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.

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