Sunday, July 1, 2018

Blues bring back familiar face in Perron, sign Bozak to open free agency

St. Louis also signs backup goalie Johnson, adds two 
depth players; moves (DON'T) eliminate chance at acquiring O'Reilly 

ST. LOUIS -- The revolving door will open for David Perron a third time with the Blues.

Perron and the Blues agreed to a four-year, $4 million contract on Sunday, opening a return to the 2007 first-round draft pick to return to the Blues for a third stint.

The Blues, who missed out on the big free agent fish -- and were never granted a meeting -- in John Tavares, who signed with Toronto, needed a center and after deciding that the price for Buffalo's Ryan O'Reilly was too rich for them (*update -- it was not too rich after all), moved on Toronto center Tyler Bozak and signed him to a three-year, $15 million contract.
(NHL photo)
David Perron returns for a third tour of duty with
the Blues after signing a four-year contract Sunday.

The Blues also signed a backup for Jake Allen in goal to compete with Ville Husso, bringing in former Sabre Chad Johnson on a one-year, $1.75 million contract and made a pair of depth moves with forward Brian Flynn (one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 NHL/$350,000 AHL) and defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon with a reported one-year, two-way contract worth $700,000 NHL/$325,000 AHL.

Bozak, 32, comes to the Blues after not being offered by the Maple Leafs, who made the biggest splash of the day by winning the John Tavares sweepstakes as the Toronto native heads home after agreeing to a seven-year, $77 million contract.

Bozak fills a need the Blues had to fill; he had 43 points (11 goals, 32 assists) in 81 games for the Leafs, where he spent the past nine seasons after signing as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Denver.

"I was in contact with St. Louis pretty early in the process, and it was always a team that I thought was a really good fit for me and for my family, a place that I wanted to be and try and help to contribute," Bozak said via conference call. "I know my wife and kids, we're really excited to be part of it. Just excited to get down there. Everything we heard about living there. Off ice stuff, everything came from people that I know that have played there or people that play there now that I know with the great core that's already in line and the young guys that are stepping up and coming. It's just a great spot to be."

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong has seen the need for a center iceman since trading away Paul Stastny, who signed with the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday (three years, $19.5 million).

"It's a right-handed shot," Armstrong said. "... It gives us good depth now when you have [Brayden] Schenn and Tyler and we're hoping for Robby Thomas to get that opportunity to push into that group and other players. We just like the ability to add via free agency and not via trade, and Bozak's a quality player."

Bozak was primarily as the Leafs' third-line center and to get perhaps a bigger, more prominent role, needed to look elsewhere to do so with Toronto now set with Auston Matthews, Tavares and Nazem Kadri.

"I think that's part of it," Bozak said. "I think Toronto was in on Tavares. I've been there a long time and obviously loved my time there, but I thought a nice change of pace and scenery would suit me well. I just think the fit in St. Louis was perfect for me just where I can play and try and help contribute. Wingers there are unbelievable and the guys that I get to play with. Obviously being a right-handed shot I think was a need for St. Louis, so I think I can help in that area too with faceoffs or whatever it may be."

Bozak leaves Toronto with 365 points (136 goals, 229 assists) in 594 NHL games, including 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 18 Stanley Cup playoff games.

"I can play anywhere in the lineup when needed and I think depth is such a huge thing to have on a team," Bozak said. "I think St. Louis has a lot of depth. You're not going to get through full season without injuries, so I think I can move up and down lineup, play in different spots, different areas and to play with different guys, you have to find out who you have best chemistry with and that will take a little time. I can contribute points-wise. Two years ago was my best year, felt really good last year and still feeling really good. I was a late bloomer coming up, so I didn't really start until I was 23 in NHL. I still feel really young and the body feels good. I think I can play up and down lineup and just contribute where they need me."

And Bozak comes into a situation where he knows many of the current Blues players.

"I'm from Saskatchewan, so I know Brayden Schenn pretty well," Bozak said. "I played with his brother [Luke] in Toronto, so I got to know Brayden pretty well. I talked to him quite a bit, and then I'm really good friends with Stastny, so I know all about St. Louis from his time there. I got to know some guys through him. Carl Gunnarsson, I played with in Toronto, [NIkita] Soshnikov. And I've been to talk with [Alexander] Steen and [Alex] Pietrangelo and everyone a little bit."

In Perron, he comes back to St. Louis after spending last season with the Golden Knights when Vegas selected the 30-year-old in the expansion draft.

Perron, who had 66 points (16 goals, 50 assists) in the regular season and nine points (one goal, eight assists) in 15 playoff games, has signed five contracts in his NHL career and played for five different teams (Anaheim, Pittsburgh and Edmonton) but all contracts have been signed while with St. Louis.

"That was a difficult decision," Armstrong said of putting Perron on the unprotected list last year. "That went down to the last second on what to do with our expansion list. When we put David on, I thought [Vegas] might go in a different direction, maybe someone they might have security for longer. Obviously they made the right decision in the way David played for them and the difference they made in the playoffs. 

"There's a couple things with David. A) he certainly could have commanded more on the market and B) he loves it here; he wants to come back. Basically the last two contracts we've done with him, he's left money on the table. Another experienced right-handed player, someone that allows us to bring [Jordan] Kyrou and [Sammy] Blais and Tage [Thompson] and Thomas at the right growth rate. He's a good player that we think can come in here and push into our group of nine and into our group of six and help us win."

In Johnson, the Blues bring in someone that can compete with Husso for the backup role that was vacated when Hutton left for a three-year, $2.75 million average annual value with the Sabres. 

Johnson, 32, was 10-16-3 with a 3.55 goals-against average and .891 save percentage in 36 games with Buffalo last season. His best season was 2013-14 with the Boston Bruins when Johnson went 17-4-3 with a 2.10 GAA and .925 save percentage.

"He had a difficult year last year in Buffalo," Armstrong said of Johnson. "It looked like their team might have struggled most of the season, but when you look at what he did, he partnered with Brian Elliott the year before and was a very good partner and played a lot of games there. He did that the year before in Buffalo and had good numbers in Boston. I think we can provide a strong defensive unit in front of him, give him some protection and he can get back to that .915, .920 save percentage that he's had in the past."

(*update -- the Blues acquired O'Reilly after this article was published) -- The Blues had been in on the O'Reilly trade talks for weeks, and those talks seemed to pick up around the NHL Draft in Dallas. But a major sticking point was with O'Reilly due a $7.5 million signing bonus on Sunday, the Blues were unwilling to pay it at that time and were prepared to present a higher trade value to the Sabres. But Buffalo's trade demands appeared to be too much for the Blues, with names like Thomas and defenseman Colton Parayko among those talked about, and Armstrong didn't want do mortgage the future.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
After spending the first nine years of his NHL career in Toronto, Tyler Bozak
is heading to St. Louis aftersigning a three-year contract on Sunday.

"I would just say not specifically to one player you talked about, but any trade, you're looking to make sure you're comfortable with what's being asked," Armstrong said. "Two years ago we went down the path of moving veteran players and opening up and gaining draft picks and then building for the future. We want to continue down that path. I think a couple years ago, there was a lot of disappointment in moving Brian Elliott, but today, that's Jordan Kyrou. Sometimes, you have to make difficult decisions and we just felt that where we are as a team right now, bringing these two veteran forwards complements Schenn, [Jaden] Schwartz, [Vladimir] Tarasenko. Then you have Steen, [Patrik] Berglund, [Vladimir] Sobotka and then some other players who have experience. But we've also kept our depth so now there's a player like Jordan Kyrou, Tage Thompson or a Samuel Blais come in to steal one of those jobs, for Robert Thomas to steal one of those jobs. We just didn't feel that we were in a position right now or comfort to move. And the reality is it's not one or two of those prospects. It's that, plus other pieces too, to move forward, including three of the prospects that we talked about or first-round draft picks and things like that. We're all very comfortable that this is the direction that we should go."

And there's Tavares, who the Blues were willing to meet and be involved in the courting process but were never given the opportunity by Tavares and his camp, including agent Pat Brisson.

"I wouldn't say frustration," Armstrong said. "I thought we had a really good story to tell, but as we said earlier, when you go into free agency, players have options and if he signed in Toronto, he wanted to go home. I look at the other cities that he talked to, a lot of them had excellent tax advantages to him. It is what it is. You're excited when players want to come here like David Perron and then Bozak. Some players are not quite as keen on coming here. ... His deal is what it is and you certainly don't take it personal. It's not anything that you can really concern yourself with when they have decisions and opportunities, they do what they think is best for them."

Also, the Blues lost veteran center Kyle Brodziak, who moved on to the Oilers, signing a two-year contract worth $2.3 million to be closer to his St. Paul, Alberta hometown.

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