Friday, July 26, 2013

Jake Allen ready to play in St. Louis or Chicago

Netminder looking forward to building off
rookie season after resigning for two years

ST. LOUIS -- The majority of the talk at season's end was that Jake Allen played well enough to earn his way onto the Blues' goaltending roster permanently.

Allen was impressive enough in his first prolonged stint with the Blues that it had given Blues management and coaches something to think about. It allowed the team to explore options to potentially move one or both of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, the team's veteran netminders.

But in the end, when Allen and the Blues agreed to a two-year contract that will have the Fredericton, New Brunswick native play out a two-way contract for this coming season and a one-way contract in 2014-15, it's almost certain that the 22-year-old will begin the season with the Blues' new American Hockey League affiliate in Chicago.

(Getty Images)
Blues goaltender Jake Allen will likely begin the 2013-14
season with the AHL Chicago Wolves.

And Allen, who heard all the praise after going 9-4-0 with a 2.46 goals-against average and .905 save percentage, is fine with that decision -- if it comes to that.

"Every player wants to be a part of the Blues permanently with a one-way deal, but Ells and Jaro are still there," Allen said by phone Friday morning. "They're both great goalies in their own right. It's a numbers game almost right now, so I've got to look at it in realistic terms and see what you've got in front of you.

"I know I got the two-way the first year, but to me, it's just getting into camp and trying to earn a spot like everyone else. I think I proved myself last year, but I still have a long way to go. I'm looking forward to coming in and it's going to be a challenge for me."

Allen, who will make an NHL-based salary of $750,000 this season and $125,000 in the AHL, will earn $850,000 next season on his one-way deal. It's the first one-way contract of what is expected to be a promising career for the Blues' netminder who earned his first NHL win at Joe Louis Arena when he helped the Blues end an 0-4-1 slide with a 4-3 overtime victory over the Detroit Red Wings Feb. 13. It started a streak of three straight wins to begin Allen's NHL career and eight of Allen's first nine starts ended with the Blues earning two points. It was a springboard for the Blues' run to the playoffs.

"It was the third year of my deal and I had never got to come up into the NHL until that point," Allen said. "I don't know if I didn't have that experience, you'd still always be questioning yourself ... what it's like, can you play. I was very fortunate to have that opportunity."

It came as a little bit of a surprise, since Allen, drafted by the Blues 34th overall in 2008, didn't quite live up to the hype playing for the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL last season when he was 13-19-2 with a 2.89 GAA and .904 save percentage. He was 13-20-2 the previous season after winning 25 games his first season with the Rivermen.

But after Allen stopped 15 of 18 shots in that win at Detroit that may have very well saved the Blues' season and started their climb into the top eight in the Western Conference, Allen went into Calgary with the Blues two nights later and arguably had the save of the year:

"I got to play so many games in a shortened season," Allen said. "That was a great experience for me. I think it just proved to myself and a lot of other people in the hockey world that I can do it. I sort of set myself nicely for this contract. I think I earned it in a way, but it's just a step. It was a huge benefit to my development."

Anything can happen in training camp and Allen understands that, but there is also the reality that he likely begins the season with the Wolves of the AHL. And instead of turning it into sour grapes, Allen is taking the high road, using motivation as a tool instead.

"If I do end up in Chicago, I'm just going to go down there with the same mentality," Allen said. "Chicago's obviously a new organization for us. I was in Peoria for three years. Going to Chicago would be a fresh start and something I would be looking forward to and get another challenge as well.

"You've got to be ready, be on the ball with your feet. You never know what's going to happen in the NHL. Just like this (past) year, I couldn't really predict what happened to happen. You never know. I'm going to go down there and just hold my game, try and improve, improve and improve. Hopefully when I get a chance, I'm going to come back up and take advantage of it like I did last year."

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jake Allen (34) makes a save last season against Phoenix Coyotes' Antoine
Vermette. Allen stopped 28 shots in the game to earn his first NHL shutout.
It would have been ideal for Allen and his camp to work out a two-year, one-way deal with the Blues, but getting the one-way contract next season helped both sides come to a mutual -- and beneficial -- agreement.

"You look at it as a big bonus for me to know I have security for two years and I do have a one-way deal for the second year," said Allen, who was a restricted free agent who finished up a three-year, $2.625 entry-level contract. "It's that much more motivation for me to be that much more prepared for my second season. To have that under my belt, it's a big bonus for me. It was a great deal on both parts and I'm really happy with it."

And Allen is happy to be in St. Louis and the Blues' organization. There was never any doubt. He's been working out with David Alexander, the goalie coach of the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL who's previously worked with Allen as well as former Blues farmhand and St. Louis' Ben Bishop, who will play with the Tampa Bay Lightning this season. 

"St. Louis is a place I wanted to be. It's the place I started," said Allen, who will come into St. Louis a couple weeks before the start of training camp. "I love it there. I'm glad to be there for a couple more years and I'm looking forward to get going. It feels like a while since I played my last game. Camp's coming soon, so I'm looking forward to getting back and getting into the swing of things."

Thursday, July 25, 2013

RFA Jake Allen signs two-year deal with Blues

Goalie will play under two-way contract in 2013-14, one-way in 2014-15

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues are down to a pair of restricted free agents to sign after they signed goalie Jake Allen to a new contract Thursday.

Allen and the Blues have agreed to a two-year contract, with the first year being a two-way deal for $750,000/$125,000 and a one-way contract in 2014-15 for $850,000.

Allen, 22, burst onto the scene last season, virtually kick-starting the Blues' season on Feb. 13 when he helped the team snap an 0-4-1 slide with a 4-3 overtime victory at Detroit.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jake Allen (left) makes a save on Columbus' Mark Letestu in a game last
season at Scottrade Center.
Allen went on to post a 9-4-0 record with a 2.46 goals-against average, which led all NHL rookies in both categories

The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Allen posted the best winning percentage for a Blues rookie in franchise history (.692) with at least 10 games played and became the first rookie since Curtis Joseph in 1989-90 to record at least nine wins.

The Fredericton, New Brunswick native, drafted by the Blues with the 34th pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, was 13-19-2 with a 2.89 GAA and .904 save percentage for the American Hockey League's Peoria Rivermen last season.

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong indicated at the team's exit meetings that Allen has, "... certainly proven based on his work (last) year that he's at the point now where I don't think now going back to the American Hockey League ... I don't think he needs more seasoning. He's one of three right now. He doesn't need waivers to go back to the American Hockey League, but he has proven to me that he deserves an opportunity to play in the NHL."

Armstrong went on to say, "I think anything could happen. It was a difficult year for both (Brian) Elliott and Jaro (Halak) and I think Jake took great advantage of it. He's proven to us now that he has to go in the equation."

Allen will get that opportunity and fit into the equation in the second year of his contract, but both Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, each who have one year, respectively, remaining on their deals, will be the tandem once the regular season opens Oct. 3, and Allen will be in Chicago playing for the Wolves and the Blues' new AHL affiliate.

Armstrong talked about the three-headed goalie situation being at the time "a cloudy issue," but called it a "positive cloudy in one sense (because) Jake has given us things that we have to look at."

But the Blues appear comfortable in going back to the tandem of Halak and Elliott, one in which won the Jennings Trophy in 2011-12.

"We've got three under contract," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said at the conclusion of the season. "We're in a tough position for three goalies, but we're in a great position organizationally-wise.

"We've got three good goalies. ... All I know is if you're under contract, I'm assuming your coming back and you're going to be ready to go and let the competition stand where it is. That's what training camp's for. I'm looking forward to actually having a training camp myself. I haven't had one here yet. That's three good goalies into two good nets. ... All I know is we've got three good goalies. Tough on the goalies, good for the coach."

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) agreed to a new two-year contract on Thursday.
Hitchcock last week praised the off-season work of Halak, who is coming off a pair of groin injuries that shortened his season to 16 games (6-5-1, 2.14 GAA and .899 save percentage). Halak has trained this off-season in St. Louis on the heels of last season and the playoff spat he had with Hitchcock during the playoff series loss to Los Angeles. That all seems like a distant memory despite the summer-long rumors of the possibility the Blues were looking to trade Halak and the $4.5 million salary remaining on his contract ($3.75 million cap hit).

"The stuff with Jaro, that's an every day occurrence," Hitchcock said at the time. "Arguments and discussions that go on with players and playing time and all that stuff that was discussed in the media, that's the ongoing stuff.

"If he wasn't pissed and disappointed, I'd be surprised. To me, if you're under contract, get ready to play."

With Allen's signing, the Blues' remaining unsigned restricted free agents are defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and winger Magnus Paajarvi.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Hitchcock eager to see new-look, deeper Blues get going

Coach discusses changes to roster
heading into 2013-14, feels like team is better

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Before be returned to St. Louis last week to take part in the organization's youth hockey camp, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who admittedly loves his history, was in Europe to take in the sights of years past.

Hitchcock, who is a fan favorite of all things history involving President Abraham Lincoln, spent 12 days touring Germany seeing everything from where concentration camps were, to torture chambers from back in the days of the World War I and so forth.

A group of reporters sat down with the 61-year-old Hitchcock and talked about his time away from the United States and hockey to getting back and looking ahead. Here is a taste of what the Blues coach had to say, beginning with a sample of his time in Germany:
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock

It was great. It was really a new experience. When you travel and you do it all on your own, you get a lot of confidence. ... It was like planes, trains and automobiles everywhere. It was learning how to book trains and learning how to find places and cities, finding the right way to go and view the historical sites, whether it was on the buses or on the boats or walking tours. It was really good. There were some walking tours that were three- and four-hour deals where you're going up mountains to churches and castles and all that stuff. It was really a great experience. It was really interesting because we started the history part of it in the 1500's and then we ended up taking it right into 1990 where we were in cities that were just learning how to act as North American cities like Krakow, there was just a youthful explosion in Krakow that's going on now because it was a communist city or other German cities that were communist that are just learning how to operate, it was really neat. I went into a city called Rothenburg, (where) time stood still in this city. If you go anywhere in Germany ... the city got stuck in the 1500's and never left. The black plague went in and basically killed off everybody so the city stood still for a couple hundred years. Nobody moved in, and it was really interesting because it was a historical city and the Americans, when they came in, The American general and the German general made a deal that they wouldn't blow it up if the Germans put down their arms. To save the city, they both cooperated, so this beautiful medieval city that's built in the 1400's, 1600's is all conserved all down to the minute detail. The Americans never bombed (it). They torched like 20 percent of the city and all the churches and all the town halls and everything in this city were saved ... it was pretty neat. It's quite the historical tour.

It was quick. We landed in Berlin, two days later picked up the car in Leipzig ... we did Leipzig, Dresden, Krakow, Auschwitz, Salzburg, Nuremburg, Rothenburg ... a lot. It was a lot.

On getting back:
We've met as a staff at the end of the season and we each had areas to look at, and then we re-met at the draft. So as the draft was going on, we had our own coaches meetings and then everybody was given specific areas and then we're going to reconvene and start as a staff on Aug. 19th and then get ready to go.

On recent moves the Blues have made:
We've done a lot of good stuff here. There's a lot of build-up to where we're at right now. I think with the changes that (general manager) Doug (Armstrong's) made, we've got a good team. We've got a really good team coming back. All you're looking for is a fighting chance, and we have a fighting chance. I think all of us recognize that there's teams in the West that have improved. Some from the playoffs who were in it already have improved and some from outside have improved, but I think we have, too. I think with the guys we've resigned and the guys that we've added, we're deep. So all you're looking for at the start of the season is to know you've got a legitimate chance and then let the process begin.

On Derek Roy, Magnus Paajarvi, Jordan Leopold and Jaroslav Halak (there's even an English reference in the excerpt below):
We're banking on a comeback from a guy like Derek Roy getting back to where he was two years ago, and then we're banking on chemistry with Paajarvi. I think the signing of (Jordan) Leopold is a big signing for us. I've been very impressed with Jaro and the change that he's made in addressing a strengthening issue and a fitness issue so that he can remain healthy. I think we're like everybody else. We're pretty bloody excited where we're at right now. We just think that we're in that window that we really want to take advantage of here in the next few years.

More on Derek Roy, who Hitchcock coached in 2008 at the World Championships for Canada as well as Hitchcock's thoughts on line pairings:
I had him in the World Championships when it was a small game, a small-ice game. It was played in Canada. It was in Halifax (Nova Scotia) and it was in Quebec City. He was in an NHL building and that's when the teams were loaded. Everybody had great teams, we had a great team. It was a year before the Olympics so everybody were loading up their teams to see what they had. He came in as like the 13th forward and left as the third forward. I used him as a left winger and I used him as a center iceman. I ended up playing him with (Jonathan) Toews and (Patrick) Sharp. Sometimes Toews was on the left side, sometimes Roy was in the middle, but he was really a competitive guy. He's not big, but he's really smart. He's really smart defensively and he's really patient with the puck offensively. It's a different player than what we have here. We have flexibility where we can go three big centers and one smaller guy or we can do two and two depending on how we play Sobe (Vladimir Sobotka). Sobe's not a big guy, but he plays like a big guy. We can go Lappy (Maxim Lapierre), we can go Bergy (Patrik Berglund), we can go (David) Backes and then we can go Roy ... we've got flexibility. But we've got flexibility all through our lineup. We've got a lot of guys that can play center, we've got a lot of guys that can play wing. In the first 10 days of training camp, we're going to figure it out where guys fit best.

We have some ideas. We'd certainly like to see if ... we're comfortable with twosomes wanting to see threesomes. We're comfortable with some twosomes. We really want to see (Chris) Stewart play with Roy, we really want to continue down the (Alex) Steen-Backes train, we want to keep that going. We want to see Berglund play with Paajarvi, we want that to keep going. We have combinations that we want to see, and then it's where does Osh (T.J. Oshie) fit, where does (Vladimir) Tarasenko fit, where does (Jaden) Schwartz fit best. But we've got some twosomes that are alive and kicking that we really are going to focus on and see where it fits from there. The one thing I would say is that with Steen and Backes, there's going to be an interchange. It doesn't matter for me who starts as the center, but I think you're going to see more interchange with those two guys playing together than ever before ... meaning Backes might be at center sometimes and Steen might be at center sometimes depending on who starts with the faceoff and things like that. I think we want to continue down the path of those two playing together.

On what's intriguing about Stewart and Roy together:
With Derek Roy and Stewart, we feel like that Stewart's a guy that gets open in the scoring areas and we feel like Derek Roy's a guy that has patience to find people like that. That's his strength. That's when he was getting big numbers in Buffalo (playing with Thomas Vanek), he was that type of guy that had patience and bought time and made plays that a lot of people can't make.

On if Roy can get back to where he was two years ago in Buffalo:
(Roy) has an edge to him. He can really play with an edge and he can really compete in small spaces for a small guy. That's what we need back. Rather than looking to score, what we need him to do is play back where he played with a real edge. He can really play feisty and nasty at times for a small guy. That's when he's really effective. That's what we want to see from him back again is getting back to that level where he really (is) effective there. For a play-making guy, he has some real grit to him. That's what I found out when I had him in the World Championships. ... He was kind of there as an extra player and worked his way onto the top line.

On what Hitchcock's input was in trade that sent David Perron to Edmonton for Paajarvi:
This goes back a long way with Doug and I. This goes back into the Dallas days. My preference is, 'Don't tell me who you're getting rid of.' I get it where he's moving a guy out, but I don't want to dwell on that. What I like to do is be able to tell the general manager when he says, 'This is the guy we're thinking of bringing in,' then I take real pride in going in and looking at every aspect of his game, and contacting people who know him very well personally. I do my homework on that, and I use a lot of people to get the right information and then I bring that information back to Doug on where I see him fitting on our team. I don't like to compare a player to an existing player because if the deal never goes through, then you feel like you're coaching a player that might not be there. I don't like to get into that at all. All Doug said was, 'We're thinking about getting this player, Paajarvi. Where does he fit?' Or he said, 'We're thinking about resigning Jordan Leopold, where does he fit?' And then that's when we do our work. I had a lot of people personally that knew Paajarvi, both in Sweden and in Edmonton, and then I watched all of his games against teams similar to us. I wanted to see Magnus ... first of all, I knew how well he played in the last 20 games. When he played with (Sam) Gagner, I knew how well he played. I watched that closely, but I wanted to see how he played against San Jose, LA and ourselves. Those were the games I focused on. ... That's the information and then I gave Doug that information, and then he did his thing from there. It was the same with Derek Roy. All I watched with Derek was from the time he went to Vancouver. I didn't watch anything that he did in Dallas because Vancouver played a similar game to us, and I wanted to see how he played in the playoffs, the role that he was played in. He was used as a multi-purpose player in Vancouver. He was centering the second line, he was running the half-wall on the power play, he was out late in games as a second center iceman ... so I knew the role that he had in Vancouver, so the whole focus was on nothing but Vancouver and the way he played there.

What's it like to coach against Lapierre:
He was a guy you circled and just said he's a reckless player. I don't know why, but I thought in the playoffs ... I just finished watching all of his shifts (Thursday). He played a very smart, positionally sound game but conservative. He looked like he was going get caught with something. He looked like a guy that was one step away from getting suspended, if you know what I mean. He played conservative ... he played cautious, cautious positional hockey because they had him playing with a lot of new players, players that hadn't been there before. He played with (Steve) Pinizzotto, he played with a number of different players. But (then-Canucks coach) Alain (Vigneault) really trusted him because he played him late in games, even in the playoffs when the games were tied. The way we are with the forwards that he's going to play with, it's a good fit because somebody's going to have to back up the reckless play that's going to be there because that line plays its best when it's reckless and somebody's going to have to be able to back up that reckless play. I think he's going to be a good fit for us, whether it's a (Chris) Porter or it's an (Adam) Cracknell or with Revo (Ryan Reaves) or whatever, you're going to have a hard-charging line there and somebody's going to have to back that up. I think he's a good fit for us, but we're going to turn him loose to where he was two years ago a little bit more. So he's going to be able to play with a more physical edge just based on personnel. Who he played with in Vancouver, it's a different fit with us. It's going to be a different fit because the times he did play reckless was when he played with (Dale) Weise and (Christopher) Higgins. That's the type of line that we're going to end up having to play with here.

On what stands out with Paajarvi that can complement what the Blues have:
He looks like a player that's just starting to take his career seriously. He's getting back from relying on just on his athletic ability and now he's starting to play with an identity. For me, the last 20 games when he played with Gagner ... what he did was, he play with Gagner against top players, and then he played with Gagner killing penalties. So they found this third-line identity for that line, and then he really started to play. His scoring chances didn't diminish. His scoring chances increased because he was getting more odd-man rushes and he started to play with an edge. That's the area we want him to carry forward. The way he played in the last 20 games is what we're going to expect from him.

How can Paajarvi complement Berglund?
Him and Berglund had great chemistry together, two big guys that hung onto the puck. It's a month-long competition so how do you know? But all I know is the two guys held onto the puck. Nobody could get the puck away from them and they were hard guys to play against. You've got two 6-foot-4 guys out there grabbing the puck and hanging onto it. They're hard to play against. To me, Magnus is just starting to understand what it takes to play as a good player in the National Hockey League. I think he's just starting to become serious about his craft and that's a good thing for us.

On his relationship with Perron:
I really liked him personally. Him and I had a good relationship because I really respected the fact that he was coming back from a significant injury. I understood the difficulties that he was going through personally on coming back from that injury. I really felt like he was a guy that when you had him on the ice, you were one step away from scoring a goal all the time because he was a dangerous player offensively, so the other team was always on edge against him. I get the business of hockey, I understand the business of hockey ... why you have to do that stuff. I don't look at top-skill players as anything else than there's a risk with those players, and as long as they're working hard and competing, then the risk is worth it. The times when I was disappointed in him were the times when he stopped playing reckless and he started to play careful. When he played careful or tried to play and put the skill in ahead of the work, he knew that the coaching staff wasn't going to be happy with him. But when he put the work in ahead of the skill, I was happy. I know he didn't get points last year, but he was in on a lot of scoring chances in the LA series. He's a good player. The gamble that you take is that, for us ... Paajarvi is three years younger and is an improving player. We think he's an improving player that's going to get better and with our team and the way we play, we think he's a great fit. There's no denying that David is an offensive player with a lot of thrust. We'll see over time here.

We're getting a good player who's growing up ... hopefully, Edmonton's getting a good player who's going to be a threat to score all the time. But with us, one of the things we have going for us is we think we've got two players in Schwartz and Tarasenko who, given those minutes, can really do a lot of damage. We feel like, for instance with Schwartz, when you get that many scoring chances in a game like he gets because of his work and determination, he's going to be a great asset. And we think Tarasenko with a year under his belt, understanding the physical commitment that it takes off the ice, on the ice, living style, lifestyle, being more comfortable in the NHL, we think the sky's the limit for Vladi. ... He's in great shape. He's figuring it out. We've got to make room for those guys. We've got to make room for those guys to give them an opportunity. Schwartz never played on the power play, so this year he's going to get a chance to play on the power play. Tarasenko played on the second unit on the power play. Well this time, he's bumped up. He's going to play on the top unit, or get a real chance to play on the top unit. Tarasenko's going to be back playing the position on the power play that he played in Europe. With the way we're structured and especially with Derek Roy and stuff like that, we have a chance to run the power play on the side of the ice that Vladi's more comfortable on. We're basically trading a right shot player for two left shots who are going to absorb the ice time that David had on 5-on-4 situations.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Blues, Stewart avoid arbitration

Power forward signs two-year contract worth $8.3 million

ST. LOUIS -- With Chris Stewart's arbitration hearing just three days away, both the player and the Blues shifted gears into overdrive to get a deal done.

Maybe the fact that Stewart is getting married had a little something to do with it as well.

It happened Friday afternoon on the eve of his wedding when Stewart and the Blues avoided arbitration by agreeing to a two-year contract worth $8.3 million (4.1 million in 2013-14 and $4.2 million in 2014-15).

Stewart is coming off a shortened season in which he led the team in goals (18) and points (36) in 48 games, a season in which the Blues were eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in six games by the Los Angeles Kings.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Chris Stewart (25) avoided arbitration with the team by agreeing
to a two-year contract for $4.1 million in 2013-14 and $4.2 million in 2014-15.
"He's a player, and I've said this to Chris, and I truly believe this: for us to be a good team, we need Chris to be a good player," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said via conference call.

The 25-year-old Toronto native has 100 goals and 202 points in 319 career games, including 48 goals and 89 points in 153 games with the Blues. Stewart was part of the blockbuster trade in 2011 that also saw the Blues acquire defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk from Colorado for defenseman Erik Johnson.

But Stewart, has certainly seen his peaks and valleys in the League since entering it in 2008. He was the 18th pick in the 2006 NHL Draft.

"I think we'd probably like to smooth out the rough edges, as I'm sure Chris would," Armstrong said. "When you look at the totality of his time here, he came here and played very well. The second season wasn't great (15 goals, 15 assists in 79 games). Last year, the point total was at the top of our team, but there's maybe bigger ebbs and flows within the season. I think consistency is the mark of a good team and then consistency is ultimately the mark of a very good player.

"I appreciate the statistics that he puts up, but at the end of the day, that's his yearly numbers and those are very strong -- the best on our team. But we'd like all of our players to have less peaks and valleys and more of a steady game. That (way), we're going to know what we're going to get every night. Probably the last three weeks and the playoffs, he was like a lot of our players that the puck just wasn't going in the net, and for a player that you look to get that job accomplished, he probably got a little bit more of my focus on why (he's) not scoring because that's his job responsibility. But basically, he was in a group of players that did that."

The Blues were in a similar position with right wing T.J. Oshie a year ago when the two sides came to an agreement on a five-year, $20.875 million contract on the eve of Oshie's arbitration hearing.

"The NHL by nature is a deadline league, trade deadline or draft or arbitrations," Armstrong said. "Both sides were in discussion. We finally came to a common ground knowing we were going to have to board flights tonight and exchange briefs in the morning. Any time you have to exchange the briefs, the player has to put his best foot forward in his comparable group that probably is outside the realm of what we're comfortable with. For us to have a chance to get an award we're comfortable with, you have to really dig into some of the negative parts of a player. ... I think this was a fair deal for both parties. Obviously Chris would have liked a little more and we would have liked a little less, so that indicates to me that it's probably fair."

The two sides came to a conclusion that a two-year deal would benefit both sides. Stewart can become an unrestricted free agent after the 2014-15 season when he's 27 and can cash in on a big payday should the next two seasons go well for him. For the Blues, it gives the team a full season to negotiate a longer-term contract while watching Stewart's progression in the system.

"There's two ways to look at it," Armstrong said. "One, we could have taken a one-year award. The issue that sometimes comes into play is then you have to sign the player to a longer-term deal one year out. You're almost paying him as an unrestricted free agent that year. Right now, what we do is we have a two-year award but next July 1st, both parties can engage in a long-term contract which is just strictly unrestricted years. I think the two-year award allows us to have a full year to negotiate the UFA years without having to go through this process of signing him as a UFA a year in advance or doing a one-year deal and then giving yourself only six months to sign him to a UFA contract. This allows Stewy to come in and know that everything's in place for two years knowing that if he has a good year and the team has a good year, we can start talking about an extension that's exclusively for UFA years."

(Getty Images)
Chris Stewart (right) led the Blues in goals (18) and points (36) during the
2012-13 season. He avoided arbitration by agreeing to a two-year deal.
The Blues, who are roughly $8.8 million under the salary cap figure of $64.3 million, still have to get restricted free agents Alex Pietrangelo, Jake Allen and newly acquired Magnus Paajarvi signed. Paajarvi came to St. Louis in the trade that sent David Perron to Edmonton last week.

Armstrong was asked if Stewart's signing gave the team a clearer picture of getting Pietrangelo signed and what it will take.

"No," Armstrong said. "In a sense, I think I've been pretty clear to everybody (that) I think Petro has the opportunity to become an elite player. We are going to do what is necessary to get him signed. Whether we decide to go short-term based on what Alex wants or long-term based on a mutual desire, we weren't going to put ourselves in a position where anything was going to jeopardize us bringing Alex back."

Armstrong did say that getting Paajarvi signed would happen soon but that there's some personal issues that need to be taken care of on the part of Paajarvi's negotiating agent.



15 -- at Dallas, 6 p.m.
18 -- vs. Tampa Bay at Orlando, 6 p.m.
20 -- TAMPA BAY, 7 p.m.
21 -- DALLAS, 7 p.m.

25 -- at Minnesota, 7 p.m.
27 -- MINNESOTA, 7 p.m.

3 -- NASHVILLE, 7 p.m.
5 -- FLORIDA, 7 p.m.
9 -- CHICAGO, 7 p.m.
12 -- N.Y. RANGERS, 7 p.m.
15 -- SAN JOSE, 7 p.m.

17 -- at Chicago, 7 p.m.
18 -- at Winnipeg, 7 p.m.
25 -- VANCOUVER, 7 p.m.
26 -- at Nashville, 7 p.m.
29 -- WINNIPEG, 7 p.m.

1 -- at Florida, 6:30 p.m.
2 -- at Tampa Bay, 6 p.m.
5 -- at Montreal, 6:30 p.m.
7 -- CALGARY, 7 p.m.
9 -- PITTSBURGH, 7 p.m.
12 -- PHOENIX, 7 p.m.
14 -- COLORADO, 7 p.m.
16 -- CAROLINA, 7 p.m.

17 -- at Washington, 5 p.m.
19 -- at Buffalo, 6 p.m.
21 -- at Boston, 6 p.m.
23 -- DALLAS, 7 p.m.
25 -- MINNESOTA, 7 p.m.

27 -- at Colorado, 8 p.m.
29 -- at San Jose, 3 p.m.
2 -- at Los Angeles, 9:30 p.m.
5 -- N.Y. ISLANDERS, 7 p.m.
7 -- ANAHEIM, 7 p.m.
10 -- at Winnipeg, 7 p.m.
12 -- TORONTO, 7 p.m.
14 -- at Columbus, 6 p.m.
16 -- at Ottawa, 6:30 p.m.
17 -- SAN JOSE, 7 p.m.
19 -- MONTREAL, 7 p.m.

21 -- at Edmonton, 9 p.m.
23 -- at Calgary, 8 p.m.
28 -- CHICAGO, 7 p.m.
29 -- at Dallas, 5 p.m.
31 -- at Minnesota, 5 p.m.
2 -- LOS ANGELES, 7 p.m.
4 -- COLUMBUS, 7 p.m.

7 -- at Edmonton, 8:30 p.m.
9 -- at Calgary, 8 p.m.
10 -- at Vancouver, 9 p.m.
14 -- PHOENIX, 7 p.m.
16 -- LOS ANGELES, 7 p.m.
18 -- ANAHEIM, 7 p.m.

20 -- at Detroit, 6:30 p.m.
21 -- at New Jersey, 6 p.m.
23 -- at N.Y. Rangers, 6 p.m.
25 -- at N.Y. Islanders, 12 p.m.
28 -- NEW JERSEY, 7 p.m.
31 -- at Carolina, 6 p.m.
1 -- NASHVILLE, 7 p.m.
4 -- OTTAWA, 7 p.m.
6 -- BOSTON, 7 p.m.
8 -- WINNIPEG, 1 p.m.

26 -- at Vancouver, 9:30 p.m.
28 -- at Anaheim, 9 p.m.
2 -- at Phoenix, 7 p.m.
4 -- TAMPA BAY, 7 p.m.
6 -- at Nashville, 7 p.m.
8 -- at Colorado, 2 p.m.
9 -- at Minnesota, 7 p.m.
11 -- DALLAS, 7 p.m.
13 -- EDMONTON, 7 p.m.

15 -- at Nashville, 7 p.m.
17 -- WINNIPEG, 7 p.m.
19 -- at Chicago, 7 p.m.
22 -- at Philadelphia, 12 p.m.
23 -- at Pittsburgh, 12 p.m.
25 -- at Toronto, 6 p.m.
27 -- MINNESOTA, 7 p.m.
29 -- DALLAS, 7 p.m.
1 -- PHILADELPHIA, 7 p.m.
3 -- BUFFALO, 7 p.m.
5 -- COLORADO, 1 p.m.

6 -- at Chicago, 6:30 p.m.
8 -- WASHINGTON, 7 p.m.
10 -- at Minnesota, 7 p.m.
11 -- at Dallas, 7:30 p.m.
13 -- DETROIT, 2 p.m.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What you see is what you get

Blues' current roster likely set heading into September training camp

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Now that there have been changes, some new players coming, some players leaving, the Blues appear to be set when it comes to their 2013-14 roster.

Of course there's still the matter of signing restricted free agents Alex Pietrangelo, Chris Stewart, Jake Allen and newly acquired Magnus Paajarvi, but with the additions of Derek Roy, Maxim Lapierre and Keith Aucoin via free agency and Paajarvi via trade that sent David Perron to Edmonton, the Blues appear deeper by position and poised to take the necessary steps up the Stanley Cup ladder.

(Getty Images)
The acquisition of Derek Roy (pictured) was the Blues' biggest thus far this
off-season. Roy adds depth at center for St. Louis heading into 2013-14.
The Blues are losing some grit, experience and veteran leadership with the retirements of Andy McDonald and Scott Nichol as well as the departure of Jamie Langenbrunner (unrestricted free agent) along with the trade of durable defenseman Kris Russell to Calgary, and general manager Doug Armstrong knows there will be a different feel when camp opens in September.

"I think we're different obviously," Armstrong said. "We've added a centerman in Derek Roy. Obviously he's going to give us some play-making ability, maybe something we didn't have last year. The other player, Lapierre, gives us a little bit of grit .. replaces Scotty Nichol. He's a lot like Scotty Nichol, just about five inches taller and about 40 pounds heavier.

"I think we're different, but the core group is back and ultimately the core group is going to dictate how far we go."

That core group includes Pietrangelo and Stewart, who will most likely be resigned at some point, David Backes, Alex Steen, T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, Kevin Shattenkirk, Jay Bouwmeester, Barret Jackman and Roman Polak.

The Blues might look different on paper but won't look too different on the ice aside from converting more of their chances at the opposition's goal, which was a detriment in their early playoff series loss to Los Angeles.

"I think ultimately, we'll play the same style, but hopefully we'll convert on some of our chances," Armstrong said. "I know (coach) Ken (Hitchcock) and his staff have worked since the end of the season to tweak our offense to generate more goals. I think a lot of it is going to do with Bouwmeester and (Jordan) Leopold being here for a full training camp and a full year.

"Our game is going to be predicated on transition and getting the puck in the middle of the ice and up the ice. We need to try and score a little bit off the rush this year than off the cycle and I think that is something Ken and the players will work on in training camp."

The trade that sent Perron to Edmonton caught some by surprise but others not so much. With the signing of Roy (one year at $4 million) pushed the Blues closer to the salary cap number of $64.3 million and still work to do in order to sign those key RFA's. Perron was viewed as a salary dump and in some sense it was, but the Blues did get a player back in Paajarvi that was the 10th pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, is only 22 years old and has plenty of upside with his size (6-foot-3, 208 pounds) and speed.

So unless there's some other unexpected deal Armstrong has up his sleeve, the group that's current is the one expected to be on the ice when camp opens in mid-September.

"We're very comfortable with the group that we have right now," Armstrong said. "We do have two key pieces that we do have to get signed and it's going to take the majority of the gray matter from this day moving forward to get Alex and Chris Stewart signed. When we do that, we'll have a clear understanding of how much money we have spent. We're excited this year with the salary cap coming down and our internal payroll going up. We're going to be competitive with all of the NHL as far as payroll. That equal footing is important and we have to make hay when the sun is shining."

Stewart's arbitration hearing was announced today by the NHLPA to be on July 22, but much like the case with Oshie last summer, Stewart could get the multi-year extension he;s seeking before his case goes to an arbitrator on Monday. But as of Tuesday, both Stewart and Pietrangelo remain unsigned. Pietrangelo does not have arbitration rights and received a qualifying offer from the club.

"I wouldn't characterize it one way or the other," Armstrong said of the negotiations. "I find that these deals, they happen very quickly. You seem like you're not close and all of the sudden, you hang up and you're calling each other saying, 'We're glad you're back.' It could happen today, it could happen in September, I'm not really sure when. I'm very comfortable getting both of those guys in here at the right time."

There's also the glutton in goal the Blues have to deal with, as both Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott will play out the final years of their respective contracts. Throw Allen into the fold and it's another case of three's a crowd.

Rumors circulated that Halak was on the block but nothing has materialized and the Blues' netminder has spent his summer in St. Louis working fiercely after an injury-plagued season that saw Halak suffer through a pair of groin injuries. And while it's not common to go to camp with three NHL-ready goalies expected to be on the opening day roster, Armstrong doesn't feel compelled to deal away any of his goalies before camp opens.

"No I don't," Armstrong said. "Jake came up and played very well for us last year, but he still has some growth he can do. I don't think playing in the American Hockey League would stunt his development. Jaro and Brian Elliott won the Jennings (Trophy) two short years ago. Last year was an interesting season in the sense of how quickly we started up and neither guy had played. If we go into the season with these three goalies, that's our depth."

(Getty Images)
The Blues acquired Magnus Paajarvi (91) from Edmonton that sent David
Perron to Alberta. Paajarvi adds size and speed at wing for St. Louis.
The Blues were picked by many to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final this year but failed to live up to expectations following their ouster by the Kings in the first round. They will be a darling pick in the West again this season and are eager to utilize their depth to carry them to a successful regular season and a deep playoff run.

"We don't have that elite, talented player but I would say around the league, probably only eight or nine teams have that player," Armstrong said. "Usually you have to pick first overall. You get a (Steven) Stamkos, you get a (Sidney) Crosby, you get an (Alex) Ovechkin, you get a (Patrick) Kane, but those players are hard to find. When I look at the depth of our roster, the 14 players that we have signed or own the rights to up front, seven defensemen and the three goalies, I find it hard to believe there are many teams deeper than us. But we have to put that on the ice and we have to come up on the top end of that.

"One of the things I'm holding my hat on right now is that Vegas, they're not usually stupid, and they have us either picked third or fourth likeliest favorites to win the Cup. We're doing something right here."

Binnington looking forward making jump to pro

Goaltending prospect was 2012-13 OHL goalie
of the year; understands challenges that lie ahead

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Jordan Binnington has a full understanding that the road to becoming one of the top goalies in the Blues' system will be a difficult challenge.

Binnington, the Blues' third round pick (88th overall) in the 2011 NHL Draft, joins a plethora of names that have fortified the Blues' goaltending depth and gives it one of the more sound systems in the league.

Binnington, 20, know the names ahead of him (Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott and Jake Allen). He knows the names right there alongside him (2011 fifth round pick Niklas Lundstrom and 2012 fifth round pick Francois Tremblay). But when it comes to making himself noticeable, Binnington realizes he has to help himself. And he's focused on doing just that.

(Getty Images)
Jordan Binnington, the Blues' third round pick in 2011,
was named the 2012-13 OHL goalie of the year.
"I think at the end of the day, you've just got to worry about yourself," said Binnington, in St. Louis last week working out with fellow Blues prospects at the Ice Zone at St. Louis Outlet Mall. "The rest will take care of itself. If you're good enough, you'll get there. Obviously there's different paths people take. You've just got to worry about yourself and stay composed about it and be ready when the opportunity comes."

If Binnington's 2012-13 season with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League is an indication, the Richmond Hill, Ontario native will certainly continue to raise eyebrows.

Binnington completed the season with the Attack at 32-12-6 and an impressive 2.17 goals-against average and .932 save percentage. The 32 wins are an increase of 11 games from the previous season but the GAA dropped significantly (down from 2.99) and the save percentage shot up from 2011-12 (.906).

Binnington spent four years in the Attack's system. He was 86-51-14 and was part of the Attack's 2010-11 OHL championship team.

"This year went really well," Binnington said. "Owen Sound's been a great place for me the last four years. Finally I got a year where things went really well. We actually won (the OHL title) two years ago, so actually that was another good year. Personally I felt very confident in my game this year. The team played well. We had a good defensive corps that would do anything, the penalty killers were very strong and helped me out.

"A big step for me last year was staying composed and that's the way you need to be as a goalie. You can't get too excited or get too low. You've just got to keep that even keel and mostly be confident in yourself. I think that's something I got better with last year, the mental aspects of the game. I'm looking to bring that into next year. Obviously getting stronger in all aspects because everything's faster at the next level. You've got to be that much better and faster. Overall I still have some work to do."

Binnington's numbers were so impressive that he was named the OHL Goalie of the Year in 2012-13 after leading the Attack to the conference semifinals.

"When I found out, I was pretty excited about that," Binnington said of the award. "I got to go to the Hockey Hall of Fame (in Toronto) to receive the award and it was a very good experience. It was a very happy moment for me and my family. ... It's good to win that in the summer because then you realize how much you sacrifice in the summer. It actually pays off during the year."

When Binnington came into St. Louis two years ago to work with the other prospects, he was a tall, lanky and scraggly kid that certainly needed to grow into his body. He's currently listed at 6-foot-2 and only 162 pounds but continues to make his way to St. Louis to work with the Blues' training and conditioning staff, including strength and conditioning coach Nelson Ayotte.

"There's NHL players around here so you get to kind of see what they do in the summer, the amount of work it takes to get to the next level," Binnington said. "I think it's a really good experience for us. We're seeing the city and (saw) the Cards play and stuff. It's been a good experience so far. Hopefully the rest of the week goes the same way.

"I think every year you come in, you gain experience through seeing different things. I've been here before and I kind of get the feel of it. It's so good to see the NHL players and meet with Nelson, Evan (Levy) and see kind of what they want and what they expect out of Blues players. Every year is still a learning experience, but you come in and obviously I'm hoping to make the jump next year to pro hockey. It's good to see why I came here and get a taste for what it's like."

Binnington's desire is to make the Blues out of camp. He will be in St. Louis when camps opens in mid-September. But after signing a three-year, $2.275 million entry-level contract in May, the realistic goal is for Binnington to go to Chicago and play for the Wolves of the American Hockey League, which is the Blues' newest AHL affiliate.

(Getty Images)
Jordan Binnington (31) makes a save during the 2011 Memorial Cup. The
Blues' 2011 third round pick will likely begin the season with the Chicago
"That would be my realistic goal," Binnington said of making the Blues. "I'm just going to worry about coming into camp and being confident in myself and my game. Hopefully, it all works out."

Making the jump from the OHL to the NHL is a challenge in itself. Doing so to the AHL will also be quite a challenge, one Binnington is looking forward to. He likes his hands -- especially the glove hand -- as well as his shiftiness going from post to post, which is a must when making the transition to the higher levels.

"I'm pretty confident in my chest and arm strength," Binnington said. "I guess (what Binnington needs to work on) would be quickness. The core of keeping that balance. I (need) to get quicker, more explosive and more powerful and stuff like that."

Monday, July 15, 2013


ST. LOUIS -- The Blues announced their preseason schedule for 2013-14, and the team will play six games against three opponents.

The Blues will face each team (Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning and Minnesota Wild) twice in home-and-home games, but the "away" game against the Lightning to be played at Amway Center in Orlando, Fla.

Here is the complete schedule, with the regular season schedule expected to be released on Wednesday, July 17:

15 -- at Dallas, 6 p.m.
18 -- vs. Tampa Bay at Orlando, 6 p.m.
20 -- VS. TAMPA BAY, 7 p.m.
21 -- VS. DALLAS, 7 p.m.

25 -- at Minnesota, 7 p.m.
27 -- VS. MINNESOTA, 7 p.m.

From Portland to St. Louis: Ty Rattie's focus is to be in NHL

After helping Winterhawks to WHL title, Blues' 2011
second-round pick will get every opportunity to make big club

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- He broke out with a 110-point season that culminated with a 36-point postseason that saw the Portland Winterhawks claim the Ed Chynoweth Cup as champions of the Western Hockey League.

Come to think of it, Ty Rattie almost never gave the Winterhawks a chance after living through a terrific 2012-13 season.

The Blues' second round pick (32nd overall) in 2011 would turn an innocent phone call into a blossoming career in the WHL.

(Getty Images)
Blues prospect Ty Rattie helped lead the Portland Winterhawks to the
WHL championship in 2013 with 36 points in 21 postseason games.
"It was exciting. I got drafted as a 15-year-old," said Rattie, in town last week working out with fellow Blues prospects. "The way the organization (in Portland) was, I didn't want to go. It was really low, but (Portland coach) Mike Johnston called me and I'm real glad I got to go there. I'm really lucky I got to go there. I wouldn't be standing here today if I didn't go to Portland. It's one of my favorite places on earth now."

Rattie's most important decision might have been to become a Portland Winterhawk and heeding the words of Johnston, but he can take it back a few months to when he made the ultimate choice of sports.

Hockey or baseball?

Rattie was also an ascending baseball player. A Toronto Blue Jays fan at heart with the Cardinals a close second, Rattie had a puck in one hand and a baseball in the other. Decisions, decisions. Which would it be?

Ultimately, the hockey twig won out over the baseball swinging stick.

"Big baseball player," said Rattie, who played shortstop and took in a Cardinals game while in town. "I had to pick between baseball and hockey at the age of 15. Lucky for me I picked hockey because I was better at the time."

And as Rattie, 20, made a name for himself with Portland on the ice, he can only hope that his accomplishments in the WHL can parlay into a promising career in the NHL.

Rattie, who's listed at 5-foot-11 and 178 pounds, went from 37 points in 2009-10, 79 in 2010-11, 121 in 2011-12 and another 110 points this past season with the Winterhawks. In 269 career games, he has 151 goals and 348 points. Rattie helped lead Portland to a WHL championship this past season with a six-game series win over the Edmonton Oil Kings but saw the Winterhawks fall short of a Memorial Cup. Portland, which was 57-12-1-2 in the regular season, followed it up by going 16-5 in the WHL postseason. Rattie was a key catalyst with 20 goals and 36 points in 21 games.

Now the focus turns to becoming a pro after Rattie signed his three-year entry-level contract at $2.775 million.

And the goal for Rattie, who worked out here with fellow prospects for the third straight summer, is to increase his body's physical mass.

"Try and get bigger," Rattie said, repeating virtually what he's said the past two summers as well. "I want to put on some weight. I've been working out for a couple weeks now. I've already put on five pounds, so I'm on the right track. Maybe another five pounds before training camp. Everyone that comes to training camp is pushing for a roster spot. I'm going to come in here, work my hardest, do whatever they need me to do and go from there.

"They tell me to get bigger, but I don't want to get too big. I don't want to lose my shiftiness, I don't want to lose my speed because if I lose that, I'm just going to get killed up here. Put five more pounds on, not anything more. You've got to stay quick in this game, you've got to stay fast. Smaller guys can play in this game nowadays. As long as you're shifty and quick, I think you'll be fine."

Rattie will get a real good look from Blues brass in camp in September, which will be his second training camp in St. Louis. If it doesn't happen then, it's off to the American Hockey League to play for the Blues' affiliate, the Chicago Wolves.

The Blues will be careful with this. Piling up points in the WHL doesn't necessarily mean it translates to the NHL. But Rattie will have a plethora of eyes observing his every move.

"He's going to get a real good look at training camp," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said of Rattie. "He's going to get a look with some of our better players. It's a big step from junior hockey to the NHL. He's a talented goal-scorer. He's scored at every level. He'll get a look and if he's ready to play ... that would be the same with (Dmitrij) Jaskin. But if they have to end up in Chicago, (assistant GM) Kevin McDonald and (Wolves GM) Wendell Young have done an outstanding job of supplementing that roster.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ty Rattie (right) in a preseason game against the Colorado Avalanche in
2011, battles the Avs' Duncan Siemens for the puck.
"They're going to be playing with very good players and whether they're here or not, I'm not that concerned about. But the reality is we need one of those two players -- and hopefully both of them -- but we need one of those two players to take a step or they're going to be a contributing factor on our team in the near future."

It's rare to see a player make the jump from the WHL to the NHL, but Rattie, a Calgary, Alberta native, is determined to defy the odds. However, he does have a realistic vision.

"The NHL is a completely different game," Rattie said. "I've had one training camp under my belt and I kind of have a taste, but I'm really looking forward to coming here in September and proving that my scoring touch can translate to the NHL game.

"Realistically, I think it's going to be a learning curve for me and I understand that. Right from Day 1, I'm going to try and make the St. Louis Blues and if I don't, I'm completely fine with going to Chicago. It's going to be a good organization down there, good coaches. A learning curve, but the ultimate goal is to be a St. Louis Blue."