Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Blues deal King to Capitals for prospect Della Rovere

Blues resolve enforcer issue by keeping hometown native Janssen

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues have finally resolved their enforcer issue.

For much of the past season and into this summer, the looming question was what would the Blues do? Would they move into the future with Cam Janssen, D.J. King, both or neither?

The winner is the hometown native Janssen.

After the Blues first signed King to a two-year contract extension, then they traded the enforcer to the Washington Capitals on Wednesday for prospect Stefan Della Rovere.

King, 26, was a restricted free agent and could not come to an agreement with the Blues but the trade came to fruition contingent upon King signing a new deal with the Blues.

King finally came to an agreement on a $1.275 million contract and will pay the 6-foot-3, 230-pound winger $625,00 in 2010-11 and $675,000 in 2011-12.

Della Rovere, 20, comes to the Blues after playing in the Ontario Hockey League with the Barrie Colts last season, where he scored 18 goals and added 23 assists in 57 games. Della Rovere, who was drafted in the seventh round (204th overall) by the Capitals in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, was a teammate of Blues prospect Alex Pietrangelo and was captain of the Colts.

The two also played together the last two seasons representing Team Canada at the World Junior Championship, winning the gold in 2009 and silver in 2010.

The 5-11, 200-pound forward went on to play for the 2010 Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League after his OHL season was completed.

A Richmond Hill, Ontario native, Della Rovere spent his last four seasons with Barrie, playing in 230 games, registering 138 points (65 goals, 73 assists) and 479 penalty minutes.

In the end, the Blues chose Janssen over King -- two of the premier enforcers in the game today. What may have been the deciding factor for the Blues is King has had a history of injuries and has been limited to 13 games over the past two seasons. King spent four seasons with the Blues, playing in 101 games.

Janssen, 26, a native of Eureka, Mo., was also a restricted free agent and resigned with the Blues for one-year and $600,000.

King and Janssen, close friends on and off the ice, were known to have sparring sessions at practice over the last couple seasons. They may get the chance to square off for real now. Washington visits St. Louis on Dec. 1 and the Blues pay a return trip to the nation's capital on March 3.

* NOTES -- Former Blues assistant coach and Peoria Rivermen head coach Rick Wamsley on Wednesday was named goaltending coach for the Ottawa Senators. Wamsley was with the Blues for four seasons but was moved to Peoria to coach the Rivermen after the Blues fired Andy Murray and named Davis Payne the team's head coach Jan. 2. Wamsley was fired by the organization after Peoria missed the playoffs. ... Della Rovere, who is projected to play in Peoria this season, was coached by current Rivermen assistant coach Drake Berehowsky for two seasons in Barrie, where Berehowsky served in the same role.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Blues' Perron signs two-year extension

2007 first-round pick, restricted free agent will get $4.3 million in deal

ST. LOUIS -- David Perron and some of his teammates have been hearing about the youth/kid label for some time. It's been all about the learning curve.

But there comes a time when a player has to grab the bull by the horns.

If the Blues are going to take that step to the next level, Perron, along with the likes of T.J. Oshie, David Backes, Patrik Berglund, Erik Johnson, Alex Steen and others, are the ones that must lead the way. And that time is now.

With a new two-year, $4.3-million contract extension signed, sealed and delivered on Wednesday, it's up to the 22-year-old Perron to continue the ascension into a core player.

A restricted free agent, Perron went into the third week of NHL free agency but in the end, got a nice raise from the Blues ($1.8 million next season and $2.5 million for 2011-12) and understands the time is now for the Blues' "kids" to become the players fans have expected them to be.

"I'm really excited right now," Perron said. "... I love the way the team is going to look for the next few years. It's awesome that I'm going to be a part of that."

Since joining the Blues as an 18-year-old first-round draft pick (No. 26 overall) in 2007, Perron has netted 48 goals and 124 points in three seasons, including a career-best 20 goals in 2009-10 and 50 points in 2008-09.

"David coming from where he was drafted and making the NHL his first year, he's earned everything he's gotten as a Blue," general manager Doug Armstrong said. "He wasn't expected to make it the first year. He had very good players play in front of him and had to earn the power play time, and the ice time given to him. I think he's progressed on and off the ice very well. Now he's gotten that experience and he's going to be more prepared to be a consistent factor offensively for us. One of the necessities on this team is a good two-way player. We think he's an excellent two-way player."

Perron, a Sherbrooke, Quebec native, will be asked to improve upon his 47-point season a year ago for the Blues to become contenders instead of bystanders when the playoffs roll around.

And with the Blues not having signed any offensive players through free agency, it's a sign of faith from management, which is expecting the current crop of players to step up and take the franchise to the next level. That's fine as far as Perron is concerned.

"If that's what they're going to do, that means they think we can do it," Perron said. "As hockey players, that's what we want. I think on my part, I'm really happy to see things work out that way. I'm sure all the other players are thinking the same. We have a really good group. With a couple guys coming off the books, we have to step in and not be in their shadows anymore. We have to be the front guys and really play like it, too."

Translation: no Keith Tkachuk and no Paul Kariya. That's 940 goals and 2,054 career points no longer on a Blues roster that will now move into a new era.

So for the Blues to move forward, it's time for Perron and others to become that core cast instead of the supporting cast.

"That's what they want is to do and that's what we want to do," Perron said. "We all have the talent to do it. We all have to put the work in moving forward. Working with (head coach) Davis Payne is going to be a lot of fun as well. I'm really excited to all of that."

Armstrong said the time is now. And there's not a better time than the present for the transition to begin.

"Yeah, I think the opportunity is there like it's never been before," he said. "I've said in the past, you have veteran players who earned the respect they were given. But now we're a team with more middle-aged younger players, and the respect is going to be earned now. They've earned the right to basically show us that they're good enough to be those elite players that played here before them."

Perron, who went from 13 goals and 14 assists as a rookie to 15 goals and 35 assists to 20 goals and 27 assists this past season, is anxious to get the new season started. He feels like the Blues can be the next Philadelphia or Montreal.

"The biggest goal for any hockey player is to win the Cup," Perron said. "I think it's something we have to look at right now. If you look at Philadelphia and Montreal, they went really deep in the playoffs and Philadelphia almost won the Cup. It means that the Blues are ready for that, too. Players have to play like that, too. I'm one of them. I like the direction the team is going."

And taking a two-year deal instead of long-term security as a 22-year-old was fine for Perron, who will use the next couple seasons to enhance his skills and become that elite player when it's time for another deal.

"I'm really comfortable with two years," Perron said. "As a hockey player, all you have to do is go out there and work and have some fun. Everything else will take care of itself. As hockey players, you want to see what the organization wants to do. You want to see if they want to go longer or shorter. Two years is perfect and I'm excited, and I think they're excited as well.

"I was never nervous that we weren't going to get anything done. I always felt we would (get a deal done). In negotiations, we worked really well with Doug and my agent (Allan Walsh). All I want to do right now is play hockey. I'm really excited to be back. I think it's going to be a fun couple years. I'm ready to take the next step and focus on that and not worry too much about the other things."

And the guy that wants to play hockey is something the Blues organization has noticed since the day Perron stepped into Scottrade Center ice.

"I told that to David and his agent ... I hope he never changes that," Armstrong said. "He loves to play, he loves to be at the rink. He is singularly focused on hockey. That's the strength of what he brings to hockey. It sets a high standard."

Armstrong said he has no qualm issuing a short-term deal.

"I just think our young players, when they're coming out of entry level, they've all progressed, but they haven't been defined," Armstrong said. "We want to pay our players fairly. We hope to have the highest-paid players in the game because that means they are the most talented and most recognizable and they've earned that right. By taking contracts at shorter term, you allow them to grow and make a fair-market value moving forward. We're just looking to be fair."

If things don't work out in the NHL, Perron can always join the media ranks. He's among the most popular NHL players on Twitter and even wanted to make the official announcement of his signing.

"As soon as I wrote it, I think it's fun for the fans to see it from me first," Perron said. "I think it was a pretty good idea. That's one thing, you want to be close to your fans. They make you feel good about yourself and, to a point, play better on the ice. When you score a goal, it's amazing how many people come up to you and say good job. It's fun to see everybody's opinion."

Friday, July 16, 2010

Notable UFA's for 2011-12

ST. LOUIS -- For fans that have been pining for the Blues to make moves in the present, maybe there's a reason John Davidson, Doug Armstrong and Co. are laying low.

Maybe they're looking forward to next year's crop of unrestricted free agents (unless they sign new contracts before then).

Here is a list of some notable players that can become UFA's after the 2010-11 season. Of course, not all of them are listed but the most notable ones are, as well as some that are worth mentioning.

Would some or one of these players be better suited for the Blues?

Take a look and judge for yourselves:

* -- I've put an asterisk and boldfaced those that I consider premier- or elite-market players.

*C Patrice Bergeron, RW Michael Ryder, LW Marco Sturm, *D Zdeno Chara

C Tim Connolly

LW Erik Cole, LW Sergei Samsonov, LW Jussi Jokinen, C Chad LaRose, D Joni Pitkanen

LW Curtis Glencross, D Mark Giordano

D Jan Hejda

RW Milan Hejduk, D Scott Hannan, G Craig Anderson

*C Brad Richards, D Trevor Daley

*D Nicklas Lidstrom, D Jonathan Ericsson, G Jimmy Howard

*G Tomas Vokoun

C Michal Handzus, RW Justin Williams

RW Antti Miettinen, LW Andrew Brunette

*D Andrei Markov

RW Steve Sullivan, RW Joel Ward

RW Jason Arnott, RW Jamie Langenbrunner

D Brendan Witt, D Radek Martinek, G Dwayne Roloson

C Vaclav Prospal

RW Alexei Kovalev, D Chris Phillips, G Pascal Leclaire

LW Nikolai Zherdev, LW Ville Leino

RW Radim Vrbata, RW Scottie Upshall, C Vernon Fiddler, C Petr Prucha, *D Ed Jovanovski, *G Ilya Bryzgalov

*C Joe Thornton

*LW Simon Gagne

*D Tomas Kaberle,
G J.S. Giguere

D Kevin Bieksa, D Sami Salo, D Christian Ehrhoff

*LW Alexander Semin,
RW Mike Knuble, C Brooks Laich, D Tom Poti

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Blues sign Halak day after goalie chose not to file for arbitration

Colaiacovo officially signs two-year contract;
Janssen also agrees to one-year deal

ST. LOUIS -- On Monday, Jaroslav Halak chose not to file for salary arbitration. On Tuesday, the answer why was clear, cut and understandable.

Halak, a restricted free agent acquired by the Blues via trade on June 17, avoided any contract and arbitration issues by signing a four-year, $15-million extension.

The Blues made it a busy day by also re-signing unrestricted free agent defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo to a two-year, $4.25 million contract and coming to terms with restricted free agent forward Cam Janssen.

Halak, 25, will have a cap hit of $3.75 million per season, but his salary breakdown is $2.75 million for the upcoming season, $3.5 million in 2011-12, $4.25 million in 2012-13 and $4.5 million in 2013-14.

"It's really good. I want to say thank you to (Blues general manager) Doug Armstrong," Halak said from his native Slovakia. "He gave me the confidence and also the whole St. Louis organization. From the very beginning, I was hoping that we would sign with them and I'm real happy that it happened that way."

Halak was salary-arbitration eligible but chose not to file by Monday's deadline in what appears to be a good-faith gesture to try and get something done with the team that acquired him.

"These things were handled by my agent (LA-based Allan Walsh of Octagon Inc.) and they were in contact with St. Louis from the very beginning," Halak said. "They made a commitment when I was traded. I was real happy we didn't have to go to arbitration and we made a deal.

"I was hoping from the very beginning that we will make a deal."

In 101 career games, Halak is 56-34-7 with a .919 save percentage and 2.62 goals-against average. He was 26-13-5 this past season with a 2.40 GAA and .940 save percentage and five shutouts.

He was originally drafted by the Canadiens in the ninth round (271st overall) of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

"When I got the news (of the trade), I was a little bit surprised but also happy because from the very beginning, St. Louis made me real welcome," said Halak, who has not been to St. Louis since the trade was consummated.

Armstrong and Walsh were to meet at the NHL Draft in Los Angeles but were able to hammer out a contract in recent days.

"When we got down to it on the weekend, it seemed to move relatively quickly," Armstrong said. "There were certain things important to the team and certain things important for Jaro. We were able to bridge whatever gaps were there and were able to get a contract that I think fairly reflects his value for the first two years as a player that would have arbitration rights and a player that would be unrestricted."

The Blues brought back Colaiacovo, 27, who recorded a career-high 32 points in 67 games a season ago.

Colaiacovo attracted offers from a handful of other clubs but ultimately chose St. Louis, where he wanted to remain all along.

"I'm ecstatic," Colaiacovo said. "I'm happy things worked out with the team where I wanted to be. Management has done a great job preparing this team for the coming season."

Having Colaiacovo -- acquired in 2008 from Toronto -- back in the fold, the Blues' blue line is becoming more clearer heading into the new season.

"Getting Carlo signed was a big addition for our group," Armstrong said.

Armstrong also indicated that he does not rule out the possibility of the Blues bringing back defenseman Mike Weaver, also an unrestricted free agent.

The Blues also came to terms with Janssen, 26, who filed for filed for salary arbitration.

"He has one of the most difficult jobs in all of sports," Armstrong said of Janssen. "He does it very well. He also is an excellent teammate. ... His personality is very strong in our room and in our community."

Janssen, who along with Halak and D.J. King were restricted free agents that were also salary arbitration eligible, was seeking a multi-year contract.

"I'd rather be here than try to get more money out of someone else," said Janssen, a Eureka, Mo. native. "St. Louis is my home and always will be."

It is unlikely that the Blues will keep both Janssen and King -- who did not file for salary arbitration. Armstrong did not rule it out, though.

"I've got to worry about myself and not what they're going to do with someone else," Janssen said.

As for contract negotiations with restricted free agents David Perron, Erik Johnson and King, Armstrong's job becomes a little easier as the dominoes begin to fall.

"Now that there's more pieces of that puzzle in place, it does clear the picture of how I can allocate some more of our resources," he said. "We want to get all of our guys signed and in here. Talks are progressing. ... We still have quite a bit of work ahead of us."

Blues, Colaiacovo agree to two-year contract

Deal expected to be announced today for defenseman to remain
in St. Louis; Janssen files for arbitration, Halak, King do not

ST. LOUIS -- Unless the Blues pull an about-face, Carlo Colaiacovo won't be leaving St. Louis for at least a couple seasons.

Colaiacovo, who became an unrestricted free agent on July 1, has come to terms on a two-year contract that will pay the 27-year-old defenseman $4.25 million to remain with the Blues. The deal is expected to be announced today.

Colaiacovo will receive a reported $1.75 million for the upcoming season and $2.5 million in 2011-12.

Colaiacovo and fellow veteran defenseman Mike Weaver both hit the free agent market last week and were free to sign elsewhere. But Colaiacovo, who tallied seven goals and 25 assists in 67 games and was one of the top offensive-defensemen on the roster last season, will remain where he wanted to be all along.

"I'm really happy where I am. I really enjoy playing here," Colaiacovo said towards the end of last season. "I'm happy playing for this organization. This organization's done a lot for me. It's really put a smile on my face to be here."

Colaiacovo, who has 10 goals and 61 points in two seasons since being acquired along with Alex Steen from Toronto for Lee Stempniak in 2008, solidifies a Blues defensive unit that would have looked really raw in NHL experience if he and Weaver, 32, both left via free agency.

"I don't want to look past anywhere but being here," Colaiacovo said in February. "I enjoy my surroundings and playing in front of a great fan base and friends and playing on a great team."

* NOTES -- Elsewhere, Blues enforcer Cam Janssen, who is one of three Blues (Jaroslav Halak and D.J. King being the others) eligible for salary arbitration, filed on Monday. King and Halak both chose not to file.

It may come as a surprise that Halak, acquired on June 17 for minor league prospects Lars Eller and Ian Schultz, did not file for salary arbitration since Halak, 25, came off his best season in the NHL. He made $800,000 last season.

Halak was 26-13-5 with a 2.40 goals-against average during the regular season for Montreal and helped lead the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference final this past season.

Janssen, a Eureka, Mo. native who is seeking a multi-year contract, was reportedly offered a one-year deal.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Blues agree to terms with Winchester

Unrestricted free agent agrees to one-year $700,000 contract

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues have come to terms with unrestricted free agent Brad Winchester, signing the winger to a one-year contract on Friday.

Winchester agreed to a reported $700,000 contract. He made $800,000 last season.

The 6-foot-5, 231-pound forward played in 64 games last season, recording three goals and five assists along with 108 penalty minutes.

Winchester, 29, set career highs with the Blues in goals (13) and points (21) during the 2008-09 season.

The Blues are Winchester's third team, having previously played in Edmonton, where he was the Oilers' second-round draft pick in 2000, and Dallas, where he played for Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, who held the same position with the Stars.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Blues lock up restricted free agents Steen, Sobotka

St. Louis otherwise quiet as free agent
market opened up Thursday morning

ST. LOUIS -- Many teams were busy shelling out large paychecks to some of the big-name free agents Thursday. The Blues and new general manager Doug Armstrong stayed clear of the financial fracas.

The Blues were busy replenishing their own needs by locking up some of their restricted free agents.

Armstrong inked forwards Alex Steen and newly acquired Vladimir Sobotka to contracts on Thursday.

Steen, coming off his best offensive season, signed a four-year deal worth a reported $13.45 million, while Sobotka, acquired at last week's NHL Entry Draft, signed a one-year contract for a reported $750,000.

Steen made $1.7 million last season. Sobotka earned $625,000.

The moves came on a day when the NHL opened up the free agent market and when the biggest fish, forward Ilya Kovalchuk, was still on the open market. But plenty of big-name players were plucked from the ranks with large number deals.

"We're not actively looking to sign anyone as of today," Armstrong said Thursday, his first day as executive vice president and general manager after taking over for Larry Pleau. "Once the market defines itself, we'll get out there and make our phone calls."

Steen, 26, and Sobotka, 22, were two of the Blues' nine restricted free agents that have come to terms after forward Matt D'Agostini signed a one-year deal last month.

"Four years ... I'm more than happy," Steen said Thursday. "St. Louis is where I want to be. The Blues really gave me a shot at playing both sides of the game. It's been a while since I got that chance. I look forward to another great year with the guys."

Steen set career-highs in goals (24) and points (47) last season in 68 games. He tied for the team lead in goals and fourth in points. Sobotka tallied four goals and 10 points in 61 games with the Boston Bruins last season.

"Not only was he a very good player last year for us on the ice, but he's an excellent role model and has leadership qualities that we think are very advantageous to our younger players moving forward," Armstrong said of Steen. "The four-year term, we think it gives him some stability and it gives our organization some stability for that core age player.

"We were 100 percent comfortable he was coming back regardless of the long-term deal. To get him signed to a long-term deal to solidify our core moving forward, I believe if you can get those players between the ages of 26-31, that's really the prime hockey-playing part of their career. Alex is just hitting that."

Even though Blues President John Davidson said in April that the Blues were "not in a position to spend $10 million dollars a year," there has been widespread speculation that the Blues were one of a few teams that would be a good fit and likely destination for the 27-year-old Kovalchuk, who finished last season in New Jersey.

Armstrong quickly doused those flames.

"There's a certain point in an organization that you feel comfortable making that plunge," Armstrong said. "Right now, with our younger players continuing to grow, we think it's better for the long-term to find out the growth pattern of these players. Once we do that, we'll have a much better direction of where we want to go.

"Kovalchuk is a great player, but he's not the right player for this organization at this time."

Even though Armstrong has three of his restricted free agents locked into contracts, there are also deals awaiting players such as Erik Johnson, David Perron, newly-acquired goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who is eligible for salary arbitration, Cam Janssen, D.J. King and even Jonas Junland.

"We've had conversations with all the agents," Armstrong said. "... We're such a far date away from training camp. I'm not that concerned. I'm comfortable and confident that everyone will be in training camp."

There's also the issue of the Blues potentially bringing back any of their unrestricted free agents, namely defensemen Carlo Colaiacovo and Mike Weaver. Both have expressed interest in returning but hit the open market on Thursday.

"I've talked to both of those players about coming back," Armstrong said. "I would have no problem if we could fit both of those players in here. It gives really good competition for the younger players to fight to get on the roster. If not on our roster, they can go hone their hockey skills at the (AHL) for however long necessary. We're open to either scenario.

"We're certainly trying to keep the level of communication open and the dialogue very professional. We understand the players' desire to find out what the market is for them. We said to them if you'd like to come back to us and talk about a contract when you have a good understanding of the landscape, we'd have interest in both those players. If not those players, we feel we have good, young players here that can fill that void. Or there's still a vast number of free agents out there that we can look to bring in."

And if the Blues choose not to go the way of the free agent, they have the luxury of working out trades, which Armstrong already has done with the acquisition of Halak and Sobotka.

"As a (general) manager, you're always talking to people," Armstrong said. "You're always finding out what's available. You never know what tomorrow holds. Someone might call with a trade that you can't pass up and can really improve your team. If that happens, we'll do it, we'll explore it. If it makes sense for us, we'll take the plunge. It would have to be the right idea moving forward."

But for now, the Blues are banking on their core group to pick up the scoring slack.

"We believe the strength of our team and the success of our team's going to come from the people that ended the season here last year," Armstrong said. "Obviously, we believe we've made two good acquisitions with Jaro and Sobotka. But the core group of our team, our younger players are no longer considered younger. Actually, they're in their second, third (and) fourth years in the league. We expect them to be every day contributors. There were players that were here last year that we could consider veterans that are going to be needed to take their game up to a different level. The strength of our organization is we believe both of those things could happen. We're not looking to remake our team from the outside. We're looking to grow internally."

* NOTES -- Former Blues goalie Chris Mason found a new home Thursday, signing a two-year, $3.7 million deal with the Atlanta Thrashers. The deal calls for Mason, 34, to make $1.6 million in 2010-11 and $2.1 million in 2011-12. ... The Blues also announced the hiring of Dave Taylor as Director of Player Personnel. Taylor spent the last three seasons in the same role with the Dallas Stars and worked briefly with Armstrong after serving 30 years with the Los Angeles Kings as a player and member of the Kings' front office.