Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Leopold never gave free agency a thought

Veteran defenseman, tired of uprooting family, hopes to
make St. Louis last stop after signing two-year contract

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- In what he hoped would be one final time unpacking and settling into a home he and his family could get comfortable with, Jordan Leopold was faced with the task of uprooting again.

That meant moving trucks, packing and unpacking, packing some more and unpacking again.

But then again, the 33-year-old has been down this road far too often.

After being dealt from Buffalo to the Blues late last season, the Golden Valley, Minn. native (just west of Minneapolis) understood the possibility existed again. With unrestricted free agency on the horizon, there was the chance Leopold would have to uproot a young family that includes four daughters and a wife again. Having UFA rights presented that possibility.

However, enough was enough.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Jordan Leopold (33), here against the Los Angeles Kings
during the postseason in the spring, hopes to settle in with the Blues after
signing a new two-year contract.
When Leopold first came to the Blues in late March, he wasn't committing to anything beyond the 2013 season. But in getting to know the roster, coaching staff and understanding what the Blues were all about, Leopold and his family were sold on St. Louis. On the eve of the free agency frenzy, Leopold signed a two-year, $4.5-million contract to remain with the Blues. And he has no regrets about not exploring other avenues.

"Whenever I got traded here and walking into the locker room, I didn't know too many guys," said Leopold, in St. Louis getting an early start on the ice before training camp opens with physicals on Sept. 11. "You get in here and try to learn what the atmosphere is like and try to blend in as quickly as you can. It's a good group of guys, a winning atmosphere, staff, everybody around it. It's a good organization. Number one, that's a nice thing to see. Number two, my family ... they visited and ended up staying at the end last year. They liked it. Moving's never easy for anybody as a family. It's tough on my kids, but at least it's a familiar place versus going someplace that's not too familiar. And on the other side, the organization wanted me back. In order to make that work, we figured out a deal that would make sense for us together and we ended up getting it done before free agency, which is good.

"I didn't really want to explore free agency. I wanted to come back here. It says a lot that Army (Blues general manager Doug Armstrong) and the rest of the coaching staff and even the locker room entertained the thought of bringing me back as well."

Playing in coach Ken Hitchcock's system and working with rising star Kevin Shattenkirk has made this the best case scenario for Leopold. He immediately was able to notice what the Blues players bring and the system implemented. And the thought of a winning environment always satisfies one's appetite.

"The forwards work their (tails) off," Leopold said. "That's number one. When I got here, the forwards are back-checking, the forwards are making the game easy for the d-men. Not to say we don't have a job to do. We do, but when you have a collective group of sticks out on the ice at a time, it makes your job that much easier. Everybody's a key part of that and a key piece to the puzzle. We have a good nucleus, a good group that can do great things going forward. It's a matter of timing and a matter of applying those skills at the right period of time."

And moving forward, Armstrong felt it was necessary to blend in another good veteran to not only be a steadying influence on and off the ice but to be a teacher of the game as well.

"(Associate coach) Brad Shaw told me that he's an excellent communicator on the bench," Armstrong said of Leopold. "He knows right from wrong. He knows what it's going to take for us to get to the next level. Those are things when I look at this group moving forward, having him here for the next couple of years just solidifies that group."

Bringing Leopold back made Kris Russell expendable. Along with Ian Cole back as the seventh defenseman, there was a glutton on the blue line. The Blues accommodated Russell with a trade to Calgary in the off-season. Russell was playing well at the time Leopold was brought in but was on the outside of the top six looking in after the team acquired Leopold.

"I think the signing of Leopold is a big signing for us," Hitchcock said. "... He's such a calming, steadying influence back there. He's a steady, kind of multi-dimensional defenseman.

"He's very good at transitioning the puck. He closes. He's got good mobility at closing defensively 5-on-5. ... He's got good transition speed, he's got good transition instincts. He sees the ice really well. He's a steady guy that's going to really help us."

Leopold, on his seventh stop during a 10-year career, thought he had settled in when he signed a three-year contract with the Sabres in 2010. He's never spent more than three years in one city.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jordan Leopold (33) looks to move the puck against the Calgary Flames
in a game last season.
But after moves to Calgary, then to Denver, back to Calgary, then off to Florida with the Panthers, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and now back to the Midwest in St. Louis, Leopold hopes this is his last stop. He and his family are tired of moving trucks, packing and unpacking boxes and changing zip codes.

"I can say that now being two weeks out of a move," said Leopold, who had two assists in 15 regular season games with the Blues last season. "We ended up selling a house in Buffalo, we ended up saying goodbye to a lot of people that we knew for three years and the school that my kids are very familiar with and comfortable at. To start over is not easy. I say it now, I'm not real excited about moving, but we're grounded now. We're here. It is what it is and we're going to make the best of it. It's going to be home for the next couple years, which is huge. Hopefully it ends up being more than two years, but you never know. I understand the game of hockey. I understand it's a business. I've played in many different places, scenarios, whatever it may be. I've had my fair share of travels because of it. It's all about the experience and we're going to enjoy it while we're doing it."

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