Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Colaiacovo still available nearly month into free agency

Defenseman not ruling out return to Blues just yet

ST. LOUIS -- With each passing day without a contract, it appears that Carlo Colaiacovo's four-year stint with the Blues is over.

Nearly a month has passed by and the veteran is still feeling out offers on where he will be employed when the 2012-13 season rolls around. But the 29-year-old defenseman, who is still one of many notable unrestricted free agents that has not yet signed on with anyone, remains hopeful.

(Getty Images)
Carlo Colaiacovo said Blues are still his top choice
despite being a free agent for nearly a month.

There has been recent talk that Colaiacovo has received offers from multiple teams, he said nothing specific has been specifically presented to him, although he did admit that there's interest from "more than a handful of teams (without naming any)." And although the odds are against Colaiacovo's return to the Blues, he isn't ruling them out.

Not yet anyway.

"St. Louis is my first choice if the opportunity's there, but it's too unpredictable to really say if there's still an opportunity there or not," Colaiacovo said by phone from his Toronto home Monday. "Honestly, I don't know. I wish I had a better answer for you. From the last communication I had with them, if I was seriously considering moving on to let them know before I do just so that they have a say before I do it. I haven't presented them with that situation yet. I know they've tried to make improvements and do other things with players and have been unsuccessful in doing it and if the opportunity is still there for me to come back. But it's got to be the right fit for me and the right fit for them, too.

"I'm definitely not ruling it out. It's something that I still hope for. At the end of the day if it's not there and I have to move on, it's going to be sad because St. Louis is a place I'd love to call home for the next couple years because I really did enjoy my time there, the people there, the people involved in the organization and obviously with my teammates. I know they're going to be a great team in the years to come moving forward and I would love to still be a part of that. I'm absolutely not ruling it out at all. ... I've waited this long to make a decision, I'm going to wait as long as I have to right now to make sure that the decision I make is the right one for me.

Phoenix free agent Shane Doan is the most notable UFA remaining on the market but there are a number of players, Colaiacovo included as well as veteran center Jason Arnott, that have not found homes yet.

With the uncertainty of a collective bargaining agreement that is set to expire on Sept. 15, players that are still available are also faced with uncertainties themselves, including Colaiacovo.

"I think that's one of the huge factors of it, but I think the other big factor is there's been talk and there's been a lot of player movement this summer and there's still a lot of talk of player movement," Colaiacovo said. "I know the teams that are involved in those talks with player movement are teams that I've had discussions with. Given the fact that nobody really knows what's coming up in the CBA, nobody really knows what the cap number is going to be, (teams are) trying to make sure that they're flexible in the decision before they make it, too.

"It is what it is, but at the end of the day, I appreciate the fact that I'm being told the truth and appreciate the fact that I have the opportunity and right now, I think I'm represented by the right people I've been around a long time and have given me the right advice. I've listened to them through this whole process. I think through good faith and through confidence and obviously through patience, at the end of the day, whatever it is that I decide to do is something that I'm going to be happy with."

The Blues, coming off a stellar regular season with 109 points, have made it known that they would like to find a left-handed defenseman, preferably somebody that can play on the top pairing with Colaiacovo's close friend Alex Pietrangelo, either through free agency or trade. But so far, the price has been too high for free agents (Ryan Suter and Matt Carle to name a few) and potential deals for players rumored to be on the block (Jay Bouwmeester and Keith Yandle as examples) don't have any merit as the asking price appears to be too high.

And for Colaiacovo, who has 18 goals and 106 points in 259 career games with the Blues, he doesn't seem to be in any hurry to latch on quickly since he didn't make any commitment early in free agency.

"I'm not in a hurry to do anything right now is basically where I'm at," Colaiacovo said. "I'm stuck in a waiting period, waiting for the right time to commit for both sides. It's one of those things that it's been a little bit of a weird summer, it's part of the process but it hasn't changed my work ethic, my confidence and obviously the fun I've been having this summer.

"It's been a busy summer for me. Trying to plan for a wedding next year. I'm going about my business and at the same sense, I've got the right people taking care of my business. When the time comes, it will be the right fit for me."

Colaiacovo, who was acquired along with Alex Steen from Toronto for Lee Stempniak in 2008, is looking for a multi-year contract. His last deal with the Blues was for two years that he signed in the summer of 2010.

"Obviously the big thing for me is term," he said. "I'd like to find something that I can find myself settling into for a couple years. I wouldn't say teams are hesitant, but I think that's where teams are willing to wait it out for me to see what else opens up for me."

Colaiacovo holds the Blues close to his heart. This, after being a healthy scratch in Game 4 of the series against Los Angeles, which turned out to be the last game of the season for the Blues, as well as another game scratched late in the regular season. 
(Getty Images)
Carlo Colaiacovo (left) has received offers from "more than a handful of

Colaiacovo, who has never played in more than 67 games in a season for the Blues and has been an injury risk (concussions are the main culprits) at times throughout his career, hasn't talked directly to the team, specifically general manager Doug Armstrong, but said that the lines of communication are open.

"I know in talking to my agent that yes there has been direct line of communication," Colaiacovo said. "I don't know how much, but I know it has been there.

Colaiacovo is also receiving a vote of confidence from a number of his teammates here in St. Louis regarding a return, namely Pietrangelo, whom he had lunch with Monday in Toronto. The team hasn't closed the door on his return.

"I'm grateful for that and grateful an opportunity may still be there. I can't say yes or no right now whether or not it is still a possibility. It's more of a wish than anything right now. ... That's always the player's wish to get something done (early) so you're put in a better place in your mind. But sometimes good things happen to good people when you wait. That's the reality I'm facing right now. I wish things were different, but waiting this long doesn't change a thing. It would mean something if I had absolutely no teams contacting me, which that isn't the case. I have considerable interest in more than a handful of teams. Right now, I'm waiting for the dust to settle and pieces to fall into place before I make my decision."

Friday, July 20, 2012

Blues, Oshie avoid arbitration with five-year contract

Deal will pay winger $20.875 million total,
$4.175 million on average after a career-high season

ST. LOUIS -- High Noon was fast approaching for both the Blues and T.J. Oshie.

But instead of stating their respective positions in front of an arbitrator, the Blues and Oshie agreed to a contract that benefits both teams when a deal was struck late Thursday night between the two sides on a five-year contract worth $20.875 million (or an average of $4.175 million per season).

Oshie, who was a restricted free agent scheduled to have an arbitration hearing this morning in Toronto, his agent Matt Oates along with Blues general manager Doug Armstrong were able to hammer out a contract that certainly benefits both sides. Oshie gets the lengthy security he desired for the first time in his career (he played three years on a two-way contract plus a one-year deal last season) and the Blues have Oshie locked up for including the last three in which Oshie could have become eligible for unrestricted free agency (under the current collective bargaining agreement).
(Getty Images)
T.J. Oshie will remain part of the Blues' core after signing a five-year
contract late Thursday night, this avoiding arbitration.

But his heart is in St. Louis, and it was important for the 25-year-old, who will make $3.375 for the upcoming season, $4 million in 2013-14 and $4.5 million in each of the final three seasons.

"It's great. I couldn't be any happier to resign with the Blues," Oshie said Friday via conference call. "It's where I've grown as a player and as a pro. As far as the long-term security goes, it's something that I've never had in my career. ... It's nice to have that security, but I still want to keep getting better every day and definitely every year."

Oshie, who is coming off of career highs in goals (19), assists (35), points (54) and games played (80), was a restricted free agent who made $2.35 million on a one-year contract in 2011-12. He was the Blues' first-round pick (No. 24) in 2005. His 54 points were tied for the team lead this past season and was the last of the rostered restricted free agents to get a contract done. David Perron signed a four-year, $15.25 million deal last week.

"We're obviously excited to have T.J. under contract as he enters the prime of his career and to know that we'll have him through that portion," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "It's very rewarding and we think he's a big piece of our team from last year and he's a big piece moving forward."

The Blues and Oshie, were set to have an arbitration hearing Friday at 9 a.m., where both sides would have presented their respective cases for a contract, which would either be a one- or two-year deal of the team's choice. A deal between the two sides at some point leading up to the hearing always seemed like the most likely end result.

"Arbitration is just a tool that both sides have available to them," Armstrong said. "It's just a piece of the process. We exchange briefs and we get an idea where each side is coming from. I think everyone's comfortable with the business side of it that you try not to have any hangover of emotion based on an arbitration hearing.

"We knew today at 9 a.m., we were going to put T.J.'s fate in someone else's hands and we both decided it was best to try and see if we can work out something together."

Oshie agreed, saying that getting an agreement done beforehand was best for both sides despite being ready to have his fate determined by an independent mediator.

"I definitely wanted to get a deal done," Oshie said. "St. Louis is where I want to be and that's where I want to be for a long time. That was my No. 1 goal. But after reading the team's briefs and the briefs that the (NHLPA) and my agent put together, I was fine with the way it would have went (in arbitration), too. It's kind of a roll-of-the-dice depending on what the arbitrator wants to do, but my No. 1 goal was to get a long-term deal and solidify myself in the core group of this team for a long time."

After playing in only 49 games during a 2010-11 season that included some off-ice issues, the Blues gave Oshie a one-year deal to prove himself. Oshie proved worthy of a long-term commitment with a solid season that helped the Blues to the second-most points in franchise history this past season with 109. Adding a veteran coach in Ken Hitchcock also was a catalyst in Oshie's success.
(Getty Images)
T.J. Oshie (74) is coming off a season in which he set career highs in goals
(19), assists (35), points (54) and games played in a season (80).

"We certainly thought he had a good, productive season last year," Armstrong said of Oshie. "A lot of the things that we were looking for as far as consistency on the ice, the ability to play 80 games was there. I also think with the coaching change, I think he embraced the new coach and someone with Ken's experience obviously he became a valuable player for our franchise with the amount of ice time he got. He and David Backes mirror each other. We know what David means to our team, so I just felt knowing Ken was here and knowing what T.J. means to the team and how he's coached by Ken just made it a natural movement to get him signed for a longer term as possible and we were able to do that."

Add this contract to the recent signing of Perron, and the Blues now have a good portion of their core group under contract for the long term. Defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk as well as center Patrik Berglund will be restricted free agents after the 2012-13 season, and are likely the next targets for long-term deals.

Oshie avoided surgery on both wrists (ECU tendons) that were ailing him last season and a minor knee injury suffered against the Kings stemming from a Dustin Brown hit in the playoffs. He talked about possibly skating this week and continues to train hard over the summer and expects to be ready for camp healthy.

The wrists are good. I didn't have surgery this summer like I thought I would," Oshie said. "The wrists ended up feeling pretty well. I haven't skated yet from a little knee injury I had against LA, but the conditioning's going well. The strength's improving. I'm training just like I did last summer. ... I'm already ahead of where I was at the start of last summer. It's going real well. I'm getting into possibly some skating this week to see how everything feels, see how the wrists feel. First and foremost, I want to get my strength and my weight up a couple pounds."

Oshie will continue to be part of that core group of players and is pleased to be included in the long-term growth of the franchise. In his career spanning four seasons, Oshie has 175 points, including 63 goals and 112 assists in 262 games.

"It means the world to me," Oshie said. "I always want to be the best team guy that I can be. To be included and to know that you're in the core group of the team that's been improving and has had a good year the year before, it means the world. You look at the core guys on this team, every one of those guys is a team-first guy. To be included in that group, I can't say enough about how proud I am to be there."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

All systems go for Blues' Perron

Winger healthy, armed with new contract motivated after sudden playoff exit

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- David Perron was all smiles last week.

And why wouldn't he be?

Maybe some of those smiles have to do with being equipped with a brand spanking new $15.25 million contract, but for Perron, who has signed on for the next four seasons, being on the cusp of his first training camp in two years has a lot to do with his mindset.
(Getty Images)
David Perron (57) has a new contract and will enter training camp healthy.

Perron, along with Alex Pietrangelo, were in town with Blues draft picks and prospects getting a head start on conditioning programs -- supplied by strength and conditioning coach Nelson Ayotte -- to go along with what Perron's been doing on his own in his hometown of Sherbrooke, Quebec.

It was obviously a tumultuous year for Perron following the severe concussion stemming from a Nov. 4, 2010 hit by San Jose's Joe Thornton. Perron missed 13 months of action before finally resuming his career Dec. 3, 2011 against Chicago. He was obviously absent from last year's training camp, something that did not sit well with Perron, known to all as a rink rat.

It was obviously a setback after Perron came off a 20-goal, 47-point season in 2009-10.

But now that the concussion is out of the way and the contract has been taken care of ... "Now it's worrying about hockey and nothing else," said Perron, who is coming off a 21-goal, 42-point season in 57 games.

And the 24-year-old was more than happy to join some of the future Blues at the Ice Zone inside St. Louis Mills, training and working out with them.

"Seeing some of the prospects here, it's just exciting to see some of the guys," said Perron, who treated the group to lunch one afternoon. "Last year I wasn't able to do that. It's going to be a much different year for me."

Perron, who will make $3 million for the upcoming season, $3.5 million in 2013-14, $4.25 million in 2014-15 and $4.5 million in 2015-16 (a cap hit of $3.8125), will already be entering his sixth season in the NHL. And even at 24, he's glad to lend a helping hand and any advice the younger guys may be seeking. Just being involved in hockey year-round is something that was void in Perron's life.

"It's definitely nice to get drafted and everything, but for them, they've got to know there's a lot of work ahead for them to make it to the NHL roster," Perron said. "There's a lot of them that will play in the NHL and they've just got to be willing to put in the work and never give up.

"There's going to be some hurdles in the way. It's not going to be pretty all the time, but if you work hard, you're able to do it."

Just like Perron did coming back from his concussion when some days, it seemed like the symptoms would never go away. But he's in arguably the best shape he's been in after some hard and tough workouts thus far this summer in preparation for training camp in September.

"Probably not as I've ever felt," Perron said when asked if he's in the best shape of his career. "There's still a ways to go in the summer, but I feel a lot better than last year already. Two summers ago was my best summer of training ever. I came to camp and I felt like really really good. I'm going to look to train the same way this summer and get to that point. It's getting good, and I feel like I'm going to be there in September because right now I'm training hard and feeling really good."

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, who feels confident Perron's concussion issues are behind him, had no problem investing four years in Perron.

(Getty Images)
David Perron recently signed a four-year, $15.25 million contract. He will be
a mainstay in the Blues' lineup.
"I think both sides had to give a little bit, with our expectations on going three or four years and what the value was and his expectations on what his value was if he stayed healthy," Armstrong said. "I think there was a little risk on both sides. Ultimately what we did talk about .. our goal is for him to stay healthy and produce the way that we need him to produce to be a successful team and then he'll be able to get back to the contract table in relatively short order."

After a breakthrough regular season in which the Blues finished with 109 points but were humbled by the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference semifinals, Perron is just as motivated as his teammates to build on last season's success.

A lot of his motivation, by Perron's admission, also stems from a playoff season that was less than what Perron expected of himself. He finished with a goal and five points in nine games.

"As a team, we took a big step last year," said Perron, who has 74 points and 173 points in 292 career games. "It's definitely good to see, but at the same time, until we win the Cup, we have accomplished only so many little things. There's a lot more to go and I think we're all excited.

"We still remember that series against the LA Kings that we lost in four games. We're looking forward to next year and having a whole group healthy this time around to start the season, it's going to be exciting."

Friday, July 13, 2012

Hakanpaa embraces challenge of becoming NHL defenseman

Finnish-born skater was Blues' fourth round pick in 2010

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Playing in Finland and no experience with the North American style of hockey, prospect Jani Hakanpaa wanted to let Blues fans know one obvious aspect about himself.

"I'm a big guy," the 6-foot-5 Hakanpaa said with a smile.

That goes without question. And throw in the 218-pound frame that the 20-year-old Hakanpaa is listed as, there could be an imposing figure invading the Scottrade Center ice in the not-too-distant future.
(Getty Images)
Jani Hakanpaa competes for his native Finland at the 2012
World Junior Championships in Alberta. 

Chosen in the fourth round (104th overall) in the 2010 NHL Draft, the
Kirkkonummi, Finland native Hakanpaa was in town this past week with fellow Blues prospects getting an orientation and a bit of an indoctrination into life of an NHL player.

When NHL teams draft European-born players, there's always a risk-reward aspect involved. There's always the risk that those players never reach North American soil and there's wasted time and energy an organization places on a particular player. But if you can get such talent here and they give an organization a commitment, the rewards can be very valuable.

So who is Jani Hakanpaa and what kind of a player do the Blues have?

"I like to be physical out there," Hakanpaa said. "That's something I have to do, use my body, use my reach and pretty much try to be an all-around d-man. Of course in their own zone, that's where my strength's at is playing defense. But I'm still trying to work on the first (outlet) pass and get the pucks to the forwards. The main part now is to work on the offensive side and (have) more all-around play."

With Hakanpaa, a defenseman who played in Finland's SM-liiga for the Blues, he has the body to be an NHL defenseman, and his willingness at a young age to come to St. Louis and begin a program suitable to his needs speaks of his desire and willingness to reward the Blues for their faith in him.

"When you started to play as a kid, it's always a dream and a goal to be playing in the NHL," said Hakanpaa, who called his three-year, entry level contract he signed in May, "a dream-come-true."

"It's a step forward," he said. "Of course it's still a dream and there's a lot of work to do, but it certainly keeps you going forward and gives you motivation to work even harder to get there."

Hakanpaa, who will play the upcoming season with the Blues in Finland again after posting five goals and 12 points in 41 games a season ago, is looking to acclimate himself with North America as quickly and as early as he can. His contract calls for a $698,333 salary cap hit.

"To see where I'm at with the conditioning, testing and see what kind of stuff they do over here," Hakanpaa said of his visit this week. "Take that advice back home and work hard there and then next year come here and be better at this. That's the main thing, maybe just look around, get to know the guys and stuff like that."

With the Blues, since there is no organized on-ice camp, it's more informal and working out with weight training and endurance work.

"I think the advantage to them coming in and working out here is the comfort level," Blues Director of Amateur Scouting Bill Armstrong said. "It's good for them to come around and see Petro (Alex Pietrangelo), see David Perron training. See what it takes to be a pro. On the other side, they learn a little bit about St. Louis. They're coming in, they're getting a comfort level and now it doesn't stress them out as much. The more comfortable they are, the better they perform. It gives us as a management staff a better chance to see the real them instead of them being nervous."
(Getty Images)
Jani Hakanpaa (right) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal for
Team Finland last year.

Hakanpaa may be a relatively unknown but if there is a shred of knowledge, it was because of his performance at the 2012 World Junior Championship. Hakanpaa, who had a goal and three points in seven games, was one of Finland's leaders on and off the ice despite a shorter-than-expected stay in Alberta.

"It was a real nice place to play at," Hakanpaa said of Calgary and Edmonton. "The year before, I was the last one to be cut from Team Finland. That was a tough time for me to get cut, but then I just worked hard the next year to get back and be on the team.

"I just tried to do my best out there and help the team win. Unfortunately, we were close to get the medals but not this year. I just tried to help the team as much as I could and it went well. I was pretty happy with the results."

The way Hakanpaa sees it, he'll be back in North America -- for an extended stay -- next summer. He could very well be in Peoria for the 2013-14 season and on a Blues roster in the near future. At least he hopes so after taking his initial steps this week.

"Of course there's going to be some adjustments," Hakanpaa said, noting the 210x98 rink size in Europe compared to the 200x85 NHL rink. "We have the big rink back home and all that kind of stuff. The playing style is a bit different. It's going to take a while to learn how to play here, but I think it will be fine when I come back here. It's going to take a while but it's normal. I'll just have to work hard to get going."

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pietrangelo is driven by championships, not individual accolades

Defenseman which finished fourth in Norris voting is
in St. Louis this week preparing for start of new season
(Getty Images)
A Norris Trophy could be on the horizon for the Blues' Alex Pietrangelo (27). But personal
accolades don't drive him. It's all about winning championships.

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- A select number of players were on hand in Las Vegas last month for the NHL Awards ceremony. Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was not among them.

But judging by his performance in the recently completed season, Pietrangelo could be a regular in Las Vegas. Possibly as early as next year.

Pietrangelo finished fourth in the Norris Trophy voting behind winner Erik Karlsson; Shea Weber was the runner-up followed by Zdeno Chara. But instead of reveling in his personal accomplishments of last season that included career highs in goals (12), assists (39), points (51) and games played (81), Pietrangelo was focused more on what might have been for a Blues team that finished with the second-best mark in franchise history.

Karlsson can lift the Norris Trophy, as far as Pietrangelo is concerned. But if Pietrangelo gets an opportunity to raise Lord Stanley, then there will be a sense of personal satisfaction.

"The worst thing was watching the Kings win the Cup knowing that could have been us," Pietrangelo said.

The Blues finished 49-22-11, good for 109 points. It was good enough to win the Central Division for the first time since 2000 and the team won a playoff series for the first time since 2002.

At times it's hard to imagine that Pietrangelo is only 22, but he shows more maturity beyond his years. The King City, Ontario native is appreciative of the accolades that have started to flow his way and the countless awards he could be up for in the future. However, it's obvious winning is what matters most.

"You've got to stay positive with that," Pietrangelo said of being recognized for the Norris. "You've got to take that as a compliment and use that as motivation to maybe get into that top three next year or have a chance to win it.

"It definitely feels good to know that you've accomplished that, but I've got to get better. I want to help this team win. That's my ultimate goal ... meaning I've got to play better or take more of a load on my shoulders. That's what I'm going to do, keep working to get better, keep working to get stronger and try to influence games even more."

Pietrangelo, along with teammate David Perron, have been on hand this week to work alongside fellow Blues prospects, who are in town for their initial orientation meetings and workouts with strength and conditioning coach Nelson Ayotte.

It's only the middle of July, and barring any setbacks, NHL training camps won't get underway for another two months. But being swept out of the playoffs in the second round by the eventual Stanley Cup champions doesn't leave a good taste in players' mouths, particularly Pietrangelo, the team's cornerstone blueliner.

"The further into the summer you get, the more focused you're getting towards starting to skate and working on things on the ice," said Pietrangelo, who said he's healthy from the MCL knee sprain he suffered in Game 1 against the Kings. "I haven't gone on the ice yet, but in a week or two, it's going to get to that point.

"The more training you get into Nelson's programs, the more advanced it's going to be like any other program. It's different from last year and mine's different from Perry's."

Pietrangelo, the fourth overall pick of 2008, will enter his third full season (fifth overall) in October. He saw the large contract Karlsson, the 15th overall pick in that same 2008 draft, recently signed (seven years, $45.5 million) as well as some of the deals defensemen got as unrestricted free agents. With one year remaining on his entry level deal that has a cap hit of $3.167 million, Pietrangelo, who will become a restricted free agent next summer, is in line for a big payday himself. That's the challenge for Blues general manager Doug Armstrong.

"Yeah, not only me, but you've got other guys on this team that are going into the prime of their careers," said Pietrangelo, who led the Blues in average ice time at 24:43 (tied for 16th in the NHL) and was plus-16. "Shatty is another young defenseman getting into that same situation.

"It's exciting, but the biggest thing for me is where this team's headed. Obviously with the resigning of Perry and Scotty (Nichol) and whoever else we get a chance to sign, it's going to be another good year for us moving forward. What else Army does, I don't know, but what we have right now is going to be a fun part of it. Hopefully there's bigger and better things for all of us."

While other teams have handed out some lengthy, large-dollar contracts, the Blues have stayed relatively quiet. Other than resigning some of their own free agents (most notably Perron and Chris Stewart to go with T.J. Oshie on the horizon) as well as adding some depth players, the Blues have remained on the outside looking in.

As far as Pietrangelo is concerned, that's perfectly fine.

"I don't think we need to change much," he said. "You (media) guys are around us. You see how well we all get along. I've never played on a team where guys are such difference in age and everybody gets along so well. To have that relationship is tough to find. We really don't want to mess that up too much.

"Obviously there's ways to improve the team and what-not, but we get along in this room and we're happy with what we have. We accomplished quite a bit last year. It's fun to be a part of it."

High on the priority list for Armstrong has been to find a suitable partner for Pietrangelo on the top pairing. Carlo Colaiacovo, an unrestricted free agent and Pietrangelo's close friend, was a mainstay in that role the last couple seasons. But it's likely the Blues are moving in another direction.

The team showed interest in free agent Matt Carle, who signed in Tampa Bay. Ryan Suter, who got a mega contract in Minnesota, was out of the Blues' term and price range. They've been linked to trade rumors, with Calgary's Jay Bouwmeester and Phoenix's Keith Yandle the top headliners, but it could be someone from within that takes the role of Pietrangelo's partner. Ian Cole and Kevin Shattenkirk come to mind. If it is Shattenkirk, a move to the left side for Pietrangelo could come into play.

(Getty Images)
Alex Pietrangelo (left) battles against the Kings' Dwight King during the
Western Conference semifinal series.

"I've been playing on the left with Shatty a lot on the power play last year," Pietrangelo said. "I did in junior, too. You become comfortable playing with it. Obviously there's an adjustment that needs to be made, but if you know that going into the season, a lot of players will be able to adjust well. Not only a guy like me but Shatty will be able to adjust to that, too. I don't think it would be that big of an issue as some people may think.

"You're just receiving the puck on your backhand or on the back side of your body. It's going to be harder to keep pucks in because your stick's going to be in the middle of the ice. Defensively, your sticks are going to be in different positions, but that's something you get used to being on that side. You adjust. For me, I don't think it would be an issue."

Pietrangelo has remained relatively quiet about the prospect of playing with someone else. However, he is interested and will stay within earshot of the proceedings.

"You leave that up to Army and what they think needs to be done," Pietrangelo said. "But the guys that we have ... if you consider us a young team still, you've got to take that as a good thing with the experiences that we had considering this was the first playoff experience for some of us. I thought we did pretty well and that's going to carry us hopefully moving forward into next year.

"You're always interested. I'm interested if they're going to sign any forwards or what else ... I don't know what Army's doing. You always want to know what's going on with the team. That's not up to me. That's up to them. I'm going to go about my business and play and train the same way no matter who they bring in."

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Schmaltz anxious to show Blues right choice was made

Defenseman in town for workout orientation,
was team's first round selection last month

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- As the 30 NHL clubs sift through hundreds and thousands of prospects in search of that next great player, just as the Blues do every season headed by Director of Amateur Scouting Bill Armstrong, there can be only one choice for each club.

In all, 30 names are called upon at the NHL Draft every year, and for the Blues, who picked 25th in Pittsburgh less than a month ago, it was offensive defenseman Jordan Schmaltz.

The 18-year-old Schmaltz, who played for the Sioux City Musketeers and Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League last season, was the Blues' choice on that Friday night of June 22nd. Some of the experts called it a risky pick. 
(Getty Images)
The Blues made Green Bay Gamblers defenseman Jordan Schmaltz
their top pick in the 2012 NHL Draft last month.

But Schmaltz, who will hone his skills at the University of North Dakota this fall, was in St. Louis for the first time this week getting acclimated with fellow Blues prospects in hopes of one day calling St. Louis home.

"I've been trying to work out at home leading up to this," said Schmaltz, who is heading to the Fighting Sioux campus on Wednesday after getting a training and workout regimen from Blues strength and conditioning coach Nelson Ayotte. "It's been a crazy summer so I'm just trying to enjoy it all.

"It's set in and just getting here and seeing the guys who you might play with in the future and the competition, it's good to see. I couldn't wait for this week to get started."

Schmaltz, listed at 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds and a Verona, Wisconsin native, comes off of a 10-goal, 41-point season in 55 games that culminated with a USHL Clark Cup championship with the Gamblers, who acquired Schmaltz early in the 2011-12 season. He's been touted as a slick, puck-moving defenseman with a big upside in the offensive zone and a power play quarterback. But this is the first step in the big journey that Schmaltz hopes one day leads to the NHL.

"It's more about meeting the guys and getting comfortable with all the staff members and even some guys on the team here," Schmaltz said Monday at the Blues' practice facility at St. Louis Mills' Ice Zone. "It's just more about meeting the guys, getting on a weight program and meeting the strength coaches and everyone. It's really beneficial. I like it and it's going to be fun."

Not only is he getting a hands-on look at life in the NHL, but Schmaltz has talked to on a number of occasions about playing both sides of the ice from one of the best: Blues' Vice President of Hockey Operations Al MacInnis.

The knock on Schmaltz is he needs to improve his defensive skills, particularly positioning in the defensive zone. Who better to get advice from than MacInnis.

"I've kind of gotten to know him over the years," Schmaltz said of MacInnis. "I got to talk to him more in depth after the draft. He's a great guy. I can't wait to pick up little things from him and his advice."

For the second straight year, the Blues aren't having a formal orientation camp, per say, like many of their counterparts around the NHL. But to have the likes of Schmaltz come in for informal visits helps them ease into life with the big boys.

I think it's exciting for them to get an introduction to the organization," said Blues Director of Player Development Tim Taylor. "This is, for a lot of these guys, the first step to the NHL. Their eyes are getting wide open and have two players here who have had success in the NHL (David Perron and Alex Pietrangelo) and to see them working out and the work ethic they have, I think it's really good for these guys to see that.

"It's not talent alone, getting drafted is the first step. Getting into the organization, getting your feet wet and seeing what it's all about is the next step."

Like a lot of these younger guys that are here, it's all about fitness and strength for Schmaltz.
(Getty Images)
Jordan Schmaltz puts on a jersey after being selected 25th by the Blues at
the NHL Draft, with Director of Amateur Scouting Bill Armstrong looking on.

As he prepares for the trek to North Dakota, Schmaltz has received some helpful texts and tweets from a Fighting Sioux alum, one who knows the ins and outs of North Dakota and the Blues as well as anyone: T.J. Oshie.

"I grew up watching North Dakota, watching (Oshie), (Jonathan) Toews and all those guys," Schmaltz said. "Learning and seeing what those guys did there and how they got better and having successful NHL careers is pretty exciting.

"It's going to be really fun. ... I just can't wait; I can't wait to get started there. I haven't heard anything bad about it. It's going to be fun."

As for projecting when Schmaltz might be on the Blues' horizon, he's in no rush. In the meantime, playing at North Dakota will only better his skills and give Schmaltz the time necessary to help prove the Blues he was a worthy selection.

"I don't really know my timetable. I'm in no rush," Schmaltz said. "Once they might think I'm ready to play and I feel comfortable, maybe I can make that jump up. Right now, the first step is North Dakota and however long I'm there is just about getting better on and off the ice."

Blues resign Langenbrunner, trade Crombeen to Lightning

Deal with Tampa bay also includes 2014 fifth
round pick, nets fourth round picks in 2013 and 2014

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues shuffled the deck of their forward mix on Tuesday by resigning veteran winger Jamie Langenbrunner and trading popular winger B.J. Crombeen to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The 36-year-old Langenbrunner, who was an unrestricted free agent after playing the first of his 17 seasons with the Blues, gets a one-year deal for $1.5 million which includes $250,000 in performance bonuses. The Blues then turned around and flipped Crombeen to the Lightning along with a 2014 fifth round pick in exchange for Tampa Bay's fourth round picks in 2013 and 2014.
(Getty Images)
Jamie Langenbrunner will return for an 18th season in the NHL after
resigning with the Blues on Tuesday.

Langenbrunner had six goals and 24 points in 70 games with the Blues a season ago. He has a probable spot on the Blues' fourth line alongside Scott Nichol in the middle and Vladimir Sobotka on the left side. He will also provide invaluable leadership once again after it helped vault the Blues up the Western Conference standings last season.

"Bringing Jamie back was something that we looked to do since the season ended," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "Jamie came in and his work ethic and his professionalism and his ability to help a group trying to push to a new level was instrumental in our season and we think he'll be a real good piece of the puzzle moving forward next season.

"I would say at 37 (on July 24th), he's not on the upswing of his career. But as I said, we don't envision him like we did last year coming in here as a top six forward. But there's a role for many different elements than just scoring a goal to having a successful team. We think he provides a lot of those things that are necessary to win."

Langenbrunner, a two-time Stanley Cup champion (with Dallas in 1999 and New Jersey in 2003), signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract with the Blues on July 6th last year. His preference was always to return here despite testing the free agent waters.

"I think they had some things they had to do, and for me, I wanted to see exactly where things stood and weigh them against what I knew I had there (in St. Louis)," Langenbrunner said. "As I said from the beginning, I enjoyed being in St. Louis. It was always my first choice. I wasn't in a big hurry or anything like that, just making sure that it made sense for both people and went through the process of it.

"... I always want to contribute more. I don't think they sign a lot of guys to talk in the locker room very often, so I know I have to perform and play. I think a lot of good things were accomplished last year as a team, but we've got a ways to go and we realize that ... continue to improve, guys having better seasons and I'm included in that mix."

Armstrong said it was more about Langenbrunner being an effective player first and foremost, then leading by example takes over.

"They have to be players on the ice first and foremost. If you can't perform on the ice, then the leadership and those things are difficult to put into the room," Armstrong said. "We still think Jamie's got some good hockey left in him. But part of his fabric is his leadership and his personality. ... He's a winner. He's won two Stanley Cups. He captained Team USA to the Olympics in 2010. Having those character people in your organization is strong as we continue to develop and grow."

With the signing of Langenbrunner and the emergence of Ryan Reaves a season ago, it made Crombeen expendable and gave the Blues a glutton of forwards on the backend.

Crombeen, who turned 27 today, played in only 40 games last season -- his fourth with the Blues after being claimed on waivers from Dallas in 2008 -- after injuring his left shoulder in the preseason.

"You never wake up on your birthday expecting something like that, but that's the nature of the business," said Crombeen, who had a goal and two assists a year ago. "It will definitely be one that I will always remember.

"Obviously you know it's part of the business and it's something that can happen any day at any time. You're never really expecting that call, but you know it can always come. It was something that kind of came up quick and went together pretty quick. It was mixed emotions when you hear it. Obviously St. Louis has been great to me. I enjoyed all my time there from every level, but at the same time, it's a new opportunity and a fresh start and it's something that I'm really looking forward to."
(Getty Images)
B.J. Crombeen (left) saw his four-year run in St. Louis end on Tuesday
after being traded to Tampa Bay.

Armstrong wanted to give Crombeen a chance to play and figured the best place to do that would be to move him elsewhere.

"We have 13 players now that we believe are NHL players on our roster right now," Armstrong said. "Two things. One, the emergence of Ryan Reaves I thought played a big part in this. Also, we think that (Peoria enforcer) Anthony Peluso is a player that can fill some of those responsibilities that B.J. had over time and he's going to get a very good chance in training camp to come in here and push for a roster spot, too. Where B.J. was at in his career, too, I don't think he wanted to be a part of a (backend) group of 13. I think Tampa Bay's a really good fit for him. He can go in there and probably get penciled into a roster spot on opening night and make the most out of that situation. Hopefully for everyone involved, it's something that will work out for Tampa and work out for St. Louis, but I do think Ryan Reaves and Anthony Peluso being on our reserve list and under contract helped facilitate this deal and getting Jamie back ... having Jamie resign, it certainly solidifies our right wing."

Crombeen will be reunited with former Blue Eric Brewer, who was traded to Tampa Bay in 2011 for defensive prospect Brock Beukeboom and a 2012 third round pick.

"I haven't spoken to Brew yet but I know from talking to him before, he indicated it was a great group of guys down there and they get along well and I'm looking forward to being a part of that," said Crombeen, who had 49 points in 265 games with the Blues. "They've got a lot of skill up front and a lot of good players, high-end players on their team. Looking at what I can bring, it looks like it can be a good fit."

Crombeen, whose wife Janet is expecting the couple's second child, will miss the camaraderie of the close-knit Blues locker room.

"We did have a real great group of guys," Crombeen said. "They still have a great group of guys. It was a lot of fun to be a part of them. I'm definitely going to miss all of them on that level."

* NOTE -- Armstrong said that the salary arbitration hearing between the Blues and T.J. Oshie has been set for July 20. The two sides will continue to talk about a contract extension but are prepared to go and have an arbitrator settle the case.

"Both sides are open to talk, but both sides are prepared for that arbitration of we have to get to it," Armstrong said.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Rattie ready to take next step in development

Blues prospect tallied 121 points in WHL a season ago looking to bulk up

When Ty Rattie first arrived for his initial orientation visit with the Blues last summer, it was no different for him than the majority of the prospects witnessing life in the NHL for the first time.

"It was sort of like starting school for the first time," Rattie said. "You didn't know what to expect and you're obviously nervous."
(WHL photo)
Blues prospect Ty Rattie (8) scored 57 goals in the WHL a season ago.
He's attending workouts with fellow prospects this week in St. Louis.

Rattie, who was the Blues' first pick in the 2011 draft when he was chosen 32nd overall, comes into his second summer working with Blues' strength and conditioning coach Nelson Ayotte this week at the St. Louis Mills Ice Zone brimming with confidence and eager to elevate the impressive numbers the six-foot, 173-pound Airdrie, Alberta native (just north of Calgary) put up in the Western Hockey League last season.

The 19-year-old ranked third overall in the WHL and led the Portland Winterhawks in scoring with 121 points on 57 goals and 64 assists in 2011-12. He also led the league in playoff goals with 19 in 21 games as the Winterhawks fell to the Edmonton Oil Kings in seven games in the Ed Chynoweth Cup, the WHL version of the championship series.

Now having been through the initial process towards the goal of becoming an NHL player, Rattie will continue to try and prove the skeptics wrong. It's the same skeptics that say the right winger is too small and too light to become an effective player at the NHL level.

"I thought I had a really good year," Rattie said. "Our team came one game short in Game 7 there, but personal-wise, I was really happy with my year. Hopefully I can keep going with it next year.

"The biggest thing for me was skating and I thought I really improved that. Now I'm just trying to put on weight. I put on about six-to-seven pounds at the end of the season. I'm on the right track. That's the biggest thing for me right now is just getting bigger and improving my strength."

The Blues and the scouting staff that thought so highly of Rattie last summer to draft him as high as they did, certainly were aware of the kind of season he had in Portland.

"Obviously, if you put up those numbers, you're doing something right," said Bill Armstrong, the Blues' director of amateur scouting. "What you look at is as a scout and try and project: is he capable of producing those numbers at a higher level? With him, he's got the sense and the feel and the ability to make plays offensively, thinks the game at a very high level. As far as strength-wise, he's still a ways away from the NHL. Size and strength and speed will be his biggest adjustment as a player coming in. So he'll have to do that. His brain obviously thinks the game very fast. Now, it's his physical ability with the strength, which will take some time to get there.

"He's got to work on playing a complete game, I think. But that's time and maturity. It takes a little bit of time to get in there. He's one of those kids, he's got a raw body type, so he's going to have to put some time in to getting bigger and stronger."
(Getty Images)
Blues' 2011 second round pick Ty Rattie (right) got a taste of NHL action
last year during the preseason, his first taste of NHL play.

Blues director of player development Tim Taylor, a veteran of 13 NHL seasons with Detroit, Boston, New York Rangers and Tampa Bay, has noticed an increased effort Rattie to putting in the necessary work.

"I think his work ethic has changed a little bit," Taylor said. "Young players have to learn that it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. It's not just the talent that takes over. You need to put everything together to be successful."

Rattie, who scored 28 times and added another 51 assists in 2010-11 with the Winterhawks, seems destined for another season in the WHL. But first, he hopes to be attending training camp here in St. Louis and making a lasting impression on his future employer. Rattie hopes the next step would be get to the American Hockey League and the Peoria Rivermen.

"I'd love to get to the NHL as quick as possible," Rattie said. "That's everybody's dream, but I know I've got a lot of work ahead of me. I'm pushing and I want to be there as quick as I can.

"My goal is to be here for camp and it would be a dream-come-true to make it to the NHL."

Friday, July 6, 2012

Armstrong shifts focus to trades for improvements

Blues' GM stayed out of the high-end bidding wars for
some of this year's top free agents, will look to wheel and deal

ST. LOUIS -- Now that the notable free agent dominoes have fallen into other teams' laps, the Blues will continue their search for marked improvements through other avenues.

Instead of jumping into the foray of insanity -- known as free agent contracts, particularly those that Ryan Suter and Zach Parise received from Minnesota as well as Matt Carle in Tampa Bay -- Blues general manager Doug Armstrong will be more adept at looking for trade venues to touch up what he feels like are patchwork holes the Blues have.

And if such trades are even possible for Armstrong, he'd like to do it with the plethora of draft picks/top-of-the-line prospects the Blues have built up since their days of foundering in last place seven years ago. They feel like the cupboard is stocked and could afford to part with certain pieces to fill a need for a to-end left-handed defenseman.
(Getty Images)
Could Calgary's Jay Bouwmeester be on the Blues' radar?

"One of the things that this new system has created is you see after a while Peter pay Paul," Armstrong said. "If you have a hole, you create another hole to do it. I would rather do it (make trades) with draft picks if I could. That's what I tried to do at the entry draft. I'd like to try that moving forward, try doing it with non-rostered players if possible because I like our group of forwards but I don't think we have an excessive amount in any one position."

The most notable defenseman bandied on the trade market include Calgary ironman Jay Bouwmeester, who has two years and a $6.68 million cap hit remaining, as well as Phoenix's Keith Yandle, who has four years and a $5.25 million cap hit over the term of his contract.

Other names that could be in play include Pittsburgh's Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik as the Penguins will look to add scoring after losing out on the Parise sweepstakes. They've already traded away Zbynek Michalek back to the Coyotes, where he began his career. There's been talk that the Nashville Predators could offer up captain Shea Weber if they can't sign him to a long-term contract in light of Suter leaving Music City. But that would be a stretch for the Blues at this point. And the Blues could always go back to a familiar face who's still on the market (Carlo Colaiacovo) if needed.

If the Blues are able to consummate a trade with any team involved, particularly for a marquee/high-end defenseman, those teams will certainly look to involve the Blues' crop at forward.

Armstrong would like to avoid that scenario at all costs.

"If we can do it with spending a little bit of our future, I think we're in a spot to do that because of the great work by our amateur scouting staff and (former GM) Larry Pleau and (team president) John Davidson of gaining all of these assets right now," Armstrong said. "I think our cupboard is fairly stocked that we could go a year if necessary without a pick or two."

This is the road that was obviously paved for the Blues, with Parise and Suter each netting identical 13-year, $98 million contracts. They were not going to be involved in a those discussions. Carle, who the Blues pursued aggressively right down to the wire, got six years and $33 million from the Lightning. Along with Jason Garrison going from making $675,000 to a $4.6 million average cap hit over the next six years in Vancouver, those are just a sampling of deals since the free agency shopping spree opened July 1st.

"I guess I'm never really surprised at what happens in the NHL on certain dates," Armstrong said Thursday after announcing the signing of David Perron to a four-year, $15.25 million contract. "Any time there's an artificial deadline, whether it be a trade deadline or a Christmas trade deadline or the draft, there seems to be a lot of activity. Obviously July 1st is another date. We certainly saw some very lucrative contracts handed out, some lucrative contracts with signing bonuses handed out, which seems to be a phenomenon that you only have as you're entering into the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement. I don't know if surprised would be the right term as it is eye-opening."

And if worse comes to worse, Armstrong was adamant in saying that the Blues do not necessarily have to make any sort of deal. After all, this is a team that came off a 109-point season and he is quite comfortable with the left side of Barret Jackman, Kris Russell and Ian Cole sliding into the top three on that side to compliment Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk and Roman Polak.
(Getty Images)
If Phoenix shops talented defenseman Keith Yandle (3) through
trade, the Blues will line up as a potential suitor.

"... Right now, we're comfortable with Jackman, Russell (and) Cole over on that left side," Armstrong said. "If we can add to that group, we will. We don't believe it's prudent to go out and do something just to add a player. We want to make sure it's the right player.

"We think we have a lot of depth now on two-way contracts. with (Jeff) Woywitka here, (Taylor) Chorney here; (Cade) Fairchild showed he could play last year. We think we have some depth in our organization. But that is one area that if we can improve it, more likely now will be a trade than anything, we'll look at doing."

And as far as scoring, unless somebody knocks Armstrong's socks off with a can't-miss opportunity, the 13 forwards on the depth chart are the guys the Blues feel good about going to war with for the upcoming season, which includes Vladimir Tarasenko.

"Up front, I'm actually quite excited about the 13 forwards that we have now," Armstrong said. "We have 12 forwards now on one-way contracts and our 13th forward is Tarasenko. ... With that group of 13, there's some real good opportunity for Phil McRae, for (Evgeny) Grachev, for (Adam) Cracknell and (Jaden) Schwartz to come in here and compete and try to cobble some space into our roster.

"Up front, I'm fairly content with where we are with the caveat that we're always looking to improve, but it's not an area where we actively feel we have a need. For defense, if we can find that proper player to go into our group, we will. But if not, I am satisfied we can start with that group that we have back there and then if we do stub our toe or stumble, we'll have to get very aggressive in the trading market if necessary. But right now, if this is the group we go to training camp with, this is the group we go to training camp with."

* Blues ink Murray -- The Blues continued to add to their depth at Peoria, signing winger Andrew Murray, most recently of Detroit, to a one-year two-way contract for a reported $600,000/$105,000.

Murray, 31, played in San Jose last season before he was dealt to the Red Wings as part of the trade that brought defenseman Brad Stuart to the Sharks.

Murray began his career in Columbus under current Blues coach Ken Hitchcock.