Saturday, March 30, 2013

Blues acquire defenseman Jordan Leopold from Sabres

Team gives up pair of 2013 draft picks for left-handed veteran

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues have been falling down the Western Conference standings. It was not a matter of if but when would the Blues shake up their roster.

Of course something had to make sense, and
with the NHL trade deadline just four days away, general manager Doug Armstrong isn't waiting around for asking prices to escalate.

The Blues have acquired defenseman Jordan Leopold from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a second-round and a conditional fifth-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft that can become a fourth-round pick if the Blues win one playoff round.

Jordan Leopold - Buffalo Sabres v Ottawa Senators
(Buffalo Sabres photo)
Jordan Leopold will join his sixth NHL team after
being acquired by the Blues Saturday.
Leopold has eight points (two goals) and is a minus-6 in 24 games for the Sabres this season. The Blues will be his sixth team in a career that began in 2002-03.

With Douglas Murray already being dealt from San Jose to Pittsburgh for a pair of draft picks earlier in the week, Armstrong felt like the barometer was set and he was ready to strengthened the left side of his defensive unit as a result.

"The first couple deals set the market," Armstrong said via conference call Saturday afternoon. "Pittsburgh set the market for defensemen when Murray went for a second and I think a third that goes to a second based on a certain number of things. Pittsburgh was willing to pay for a premium because they saw that specific player in the style that they needed, but it showed that NHL players are what they're values are going to be for draft picks. So the market was set and we had an understanding of what we were willing to pay.

"[Sabres GM] Darcy [Regier] might have been able to hold and see if the market goes up, but with that you're always in the risk of an injury and getting nothing for the player. Everybody has to weigh the proper time for their team and I know it was the proper time for us."

The 32-year-old Leopold has played the past three seasons for Buffalo. St. Louis' next game is Monday at the Minnesota Wild.

The Blues, who entered Saturday holding the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, have made it known that they have been in the market for a left-handed defenseman since last summer. Calgary's Jay Bouwmeester has been a name linked with the Blues for months, but with the Blues holding a plethora of draft picks acquired through various trades, Leopold is a player that they were willing to pay for at this time.

"He provides us with stability and experience back there," Armstrong said of Leopold. "Robby DiMaio [the Blues' director of pro scouting] works in the Toronto area and has seen quite a bit of him over the last couple years. He's touched every aspect of Buffalo's game. He's second on their team in ice time per game for defense. I think he's third in penalty killing for defense and second in power play for defense. He's a guy that's going to come in here and give us a good, steadying influence on our back end."

Armstrong said the Blues will carry eight defensemen for the remainder of the season, which means it could be limited minutes for veteran Wade Redden and 2008 first-round pick Ian Cole.

"I think our goal is first and foremost, we have to get into the playoffs," Armstrong said of the Blues, who are 17-14-2, good for 36 points. "We've put ourselves in a position now where we're going to have to work hard to maintain our position and improve it. But if you want to get in there and have a potentially long playoff run, you have to have eight or nine quality defensemen. Right now we have eight guys that we know can play and a very good NHL depth player with experience in [Jeff] Woywitka. I think our depth on defense now is much stronger than it was before."

Leopold is a Golden Valley, Minn., native who was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the second round (No. 44) of the 1999 NHL Draft who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season. He will join the Blues in time for their flight to Minneapolis Sunday and could very well make his debut Monday night.

With the strong pairing of Kris Russell and Roman Polak and Barret Jackman playing strongly with Alex Pietrangelo, Leopold looks like he would slide into the left side along with Kevin Shattenkirk.

"The one thing that this season is showing is that Jax has good chemistry with Alex or with Shattenkirk or (with) Roman for that matter," Armstrong said. "Recently, I really liked the pair of Russell and Roman. I think the coaches like that also. I think that Jordan's going to get an opportunity to play with one of those other two guys off the start. Obviously Ken and Brad will make that decision, but it gives us a bit of flexibility. We'll find out where the proper chemistry is."
Jordan Leopold - Ottawa Senators v Buffalo Sabres
(Buffalo Sabres photo)
New Blues defenseman Jordan Leopold (3) battles Ottawa's Chris Neil in
a game in 2011.

Does this mean the Blues are done? Perhaps, but Armstrong said they'll continue to shop for the right deal if one is there to be had.

"I think you're always looking," Armstrong said. "The phones aren't going to stop ringing until Wednesday at 2 o'clock central time. We're always going to be listening, but we feel a lot stronger. We feel our depth is much more improved as of 3 o'clock today than it was at 3 o'clock yesterday."

Leopold is in the final year of a three-year, $9-million contract. There are no guarantees he resigns with the Blues, so call this an audition of sorts.

"The beauty of it is we're going to get a good look at him, he's going to get a good look at us and see if there's a fit," Armstrong said of Leopold. "We're hoping that he comes in and plays well, finds chemistry. He's a 1980 birthday, so he's certainly got some miles left on the tires. If it's a good fit and we have success, then it's something we can certainly look at."

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