, which Armstrong says will be in the 14- to 17-minute range. The Blues will expect the core group (David Backes, Chris Stewart, Andy McDonald, a healthy David Perron, Patrik Berglund, Alex Steen, T.J. Oshie and Matt D'Agostini) to provide the bulk of the offensive punch. Throw newly acquired Evgeny Grachev into an already crowded forward mix. Both Arnott and Langenbrunner had down years a season ago but have a proven track record of producing.

"We believe that the bulk of our offense is going to come from those players we discussed earlier," Armstrong said. "These players are coming to help complement that. I expect these players to play between 14- (to) 16-17 minutes a night, some nights a little more.

"We're bringing these players in, knowing what they are. They're mature, older players that have great experience, but they're not 26 or 27 anymore. I'm very comfortable Davis will use these players correctly to give them their rest so they can have the energy on the ice. But these are the players we want to help us play into April and May. The heavy lifting is going to be done by the young legs that we've talked about."

If the Blues' season opened tomorrow, Backes, Berglund, Arnott and Nichol would be the four-line centers.

"We talked about wanting to add depth. We feel that we've done that. We've done it through the middle with Arnott and Nichol," Payne said. "We've done it with Langenbrunner as a guy who can play in a number of different roles. These guys are workers. They're guys who understand what it takes. They'll set a great example for our guys. ... We fully believe that the core of our group and heavy lifting is in that room, and these guys are gonna add to that."

* Blues ownership update -- A report in Wednesday's Bloomberg News indicates that Blues owner Dave Checketts said he has three "very strong" bidders to purchase the franchise.

Checketts says in the report that he would be granted an extension to repay a $120 million loan from a Citigroup Inc.-led syndicate, giving him more time to sell the team.

Here's a link to the story:

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Blues bring back Bishop, sign Nichol to one-year deals

Netminder was restricted free agent; center played for San Jose last two seasons

ST. LOUIS -- It took a unique and promising situation for Scott Nichol to leave a winning organization.

He saw one here in St. Louis and couldn't pass up the opportunity.

The Blues continue to fill gaps and make tweaks to the lineup, today resigning restricted free agent goaltender Ben Bishop and signing veteran unrestricted free agent center Nichol to one-year contracts.

Bishop's deal is a two-way contract worth $600,000 NHL and $105,000 AHL, while the 36-year-old Nichol, who played for San Jose the last two seasons, gets $600,000 in base salary plus $100,000 in performance bonuses.

Ben Bishop will compete for the backup job next season.
Bishop is expected to compete with newly signed Brian Elliott for the backup job to starter Jaroslav Halak. Both have the exact same contracts.

The 6-foot-7, 215-pound Bishop, who was born in Denver but grew up in St. Louis and went to Chaminade High School in Creve Coeur, was 3-4-0 for the Blues a season ago with a 2.76 goals-against average and .899 save percentage and one shutout. He was 1-1-1 in 2008-09 for the Blues.

Bishop, 24, played in 35 games last season for the Blues' American Hockey League affiliate in Peoria and posted a 17-14-2 mark with a 2.55 GAA and .914 save percentage to go with two shutouts.

Bishop was originally drafted by the Blues in the third round (85th overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

The 5-9, 180-pound Nichol spent the past two seasons with the San Jose Sharks. Last year, he dressing in 56 games and had four goals and three assists.

Nichol, who has 10 of his 52 career goals against the Blues, is a face-off specialist that provides depth at the center position.

"We're bringing in a guy that I think finished in the top 15 last year, and we need him to finish there again this year," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said of Nichol. "He's a quality veteran that's going to help on the face-offs, help on the penalty kill, and he's got the proper attitude. He brings the right elements to the rest of the group with his work ethic and how he prepares every day. That's an added bonus knowing what he can do on the ice for us. He's a quality veteran leader that we believe can still play and give us important minutes ... and he makes us deeper and stronger."

Nichol is a veteran of 11 NHL seasons, which include stops in Buffalo, Calgary, Chicago, Nashville and recently San Jose. In 552 career regular season games, Nichol has 52 goals and 66 assists.
The Blues expect Scott Nichol to fill a depth role.

"I love their style of play," Nichol said of the Blues. They're big and strong, a very young team that's up and coming. When they went (9-1-2) at the start of the year, I think it opened everyone's eyes.

"They gave us huge fits all year long (in San Jose). I just love the up-tempo, in-your-face, hitting, blue collar style of hockey. I think it'll be a real good fit for my game."

Nichol won 59.4 percent of his face-offs a season ago out of 485 draws (288 wins) and will be more than a suitable replacement for Jay McClement, who was traded last season to Colorado. Nichol is also a penalty-killing extraordinaire.

"I think I'll help on the face-off circle. That's one thing that I take a lot of pride in," Nichol said. "It's not just myself, it's my linemates. When we were in San Jose, we were really team conscious of our face-offs and starting with the puck. Hopefully I can carry that on to the St. Louis Blues. Start with the puck and get a lot more scoring chances.

"I've always killed penalties and if I can help in that aspect, I'd be more than happy also. Just a little bit of experience of being to the Western Conference finals the last few years, being so close and how hard it is and how stressful it is ... but on the other hand, how fun it is and how rewarding it is. I'm looking forward to it, that's for sure."

According to, the Blues have committed roughly $48.5 million in relation to the salary cap next season, and Armstrong said that the team isn't necessarily done polishing up the current lineup.

"We're still looking," Armstrong said. "This doesn't preclude us from doing other things if we want to improve our team. I think right now, I'm comfortable with our roster, but I'm always looking to improve it.

"We're deeper now than we have been in the past. If we can get deeper still, we will. It's not just in free agency. Other teams now are starting to take trades. If we can still improve it, we will. But getting another player in here with NHL experience (in Nichol) that has leadership, it helps our forward group."

Nichol, who played in the Western Conference finals in each of the last two seasons in San Jose, was asked how close he believes the Blues are to taking the next step and becoming a contender. He quickly without hesitation, "They're really, really close. Right on the cusp."

On Sunday, the Blues made another depth move after they came to terms with free agent Brett Sterling, who played in the Pittsburgh Penguins system last season.

Sterling, who signed a one-year, two-way contract, inked a $600,000 NHL deal and $200,000 AHL deal.

Sterling, 27, spent the majority of last season with the Penguins' AHL team Scranton Wilkes-Barre.

He dressed in 65 games and scored 27 goals and added 26 assists. The 5-7, 175-pound forward also appeared in seven games with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season, recording three goals and two assists.

Sterling's signing replenishes what was lost with Nick Drazenovic, who signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Blues sign defenseman Huskins to one-year contract

Veteran played for San Jose last two seasons, adds depth to backline

ST. LOUIS -- Wanting to add depth to their defensive corps, the Blues added veteran left-hander Kent Huskins, signing the 32-year-old to a one-year, $1 million contract Saturday.

Huskins, 32, spend the last two seasons with the San Jose Sharks after spending the first three years of his career with the Anaheim Ducks, winning a Stanley Cup in 2007 along with the Blues' Andy McDonald.

Kent Huskins (40) adds depth to the Blues' defensive unit.    (Getty Images)

"Obviously he's coming from a winning program," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "The last two teams he's played on, he's played deep into the playoffs (and) won a Stanley Cup. He knows what it's going to take to get a team to the next level. He's got experience and he's got a big body back there that can help that younger core group."

Huskins played in 50 games with the Sharks last season, who lost in five games to the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference finals. He scored two goals and added eight assists. The Almonte, Ontario native missed the final 22 regular season games and first 13 games of the playoffs with a shoulder injury but returned against the Canucks in the playoffs.

"He got hurt at the wrong time, he missed going into the playoffs but he got back in and played in the playoffs," Armstrong said of Huskins. "It's not something that we're concerned about."

Huskins, who has 11 goals and 60 points in 274 career games, will likely be the favorite as the team's sixth defenseman behind Alex Pietrangelo, Barret Jackman, Kevin Shattenkirk, Carlo Colaiacovo and Roman Polak. But Huskins will get competition from Nikita Nikitin. Prospect Ian Cole will round out the top eight on the depth chart.

"I think it will be good competition for all four of those guys on the left side," Armstrong said, referring to Huskins, Jackman, Colaiacovo and Nikitin. "There's an old saying in the NHL that you can never have too many defensemen. You need seven or eight competent NHL players to get through a season and now we feel very comfortable that we have eight. He's a little different with his experience and I think he can provide that competition on that left side and also leadership."

Huskins is 6-foot-4, 210 pounds and is a plus-43 in his career. He was originally drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the sixth round (156th overall) of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Blues resign D'Agostini, sign backup goalie Elliott

Team gets netminder from Avalanche, stays
relatively quiet on first day of free agency

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues weren't involved in some of the heavy-hitting, free-spending that was going on in the first day of the NHL free agent signing period, but they were efficient in shoring up one area and bringing back a key piece to another.

As expected, the Blues resigned winger Matt D'Agostini to a two-year, $3.3 million contract early Friday and then addressed their depth in goal by signing free agent Brian Elliott away from Colorado with a one-year, two-way contract.

Matt D'Agostini is all smiles after cashing in on a new two-year
contract. (Getty Images)

D'Agostini, who could have become an unrestricted free agent Friday after the Blues did not give him a qualifying offer and thus negating his restricted free agency status, will earn $1.5 million in 2011-12 and $1.8 million in 2012-13.

The Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario native had a career high in goals (21), assists (25) and points (46) in 82 games with the Blues last season.

"We had some good talks leading up to today," D'Agostini said. "The feeling was to get it done before (11 a.m.), but my agent (Steve Bartlett) and the Blues were always in good talks and it was kind of 'right there' the whole time. I never really tested the open market. St. Louis was always the No. 1 spot for me."

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said all along that D'Agostini was a priority despite his impending UFA status.

"He knew how important he was to our team, and I knew how much he wanted to be here," Armstrong said. "It worked out good for both sides. He's going to have a good opportunity to be a top-nine forward. Now, he needs to take advantage of it and make this the starting block for the rest of his NHL career."

D'Agostini, 24, picked up unrestricted free agent status after the Blues decided not to qualify him by Monday's 5 p.m. deadline. He otherwise would have been a restricted free agent and the team would have owned his rights and match any outside offer sheets. But after having a career-season, D'Agostini had leverage of going to arbitration, and that seemed to be an avenue the Blues were not willing to explore.

"I kind of got an explanation from 'Army' on that," said D'Agostini. "He told me that we could hopefully work something out, and we did. I'm happy with the way everything went.

"I like the management, I like the team, and you know what, I'd rather stick in St. Louis then start moving all over the place. I like what we've got there. We've got a lot of depth and good goaltending, defense ... the team is capable of a lot of good things. I'm excited to be a part of it."

With a plethora of injuries that the Blues suffered last season, D'Agostini seemed to be the one to take the most advantage of playing a top six role and picking up the scoring slack for those that missed time in those roles.

"Hopefully I put myself out there, management saw what I could bring to the table," D'Agostini said. "Given that chance next, hopefully I can put up better numbers and help the team win."

However, he could return to a third-line role next season, which bodes well for the Blues and balance out their scoring depth.

"I haven't really thought about that too much, really," D'Agostini said. "For me, our top nine is a solid group, so whatever the coaches want to do with linemates ... top six, top nine, top 12, we'll see what happens. Just looking forward to getting back with the boys again, start skating and start the season."

Elliott, 26, split last season with the Ottawa Senators and most recently, the Colorado Avalanche. He was traded to the Avalanche for fellow netminder Craig Anderson.

The Blues were searching for someone who could not only back up No. 1 Jaroslav Halak but challenge Ben Bishop, who's a restricted free agent.

"One goalie who was 'someone of interest' signed a multi-year deal as a No. 1," Armstrong said without divulging a name.

The majority of goalies signed as backups today aside from Mike Smith leaving Tampa Bay to take over the No. 1 job in Phoenix and Jose Theodore leaving Minnesota to become the top guy with revamped Florida. Jean-Sebastien Giguere signed with the Avalanche but presumably to back up newly-acquired Sergei Varlamov.

"Instead of bringing in someone we know is a legitimate No. 1 or No. 2, we brought in Elliott to give some competition to Bishop," Armstrong said. "Ben certainly knows now where he stands. Jaro is the clear-cut No. 1 goalie, and we're looking for someone to give him a good partner. (Bishop and Elliott will both be) on similar contracts. As they say, 'May the best man win.'"

Elliott struggled last season with a 15-27-9 record that included three shutouts. But a 3.34 goals-against average and .893 save percentage were not the numbers Elliott was accustomed to. But Elliott had a breakout season with the Senators in 2009-10. He was 29-18-9 with a 2.57 goals-against and .909 save percentage.

Armstrong said the team looked at a variety of players at different positions and something could pan out here soon. Nothing matched up accordingly Friday.

"We did talk to forwards, did talk to defensemen, and we still have some lines in the water," Armstrong said. "We're waiting to see what happens in the next week to 10 days. But I believe we have a good team and we have the assets to improve if we can (via trade)."

A couple minor moves saw the Blues officially announce the signing of forward Adam Cracknell to a one-year, two-way contract at $575,000 NHL and $90,000 AHL; they signed 2010 fifth round pick Cody Beach to an entry-level contract and forward Nicholas Drazenovic, who spent the majority of the past four seasons at Peoria, signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets.