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.

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