Saturday, June 28, 2014

Blues go forward-heavy in second day of draft

Of team's 10 draft picks, eight were forwards 
including Jaskin best friend Barbashev

After taking Robby Fabbri with the 21st pick Friday night, the Blues concluded the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia Saturday afternoon with 10 picks, and they made the forward position the focus with eight selections. They also took one defenseman and a goalie that was rated at the top of the European draft prospects. 

After taking Robby Fabbri with the 21st pick in the first round Friday, the Blues used  the third pick of the second round (No. 33 overall) on offense again with the selection of left wing/center Ivan Barbashev, who played for Moncton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and is close friends of the Blues' Dmitrij Jaskin.
Ivan Barbashev

"I played with him on the same line two years ago," Barbashev said of Jaskin. "He was my linemate."

Barbashev led Moncton in assists (43) and was second on the team in points (68) in 48 games a season ago. He went on to lead the Wildcats with ten points (four goals, six assists) in six postseason games.

"I'm a power forward; I really like to play a physical game," Barbashev said. "I like to make simple plays. I'm a playmaker and a power forward."

Barbashev, 18, is 6-foot and comes in at 181 pounds and comes from Moscow, Russia and was the youngest member of Russia's bronze-medal team at the 2014 World Junior Championship. He chipped in with a goal and an assist in seven games.

Barbashev was projected to be a first round pick but slipped into the early second round.

"We knew there was a little bit of a Russian factor involved there," said Bill Armstrong, the Blues' director of amateur scouting. "His determination and effort and who he is ... we love him. We're really excited about getting him where we did."

With their second pick of the second round (52nd overall), the Blues went Russian again and picked center Maxim Letunov, who played at Youngstown of the United States Hockey League. 

Letunov, 18, is also from Moscow and is listed at 6-2 and 155 pounds. He scored 19 goals and added 24 assists in 60 games last season. He is committed to play at Boston University, where Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk played his college hockey. 

In the third round (82nd pick), the Blues used the pick on 6-0, 170-pound defenseman Jake Walman, who will play at Providence College this season.

Walman, 18, finished second among Toronto Jr. Canadiens blueliners with 33 points (seven goals, 26 assists) in 43 games of the Ontario Junior Hockey League. He was ranked No. 47 among North American skaters.

He said the Blues felt right from the get-go.

"From the interviews and the combine especially, I had a strong connection with all the scouts right away," said Walman, who describes his game as that of an offensive-defenseman. "It kind of felt like home, even a second home to me. Being in the room, I felt totally comfortable. Every time St. Louis had a pick, I was kind of on the edge of my seat there.

"The vibe I got from them wasn't something I got from the other (teams)."

With the first of two fourth-round picks (the pick acquired from Toronto earlier in the day in a trade that sent defenseman Roman Polak to the Maple Leafs for defenseman Carl Gunnarsson and the 94th pick), the Blues took Finnish goalie Ville Husso, who completed his season with HIFK of Finland's top professional league. 

"You want to try and make the deal as equitable for both sides," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said of adding an extra pick. "We were able to gain a fourth-round pick. Toronto had a pick very close to that spot too, so they felt like it was something they could do to finalize the deal and that was important for us."

Husso, 19, finished his rookie season with HIFK and ranked in the top ten in goals-against average (1.99) and save percentage (.923) with two shutouts.
Ville Husso

A three-time medalist with Finland, Husso served as the backup on Finland's gold-medal winning team at the 2014 World Junior Championship.

"That was a little bit of a surprise that he was there at that point," Bill Armstrong said of Husso.

"It's a big thing and a big step for me," Husso said. "... I use my body and butterfly style. I'm a smart goalie; I read the game well.

The Blues then selected right wing Austin Poganski with the 110th pick in the fourth round. Poganski, 18, is 6-foot and 194 pounds from St. Cloud, Minn. He scored 19 goals and had 31 points in 55 games playing for Tri-City of the United States Hockey League.

Poganski also was a member of the 2013 USA World Junior A Challenge team as well as the 2013 USA U-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial team. He will attend the University of North Dakota this fall, adding to the line of Blues alums (T.J. Oshie and Chris Porter among others to have played in Grand Forks).

The Blues' fifth round pick (124th overall) came in the form of 5-8, 172-pound right wing Jaedon Descheneau, who played the past three seasons for the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League.

After scoring just three goals in 54 games for the Ice in 2011-12, the Edmonton native Descheneau jumped to 30 goals and 78 points in 69 games in 2012-13 and then 44 goals and 98 points in 70 games a season ago.

The Blues had two picks (172nd and 176th) in the sixth round and used them on two more forwards.

They first took 6-2, 210-pound right wing Chandler Yakimowicz of Kingston, Pa., who was a member of the London Knights of the OHL last season.

The 18-year-old Yakimowicz had three goals and seven points in 33 games with the Knights before playing for the USA U-18 squad in the USHL and the WBS Jr. Knights U-18 team of the Atlantic Youth Hockey League.

The Blues then took Samuel Blais of the QMJHL, when he played for Victoriaville and had four goals and 14 points in  25 games.

Blais, who just turned 18 on June 17, is listed at 5-10 and 164 pounds.

The Blues concluded the draft by taking right wing Dwyer Tschantz, who last played in 2012-13 at the USA Hockey Select 17 Player Development Camp. 

A Wilmington, Del. native, the 19-year-old Tschantz also was a member of Team Comcast from the Tier 1 Elite Hockey League, where he had 27 goals and 54 points in 47 games.

"Each year's a different year," Bill Armstrong said. "Sometimes you get the pick, sometimes you don't. Today was a fun day because the guys you really liked, you had a chance at."

Doug Armstrong said the Blues didn't necessarily go for need.

"We believe that you pick the best available player," Doug Armstrong said. "It was a forward-heavy draft and so we were able to fill our cupboards with what was based around the forwards. 

"I could speak for 30 GM's today that it was a great day. We all feel we're very happy with what we have and the next decade is going to tell us if this is a good or bad draft. We're excited about it now, but it's up to the players to prove our scouting staff correct."

Blues-Leafs swap defensemen on second day of draft

St. Louis acquires Gunnarsson, fourth round pick for stay-at-home Polak

The Blues started quickly with their draft selections on the final day of the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia, and they finally pulled the trigger on a trade but one that wasn't necessarily expected.

The Blues wanted an offensive upgrade and perhaps a left-handed defenseman to play with Kevin Shattenkirk. They acquired Carl Gunnarsson from the Toronto Maple Leafs and a fourth round pick in this year's draft (No. 94) for fellow defenseman Roman Polak.

The 27-year-old Gunnarsson is a five-year veteran who was picked by the Leafs in the seventh round in 2007. He has 15 goals and 86 points in 304 career games and is coming off a three-goal, 17-point season in 80 games.
(Getty Images)
The Blues acquired defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (36) at the
NHL Draft on Saturday, sending Roman Polak to Toronto.

Gunnarsson, who is currently, in his homeland of Sweden, brings an element the Blues feel they need moving forward after their early playoff exit against the Chicago Blackhawks, when the Blues led the series 2-0 before dropping four in a row for the second straight postseason.

"I believe the game is very puck-oriented now," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said after the conclusion of the 2014 NHL Draft. "... Ken (Hitchcock) wants to use the middle of the ice. We want to make quick, direct passes and get up on the attack. I think Gunnarsson's into that. 

"This isn't something that's related to one playoffs. This is something that we're looking to improve our group of four defensemen and is something that we wanted to do. It's a left shot for a right shot as much as anything."

However, as reported by Toronto media, Gunnarsson is coming off what was termed "significant" hip surgery but reports concluded that Gunnarsson is recovering well and is expected to be ready for the start of training camp and the Blues are comfortable with that.

The trade is a virtual wash in salaries, as Gunnarsson has two years at a $3.15 cap hit remaining on the contract. He will make $3.15 million in salary during the upcoming season and $3.45 million in 2015-16. Polak is a $2.75 million cap hit over the next two seasons but will make $3.1 million in each of the next two seasons.

ESPN's Pierre LeBrun first reported that the Maple Leafs will retain $200,000 of cap hit in the trade.

The 28-year-old Polak, a sixth-round pick by the Blues in 2004, spent eight seasons in St. Louis and was a mainstay on the team's blue line since 2008. He made his NHL debut in the 2006-07 season.

Polak had 13 goals and 79 points in 424 career games over eight seasons.

The Blues are giving up physicality for a more fluid offensive puck-moving defenseman in the hopes the deal benefits both teams.

"It's a trade that I think works out really good for two teams," Armstrong said. "With the makeup of our team, we were looking for a left shot player that could compliment our group of three players in our top four of (Jay) Bouwmeester, (Alex) Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk. Gunnarsson's a player that's played with a top player in Dion Phaneuf and has been on the ice against top players the last few years and I know he's comfortable in that environment. In the NHL to get something of value, you have to give something of value and it was very difficult to part with Roman, someone who was drafted here and has played his entire career in the Blues' organization. An outstanding competitor and a better person off the ice, but in this industry, you have to give value to get value."

The Blues were reportedly in on conversations with the Ottawa Senators to acquire their captain, center Jason Spezza. But as was the case for the multiple teams involved, according to Sens GM Bryan Murray, those talks did not progress to a level for a deal.

"You're talking to 29 other managers on a consistent basis," Armstrong said, regarding the level of chatter on the draft floor and on the phone. "Things build up and can close up, but there's a lot of conversations this time of year. When you talk trade, somethings things happen, sometimes they don't. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Roman Polak (46) was drafted by the Blues in 2004 and spent his entire
eight-year career in St. Louis before being traded to Toronto on Saturday. 

"We saw Vancouver have an active and successful weekend making four or five trades. We were able to make a trade. Maybe we were looking to augment the roster (and) couldn't do it. For the teams that did it, there was the same amount of activity for all 30 teams. Some teams found matches, some teams didn't."

That's what makes the recent signing of restricted free agent Patrik Berglund (three years, $11.1 million in salary) important in the Blues' eyes should they not be able to strike a deal before the season starts or through free agency, which begins Tuesday.

Armstrong did say the Blues will look to improve through unrestricted free agency if that's the route they have to choose.

"We've had a chance to talk to some players," Armstrong said. "By getting Berglund signed was big for us now. We know what we have with him moving forward. If we can improve our team, we will. We're getting very precariously close to the upper (salary cap) limit again. That's the commitment that the ownership has given us. For us to be involved in the free agent market, we have to be aware of the cost of putting all these pieces that are in place."

Friday, June 27, 2014

Blues select center with first round pick

Amid trade rumors, team keeps 21st pick and takes OHL playoff MVP

There was no splash regarding a trade from the Blues on the first day of the 2014 NHL Draft.

Instead, the only news the Blues made on Friday night from Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center was they kept their first round pick and selected a position they've been rumored to be trading for or adding via free agency.

With the 21st pick in the first round, the Blues selected center Robby Fabbri, who played last season with the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League.
(Getty Images)
Robby Fabbri was selected with the 21st pick of the 2014
NHL Draft Friday night by the Blues.

Fabbri, who is listed at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, scored 45 goals and totaled 87 points in 58 regular season games with the Storm. He was named playoff MVP of the playoffs after registering 28 points (13 goals, 15 assists and 28 points) in 16 postseason games for Guelph, including three assists in the series-clinching Game 5 victory over North Bay of the OHL championship.

Fabbri knows a thing or two about his new teammates and his new team.

"They've been a great team for many years," Fabbri said. "Very talented offensively and they've got a guy like (Alex) Pietrangelo on the d-end. I just feel like I can fit in great there. I've never been more excited to join a team in my life."

According to his bio on, Fabbri models his game after Carolina's Jeff Skinner, saying, "He's not a big guy, like me. Watching him, I've been able to see a few things that I can add to my game for my advantage."

Fabbri, 18, helped the Storm finish with the top record in the OHL with 108 points (52-12-2-2) this past season.

His size may not indicate it, but Fabbri will sell himself on the Blues and their fans, especially if he plays after a particular fan-favorite, Vladimir Sobotka.

"Pretty hard-working forward, compete hard every shift, pretty hard-skilled two-way forward," Fabbri said of his game. "I enjoy to play in the dirty areas as well as down the slot.

"Hard-working, sub-six foot guy. I think I see a lot of myself in him as well." 

So the Blues, who were rumored to include their first-round pick in this draft in any trade, have been linked with Ottawa to acquire center Jason Spezza but that never materialized. It had been reported that the Senators' asking price for Spezza -- initially -- was too high for the Blues and any other team linked to Spezza, who is Ottawa's captain.

"Vancouver got the ball rolling (with the trade of Ryan Kesler to Anaheim)," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "But there hasn't been much else going on. There's constant dialogue with people, but we have an understanding of how we'd like to improve and we're looking to give value to get value. We're not looking to underpay or overpay."

On Thursday, the Blues resigned restricted free agent center Patrik Berglund to a three-year contract that will pay him $3.7 million annually ($11.1 million total). 

It was assumed that the timing of the contract indicated that Berglund would be offered up in a trade involving Spezza, but Armstrong said everyone was ready to jump to conclusions.

"It just happened to happen two days before the draft," he said. "People are reading into it more than is really there"

The Ducks earlier in the day acquired Kesler from the Canucks, but the Blues were never in those discussions.

The Blues can always turn back to the Senators, but should they turn away from Spezza, the NHL's free agency period begins Tuesday and the Blues are reported to have high interest in -- among others -- Colorado's Paul Stastny, who grew up in St. Louis and went to Chaminade High School his freshman and sophomore years.

"The free agents we've been able to talk to, it's been good," Armstrong said. "They're aware of our interest."

Rounds 2-7 will begin Saturday at 9 a.m. and the Blues have eight more selections, beginning with the third pick (33rd overall) in the second round, a pick they acquired from the Edmonton Oilers in the David Perron trade.

Among some of the notable players remaining on the board include Kitchener center Ryan MacInnis, son of Blues' executive Al MacInnis, Moncton left wing Ivan Barbashev, who is best friends with Blues' Dmitrij Jaskin, Barrie left wing Brendan Lemieux, son of former NHL tough guy Claude Lemieux and Portland's Dominic Turgeon, son of former Blues center Pierre Turgeon.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Blues' Berglund gets three-year extension

Center will earn $11.1 million,  $3.7 average 
annual value; could be lined up for potential trade

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues got busy on the eve of the draft, signing restricted free agent center Patrik Berglund to a three-year contract extension worth .

With the NHL Draft set to get underway Friday, Berglund's name has been at the top of trade speculation and the signing -- $11.1 million with an average annual salary of $3.7 million -- could be a precursor to a potential trade.

The 26-year-old is coming off a one-year contract that paid him $3.25 million in which Berglund appeared in 78 regular season games this past season and recorded 32 points (14 goals and 18 assists). He also appeared in four playoff games against the Chicago Blackhawks while missing two games with a shoulder injury.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Center Patrik Berglund (pictured) received a three-year, $11.1
million contract extension Thursday.

Overall, Berglund has played in six NHL seasons in St. Louis. He's compiled 220 points (106 goals and 114 assists) in 436 career regular season games. His best season was 2010-11 when he had career highs in goals (22), assists (30) and points (52) in 81 games.

But it's no secret that the Blues have been linked to rumors of a trade, specifically with Ottawa captain Jason Spezza, who's asked the Senators for a trade. Berglund, who could have become a restricted free agent and had arbitration rights, has been linked to any Spezza rumors floating around. 

Is this a potential sign-and-trade from the Blues' perspective? Perhaps. But the team has also made it known that they still like Berglund moving forward, especially coach Ken Hitchcock, who's used the 6-foot-3, 217-pounder as both a center and on left wing.

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong is said to be looking to acquire via trade or through free agency a No. 2 center, but he won't rule out Berglund remaining in the long-term plans. 

At least not yet.

"I think we have to see where Berglund's going to get to," Armstrong said after the season ended. "... He wasn't the player that he normally is. I think he can potentially grab some of those (second-line center) minutes."

But the timing of the deal lines up with the notion that Berglund, one of the team's two No. 1 picks in 2006, could be part of a packaged deal sometime over the weekend. 

The Blues have two restricted free agents remaining, including Vladimir Sobotka and Jaden Schwartz.

Berglund's contract will take him to the summer of 2017 and he can become an unrestricted free agent at that time. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014


9 -- N.Y. RANGERS, 7 p.m.
11 -- CALGARY, 6 p.m.
16 -- at Los Angeles, 9:30 p.m.
18 -- at Arizona, 8 p.m.
19 -- at Anaheim, 7 p.m.
23 -- VANCOUVER, 7 p.m.
25 -- CHICAGO, 7 p.m.
28 -- at Dallas, 7:30 p.m.
30 -- ANAHEIM, 7 p.m.
1 -- COLORADO, 7 p.m.
3 -- at N.Y. Rangers, 6 p.m.
4 -- at New Jersey, 6:30 p.m.
6 -- NEW JERSEY, 7 p.m.
8 -- NASHVILLE, 7 p.m.
11 -- BUFFALO, 7 p.m.
13 -- NASHVILLE, 7 p.m.
15 -- WASHINGTON, 7 p.m.
18 -- at Boston, 6 p.m.
20 -- at Montreal, 6:30 p.m.
22 -- at Ottawa, 2 p.m.
23 -- at Winnipeg, 3:30 p.m.
25 -- OTTAWA, 7 p.m.
28 -- EDMONTON, 7 p.m.
29 -- at Minnesota, 7 p.m.
3 -- at Chicago, 7 p.m.
4 -- at Nashville, 7 p.m.
6 -- at N.Y. Islanders, noon
8 -- FLORIDA, 7 p.m.
11 -- N.Y. ISLANDERS, 7 p.m.
13 -- at Colorado, 9 p.m.
16 -- LOS ANGELES, 7 p.m.
18 -- at Los Angeles, 9:30 p.m.
20 -- at San Jose, 9:30 p.m.
23 -- at Colorado, 7 p.m.
27 -- DALLAS, 7 p.m.
29 -- COLORADO, 7 p.m.
30 -- at Nashville, 7 p.m.
2 -- at Anaheim, 9 p.m.
3 -- at San Jose, 9:30 p.m.
6 -- at Arizona, 8 p.m.
8 -- SAN JOSE, 7 p.m.
10 -- CAROLINA, 7 p.m.
13 -- EDMONTON, 7 p.m.
15 -- DETROIT, 7 p.m.
17 -- TORONTO, 6 p.m.
19 -- COLORADO, 7 p.m.
29 -- NASHVILLE, 7 p.m.
30 -- at Carolina, 6 p.m.
1 -- at Washington, noon
3 -- TAMPA BAY, 7 p.m.
5 -- at Buffalo, 6 p.m.
6 -- at Columbus, 6 p.m.
8 -- CHICAGO, 11:30 a.m.
10 -- ARIZONA, 7 p.m.
12 -- at Tampa Bay, 6:30 p.m.
15 -- at Florida, 4 p.m.
17 -- DALLAS, 7 p.m.
20 -- BOSTON, 7 p.m.
21 -- PITTSBURGH, 7 p.m.
24 -- MONTREAL, 7 p.m.
26 -- at Winnipeg, 7 p.m.
28 -- at Edmonton, 9 p.m.
1 -- at Vancouver, 9 p.m.
5 -- at Philadelphia, 6 p.m.
7 -- at Toronto, 6 p.m.
10 -- WINNIPEG, 7 p.m.
12 -- PHILADELPHIA, 7 p.m.
14 -- MINNESOTA, 7 p.m.
15 -- at Dallas, 5 p.m.
17 -- at Calgary, 8 p.m.
19 -- at Winnipeg, 7 p.m.
21 -- at Minnesota, 1 p.m.
22 -- at Detroit, 11:30 a.m.
24 -- at Pittsburgh, 6 p.m.
28 -- COLUMBUS, 7 p.m.
30 -- VANCOUVER, 7 p.m.
2 -- CALGARY, 7 p.m.
3 -- at Dallas, 7:30 p.m.
5 -- at Chicago, 6:30 p.m.
7 -- WINNIPEG, 7 p.m.
9 -- CHICAGO, 7 p.m.
11 -- MINNESOTA, 6:30 p.m.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Zimmerman anxious for new challenge

Blues' new CEO of business operations eager to drive business so franchise 
"can invest to get the best players and to compete with much bigger markets"

ST. LOUIS -- Chris Zimmerman has been directly involved in the pinnacle of the hockey world for the past four seasons, witnessing firsthand the Los Angeles Kings winning the Stanley Cup in two of the past three seasons.

And while it may be tough to uproot a family from one of the top markets in North America and one that has the hockey globe in the palm of its hands, the opportunity presented to Zimmerman from Blues owner and close friend Tom Stillman was too good to pass up.

On Monday, the 54-year-old Zimmerman was named as the Blues' President and CEO of Business Operations after spending the past four years as President of Easton Sports and member of the Kings' business advisory group and operated his own strategic consulting business.
Chris Zimmerman

Zimmerman replaces Bruce Affleck, who decided to move to a new role in which he will focus on developing enhanced relationships with key St. Louis companies. Affleck becomes an executive vice president, and he will work closely with Zimmerman.

In addition to overseeing all aspects of the Blues' business operations, Zimmerman will be responsible for the Scottrade Center and for the Blues' role and interest in the Peabody Opera House.

"What stood out to me most was the opportunity for the Blues right now," Zimmerman said, noting the franchise's ascension in t. "With the new ownership group and what they've done to stabilize the business and at the same time, investing in the team, a young team, great product ... this town is hungry to just keep getting better and ultimately win the (Stanley) Cup. To be a part in doing that, that was the number one thing that brought me here."

It doesn't hurt that Zimmerman's relationship with Stillman spans over 30 years. The two go back to their days in New York City when after college, both played on the oldest running amateur hockey team, the St. Nick's Hockey Club, which has been in existence since 1896.

"We've known each other for about 30 years," Stillman said. "It was a really fun team to play for."

"Tom and I both played college hockey on the East Coast," Zimmerman said. "Tom was a lawyer in New York and I started my career in New York. 

"(St. Nick's) was a team that many former college players starting their careers would play for. Tom and I met playing on that team. Never could I have dreamt that I'd be sitting here today."

Zimmerman comes to the Blues with more than 30 years of experience in sports, marketing, and business management. He was President, CEO, and Alternate Governor of the Vancouver Canucks from 2006-09. During his tenure, Zimmerman led a number of key initiatives to create new revenue streams, expanded the club's digital presence, enhanced community involvement, and developed innovative programs with the team's corporate partners. He was also chosen to be a member of the NHL's Business Advisory Council.

Prior to joining the Canucks, Zimmerman was with Nike for 11 years. He joined Nike in 1995 as North America advertising director. In 2000, Zimmerman was named general manager of Nike Golf; he played a key role in re-positioning the business by entering new product categories and leveraging relationships with Tiger Woods and the PGA Tour. In 2003, Zimmerman took charge of Nike's hockey business as president and CEO of Nike Bauer Hockey, leading a dramatic turnaround that returned Bauer to the top spot in the hockey equipment industry.

It was an easy hire for Stillman, who along with his ownership group continue their drive to make the Blues a viable-running franchise while making the Blues competitive, and hiring Zimmerman was a no-brainer.

"He's got ideal experience for the position," Stillman said of Zimmerman. "Everything from having done this same job for another franchise. Admittedly, that franchise is in a very different market and in some ways in a different financial situation but still, there's a lot of important experience there. He's got the top-level marketing experience.

"We started talking several months ago after Bruce started thinking that maybe he'd like to make a switch to focusing on some of our top customers and driving revenue there. Chris and I started talking about this. Originally, it was very tentative. I didn't know which way we were going to go, what we were going to be doing, but things like this tend to last over quite a period. In Chris's case, he's uprooting from Los Angeles where he and his family have been for, what, five years? They've moved a few times over his career and it's not always easy. It was a big decision for him."

The talks between Stillman and Zimmerman actually began to develop when Zimmerman was with the Canucks and Stillman began his tenure as minority owner of the Blues under the previous ownership group, led by Dave Checketts.

"We would share thoughts on what we were working on so we had, what I would call it, a professional affiliation to add to our earlier friendship," Zimmerman said. "Over time, things have developed. Tom thought there were opportunities and some of my skill-sets could help in this next stage of moving the team forward."

The Blues held an open house Thursday night for fans to come to Scottrade Center and purchase season tickets or to gain an experience should they plan on purchasing season tickets. Zimmerman, Stillman, Affleck, Brett Hull, Bob Plager and broadcast personalities John Kelly, Kelly Chase and Chris Kerber were on hand for a meet-and-greet for what was deemed a strong turnout. It was Zimmerman's third day on the job and he said he can feel Blues fans' passion.

"I have no doubt and I've seen it already that the Blues fans are core fans that really love the game," Zimmerman said. "They're no different than the fans in Vancouver, who are also waiting for their first Cup and fighting for it.

"I can feel the hunger to win. I've been in another good hockey market that has that same feeling. We all start when that first puck drops. ... We have to be good at everything we do, on the ice and off the ice. You work as a team towards driving a performance mentality and a winning mentality. That's the way I think about the business opportunity and challenge."

Connecting with fans is a primary focus Zimmerman will immediately focus on, and meeting and greeting them Thursday night was the first step.

"You focus on two things: people who (were) here (Thursday) at our season ticket event, meeting Brett Hull and getting into our locker room, we always need to reward them and deepen that relationship, and the other thing that I need to do for the rest of our team is continue to bring more people to the game and to the Blues," Zimmerman said. "I don't have many of those answers yet, but hey, this is a sports town. They love the game and as you know, when you get people into the building, it's a special experience. I love being able to sell that in a town like this."

Stillman added: "We've had a really good turnout. I think that people seem really pleased. It's nice to be able to come in here when it's sort of quiet and you can walk around and really try out seats to see what the view is from different parts of the arena. It's a nice event.

"You find ways to connect with fans. They engage with us and us with them. That means events like this and it also means the various social media options. That's an area you'll see us ramping up, especially to the younger people and even old people like me."  

Zimmerman began his career with Saatchi & Saatchi, one of the world's top advertising agencies. During his 12-year tenure, he worked on marketing brands and growing revenues for such companies as Procter & Gamble, Nabisco, Tyson Foods, and Wendy's. He was also a member of the agency's Operating Board.

Getting the Blues' franchise to work hand in hand with the on-ice and off-ice product is vital to keeping a franchise stable. Zimmerman is diligent in helping in all aspects.

"Doug (Armstrong) and myself will have a strong partnership," Zimmerman said. "Many days, I like to think in the simple sense that my job is to help drive the business and drive the revenue so we can invest to get the best players and to compete with much bigger markets. Maybe we have to work at it a little bit harder, a little bit more smarter, a little bit more creativity. All of those things, I've put on my agenda."


21 -- at Columbus, 5:30 p.m.
22 -- at Dallas, 7:30 p.m.
25 -- COLUMBUS, 7 p.m.
27 -- DALLAS (at Kansas City), 7 p.m.
30 -- CAROLINA, 7 p.m.
2 -- MINNESOTA, 7 p.m.
4 -- at Minnesota, 7 p.m.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Tom Stillman: "We had expectations to do more"

Blues owner disappointed with season finish, vows 
management will continue to make necessary on-ice improvements

ST. LOUIS -- His emotions have been alleviated somewhat, but that's only because attentions were immediately turned to the 2014-15 season.

But for Blues owner Tom Stillman, not being able to fulfill high expectations for his hockey club was disappointing for 2013-14 but Stillman (on the job for 25 months) continues to strive with his management team -- led by general manager Doug Armstrong -- to retool the Blues (who finished 52-23-7 this past season) and make them a championship caliber team again.

"It's not as fresh a wound as it was (then)," Stillman said of the loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round. "We had expectations to do more and we didn't meet them. We're hard at work in figuring out what we can do to do better next year.
Blues owner Tom Stillman speaks to the audience at the unveiling
of the St. Louis Blues 14 Fund Field of Dreams at Mathews-Dickey
Boys' and Girls' Club.

"I do feel like we're knocking on the door. Every one of those games (against Chicago) could have gone either way. That doesn't mean we're satisfied. We've got to figure out ways to get better. A lot of that has to do with getting better internally and our guys learning from it. Doug and his people, their full-time job is figuring out how we can get better. Believe me, they're always working on that."

The Blues will make personnel changes to the current roster, and the wheels were already set in motion with Armstrong committing to Brian Elliott (three-year, $7.5 million extension) and Jake Allen as the team's goaltending tandem for next season and allowing Ryan Miller, who was brought in at a hefty price via trade, to walk as a free agent. 

Veterans Derek Roy, Brenden Morrow, Steve Ott and Carlo Colaiacovo are all unrestricted free agents and most, if not all, will likely not be retained. The Blues also must come to terms with restricted free agents Patrik Berglund, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Sobotka, along with a number of UFA/RFA players in their American Hockey League team in Chicago. 

But rest assured, Armstrong and Co. will be busy surveying the free agent market, as well as opting to go with the trade route if necessary to revamp the roster.

Some of the top free agents that will hit the market July 1 include center Paul Stastny, wingers Marian Gaborik, Thomas Vanek, Jarome Iginla, Ales Hemsky, Matt Moulson, Jussi Jokinen and Michael Cammalleri as well as defenseman Matt Niskanen (a list of UFA's: Also, it has been made reported that the Ottawa Senators are willing to trade captain Jason Spezza, a center coming off a 23-goal, 66-point season in 75 games who has one year remaining on his contract at a $7 million cap hit but $4 million in salary. The Blues are said to have shown interest in the 30-year-old.

With the salary cap going up 10 percent to $71 million next season, time will tell whether the Blues will increase their cap or lower it.

Also, assistant coaches Gary Agnew and Corey Hirsch (goaltending) have been replaced by Kirk Muller (former head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes) and Jim Corsi (former goalie coach of the Buffalo Sabres the past 16 seasons). 

"I do like the direction we're going," Stillman said. "We're on a very good track and we're going to keep working on it. Sure, we've run into difficulties, but nothing is unexpected. I didn't just expect a straight line or straight up and everything goes perfectly. That's just not the way business or life or sports work. You work on things and you get some improvements and you meet an obstacle and you figure out how we're going to get past that. You work and then you get past that one and there's another one. That's just life. We figured there would be ups and downs and then you hope you get there."

With the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings battling it out for the Stanley Cup, the Blues and their fans truly believed they'd be the ones still playing. 

"Yeah, it's still tough with the games still going and we're into the finals," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "That was what our plan was, to be playing here. I definitely talked to a few of the guys, guys are still bitter about the way we went out but we're looking forward to next year as well.

"You don't go over the 'what ifs.' You have to turn the page, but you have to learn from your mistakes. Everybody had exit meetings with Doug Armstrong and 'Hitch.' We talked about things ... each person individually and as a team, what to do to get better. That's what we focus on. Right now, it's off-season, conditioning and your lifting and then we'll worry about training camp."

But with another early playoff exit, the Blues' Cup drought stands at 47 years and this time around, there was plenty of fan resentment, and the Blues have some public relations work to do in that regard.

"We definitely feel that (we're one of the top teams)," Jackman said. "We had success against some of those teams, but then we also had our struggles. We're right there. There's definitely some learning that we have to do, but the excuses are getting tiresome and now we just have to prove that we are that team.

"I think most of the guys took a couple weeks off and got right back into the gym. I know there's still a handful of guys here in St. Louis making that trek to the Mills just to get the workouts in."

Stillman is as much a fan as he is an owner. He understands fans' frustration and is committed to giving them the product they deserve.

"I guess my reaction to that is I don't think they want to hear the message in words," Stillman said. "I can say any number of things, but I think they need to see what we're doing is putting our heads down and work hard. We're going to work around (obstacles) and we're going to get better. We're not going to pout, we're not going to stop, we're going to keep working on it until we get there. 

"I hope they know that if they're feeling bad after a loss, I'm definitely there with them. At the same time, I'm really hopeful. I'm happy with the way we're going. We're going to get there. Nobody thought it was going to be smooth or easy. It's the toughest league in the world."

Blues and 14 Fund unveil 'Rink of Dreams'

Street hockey rink available for children at Mathews-Dickey Boys' and Girls' Club

ST. LOUIS -- When he co-founded the Mathews-Dickey Boys' and Girls' Club with the late Hubert "Dickey" Ballentine, 89-year-old Martin Mathews could only vision what could one day become fruition some day.

And as far as the contributions have come in the years since 1960, Mathews couldn't contain himself when he made the drive to North Kingshighway Blvd. last week.

"I drove up last Friday and it was the biggest (thrill) in my life to see all the Blues (staff) here put this rink up," Mathews said Wednesday during the unveiling of the St. Louis Blues 14 Fund Rink of Dreams. "If you're in America, you can witness almost anything. Anything that you want to do can happen in America. 
Blues defenseman Barret Jackman (left) and executive vice president Brett
Hull (right) unveil the St. Louis Blues 14 Fund Rink of Dreams at the
Mathews-Dickey Boys' and Girls' Club on Wednesday.

"When you have the Blues come to North St. Louis with the president and all the people putting up the rink for the kids here. It makes me feel good. It makes me feel great to be in America where if you do the right things, if you work hard, things will happen. ... This is a dream come true. We all dream that our children one day will have an opportunity in America to do what the constitution said."

Hockey in inner city St. Louis is alive and real. And with Blues Alumni (Bob Plager, Brett Hull, Kelly Chase and Bruce Affleck), defenseman Barret Jackman, owner Tom Stillman and Doug Wickenheiser's widow Dianne and twin daughters Rachel and Kaitlyn all on hand to witness the unveiling of the rink where a large throng of kids from the boys' and girls' club were already on hand taking full advantage of, it marks another feather in the cap to a city that continues to improve the growth of the sport in the area.

"We called it Rink of Dreams for obvious reasons ... you build it and they will come," Stillman said. "It's been here a couple days and it's full. It's a magnet. It's a fun game and when it's street hockey, all you have to do is pick up a stick and go at it. I think it will lead to a lot of good times and some appreciation of hockey here."

Plager, an original member of the Blues when the franchise received an expansion bid in 1967, was on hand and offering tips and pointers for kids willing to hit their feet on the ground running.

"This is the greatest what's going on and for me to be a part of it," Plager said. "The Blues were in here in 1967 and there was one rink here in town skating and that was at Winterland. To see what has happened, how far our hockey has come ... this is the hockey hotbed in the United States for the players and kids we have here. We've had 13 play in the National Hockey League in the last few years from St. Louis.

"We played street hockey just like this here. We only used tennis balls out there and we didn't have it enclosed. It was on the street. But this is the way you start and you play with the bigger kids. You get out there and it's a lot of fun. ... When I was with the New York Rangers, mister (Emile) Francis started hockey in New York down in Harlem and it was in the (1960's) and I was a part of that. It's great to see and these kids are going to have a lot of fun and we'll put them out here right now and it's great for kids."

Chase, color commentator for KMOX 1120-AM, said his street playing days in and around Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan revolved around gravel roads, sand and grass games. This opportunity for kids gives them the chance to get outside and away from all the indoor lifestyles that have engulfed every day living in today's world.

"It gives us as former players or as current players a perspective of how far we've come and how fortunate we are and how important these sort of things are to our game and what we're about as players," Chase said. "And I think for the kids, it opens their eyes to go, 'Holy smokes, this is a start for me. This is a place for me to get educated about the game and maybe have some fun with it.' I have three boys and I don't have any false expectations for them. It's hard to play in the NHL, it's a hard game. I tell them all the time don't play because I played, play because you love it. And they play now more than ever because they love it. I think when kids get integrated into it at a young age, it's hard not to love the game. 

"It's pretty amazing just watching them. They can get the activity part of it. I think a lot of what is important now, too, is to have kids outside and be active. With all the distractions with the internet and social media and telephones and the way everything is set up now, I think the kids need to have more of this kind of opportunity where you kick them out of the house and let them go out and play. It's pretty neat."

Jackman, whose son Cayden donned a goalie mask and didn't skip a beat when it came time to partake in game-like activities, is very familiar with the area and happy he'll get the opportunity to see kids with this opportunity. From his playing days in Trail and Fruitvale, British Columbia, the game has come a long way.

"I actually drive by this place every practice day going out to the Mills," Jackman said of the Mathews-Dickey complex. "I come up Kingshighway through North St. Louis and to see a rink like this with Mathews-Dickey and Tom Stillman and the St. Louis Blues 14 Fund, for them to come out and put something like this together and give these kids a place to learn about hockey and grow our sport and for them to have fun in the process is special.

"It's so many hours of street hockey in a small town having fun. You're making posts out of anything, whether it's the jacket you took off in the middle of winter so you can have a goal post or in the summer, you get the old ratty net with holes in it. It's fun. It's what you grew up doing and there was always a game in my neighborhood."
Kids of the Mathews-Dickey Boys' and Girls' Club take part in a ceremonial
first shot with Blues defenseman Barret Jackman (left) and former Blues
great Brett Hull (right).

The Blues have kicked off the Mathews-Dickey street hockey program by running a two-week basic rules and skills camp, beginning with the inaugural scrimmage.  The rink, donated by the Blues 14 Fund and Clayco, was completed on May 30. 

Mathews-Dickey will host two five-week summer camps, running from now to July 3 and July 7 to Aug. 8, and street hockey will be among the activities.  Parents may enroll children ages 6-14 in one five-week session or for all 10 weeks at the low cost of approximately $8 per day by calling (314) 382-5952.

"If you want to be a hockey player, if you want to be a Brett Hull, you can be one," Mathews proclaimed to the kids on hand. "... We're not singing the Blues, we're going to dance to the Blues today."

"We want to be part of the community," Stillman said. "To me, this is really the gold standard for youth organizations in St. Louis. To be able to do this with Mr. Mathews and the organization, it just means a lot. We want to do our part in the community and we want to be part of things. This is that first step."