Friday, July 15, 2022

Nick Leddy: "It was a place I really wanted to be"

Defenseman signed four-year, $16 million contract on opening day of free 
agency, wanted to stay in St. Louis after being traded to Blues late last season

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Twenty-nine games was enough for Nick Leddy to know that he wanted to make St. Louis home.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Nick Leddy (right) wanted to return to the Blues and signed a four-year,
$16 million free agent contract on Wednesday.

While it may be temporary for the Eden Prairie, Minnesota native to make the Gateway to the West his temporary home, a signed, sealed and delivered four-year, $16 million contract on the first day of the free agency period on Wednesday was the final stamp of approval that the 31-year-old wanted to continue to build upon his 20-game regular-season and nine-game postseason Blues resume.

"Obviously a lot of excitement, first and foremost," Leddy said by phone Friday. "I think the biggest thing is I'm really excited to have a full season with the guys and actually a few more years.

"... I think the comfort factor was there right away. Obviously I felt welcomed immediately and knowing some of the guys really well, Brandon (Saad) and Justin (Faulk) right off the start helped out exponentially."

Leddy, acquired from the Detroit Red Wings along with Luke Witkowski for Oskar Sundqvist, Jake Walman and a 2023 second-round pick at last season's NHL Trade Deadline, scored twice and had six assists during the regular-season and another goal and four assists during the Stanley Cup playoffs for the Blues but just completed a seven-year, $38.5 million contract signed with the New York Islanders in 2015 after winning a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013.

Leddy was thought to have played his final game with the Blues when they were eliminated by the Colorado Avalanche in the second round of the playoffs; he carried a $5.5 million average annual value on his previous contract and was thought to be seeking somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million in his next contract, and with the Blues pressed up against the salary cap ceiling and not much wiggle room, Leddy was thought to be on his way elsewhere and did draw interest elsewhere.

"Obviously there was some communication between 'Army' and my agent, some back and forth," Leddy said of Blues general manager Doug Armstrong and agent Neil Sheehy. "But overall, it was a place I really wanted to be.

"I think I'm just glad to get a deal done and excited for the next four years."

It was no secret the Blues wanted to bolster the left side of their defense again, to go with Torey Krug, Niko Mikkola and Scott Perunovich, who signed a one-year, one-way contract on Friday, and staying in-house was the choice they made, and for all intents and purposes, left no cap space and money to re-sign forward David Perron, who signed a two-year, $9.5 million free agent contract with the Red Wings on Wednesday.

"I think solidifying our top four on defense was very important for us," Armstrong said. "I was very comfortable with the seven D that we had last year before we got Nick and became a little bit better balanced team with Nick and we're happy to have him back too. It's a jigsaw puzzle that's always moving. You have to make hard decisions and this is the most uncomfortable time as a manager is making hard decisions. I date myself back to my Dallas days and it was a lot better for me as a manager and a lot worse as the owner when there was no budget because I could just say 'yes' all the time. Now I have to make more decisions.

"We expected (Leddy) to come in here and just based on his history, he was a 22-minute player in the playoffs with a very good Islanders team. He went to an organization ... the Islanders moved him along for cap reasons and he went to an organization that was in a different part. We looked at him as someone who we believed could come in here and solidify. He's at a proper age now with our other guys. This is an indication in the next three or four years, we're going to try and continue to build as stay as competitive as possible."

Leddy, who averaged 21:25 ice time last season, was set to go through a process with free agency if needed but preferred to get a deal done as quickly as possible and after playing for a contender, why not try and help finish the job?

"I think that's part of it. I think you've got the good side of you can kind of look around and know where you want to be, but I think the other side of it too, you know at this point in my career, I know places that I feel I would like and the teams I really like to be around," Leddy said. "Obviously St. Louis is that team.

"That's the goal every year obviously to be a contender. You look up and down on this roster, you have a lot of skill on the ice and a lot of hard-working guys. Off the ice, a lot of great people. I think that's a huge part of it as well."

Leddy helped stabilize a top four defensive unit that was needing an upgrade as the season went, playing mainly alongside Colton Parayko and fellow Minnesota buddy Faulk.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Nick Leddy (4) returns to the Blues to help stabilize a defensive unit
that improved after his arrival last season.

"I think you create chemistry over time and I think that'll be a big thing moving forward," Leddy said. "Always looking to keep building on and off the ice."

Leddy's not sure when he will get back to St. Louis, but the thought of getting in early and continuing the acclimation process may be something that will help him here.

"I think that would be more of a kind of a game time decision," Leddy said. "I work out and skate with Justin Faulk so maybe I'll just talk to him and see when he's coming in and seeing what his plan is closer to that date. Getting there early and getting acclimated, that's definitely a very good idea."

* NOTES -- Not only did the Blues sign Perunovich, who was a restricted free agent, but they also gave one-year contracts to forwards Nathan Walker, Anthony Angello, Matthew Highmore, Josh Leivo and Dylan McLaughlin.

Walker, 31, was given a one-year, one-way contract extension that will kick in with the 2023-24 season; Leivo, 29, who was the American Hockey League's playoff MVP this past season with 29 points (15 goals, 14 assists) in 18 games with the Chicago Wolves, signed a one-year, one-way contract; Highmore, 26, who played 46 games with the Vancouver Canucks last season (five goals, seven assists), the 26-year-old Angello and McLaughlin each inked one-year, two-way contracts. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Blues plans don't include Perron, who signs free agent contract with Red Wings

Cap crunch leaves forward on outside looking in 
again, gets two-year, $9.5 million contract with Detroit

By LOU KORAC
MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- With additions come subtractions, and the loss of veteran forward David Perron, who signed a two-year, $9.5 million contract with the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday, has not gone over well with the Blues fan base.

The Blues elected to give Robert Thomas a massive extension, sign Nick Leddy, Thomas Greiss and Noel Acciari to free-agent contracts but elected not to sign the 34-year-old Perron, who was one off a career-high in goals in a season after scoring 27 last season and finishing with 57 points in 60 games.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Perron (57) leaves the Blues organization for a third time, this time
after signing a two-year, $9.5 million contract with the Detroit Red Wings.

Knowing that Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou are due for large salary increases moving forward (Thomas signed an eight-year, $65 million extension Wednesday), the hope to re-sign Ryan O'Reilly, who enters the final year of his contract, the likely option of keeping Vladimir Tarasenko and the final year of his $7.5 million average annual value contract, wanting to upgrade the left side of their defense and having to sign their own restricted free agents, Perron was on the outside looking in.

Again.

"Yeah, this is projecting out a flat cap or a cap that could go up by a million dollars this year, next year and the year after knowing that the bridge deals of Thomas and Kyrou are at two-eight," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "We don't expect them to play anywhere near that amount of money after next year. There's other players that are going to be unrestricted free agents that we like. We really love David too, but a year ago on a situation like that, when you trade for (Pavel) Buchnevich and you acquire (Brandon) Saad, the hard part is you can't participate every trade deadline and every summer with a flat cap. That's sort of how that situation unfolded.

"... It's a money situation that we'd have to work on. As I've said, everyone knows how I feel about David. I don't need to rehash that. Great player, great Blue, been back, gone, been back, gone, been back, gone, been back but regardless of what happens, he's always going to be known as a great Blue and someone that this organization is going to hold fondly well past his retirement days, which I think are a long way away. Again, it's just what we have to do with some of our internal players that make it harder to go out a greater distance."

A flat cap that will only go up by a million to $82.5 million for the upcoming season and the Blues short $1 million of it due to bonus overages paid out to Tyler Bozak, there was no money left to sign the durable Perron, who has turned himself into a complete two-way player. He led the second-ranked Blues' power-play with 11 goals and 26 power-play points.

"We were trying to make it work for a while with the Blues, but it didn't work out," Perron said via Zoom Wednesday. "I'm excited to be with the Red Wings."

Perron, drafted by the Blues with the 26th pick in the 2007 NHL Draft who finished out a four-year, $16 million contract this past season, will be leaving the Blues for the third time. He was traded to Edmonton in 2013, signed with the Blues as a free agent in 2016 and was left unprotected for Vegas in the 2017 Expansion Draft, then signed with the Blues again in 2018 before leaving again on Wednesday.

He will join a up with a Blues reunion group that includes Oskar Sundqvist, Robby Fabbri, Ville Husso, who was traded to the Red Wings last Friday for a third-round pick and signing a three-year, $14.25 million contract and Jake Walman.

"First of all, the moment you get a call from Steve Yzerman, it catches your attention right away," Perron said of the Red Wings GM. "Obviously I had several options that was bouncing around in my head, with my agent (Allan Walsh), with my family, with everyone, but I think the Red Wings are a team with obviously some of the signings that happened today too, I think they're ready to take the next step in the evolution as a team and I wanted to be a part of that.

"I've played with Husso, Sundqvist, Fabbri, Walman. Those are guys I exchanged text messages with already and obviously looking forward. Any time you've got familiar faces to join a group, some of us won together there in St. Louis and would like to bring some of that success to Detroit."

Perron wanted to remain with the Blues and retire here. That's no mistake. He's played in 973 regular-season games (673 with the Blues) and has always called this his second home. He would never admit it publicly, but it was evident Perron wasn't happy to play through the past season with no contract extension in hand and no further commitment from the Blues moving forward. 

When asked if he felt the Blues' cap crunch was the reason for his departure, it was evident of his displeasure.

"That's not for me, that question," Perron said. "You can ask the other guy."

That other guy would be Armstrong, who separated Batman (O'Reilly) and Robin (Perron).

But Perron leaves a Stanley Cup champion, won with the Blues in 2019.

"Definitely a tough loss," Thomas said of Perron. "He's a guy that loved being in St. Louis, loved being a Blue. He's a great leader on and off the ice. He competed hard every night and was a huge factor in past seasons and playoffs. ... I wish him nothing but the best if he doesn't come back but definitely a tough loss for us."

Along with losing Perron, depth forward Dakota Joshua signed a free agent contract with the Vancouver Canucks, netting himself a two-year deal, and Charlie Lindgren, who was in the running to get the backup role behind Jordan Binnington, also chose free agency and inked a three-year, $3.3 million contract with the Washington Capitals.

Armstrong indicated each was offered one-way contracts but elected to go to market.

Blues extend Thomas to richest contract in franchise history

Center inks right-year extension for 65 million ($8.125M AAV); team 
signs backup goalie Greiss, veteran forward Acciari on first day of free agency

By LOU KORAC
MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- A busy day for the Blues culminated with some key additions and one investment that will go down in history.

First, the signings, and the biggest was the Blues signing cornerstone center Robert Thomas to an eight-year, $65 million extension, the richest contract in franchise history that carries an average annual value of $8.125 million.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Robert Thomas signed an eight-year, $65 million extension, the largest
contract in Blues history, on Wednesday. 

The 23-year-old, who set career highs in goals (20), assists (57) and points (77) last season and was heading into the final year of a bridge contract that paid him an AAV of $2.8 million.

"Yeah, I think it's pretty cool. I think being able to be in St. Louis for eight more years is so exciting," Thomas said Wednesday. "From the minute I got there, I loved St. Louis, I was welcomed by the Tkachuk family. I think that's a good family to be welcomed by. Ever since then, I've loved playing for the Blues. I love the city, I love the people and just so excited about that.

"I would say the decision kind of took a little bit. I think the main things were just how much I've loved playing in St. Louis, how much I love being a Blue. So that was a huge factor for me. This deal was able to get me there for ... I've got nine years left. That was something really important to me and my family and just that comfort level of being in one place that you and your family love is so important."

The Blues were going to have to pony up the salary for Thomas, who along with Jordan Kyrou are the next generation of players the team will build its core around.
General manager Doug Armstrong was going to have to cross this bridge at some point and did it now.

"Obviously we look at him as the centerpiece of our organization moving forward," Armstrong said. "You look at his point total as a 22-year old, I think I might have been the most points by any 22 or under player in the league last year, if not very close. It reminds me quite a bit of actually signing (Alex) Pietrangelo and (Vladimir) Tarasenko, both coming off their age 22, we signed them to long term deals, we felt they were cornerstone players and we feel that’s Robert.

"Everybody assumes risk when you do it like this and on both sides. We talked about that. Our hope is the expectation his game continues to grow and that's his too but there's also a sense that, that's a lot of money and he's got security. He's going to be able to, by signing this term at this age, he's going to be able to get back there. Now that's a million years on the way or actually nine, but he's going to have another opportunity and I know his focus is on being the best player he can be. When you look at how Craig (Berube) used him from a year ago to last year, he touches every part of our game. He's a 5-on-5 player, both sides of special teams. I think his ice time was the second most ice time of our forward group and that's all at 22. So that's only going to elevate. You look at young players that have signed at 21 or 22, mostly 22, this puts him right in that ballpark of other top young players and we think he is a top young player and because he started at 19, we were able to do a bridge deal with him too. So we have a little bit more information. A lot of these guys started at 20. He started at 19. So it gave us a chance and he's walked into a difficult situation as far as being competitive team and having to claw and fight for his own ice time. Sometimes when you're a top pick going into a different situation, you're given ice time he's had to earn it. And that's where I thought he did a fabulous job last year earning his ice time."

It's not an out with the old (Ryan O'Reilly, Tarasenko -- well, maybe?) or the guys that helped win the Stanley Cup three years ago, a team Thomas played an important role in as a 20-year-old but ushering in the next generation, as Armstrong did with Pietrangelo and Tarasenko and not all that tough to get done.

"It was relatively quick when we started to talk. But they're always difficult because … I think that the flat cap got everyone's attention," Armstrong said. "A pandemic got everyone's attention that it might not always be growing, but there's also the hope you when you hear the commissioner talk about the revenues never been better and we're hoping the world gets back to normal and continues to grow. So I think there's risk and reward on both sides. But at the end of the day, I'm not sure … money has a huge effect on this but I think it's more our organization talking about, let's put the money aside, how we think of Robert, how we think we're going to use him, where we think he fits in on the future of this franchise and over my career as a manager, you sort of step up on young players, we stepped up as I said in Dallas, I stepped up on Marty Turco at a young age, switching from Eddie Belfour to him, haven't done that in a long time and then I got here and I did it to Alex Pietrangelo and Vladimir Tarasenko coming out of that same age 22 (season), feeling that they were players you can build your franchise around. It's a lot of pressure to put on Robert, a lot of expectations. I think he appreciates that and he's ready for that challenge."

The term on the contract will take Thomas into his early 30s (32) when he can become an unrestricted free agent for the first time, and the Blues will take Thomas' prime UFA years out of the equation. But the comfort factor and long-term stability was something Thomas didn't think he could pass up.

"I think a bit of both. I felt really comfortable being here for a long time," Thomas said. "I think the most important thing to me is winning. Every year I've been with the Blues, I've felt like we've had a great chance of winning and we've been so close. I feel like we have many, many more years to come where we're going to be in that exact situation. I think that's why it's so easy to commit to eight years."

Kyrou, who at 24 is next in line for a big contract. He, like Thomas, will be entering the final year of a $2.8 million bridge deal and will get a big increase in pay; he also set career highs in goals (27), assists (48) and points (75). 

"Yeah, I really believe and, I've told both of those players that … we haven't talked to Jordan on this yet … but moving forward, Robert and Jordan they are and they're becoming more and more the alpha males and the game is trending towards that," Armstrong said. "I think Kyrou, you saw what he did last year, heeds to be a top player for us, to be a top franchise. The question might be well, why Robert before Jordan, like the old analogy, like how do you get the horses back in the barn? One at a time. So we got one horse back in the barn and now we'll go to work."

The Blues, who are strapped by the flat salary cap that increased by $1 million to $82.5 million this season, felt they had to solidify their defense, particularly the left side, stayed within and re-signed Nick Leddy to a four-year, $16 million ($4 million AAV) contract.

The Blues, who acquired Leddy and Luke Witkowski at last year's trade deadline from the Detroit Red Wings for Oskar Sundqvist, Jake Walman and a 2023 second-round pick, hit the free agent market at 11 a.m. Wednesday after finishing off a seven-year, $38.5 million contract signed with the New York Islanders in 2015. But the 31-year-old chose to remain in St. Louis, where he had two goals and eight assists in 20 regular-season games down the stretch and a goal and four assists in nine playoff games.

"I think solidifying our top four on defense was very important for us," Armstrong said. "I was very comfortable with the seven D that we had last year before we got Nick and became a little bit better balanced team with Nick and we're happy to have him back too. It's a jigsaw puzzle that's always moving. You have to make hard decisions and this is the most uncomfortable time as a manager is making hard decisions. I date myself back to my Dallas days and it was a lot better for me as a manager and a lot worse as the owner when there was no budget because I could just say 'yes' all the time. Now I have to make more decisions.

"We expected him to come in here and just based on his history, he was a 22-minute player in the playoffs with a very good Islanders team. He went to an organization ... the Islanders moved him along for cap reasons and he went to an organization that was in a different part. We looked at him as someone who we believed could come in here and solidify. He's at a proper age now with our other guys. This is an indication in the next three or four years, we're going to try and continue to build as stay as competitive as possible."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Nick Leddy (middle) remained with the Blues on Wednesday when the
defenseman inked a four-year, $16 million contract.

The Blues made three additional signings, including adding veteran goalie Thomas Greiss from the Detroit Red Wings on a one-year, $1.25 million contract plus bonuses, veteran forward Noel Acciari of the Florida Panthers on a one-year, $1.25 million contract and forward Will Bitten, acquired from the Minnesota Wild last season, signed a two-year, two-way contract.

Greiss, 36, spent the past two seasons with the Red Wings. He has played in 347 career games with Detroit, the New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, Arizona Coyotes and San Jose Sharks and has a career goals against average of 2.72, a record of 155-120-37 and a save percentage of .912.

Acciari, 30, spent the past three seasons with the Florida Panthers and played against the Blues in the Stanley Cup Final in 2019 while with the Boston Bruins; he had 46 points (27 goals, 19 assists) during his three seasons with the Panthers and was on the receiving end of a controversial non-call in Game 5 against the Blues that led to a 2-1 win over the Bruins.

Bitten played in 45 games for Springfield of the American Hockey League last season and recorded 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists). In the 2022 AHL playoffs, Bitten played in all 18 games and recorded and team-leading 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) in leading the Thunderbirds to the Calder Cup Final.

Friday, July 8, 2022

Husso traded for third-round pick; Blues select five prospects on final day of draft

Goalie goes to Red Wings, who sign him to three-year contract 
worth $4.75 million AAV; goal-scorer Snuggerud taken in first round 

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- After keeping their first-round pick on Thursday and selecting right wing Jimmy Snuggerud, the Blues were expected to have just four picks on the final day of the 2022 NHL Draft on Friday in Montreal.
Ville Husso

But trades change things, and the Blues added another third-round pick after they traded the rights to goalie Ville Husso to the Detroit Red Wings after coming to the conclusion that there was no chance in bringing the Finnish netminder back to tandem with Jordan Binnington.

The Red Wings announced they signed Husso to a three-year contract for a reported $4.75 million average annual value, which was more than what the Blues were looking to pay for a 1A/1B tandem.

So the Blues are in the market for a backup to Binnington. They could very well bring someone in from the outside, or they could stay within the organization and elevate Charlie Lindgren, who tag-teamed with Joel Hofer in Springfield and helped lead the Thunderbirds to the Calder Cup Final and who was sensational when called up by the Blues earlier last season, going 5-0-0 with a 1.22 goals-against average and .958 save percentage.

Lindgren, who signed a one-year, two-way contract last summer, could also be an unrestricted free agent, so it will be interesting to see where the Blues go from here.

They will be big shoes to fill after Husso completed a very solid 25-7-6 regular-season with a 2.56 GAA and .919 save percentage, helping the Blues in a time when Binnington struggled during the regular season. Husso started the playoffs for the Blues but was replaced by Binnington in Game 4 of the first round against the Minnesota Wild but got back in when Binnington was injured in Game 3 of the second round against the Colorado Avalanche, going 2-5 with a 3.67 GAA and .890 save percentage.

The Red Wings were obviously wanting Husso and were willing to part with a higher pick to get his rights, and the Blues did themselves well to get something out of it. Otherwise, Husso would have walked as a UFA.

Husso will reunite with former Blues teammates Oskar Sundqvist, Robby Fabbri and Jake Walman in Motown.

As for their picks, general manager Doug Armstrong left it open as to what the Blues would do with the 23rd pick. Moving up would be difficult, staying pat and making the selection was an option or moving back and acquiring more picks was definitely on the table. 

The Blues chose to remain pat and picked 6-foot-1, 188-pound Snuggerud, who played for USA's U-18 national developmental program, playing 59 games and finishing with 63 points (24 goals, 39 assists); he will play for the University of Minnesota this fall: http://www.nhl.com/ice/draftprospectdetail.htm?cat=1&dpid=155451&sort=finalRank&year=2022.

With no second-round pick after trading it to the New York Rangers last off-season along with Sammy Blais for Pavel Buchnevich, the Blues used their pick from Detroit (No. 73) to grab Finnish center Aleksanteri Kaskimaki (6-0, 196), who last played for HIFK JR. in the Finland-Jr. League; he finished with 40 points (19 goals, 21 assists) in 31 games: http://www.nhl.com/ice/draftprospectdetail.htm?cat=2&dpid=156443&sort=finalRank&year=2022.

With their third-round pick, No. 88 overall, the Blues finally went defenseman and grabbed Guelph Storm's Michael Buchinger (6-0, 181). Buchinger played in 63 games for the Ontario Hockey League squad and the lefty finished with 44 points (five goals, 39 assists): http://www.nhl.com/ice/draftprospectdetail.htm?cat=1&dpid=155964&sort=finalRank&year=2022.

With their fourth-round pick (No. 120), the Blues went back overseas and selected Russian left-handed defenseman Arseni Koromyslov (6-3, 180), who played 42 games for SKA St. Petersburg of the Russia-Jr. League, putting up 19 points (four goals, 15 assists): http://www.nhl.com/ice/draftprospectdetail.htm?cat=2&dpid=154943&sort=finalRank&year=2022.

The Blues made it three straight defensemen with their fifth-round pick (No. 152), going to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and taking Acadie-Bathurst's Marc-Andre Gaudet (6-3, 180), where the left-hander had 38 points (13 goals, 25 assists): http://www.nhl.com/ice/draftprospectdetail.htm?cat=1&dpid=154356&sort=finalRank&year=2022.

And with their sixth-round pick, the Blues went to the London Knights of the OHL and picked right wing Landon Sim (5-10, 166), who had 21 points (12 goals, nine assists) in 68 games: http://www.nhl.com/ice/draftprospectdetail.htm?cat=1&dpid=155985&sort=finalRank&year=2022.

The Blues did not hold a seventh-round pick this year after trading it, along with goalie Jake Allen, to the Montreal Canadiens for third- and seventh-round picks in 2020.

Blues forwards Ivan Barbashev and Jordan Kyrou were on hand to play cheerleaders for their respective younger brothers, each who was drafted on Friday.

Kyrou's brother Christian, a defenseman, was picked in the second round (No. 50) by the Dallas Stars, and Barbashev had to wait longer to see his younger brother Maxim, a left wing, get picked but he finally went with the final pick of the fifth round (No. 161) by the New York Rangers.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

For Blues, all hands on deck when it comes to draft

Team slated to pick at No. 23 in first round of draft in Montreal

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The 2022 NHL Draft will be a place for many franchise's to grab tomorrow's stars, perhaps as early as this season.

Not for the Blues.

Not for a team in a win-now mode.

The Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, Arizona Coyotes, Seattle Kraken and Philadelphia Flyers, all teams that did not make the playoffs last season, will -- barring any trades -- pick Nos. 1-5. Those are franchises that are looking for game-changers. Heck, even picks 6-10 or even 11-15 will be looking for someone that can make an impact on their teams next season or soon enough after.

But as you get into the later teens and into the 20s, where the Blues will be picking in an all-too-familiar position due to their continued success and continued search to win right away, picking at No. 23 could see them go in a number of directions.


* Do they use their pick to try and move up in the draft, which is something that general manager Doug Armstrong hinted at? That scenario is unlikely. 

* Do they trade down and accrue multiple picks moving back if they think they can get one of a number of players they feel they could get later in the round instead of at 23? That's a very distinct possibility, and a highly likely one I believe.

* Or even something that would get Blues fans all eyes and ears glued to a television set or to reports, do they use the pick to try and acquire an immediate impact player, for say, a left-handed defenseman that they could plug into their top four? Don't rule it out.

That's why seeing the Blues pick at No. 23 is more than unlikely, and if for some reason they do remain there, it's not for somebody that will make an impact in 2022-23, or even 2023-24 or 2024-25. And if they do pick there, it's not looking for a need. It's taking the best player available.

"The needs of today's team shouldn't reflect what we do in the draft," Armstrong said a couple days ago. "The player that we take at 23 if we select there, you're probably looking three years away, maybe two or three if he fast-tracks to playing in the NHL. That's just playing, that's not contributing, that's not getting your 8-11 minutes a night and finding your way. What we need today could change tomorrow with one trade of NHL players. We need to take the best player available. Our guys have done a great job of tinkering with the list, I would say, that's been put to print but you always tinker a little bit. There's some guys that we're excited about that we think will be there at 23. If they're not there, we've studied teams that have multiple picks in the late 20s and early 30s to potentially move back. We've contacted those teams and now it's just a wait-and-see attitude when you start crossing names off on Thursday night if you make any moves. 

"As of today, I haven't visualized any way that we can move up and I haven't been presented with an idea from another team that they see we can move up. I don't see us making a move higher in the draft, but that all changes with one phone call and one idea of someone smarter than me that has (an idea) that I can't come up with right now. But when when we break our list into tiers, there's guys we're really excited to get at 23 and then there's going to be guys that we think we might be able to maximize picks by adding other ones if we move down. That just happens when you hear names crossed off."

Imagine somehow if the Blues are still holding their pick and somebody they value a lot higher than 23 is there for them to select? This is the wild card of it all. But think about how much more limited scouting access is out there since COVID-19 has affected that. It's something the Blues will take into consideration.

"I think this year's draft, from what I hear, what I read, it's probably five, six, let's say we go to seven guys that everyone has going in the top 10 and after that, you see a lot of different guys," Armstrong said. "We're hoping to get a guy that might have anywhere from 11-14 on our list. It's a little abnormal by maybe two or three picks on our list. I just think with COVID, the scouting, everything that's gone on with no world junior tournament this year, the Russians not being at the U-18. The world changes so much right now that I think this draft is an indicator that we're going to have guys on our list maybe in the 20s or 30s that go in the top 15. I'm not saying we're right and other teams are wrong. I just think it's going to be one of those drafts."

The draft will take place over two days today and Friday at the Bell Centre in Montreal at 6 p.m. today (ESPN, ESPN+) and Friday beginning at 10 a.m. (NHL Network, ESPN+).

The Blues also have picks, barring trade(s), in the third round (No. 88), fourth round (No. 120), fifth round (No. 152) and sixth round (No. 184). The Blues' second-round pick went to the New York Rangers last year in the trade that brought Pavel Buchnevich to St. Louis, and their seventh-round pick went to the Montreal Canadiens along with goalie Jake Allen for a pair of picks in 2020.  

* NOTES -- The NHL released the 2022-23 regular-season schedule on Wednesday, and the Blues will be opening on Oct. 15 at Enterprise Center against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Blues will face their Central Division rivals a total of 26 times, including four each against Chicago, Colorado, Minnesota, Nashville and Winnipeg, and three with each with Arizona and Dallas.  The Blues will play the Pacific Division 24 times and each of the Eastern Conference teams twice for a total of 32 games.

They will face the Stanley Cup-champion Avalanche for the first time Nov. 14 in Denver and their other 2022 playoff matchup, against the Minnesota Wild, on New Year's Eve at home at a time to be determined.

A season-long seven-game homestand will take place Jan. 10-24, a season-long five-game road trip from will take place Dec. 15-23; there are 14 sets of back-to-back games, a season season break from Jan. 31-Feb. 10 and the regular season will conclude with a home-and-away set with the Stars, at home April 12 and in Dallas April 13.

Here's a look at the preseason and regular season schedule:

SEPTEMBER
PRESEASON
24 -- vs. Arizona at Wichita, Kan., 7 p.m.
26 -- at Dallas, 7 p.m.
29 -- vs. COLUMBUS, 7 p.m.
OCTOBER
1 -- vs. DALLAS at Independence, Mo., 7 p.m.
4 -- vs. MINNESOTA, 7 p.m.
6 -- at Columbus, 6 p.m.
8 -- vs. CHICAGO, 7 p.m.
?? -- at Chicago, TBA (a date and time to be determined for a preseason game against the Blackhawks)

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

Saturday, July 2, 2022

(7-2-22) BLUES NOTEBOOK

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Under normal circumstances, the NHL's free agent frenzy would have began on Friday. 

That should come to fruition again in 2023, but with it being another 11 days away on July 13 this year, the Blues could have some business to take care of pertaining to some of their own players that could hit the open market by then should no contract be in place.

As of Friday, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong had nothing new to report on pending unrestricted free agents, namely David Perron, Nick Leddy, Ville Husso and/or Tyler Bozak.
All can hit the open market if the Blues and said players don't come to a contract resolution between now and then.

Armstrong indicated on May 31 that he would like to have the 34-year-old Perron back and in the team's plans moving forward. He also said he would never say never in retaining all said players if possible. 

But in the next week and a half, things should come to some form of clarity. There was no clarity when Armstrong spoke on Friday.

"Nothing to really report there and quite honestly, not surprising," Armstrong said. "What happens in my experiences, everyone that has baited their hooks,  they've all thrown them in the pond now and everyone's waiting for a nibble and that usually happens within 3-4 days of the draft. I think there's an interesting dynamic in the hockey world that teams, some managers, some teams think that there's going to be a lot of buyouts. Some managers and teams think there's going to be a lot of players not qualified and some agents think all their players are going to get rich. Well, that's not all going to happen, so someone's going to be wrong on this because it's not only a flat cap this year, flat adding one million dollars, but the projection is it's one million this year, one million the year after and you've really seen a push for younger players to grab a larger portion of the salary cap pie at earlier years, which obviously deflates the market for older players. You've seen seen a number of young defensemen last year that went from an entry level or like low bridge deals into the eights and nines (millions). I saw some forwards do it, we saw (Kevin) Fiala go from a bridge to a longer-term contract now. I think guys with restricted years now are starting to grab the security. I think the league is now trending towards a younger man's league. I think teams are more willing now to invest in unproven players, i.e. now 500-game players or 600-game players with the hope of maybe perception of an overspend now to a fair deal where you maybe get the benefit of it at the later part of it. I personally have never been a big proponent of that because I find mistakes are difficult to get out of but I'm not saying that that can't be something we have to look at in the future."

Perron had a fantastic season, scoring 27 goals, which was just one shy of his NHL best with Edmonton in 2013-14 and was a catalyst for the league's second-ranked power play; he finished with 58 points in 67 games this season. 

After wresting the starter's job away from Jordan Binnington during the regular season, Husso will more than likely test the market. He will have suitors for his services to move elsewhere and become a starter after going 25-7-6 with a 2.56 goals-against average and .919 save percentage this season.

Leddy, 31, was acquired in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL trade deadline on March 20 and provided the Blues with much-needed veteran stability on the left side of the defensive unit. He is likely to draw interest on the open market on a presumed four- or five-year contract after playing for an average annual value of $5.5 million.

The 35-year-old Bozak played last season for the league minimum but gained money through bonuses reached. It is uncertain which direction the Blues will go as far as the veteran who spent his last four seasons in St. Louis is concerned.

* Toropchenko to miss start of season -- Promising young Russian winger Alexei Toropchenko will miss the start of the 2022-23 season after having shoulder surgery.

The 23-year-old, who came on strong and made an impact on the lineup playing just 28 regular-season games during the regular season and all 12 Stanley Cup playoff games, will be out until early December, according to Armstrong.

"It is a tough blow, but it is one of those ones where he could have potentially played with it and then if he got injured again, then you're looking at a 4-5 month surgery," Armstrong said. "If it's a marathon, he's at mile four or five and we didn't want to get into training camp and then all of the sudden on Nov. 1st, it happens and he misses the whole year. We just thought it was prudent to get it taken care of now so A) it's strong and when he comes back, he doesn't have to worry about it, but of all of the surprises, I think he would have been the one that's impressed us the most. He probably started furthest back in the pack to get where he ended up. He went from a call-up player to a regular player to a player that Craig (Berube) would use higher up in the lineup, size, skates, physical, great team guy. It's strange to say for a guy that's played less than 40 or 50 games, whatever it is, but we're going to miss him actually in October and November. We can't wait for him to get back."

Armstrong said there are some players that may need to "tidy up here, tidy up there" as far as minor procedures are concerned but than that, nobody is expected to miss the start of training camp in September.

* On Kostin, Bolduc -- With a recent report of there being concerns of Russian NHL players returning to their homeland for the summer that could potentially have issues returning back to North America, Armstrong said as far as he knows, Klim Kostin is the only player that went back to Russia.

The Blues have Vladimir Tarasenko, Pavel Buchnevich, Ivan Barbashev, Kostin, and Toropchenko on their roster from Russia, which is the focus internationally stemming from a war in Ukraine.

"Klim Kostin has gone back I think to get a visa," Armstrong said. "Concern might be a little strong, but it is at the forefront of your mind on what happens. You want everyone to be safe, for starters. We don't control what the government will do as far as accessing visas. In a perfect world, a guy would stay here, but it's not a perfect world and I understand people want to go home to see family that maybe they haven't seen in 12-18 to maybe 24 months."

Bolduc, the Blues' first-round pick last year (17th overall), had himself a fantastic season with the Qu├ębec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, finishing with 99 points (55 goals, 44 assists) in 65 regular-season games and 12 points (eight goals, four assists) in 12 playoff games. He joined Springfield of the American Hockey League after his junior season was completed to join the Thunderbirds in their quest for the Calder Cup but never made it into the lineup.  

"Bolduc had an injury coming out of the Quebec league playoffs and we didn't see the benefit of him pushing through that after what he had been through, the number of games that he played," Armstrong said. "But yes, he did open our eyes. We have very healthy internal debates on who our No. 1 prospect is. Is it (Jake) Neighbours or Bolduc, Boldic or Neighbours? Because they both are dynamic players, both are different players in the way they affect the game but both have a major affect on the game. 

"It's exciting to see those two players and then you don't have to look just through rose-colored glasses to envision them playing with Robert Thomas and (Jordan) Kyrou and now all of the sudden, you might have four of your top six in your team within 12-18 months moving forward. Like Robert Thomas, I think this is the last day I can say it, but I think he's still 22. I think he might turn 23 tomorrow and Kyrou's young. There's some good, skilled players in our group now with Kyrou, Thomas, Bolduc and Neighbours that maybe we haven't had in a number of years. That's a hat's off to the amateur staff."

Blues lose Montgomery, gain MacTavish

Two-year assistant coach leaves St. Louis for head coaching position with 
Boston; former Blue, Cup champion, coach, GM to fill void, join Berube's staff

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Doug Armstrong knew at the time that being able to keep all of the Blues' assistant coaches would be next to impossible.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Veteran Craig MacTavish joins Blues as assistant coach, replacing the
departed Jim Montgomery, who was named head coach in Boston.


When the Blues' general manager spoke to the media wrapping up the 2021-22 season over a month ago, he knew then there was a good chance at least one of his assistant coaches would draw interest for a head coaching position.

On Friday, that came to fruition when Jim Montgomery was named head coach of the Boston Bruins, leaving a temporary void for one of the better set of assistant coaches along with Steve Ott, Mike Van Ryn, David Alexander and Sean Ferrell.

But in knowing he'd lose somebody, Armstrong and staff were on the ball in searching for a viable and experienced replacement and didn't waste any time in finding one with the addition of veteran Craig MacTavish to fill Montgomery's role on Craig Berube's staff.

The 63-year-old MacTavish, who played his final two NHL seasons with the Blues (1995-97), has been there, done that and seen it all when it comes to the NHL. He's a four-time Stanley Cup champion (Edmonton in 1987, 1988 and 1990, and with the New York Rangers in 1994); a head coach with the Oilers for eight seasons, leading them to a 301-252-47-56 regular-season record and three playoff appearances, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006; he's been the senior vice president of hockey operations before spending two seasons as Edmonton's general manager, was a head coach of the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League, an assistant coach with the Rangers and most recently in 2019-20 was coach of Yaroslavl Lokomotiv of the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia. 

MacTavish had a 17-year NHL career, including 1,093 regular-season games and 193 playoff games; he was an All-Star in 1996. Originally drafted in the ninth round (No. 153 overall) of the 1978 NHL Draft, the center iceman played for five different franchises, including Boston, Edmonton, the Rangers, Philadelphia and the Blues.

"After I got information that Jim was down the path with Boston maybe a couple weeks ago, maybe longer, I started the process with Craig (Berube) identifying with people he may want to join our staff," Armstrong said. "Craig MacTavish's name was at the top of that list from the start of the process. Craig's talked to him on numerous occasions, I've talked to him, we've done our due diligence and feel he'll be an excellent support guy for Craig and his staff. His background is well-known as a player, as a coach, as a manager. 

"One of the things we were hoping to get was what we had with Jim Montgomery is someone that Craig can lean on from a been-there, done-that experience as a head coach. Obviously you look at the number of games 'MacT' has coached at ... there's going to be nothing that we're going to see moving forward that he hasn't dealt with. I also think for the development of the rest of our staff, Steve Ott, David Alexander, Mike Van Ryn, having someone with 'MacT's experience is only going to help further their careers with the knowledge he can give them and the understanding. I thought it was a really good situation to bring an experienced guy into our staff."

The Blues, who were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs by eventual Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, wanted to keep an established and veteran coaching staff to continue the upward trend it had this past season. Montgomery, who came to the Blues two seasons ago after he was let go as head coach by the Dallas Stars as a result of personal issues related to alcoholism, was the orchestrator of a penalty kill that ranked fifth in the NHL this past season at 84.1 percent, up from the 77.8 percent the previous season that was 25th in the league.

"For our group, where we are with Mike and Steve and David, they probably haven't started the prime of their coaching careers, but still learning from someone that I thought could bring in those experiences but also giving Craig someone to talk to on a day-to-day basis," Armstrong said. "It's always nice to have someone in the trenches that knows what you're going through but above and beyond that, he's such a great person. I don't know if you guys have had the chance to know 'MacT' at all but when you do your research on him, he's got an unbelievably positive personality, people gravitate to him, he makes everyone feel at ease. He's just an ultimate team player. I think having that type of attitude in our group, the players are really going to enjoy having him around and I think the coaches will."

MacTavish has most recently done work with Oilers broadcasts on Sportsnet and on TSN; he hasn't been in the coaching ranks the past two seasons.

"I talked to some people that I knew, sort of to just gauge where he was at and they all said that he loved coaching and wanted to get back into coaching," Armstrong said. "I had heard that a couple years ago, but then things had changed. So I was very comfortable that he had wanted to get back behind the bench and I think at his position now, he's just looking to help people better themselves and be part of something bigger than himself and as part of a team. When I brought that to Craig, he was very excited about it. And then when I called 'MacT' to gauge his interest, he did have interest. He loved his time in St. Louis. The transition's going to be for him. When you guys get to talk to him, you're going to realize how quickly he puts you at ease and to talk. But you could tell the excitement in his voice. He enjoyed doing the television, but at the end of the day, he's a hockey coach.

"The way he broke the Oilers down on Sportsnet was outstanding. I thought how quickly he got to the point, his vision of what he was seeing was very current. He does a lot of stuff with youth hockey in Edmonton. He's a rink rat. He loves the game, he loves the people in the game. When we did talk, he said, 'The game hasn't changed, the people in the game have changed.' They're younger and they're different and he's got kids the players' age. He's going to be very adaptable. He reminds me a lot of Larry Robinson in that sense that way that just when he walks into a room, the room gets brighter and the knowledge is four Stanley Cups (as a player) and coaching, managing and being in every aspect of the game. It's someone that I think everyone is going to enjoy working with from the coaches to the players to the trainers to everyone around our group. I think this could be a really good marriage."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jim Montgomery leaves the Blues after two seasons after being named 
head coach of the Boston Bruins on Friday.

As for Montgomery, things have finally come full circle for the 53-year-old after spending the past two seasons with the Blues.

"Jim did an admirable and excellent job here for the time with our group," Armstrong said. "Our special teams were very good; he was a big part of that, just our overall record. I think he'll do a great job with the Bruins and I wish he and his family nothing but the best.
 
"When he was let go in Dallas, we obviously let the dust settle. He had to get his personal life in order and then I met with him here in St. Louis and I could tell he had a great passion for the game and the game was in the proper perspective overall in his life. Just to see the work that he did away from the rink, to see the type of family man that he is and seeing his kids around the rink and getting to meet his wife, he's in a really good spot and he's earned the opportunity for a second chance to be a head coach and he doesn't take that for granted. I know he's going to do a helluva a job."