Wednesday, August 29, 2012

For Blues veterans, lockout not a good feeling

Jackman: missing 2004-05 season was "devastating"

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- As much as the percentages seem to be against the upcoming NHL season starting on time, there are a few simple reasons why the players' union continues to preach positive thoughts rather than think lockout.

Call it cautious optimism. Particularly from those that have been around the game and know the helpless and empty feeling of what the 2004-05 lockout, which resulted in an entire season that was wiped out which resulted in the league needed an imaging overhaul with its product and its fan base.

"I was absolutely devastated the last time it happened," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said referring to the last lockout. "I played my first year (in 2002-03) and then I was hurt all my second year and then what was supposed to be my third year, we were locked out.

(Getty Images)
Barret Jackman was "devastated" the last time there was
an NHL lockout eight years ago.
"Back then it was a little different scenario. There were a lot of teams that were hurting. Unfortunately, it took too long to make significant cuts to the payroll. The league has grown since then and it's a thriving business. We realize there are some teams that at the bottom are kind of struggling, teams like Phoenix and a couple teams in Florida. ... It's tough to sit by and watch hockey take the beating it is but hopefully this isn't a long-term thing and we'll get going."

NHLPA and most of its members fully understood they could lose an entire year and players quickly made arrangements to play overseas in Europe back then.

The players are more equipped and fully prepared for a worst-case scenario this time around, but there's a growing sentiment still floating around that something will in fact get done, even as late as the final hour when the current collective bargaining agreement is set to expire on Sept. 15.

"I find it as a different feel, the last (lockout) to this one," veteran center Scott Nichol said. "I think both sides are really adament to get things going, get it resolved and quicker.

"The last lockout ... looking back now, guys were taking off for Europe relatively early. Not here and now. Guys are really unified and hunkered in to start the season and everyone's status quo and coming into their respective cities and getting things going."

The two sides, albeit getting a late start in negotiations, are talking and trying to hammer out a dialogue and finding common ground. But eight years ago, those negotiations -- or lack thereof -- were a road that led to an entire season being wiped out before common sense prevailed.

"I just remember the meetings throughout the summer were very negative and guys were just asking the very worst case scenarios," Jackman said. "Now with all the meetings that are going on, it seems like guys are asking the right questions.

"We're very optimistic. We're going to go in, everybody's going to plan on starting the season. We have a great group of people that are heading the union. A lot of guys involved, a lot more than we had the last time. We're educated and we know what's at stake."

Jamie Langenbrunner, a veteran entering his 18th NHL season and second with the Blues, said the sooner an agreement gets done, the better it is for everyone involved. Then the players can map out a plan of training and when to expect to play games.

(Getty Images)
Jamie Langenbrunner feels like the players are caught
in the middle when it comes to a lockout.
"I think the longer it goes, the harder it is mentally to (train)," Langenbrunner said. "You plan your summers to get yourself ready for September and you can't train forever. I think for everybody it's a little bit different and know what you need to do to get ready. I think whenever there is uncertainty it does make that difficult. But having a group around town will help. We'll help push each other and pick each other up. As of now, we're preparing for Sept. 21."

It doesn't dispel the thoughts that Langenbrunner feels he and fellow players are the ones caught in the middle of a tug-o-war between the owners.

"I think all of us have to look at the big picture. We feel as players, this isn't even a player-owner problem. This is an owner-owner problem," Langenbrunner said. "We kind of get dragged into the middle of it, along with the fans. We play under the rules of their deal, how they interpreted those rules and how they decided to play with them was their call. But this is nothing that we designed, we're just a part of it."

The players are a big part of it, and as long as the two sides can come to a resolution, it will make things better for all parties, the game in general, and most importantly, the fans that support it.

"For me personally, I find that both sides, they would want it," Nichol said. "They'll get something done sooner than later, I would think.

"We love our union and the way (NHLPA executive director) Donald (Fehr's) been handling things. It'll all work out. There's too much to lose. I'm just a hockey player and want to play. Maybe I am optimistic."

Optimistic and from a fan's standpoint -- hopeful.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Blues looking at bigger, brighter picture as camp looms

Players that have trickled in for voluntary skates focused on
building off one of franchise's best seasons, not looming lockout

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- For obvious reasons, Blues players are in unison with their fellow NHL brethren as to why they don't believe a lockout will happen if a new collective bargaining agreement isn't reached by Sept. 15.

And after a 109-point season that brought hockey back to league respectability and revived the game in St. Louis once again, it's understandable why players are looking at nothing but a successful resolution and that hockey will go off as scheduled this season with a new CBA in hand.

"We're just going day-to-day, getting our workouts in and preparing for the season," said veteran center Scott Nichol, one of eight skaters on the ice Tuesday at St. Louis Mills' Ice Zone who's fully aware of the daily ongoings between the NHL and NHLPA. "We're all really excited. All the guys are back in, we've got a great group and just chomping at the bit to get back going.

"You want to keep the momentum and I think everyone's like that. Once training camp starts, there's 30 teams that think they're going to win the Stanley Cup and we're one of them. We have a good chance. It's going to be hard work this year. We're not sneaking up on anybody. Everyone knows we have a good team. The style that we play is a real in-your-face, hard game. It'll be a good challenge for us. We'll be like the Detroit Red Wings where everyone's going to play their 'A' game against you and it's going to make our team even grow that much more."

Nichol, who resigned for one year this summer, along with Barret Jackman and Jamie Langenbrunner, have a combined 39 years' worth of NHL experience. But all three were on the ice Tuesday getting workouts in along with Peoria-bound goalie Mike McKenna, 2009 draft pick Sergei Andronov, Ottawa goalie and St. Louis home grown talent Ben Bishop, Philip McRae and a pair of others. Andy McDonald has also made his way in but did not participate Tuesday. Alex Pietrangelo, Ian Cole and Jaden Schwartz were in town recently and will return soon.

Instead of thinking about what might not be, they are choosing to remain on the positive side and not have a repeat of 2004-05, which was wiped out completely due to an owner's lockout. And it's the veterans that are setting the example of getting in early that signifies the Blues' willingness to build off last season.

"It shows the young guys and everybody we're all on the same page," Nichol said. "It doesn't matter how old or how young you are. We want to win.
"We're here to win and that's what we get paid for. We had an exciting season last year. We're not going to totally duplicate it, good or bad. We want to be better. Every day you want to get better and we did last year and I don't see why we can't this year."

But being the end of August, the Blues would have most, if not all of their camp players in town by now. With the uncertainty of what may or may not happen, some guys have delayed getting into town just yet. The element of the unknown has everyone on edge these days.

"It's tough some days but you've got to look at it like it's going to start September 21st, the first day of training camp," said Jackman, who signed a three-year, $9 million extension instead of opting for unrestricted free agency. "You've got to just ramp yourself up to that date. Things could change from now to then and you could have a new target date and you try and adjust your training accordingly.

"It's tough to figure out some drills to do with six skaters and two goalies ... it's tough. You come into St. Louis, you never know ... getting apartments or what the future holds. Guys are going to stay in their hometowns and skate with other guys that they have there. Mostly guys that have kids are in town or make their home base out of St. Louis are the ones here. They'll start trickling in here probably in the next couple weeks."

The NHL and NHLPA seem to have a wide gap over the core issues that are threatening the existence -- or part of -- the 2012-13 season. But players have to continue to go about their business as if things will work out accordingly.

"Yeah, I guess it throws a little uncertainty into it, where normally this time you'd have that target date of Sept. 21 and camp opening and gearing up for that," Langenbrunner said. "I think for the most part, for right now, that's the mindset we have to go with. But obviously the uncertainty of it makes some days a little bit tougher. But it's the end of August and we've been going here for a good couple of weeks. More and more guys are going to start coming in now and then we'll prepare and be ready until they tell us not to be."

* NOTES -- Blues general manager Doug Armstrong confirmed on Tuesday that Alex Pietrangelo is to have a minor procedure performed on a lower-body issue.

Armstrong would not divulge any specifics on the injury but Pietrangelo did suffer a sprained knee in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Los Angeles Kings when he was shoved awkwardly into the boards from behind by the Kings' Dwight King. It forced Pietrangelo to miss Game 2 before he returned to play in Games 3 and 4, a series the Kings won in a four-game sweep.

Pietrangelo, 22, who played in 81 games last season and posted career-highs in goals (12), assists (39) and points (51), indicated at the team's exit meetings after being eliminated by the Kings and again last month when he came in for a voluntary skate with prospects that there was no need for any surgical procedure on the knee, so it is believed to be in another area.

Pietrangelo, who finished fourth in the Norris Trophy voting this past season, is not expected to miss any time once training camp opens. Barring a lockout, camp is slated to open for the Blues and the rest of the NHL on Sept. 21st.

... The Blues also signed Sergei Andronov, the team's third round pick (78th overall) in 2009, to a one-year, AHL-only contract on Tuesday.

Andronov, 23, has spent the last three seasons playing in the KHL at CSKA Moscow. The 6-foot, 183-pound winger had 11 goals and 18 points in 101 games.

It was a bit of a surprise to the Blues, but last month, reports surfaced of Andronov's desire to play in North America saw Armstrong go to Russia to meet with him. The Moscow native was on the ice Tuesday and will play with Peoria this season and likely be used in a checking style role.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Blues make changes to hockey operations

Taylor, DiMaio gain promotions; MacInnis assumes role of advisor to GM

ST. LOUIS -- With training camp approximately six weeks away, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong announced some changes to their hockey operations staff before heading into the 2012-13 season.

The following will have different titles for the upcoming season: Dave Taylor, who previously held the title of the director of player personnel; Al MacInnis, who held the position of vice president of hockey operations and Rob DiMaio, who served as a pro scout.

Taylor steps into the role MacInnis previously held. He joined the Blues in 2010 after serving the same role with the Dallas Stars from 2007-10 and as general manager of the Los Angeles Kings from 1997-2006.

MacInnis, who served as vice president of hockey operations since 2006, will become a senior advisor to Armstrong, a role Larry Pleau held after being the team's GM for 13 years beginning in 1997. before joining the front office, MacInnis concluded a Hall of Fame career of 23 seasons, including the last 10 spent in St. Louis where he compiled
452 points (127 goals, 325 assists) in 613 games played for the Blues. He won the Norris Trophy in 1999.

DiMaio, who played 17 seasons in the NHL, joined the Blues in 2008. He will assume the role held by Kevin McDonald, the team's assistant general manager and GM of the Peoria Rivermen.