Friday, April 17, 2020

MacEachern latest to agree to extension with Blues

Forward could have become RFA at season's 
end agrees to two-year, $1.8 million contract

ST. LOUIS -- Three days, three signings for the Blues during the NHL's pause.

The latest is forward Mackenzie MacEachern, who on Friday agreed to a two-year, $1.8 million one-way contract ($900,000 average annual value).
Mackenzie MacEachern

The 26-year-old MacEachern, who is playing out a one-year, $750,000 one-way contract signed Feb. 9, 2019, would have been a restricted free agent at the end of this season; he has 10 points (seven goals, three assists) in 51 games this season.

MacEachern made his NHL debut in the 2018-19 seasonand has 15 points (10 goals, five assists) in 80 games playing a fourth-line role.

"Mackenzie MacEachern is a very good utility forward in the sense that he gets in on the forecheck, bangs bodies, elite skater in the NHL, which allows him to do those things," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "He found a good role with our group and I think the next challenge for him is to maybe grab some penalty killing time as we move forward."

On Wednesday, the Blues agreed to terms with forward Sammy Blais on a two-year, $3 million contract and on Thursday, defenseman Marco Scandella, who could have been an unrestricted free agents agreed to terms on a four-year, $13.1 million contract.

The Blues are now down to defenseman Vince Dunn and forward Jacob de la Rose as remaining RFA's. Captain Alex Pietrangelo and veterans Jay Bouwmeester and Troy Brouwer can become UFA's at the end of the season.

The Blues are getting a batter understanding with their salary cap situation, where the cap number will go and what it will be moving forward with the latest signings and what will be left in regards to signing Pietrangelo, who is in the last year of a seven-year, $45.5 million ($6.5 million AAV) contract. Pietrangelo is being paid $7.5 million this season and having one of his best seasons with 52 points, including a career-high 16 goals, in 70 games.

Armstrong said the uncertainty of the salary cap moving forward didn't have an affect on the latest signings.

"I think it's been relatively smooth for us," Armstrong said. "The salary cap, I have a feeling is going to stay relatively close to where it's at. That's on the information that we're getting second hand. But we weren't expecting it to go up a lot anyway. It's not a huge affect obviously. The health of our game is important. I think the NHL and NHLPA will find a way to work something out where we can keep this partnership moving forward. I didn't find it that difficult as we were working with these players and their representatives."

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Blues, Scandella agree to terms on four-year, $13.1 million contract

Defenseman will average $3.275 million per season, was 
acquired in February from Canadiens for pair of draft picks

ST. LOUIS -- Marco Scandella's small sample size was enough for the Blues to make the defenseman a part of their immediate future.

The 30-year-old agreed to a four-year, $13.1 million contract on Thursday, with an average annual value of $3.275 million.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Marco Scandella (right) will remain in St. Louis for the next
four seasons after agreeing to terms on a $13.1 million contract Thursday. 

The Blues acquired Scandella from the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 18 for a 2020 second-round pick and a conditional 2021 fourth-round pick that now goes to the Canadiens because one of the two stipulations was that Montreal gets the conditional pick if A) the Blues resigned Scandella before Oct. 7, 2020 or B) if the Blues win two playoff rounds and he played in at least half of them. Without the signing, the second scenario would be up in the air now that the league has been paused since March 12 because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Scandella was acquired when the Blues lost defenseman Jay Bouwmeester to a cardiac episode Feb. 11 at Anaheim, an incident that shut the veteran's season down and in all likelihood, his NHL career.

Scandella had played in 11 games with the Blues and had one assist and was a plus-4. He has become a perfect partner to pair up in Bouwmeeser's slot alongside Colton Parayko.

"He played very well with Colton Parayko, but above and beyond that, he's the style of player that we've had success with in the past," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said of Scandella. "He's a rangy player, he's got a really good stick down low, can kill plays, strong skater, good first-pass player, good complement to our younger players like [Scott] Perunovich and [Vince] Dunn, a different style of player, so your group of six has to have different elements and he brings an element that we see being helpful for us moving forward.

"We've followed him closely over the last couple years and our pro scouting staff, led by Robby DiMaio, did a good job of staying on top of him. ... Our team is relatively easy to play for as a left shot when you've got [Alex] Pietrangelo, Parayko and [Justin] Faulk or [Robert] Bortuzzo. He's going to get a good matchup and he just found a home here with Parayko quickly."

Parayko has nine points (three goals, six assists) in 11 games since playing alongside the more defensive-minded Scandella; he had 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) in 53 games prior to Scandella arriving.

"I think Colton's game defines itself," Armstrong said. "He's a dynamic skater and the points were coming as they did in different times during the year. Our desire for those guys is to be a shutdown pair. They play against other teams' best players and that's their role, but the 15 points he put up in his last 18 games is something we believe he can do. I think he'll continue to do that in his career."

The 6-foot-3, 212-pound played in 51 games for the Canadiens (20) and Buffalo Sabres (31) this season and had 12 points (four goals, eight assists) and was a plus-10; he was traded by the Sabres to Montreal on Jan. 2 for a 2020 fourth-round pick. 

Scandella's cap hit on his contract this season, the last of a five-year, $20 million contract signed Nov. 29, 2014 with the Minnesota Wild, is for $4 million, and the Canadiens retained half of it when the trade to the Blues was completed.

Signing Scandella means he basically replaces Bouwmeester's salary of $3.25 million and gives the Blues a veteran replacement for the 17-year veteran, who hasn't made his plans beyond this season known but with a near-death experience on the Blues' bench on that frightening night in Anaheim, it's extremely unlikely Bouwmeester will be able to continue his career.

The Blues also have to address the contracts of restricted free agents, defenseman Vince Dunn and forwards Mackenzie MacEachern and Jacob de la Rose, as well as the big kahuna, captain Alex Pietrangelo, who is slated to be an unrestricted free agent at season's end.

Signing Scandella doesn't signal that the Blues will move on from Pietrangelo. He merely is a replacement for a player who likely won't be back in Bouwmeester.

"They're different aspects," Armstrong said of Scandella's signing in regards to Pietrangelo. "We need to have a good, strong team and we need to have different components. To have that, with Bouwmeester going out, that type of player was needed among our group immediately and we felt it was going to be needed moving forward.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Marco Scandella (6) celebrates a 4-3 shootout win over Dallas on Feb. 29 
with with Jake Allen (middle) and Brayden Schenn (10). 

"I haven't talked to [Bouwmeester] in a while. As he said in his press conference, he was not going to play the rest of this year and I've left it at that and he and I will talk once we get back up and running here, but that won't be for a while."

Scandella was originally drafted by the Wild in the second round of the 2008 NHL Draft; he's played in 580 regular-season games in 10 seasons and has 137 points (42 goals, 95 assists). He's played in 39 postseason games and had nine points (six goals, three assists).

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Blais agrees to contract extension

Forward gets two-year, $3 million contract through the 2022 
season; could have been restricted free agent at season's end

ST. LOUIS -- Sammy Blais is getting a raise ... again.

The 23-year-old Montmagny, Quebec native has agreed to terms on a new two-year, $3 million extension ($1.5 million average annual value) on Wednesday.
Sammy Blais

Blais could have been a restricted free agent at the end of this season, which has been paused since March 12 because of concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, after signing a one-year, $850,000 contract on July 1, 2019. It'll be his third NHL contract after initially playing out a three-year, $2.175 million entry-level contract signed on Nov. 13, 2015.

"He's coming as a sixth-round pick and getting to the NHL as quickly as he did is a feather in his cap," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said of Blais. "We see a complete player. He's got a physical edge to him, but he also has good hands in tight and he can make plays. He's a guy that we believe can continue to take a bigger role as we move forward in all aspects of his game." 

Blais, a sixth-round pick (No. 176) in the 2014 NHL Draft, he has 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 83 games over three seasons and three points (one goal, two assists) in 15 playoff games last season to help the Blues win their first Stanley Cup.

Blais has played in just 40 games this season (six goals, seven assists) due to a wrist injust that held him out Nov. 20-Jan. 27. 

He made his playoff debut with the Blues in Game 6 of the Western Conference second round against the Dallas Stars and scored in a 4-1 win to help the Blues stave off elimination. He also had a big hit on Boston's Noel Acciari in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final that started the sequence and led to the opening goal scored by Ryan O'Reilly in the clinching 4-1 win.

"That's obviously what he wants and would be great for us," Armstrong said of Blais being a top nine forward. "What allows a player to do that and in young players as they mature, it's consistency, what you see in a player like [David] Perron, [Ryan] O'Reilly, [Brayden] Schenn and [Jaden] Schwartz, [Vladimir] Tarasenko. Their game doesn't vary from night to night much and I think young players have to find that consistency and I think [Zach] Sanford and Blais are working, they're getting better and better. Hopefully in the next year or two, they'll become consistent players where the peaks and valleys are very close to each other." 

With Blais under contract, that leaves the Blues with a trio of restricted free agents, including defenseman Vince Dunn and forwards Mackenzie MacEachern and Jacob de la Rose. Captain Alex Pietrangelo can be an unrestricted free agent at season's end, as well as veteran forward Troy Brouwer and veteran defensemen Marco Scandella and Jay Bouwmeester, but Bouwmeester's career is in all likelihood over after suffering a cardiac episode Feb. 11 in Anaheim. 

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Perunovich wins Hobey Baker Award

Defenseman, 2018 second round pick is second draft pick, third Blue to 
begin NHL career to win award; recently signed two-year, entry-level contract 

ST. LOUIS -- Scott Perunovich got his professional contract recently. On Saturday, he received the highest honor as a college player by winning the Hobey Baker Award, voted as the top player in NCAA ice hockey.
Scott Perunovich

The junior defenseman out of the the University of Minnesota Duluth won out over finalists Jeremy Swayman, a goalie prospect with the Boston Bruins from the University of Maine, and Jordan Kawaguchi, a forward from the University of North Dakota.

Perunovich, 21, selected by the Blues in the second round of the 2018 NHL Draft, agreed to a two-year, $1.85 million entry-level NHL contract on March 27; he becomes the second Blues draft pick (Tony Hrkac, 1987) and third Blue to begin their NHL career (free agent signee Peter Sejna, 2003) to win the award. He follows Colorado defenseman Cale Makar, who won the award last year.

"I'm extremely honored and humbled to be this year's Hobey Baker Award recipient," Perunovich said after the announcement on ESPN's SportsCenter.

Perunovich was second among NCAA defensemen with 40 points (six goals, 34 assists) in 34 games this season; his 34 assists were second among NCAA players, eight behind Vegas Golden Knights forward prospect Jack Dugan of Providence College; his 22 power-play points (three goals, 19 assists) were tied with Dugan for the NCAA lead. Perunovich was the first defenseman to lead the National Collegiate Hockey Conference in scoring (32 points; four goals, 28 assists).

Perunovich helped the Bulldogs win back-to-back NCAA Division I championships in 2018 and 2019 and was hoping to help them to a three-peat, but the season was canceled March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Perunovich is the sixth Minnesota Duluth player to win the award, the first since Jack Connolly in 2012. Tom Kurvers (1984), Bill Watson (1985), Chris Marinucci (1994) and Junior Lessard (2004) were previous Bulldogs to win the award.

Friday, April 10, 2020

From sushi to wine, cards, preparation, Blues recall road success in winning Cup, continued strong play in search to repeat

Superstitions play role for athletes; Steen, four teammates kept 
same routine with each win at TD Garden; Binnington studying Bieber 

ST. LOUIS -- Superstitions are meant to be fun. Some people take them with a grain of salt, some use them as motivation, especially athletes when they provide positive mojo.

It was no secret the Blues' run to the Stanley Cup last season was their penchant for winning on the road.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
If superstition tells the story, Alexander Steen (left) and four teammates used
the same dinner card when they kept winning in Boston during Cup run. 

According to veteran Alexander Steen, the reason for success in winning Games 2, 5 and 7 at TD Garden against a very tough Boston Bruins was sushi.

Steen and a quartet of teammates incorporated it before Game 2 and the method worked, an admission the forward made when the Blues got together as a group on a Zoom video teleconference set up by the NHL on Wednesday and moderated by CBC Hockey Night in Canada lead play-by-play voice Jim Hughson along with NBC Sports studio host, Kathryn Tappen.

"Before Game 2, it's probably the only story I can recall right now, Gunny, Sunny, myself, Parayko and Thorburn went to a sushi restaurant, and then Gunny got that big game-winner for us (3-2 in overtime of Game 2) and then we went back to St. Louis and split the home games, so we went back to Boston for Game 5 and the night before then, I think Gunny, Sunny ... correct me if I'm wrong, Thorby was kind of pushing that we had to go back since we won the last time," Steen said of teammates Carl Gunnarsson, Colton Parayko, Oskar Sundqvist and Chris Thorburn. "So we went back there for the sushi again, won Game 5 and we had to go back to Boston for Game 7 so then there was no real discussion. We just kind of ended up back at a sushi spot. 

"We went 3-for-3 with sushi in the building so it was pretty good."

There are always untold stories that never make it in the public eye, but the Blues were willing to share some things that helped along the ride of winning the Cup, and for goalie Jake Allen, there was a reason for the method of going 10-3 away from Enterprise Center.

"I think we had such camaraderie and we had a great group, played a lot of cards, drank a lot of wine on the road," Allen said. "It was so relaxed that that's why it gave us the extra calmness going into games. We spent so much time together. A lot of cards. There were a lot of things won and lost, but a lot of good times together and I think that's what made everything click that much more."

Speaking of making things click, the Blues' run to the Cup went back months before reaching the mountain top, according to defenseman Robert Bortuzzo.

"There were a few instances over the stretch after January," said Bortuzzo, referring when the Blues were last in the NHL on Jan. 3 with 34 points. "I'd say the first we were building and then we came out of a bye week and we played some pretty tough teams. We played Tampa, which was a wrecking ball all season. We played them tight and we beat them 1-0 and we ended up winning about eight games after the bye week, which was big for us and you could tell we were building something (the Blues won a franchise record 11 games in a row). And then closer to playoff time, the standings were fairly tight and a couple guys were asking who do you want to play. It was a point where everyone was like, 'It really doesn't matter who we played.' 

"We have such a quiet confidence in our group that has been instilled from our leaders and our staff. And then through playoffs in every round, it didn't matter who we were playing. A couple guys will tell you the story after we lost to Boston in Game 6 at home, it as such a confidence with our group, we just got on the bird, we played some cards. It was such a good feeling that we knew Game 7 was going to be ours."

Entering the 2019-20 season looking to repeat as champions, which has not been put on hold due to the global coronavirus pandemic that has shut all sports down and not just the NHL, the Blues learned a valuable lesson in starting the season on time, something they didn't do a year ago after general manager Doug Armstrong retooled the roster and high expectations were laid at their skates from the outset.

"I think for us, you're getting the best from every team," captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "It was no different than teams that had won it in previous years, you're going to get the best from them every single night. ... It all kind of blends itself together into one year almost between last year and this year."

The Blues are 42-19-10 when/if play resumes this season, good for 94 points and first in the Western Conference. They've put themselves in a good spot to have a shot at repeating and being the third team since 1998 to win back-to-back Cups.

"For us, it really helped our preparation to learn how to start on time because we knew going into every building or teams coming in, we know they're going to start fast, they're going to start physical and you could see when we start on time as well, we frustrate teams and eventually got to our game and put them away," center Ryan O'Reilly said. "We did an excellent job at that and really found a way to get to our game quicker than obviously the year before. Everyone contributed in the right way and it was very nice to see."

Now as they wait and train on their own to be ready should the league resume, O'Reilly continues to fine-tune his love for the guitar and admits that as far as teammates go, "I don't think anyone can really play. I hope after this someone can play, but I've been playing a lot in front of my little guy (son Jamison). He likes all these kids' songs. I haven't been playing the stuff I normally like to, but I try and entertain him as best as I can."

Parayko has touched base and keeps tabs on Laila Anderson, who became a team inspiration last season and continues to trend in a positive light from her battle with Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), defenseman Marco Scandella keeps chopping trees, and goalie Jordan Binnington has taken the time to study up on Justin Bieber since the two have a standing bet when Binnington challenged Bieber to a breakaway shootout.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jordan Binnington (right) has had plenty of down time to study
the breakaway habits of Justin Beiber during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Right when I found out the season was paused, I ordered a computer monitor just to get some double screens up there and really study his moves, see when he's picking up his head, how his backhand is, but for the most part, I'm just going to wing it," Binnington joked.

Stay tuned, not only for the 1-on-1 challenge, but for the season to resume.

The Blues -- and the rest of the NHL -- can only hope it does.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Instead of starting title defense, Blues gathered on video conference to reflect, reminisce, hope

Playoffs were slated to start; defending Cup champs were positioned well
to go back-to-back; team is first to come together in any sport since pandemic

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues were supposed to begin their quest of defending the Stanley Cup on Wednesday.

Instead, they were gathered around on their laptops, desktops or whatever devices they chose to use in one gathered setting as a team for the first time since the NHL put its season on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic that has hit the globe.
Moderators Jim Hughson and Kathryn Tappen (top left) conducted a video
conference with members of the Blues. They were the first sports team to
come together since the coronavirus pandemic, which has halted all sports
around the world, including what would have been the start of the Stanley
Cup Playoffs on Wednesday.

The Blues, who were first in the Western Conference and Central Division with 94 points (42-19-10) before the league was suspended on March 12, had 11 games remaining in the regular-season and fighting tooth-and-nail with the Colorado Avalanche in the race for the top spot in the west.

The Avalanche were hot on the Blues' trail with 92 points and having played one fewer game at 70.

The Blues, who had won 10 of 12 before the halt in the season, would have started the playoffs against the second wild card, the Calgary Flames, if the rest of the regular season wasn't played and the NHL went by points percentage.

But instead of playing Game 1 of a first round series on Wednesday, or preparing to play Game 1 on Thursday at Enterprise Center, 25 players, general manager Doug Armstrong and coach Craig Berube were gathered on a Zoom teleconference conducted by the NHL and moderated by Jim Hughson of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada and Kathryn Tappen of NBC Sports.

"It's been a few weeks. We miss these guys here in St. Louis," Armstrong said. "We're looking forward to getting everyone back here and hopefully playing hockey here real soon.

"I know our guys are training hard and getting ready for it."

One thing the pause in the season has enabled some guys to do is get their personal lives in order. Forward Tyler Bozak and wife Molly recently welcomed their third child, a son named Carter, as did defenseman Carl Gunnarsson and wife Josefin, who welcomed their second child, a son named Otis, and center Ryan O'Reilly and wife Dayna will welcome their second child sometime in the middle of May, so without a pause, O'Reilly would have possibly missed a playoff game had the Blues still been alive.

"If he's like me, he'll be smart and like all our D's, he'll be a defender," Gunnarsson joked. "It's been good, as special as it is having a kid. It's been kind of a blessing in disguise to be at home here and focusing on something else instead of just waiting around and wondering when the season is going to start. It's also been scary with what's going on in the world right now keeping everyone healthy and all that. It's been good for the most part. He's been great. His sister is doing great and mommy is doing great too. We're all happy and it's kind of in that baby bubble right now."

Forward Ivan Barbashev and wife Ksenia are expecting their first child, so he's spent time getting a new house in St. Louis prepared.

"Just trying to keep everything simple," Barbashev said. "We just moved to the new house and we're trying to build some stuff in the house, which is really frustrating but other than that, not really. Everything's simple."

Others included on the call include Mackenzie MacEachern, Justin Faulk, David Perron, Jordan Binnington, Robert Thomas, Sammy Blais, Vince Dunn, Jake Allen, Zach Sanford, Brayden Schenn, Colton Parayko, Alexander Steen, Troy Brouwer, Marco Scandella, Jacob de la Rose Oskar Sundqvist, Jaden Schwartz, Robert Bortuzzo Alex Pietrangelo, Jordan Kyrou and Vladimir Tarasenko, who has benefited the most from the extra time as he continues to gear up for a return from a dislocated left shoulder suffered Oct. 24 against the Los Angeles Kings that forced him to miss all but the first 10 games of the season.

Tarasenko was expected to rejoin the lineup during a four-game road trip -- March 21 at Florida was the target game -- that was supposed to start March 17 in Philadelphia, but the extra time will have him ready to go from the get-go should the league restart again.

"It's been pretty hard year not playing all year, but I was really excited to see what this team achieved during the season," Tarasenko said. "They played really well, played great hockey. I was lucky enough to travel a couple road trips before this all (started) with the guys to feel like a part of the team again more. Just looking to join guys on the ice, in practice normally and hopefully play some hockey. It's been a long year, but hockey will start someday so I'm just waiting for the day."

Most of the players have stayed in St. Louis working out on their own and isolating during the pandemic, while others, like Scandella, went back home to wait things out. Scandella, acquired before the trade deadline for a second-round pick in 2019 and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2021, has a cabin an hour outside Montreal that he's secluded himself to.

"I've been going for these nature walks and I'm bringing my ax and I've actually been chopping down dead trees and just getting some of the frustration out of dealing with this isolation," Scandella said.

It would be a shame to waste what the Blues have accomplished thus far on the heels of winning their first Stanley Cup in 2019 when they defeated the Boston Bruins in seven games.

The Blues positioned themselves well in trying to become the first team to win back-to-back Cups since the 2016 and 2017 Pittsburgh Penguins, who became the second team since 1998 do it.

"I think our guys did a great job of preparing themselves in the summer time," Berube said. "I know it was a short summer and you're celebrating because you won the Stanley Cup and you should be, but they did a great job of staying in shape and coming into camp in really good shape, and that was a really great start for us right there. 

"I think we went through some scenarios at the beginning of the season. There were some things, Hockey Hall of Fame, ring ceremony, different obligations the team had, but I thought the guys stayed focused and we really took it game by game, day by day throughout the season. Really, the veteran leadership on our team is excellent and that's a big part of it. That's a big part of us not losing momentum this year and having a real good season. A lot of young guys really developing and becoming good players and better pros. It was really a team effort all around. ... When you lose a guy like Vladimir Tarasenko, our players did a great job of scoring by committee and playing for each other. That's the reason we really didn't lose momentum all year long and here we are, we're in first place in the West right now."

How long right now lasts? Nobody knows. So in the meantime, almost a year later, the Blues get toe reminisce about winning it all, and being brought back to the greatest times of their lives.

"The parade. Best day of my life," Schenn said. "I don't think you can top it. Running around, jumping around with fans having a good time. I think every player enjoyed themselves and I think it's going to be hard to beat that day."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
(From left) Ryan O'Reilly, Sammy Blais, Zach Sanford, David Perron and
Justin Faulk are hopeful of resuming the 2019-20 season at some point.

Time will tell if they get the opportunity to duplicate it.

"Winning last year gave us a taste of what it felt like to be on top," MacEachern said. "I think it made us more hungry to start the year and to defend the title. I think we showed that we were ready to defend and make a playoff push, but unfortunately, the season is suspended but I think we're all excited to make that push once the season resumes."

"When we realized we almost had the same group as last year, everyone was ready to try it again and I think we've done a good job as of late," Blais said. "We're just excited if the season comes back that we're going to be ready to try again to win it."