Friday, July 15, 2016

Blues, Schwartz come to terms on five-year contract

Left wing signs for $26.75 million, avoids 
salary arbitration hearing scheduled for Wednesday

ST. LOUIS -- Jaden Schwartz was part of the first group of players up for a salary arbitration hearing on July 20.

The Blues' left wing can scratch those plans off his calendar now that the restricted free agent and the team have agreed to terms on a five-year contract worth $26.75 million, or an average annual value of $5.35 million per season.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Left wing Jaden Schwartz signed a five-year contract on
Friday and avoided salary arbitration. 

Schwartz, 24, one of the two Blues' 2010 first-round picks (Vladimir Tarasenko was the other), is coming off a two-year bridge contract in 2014 that paid him $2 million in 2014-15 and $2.7 million this past season.

Schwartz is coming off a season in which he played 33 games after sustaining a fractured left ankle Oct. 23 that forced him to miss 49 games; he had eight goals and 14 assists in the regular season and four goals and 10 assists in 20 Stanley Cup Playoff games helping the Blues reach the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2001.

Prior to last season, Schwartz put up his best two seasons in the NHL, including a career-high in goals (28), assists (35) and points (63) in 75 games during the 2014-15 season; he had 25 goals and 31 assists in 80 games in 2013-14.

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong maintained all along after the season that signing Schwartz to a long-term deal was the top priority of the franchise and would give the Blues a clear picture which direction they were headed in, particularly as far as their cap number is concerned.

Schwartz is part of a younger core group that includes Tarasenko, Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, Robby Fabbri, Colton Parayko and Jake Allen.

"We've had great success with a number of players and now, it's important for that group now to support the veteran players," Armstrong said after the season ended. 

Schwartz has 157 points (70 goals, 87 assists) in 240 regular season games and 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) in 38 playoff.

* NOTES -- The Blues also came to terms on one-year, two-way contracts for goalies Jordan Binnington and Pheonix Copley on Friday.

Binnington and Copley, who played in the American Hockey League with the Chicago Wolves last season, are expected to compete for the No. 1 job with the Wolves again this season.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Blues lose Backes, Brouwer to free agency, add Perron

Allen signs extension, Ott departs, Hutton signs on to be backup

ST. LOUIS -- David Perron is coming home and David Backes is leaving home were all part of a furious and raucous first day of the NHL free agency period that opened on Friday.

For the Blues, who were in the Western Conference Final just five-plus weeks ago, it was a big hit to not only their longest-tenured player but a hit to their veteran leadership core.

The Blues were able to add the veteran Perron, who played for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Anaheim Ducks last season with a two-year, $7.5 million contract and they shored up their goaltending by signing Jake Allen to a four-year, $17.4 million contract extension and getting him a backup in former Nashville Predators goalie Carter Hutton, who inked a two-year, $2.25 million contract.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Backes departs St. Louis after 10 seasons, including the past five as
captain after signing a five-year, $30 million contract with Boston.

More on the additions later, but the Blues' now must turn to replacing a trio of veterans in Backes, Troy Brouwer and Steve Ott, who brought a wealth of NHL experience and leadership to the locker room and helped the Blues reach a conference final for the first time since 2001. 

None more bigger than Backes, who after becoming an unrestricted free agent at 11 a.m. (CT), signed a five-year, $30 million contract with the Boston Bruins after going through all the emotional invested trials and tribulations of trying to stay on with the only franchise he's ever known. 

In the end, the sides couldn't come to an agreement on the term, or the $6 million average annual value.

And so Backes leaves with 727 regular season games played, 206 goals and 460 points. He had 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in 20 Stanley Cup Playoff games this past spring.

"I think there was contact this morning even and it was more of just a 'Let's touch base and make sure that through the free agency process, we'll keep the door open,'" Backes said Friday evening. "Maybe we end up circling back and making this work. By five minutes after 11, the phones were ringing and the offers were coming in and it was something where each side was doing what they thought was in their best interests at the moment and making business decisions. Trust me, we tried and banged our heads against the wall and we couldn't get the two sides to line up to get something done and now we're turning a page.

"... I think there were conversations to try to get a team-friendly contract to bring me back and to keep me in the fold here. How that all looks like when it's printed out and it's on a contract and the numbers are all laid out, that was the struggle and how long that can be and what that all, without getting into specifics because I don't think that benefits anyone at the moment, it didn't line up. I'm looking for a little assurance that I can retire a Blue and have my whole career here. The Blues just weren't comfortable extending that far out and that's their right and it's my right to go to the market when we're not able to get our priorities lined up."

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong wouldn't divulge details, but it's been confirmed that both sides could get as high as four years on Backes' term. The Blues weren't comfortable going five years, and ultimately, that extra $6 million in AAV.

"We talked last night and again this morning," Armstrong said early Friday afternoon. "At the end of the day, the term was a concern for myself. David's a great player and he's been a great Blue and we wish him nothing but the best, but when you project out long-term, it was problematic for me personally to progress that far with players. There's analytical data that shows where players play at their peak and we wanted to try and stay within a window. We were going to invest to a certain level. But that's more of a personal thing than anything. 

"Ultimately David took a really good offer from Boston and we wish him nothing but the best and he'll be sorely missed."

Backes disputed the analytical theory, and all players in their right minds would when it comes to questioning their ability to perform when reaching a certain age. But with Backes and with the way he plays the game physically and the mileage he has on his body in 10 seasons, the Blues took their stance.

"Analytics and I don't ... I'm a numbers nerd from being an engineering student," Backes said. "We can have an analytics discussion maybe later, but maybe they do, maybe there's an actuary that comes up and says that at 36, you're not going to be able to move this fast and you can't ... you won't be worth anything. I don't know how they project that or it's if your contract was this much that what's the salary cap going to be in five years and what's a player ... I don't know what all goes into that. Just the analytics thing is a lot of numbers trying to roboticise and try to put everyone into a cookie-cutter type of mold and put everyone into a box. I just think there's quite a few guys One just died that was a legend that defied old mother time (Gordie Howe) and kept playing and played at a high level. A couple other guys, a guy that won a Cup this year is 39 coming back for another year. Another guy that's real productive is Shane Doan who scored almost 30 goals this year as a 39-year-old. That's not what I was looking for to get a contract at 39 by any means."

Brouwer bolted the Blues after one season after being acquired via trade with the Washington Capitals for popular T.J. Oshie, signing a four-year, $18 million contract with the Calgary Flames; he was instrumental in the Blues' run to the conference final and finished with eight goals and five assists in 20 playoff games after 18 goals and 39 points in 82 regular season games.

Unlike Backes, 32, who had an emotional investment in the city and franchise, Brouwer, 30, who said he'd welcome a return, moves on where he's building a summer home with his wife and kids and where his father live. Now he can call Calgary his permanent home.

"Al MacInnis, Marty Brodeur and I met with Troy's representatives and David's representatives in Buffalo and we made an offer (to Brouwer's agent Craig Oster) what we felt was a strong offer and it didn't get the deal done," Armstrong said. "We didn't really alter from that position. Troy, through his representative, was in a little bit different position than David. Troy really liked his time here and I think he wanted to remain here, but he didn't have the ties to the community. The offers were going to have to equal out for him to stay. We were a little bit shy of that offer so he decided to move on. I certainly respect and understand that because he's been here for a year. I think he really enjoyed his time here, but his roots weren't nearly as deep as David's."

Ott, acquired along with Ryan Miller in March of 2014, spent two-plus seasons with the Blues after coming to them from the Buffalo Sabres; he signed a one-year, $800,000 contract with the Detroit Red Wings.

The 33-year-old Ott scored three goals and had 17 points in 122 games with the Blues.

The 28-year-old, who had 84 goals and 114 assists in his first six NHL seasons in St. Louis, circles back to where it all began after stints with the Edmonton Oilers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Anaheim Ducks.

"Ever since the day that I got traded from St. Louis, I kind of always felt something in wanting to eventually (returning) ... and I didn't know the possibility would ever be there, but St. Louis is home to me," Perron said. "Being drafted there, grew up there a lot as a player and as a person.

"They called right away as soon as the (free agency) window opened."  

Perron, who has 141 goals in 570 career games, was traded to the Oilers in 2013 because of salary cap restraints for left wing Magnus Paajarvi and a second-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft that the Blues used to pick Ivan Barbashev. 

Perron, 28, scored 28 goals with Oilers in 2013-14, but since, he's been traded near midseason in each of the past two seasons; from Edmonton to the Penguins in 2014-15, and from Pittsburgh to the Ducks in January 2016. Each time he's gotten off to a good start before being slowed by inconsistency or injury.

The left wing had 20 points in 28 games after the Ducks acquired him in a trade for forward Carl Hagelin before a separated shoulder forced him to miss the last three weeks of the regular season. However, he returned for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and had one goal and two assists in Anaheim's seven-game loss to the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference First Round.

"Like all players, David's matured," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "He was part of that young group that was thrust onto the scene, maybe a little bit before they were ready. They were asked to do a lot of the heavy lifting at an early age. Now, he's coming back as a much more mature player on and off the ice. I think we'll be the benefactors of that. 

"The other thing too is he's 28 years old and you saw how well he played after the trade to Anaheim. I think he had 20 points in 28 games. We view him as a player that can certainly play in the top nine. He can play left wing or right wing. It gives the coach some options. I know when I talked to him, he was very excited about the opportunity to come back to St. Louis. He still has a warm spot for the fans and the city. When you have players, they're looking to go elsewhere, but players that have been here, they're looking to come back. It was nice to hear the excitement in David's voice about returning to the city and the team that drafted him."

Allen, who will turn 26 on Aug. 7, had one year remaining on a two-year, $4.7 million contract he signed before last season. Allen set career highs in games (47), wins (26) and save percentage (.920) in 2015-16, helping St. Louis reach the Western Conference Final before losing to the San Jose Sharks in six games.

"It's a great feeling for me," Allen said. "I'm extremely happy. To be able to be drafted as a Blue and not be able to wear the blue note for a long time is a pretty great feeling.

"I've come a long ways since I was 17 years old and this is just the beginning. I feel like we've got a plan to follow and this is just part of that." 

Allen will be the Blues starter in goal for 2016-17. St. Louis traded goalie Brian Elliott, who split time with Allen last season, to the Calgary Flames last week for a second-round pick (No. 35) in the 2016 NHL Draft. Allen has won 57 of his 99 career NHL games and has a .915 save percentage and 2.34 goals-against average.

"When you get that call from management, and they tell you, 'This is what we want,' it's a pretty good feeling on my part," Allen said. "The agents do their thing with Doug and move to common ground. I felt it was a good deal for both of us. I think they're real happy and so am I."

The trade for Elliott at the NHL Draft expedited the process of signing Allen long-term, which is something Armstrong wanted done quickly.

"These were worked in unison with each other and we were very comfortable and we knew that we were going to be able to get Jake done," Armstrong said. "... Internally, we feel Jake is the guy. I talked extensively to (goalie coach) Jim Corsi and (assistant GM) Marty Brodeur about it. Everybody was feeling it's Jake's team now, it's Jake's turn and it made it easier. We really feel that Jake is going to be a real good player and he wants the ball and he's got it now. You're sort of seeing this with other organizations too that are looking to the younger goalies to grab hold of it. We're no different."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Perron will don the Bluenote again after signing a
two-year contract on Friday.

Hutton, 30, spent the past three seasons with the Nashville Predators. Hutton was 7-5-4 with a 2.33 goals-against average, .918 save percentage and two shutouts in 17 games (15 starts) with Nashville last season.

In 76 career games with the Predators and Chicago Blackhawks, Hutton is 33-24-12 with a 2.56 goals-against average, .910 save percentage and four shutouts.

"I relied heavily on Jimmy and Marty's input there," Armstrong said. "We put a list of goaltenders out there and he was at the top of our list. It was he and one other guy who were sort of 1 and 1A. He got in there a couple years ago when (Pekka) Rinne got hurt and had a really good run with Nashville. We know people that play in Nashville and we talked to them about him. A lot like Brian Elliott, a great teammate. Someone that is looking to push Jake but also understands that he's a mentor and a solid partner. There's a lot of positives with bringing him in. It just seems like the proper guy that has the experience that Jake can lean on."