Thursday, September 27, 2012

Davidson to leave Blues

Team's President of Hockey Operations agrees
to buyout, announcement expected in coming days

ST. LOUIS -- When John Davidson took over as President of Hockey Operations in 2005, it was the 59-year-old's first task at trying to rebuild a proud franchise.

The Blues began the post 2004-05 lockout season with the worst record in the NHL (21-46-15) and Davidson, fresh from his analysts job with Madison Square garden television, was faced with a heck of a challenge.

Seven years later and the Blues being among the top teams in the NHL a season ago, Davidson and team have decided to part ways.
(Getty Images)
John Davidson has been the Blues' President of
Hockey Operations since 2006.

Multiple reports have surfaced that Davidson has been bought out of the remaining three years of his contract at an undisclosed amount. He had in excess of $6 million remaining on an extension he signed in 2011.

The Blues have yet to make a formal announcement but one is expected in the coming days.

Davidson became the lead man in the hockey operations department when the team was purchased by a group led by Dave Checketts. In essence, he became the face of a franchise that had become disconnected to a certain degree with its fans and a city that seemingly took a big hit following the lockout that cleaned out the 2004-05 season.

The team went from 30th in the NHL in 2005-06 to finishing with the second-most points in the league last season with 109 before bowing out in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs to eventual champion Los Angeles.

But since the acquisition of the Blues by Summit Distributing CEO Tom Stillman and partners, it became known that the group would have to cut costs and make the Blues a workable franchise. Davidson's contract apparently helps alleviate some of the immediate burden.

Davidson was unavailable for comment Thursday but several players that skated Thursday informally appreciate Davidson's efforts to reconnect the franchise back to its fans.

"His savvy, his connections, his ability to connect with people is remarkable," Blues captain David Backes said. "He'll still have that wherever he goes or whatever endeavor he finds next. It'll be big shoes to fill for whoever tries to jump in them.

"The position that we're in now compared to when he got here the year before me and since I've been here, it's been phenomenal. It's definitely been aided by his work, his efforts ... not just the work he does around the arena but it's heartfelt with all the work he does with the animal rescue stuff. He's got the same sort of jungle running around his house that I do. It's sad to see him not be part of the Blues and the St. Louis community anymore, but a great man and hopefully we can find somebody that can pick up the slack."

Former Blue and current New Jersey Devil Cam Janssen was part of the lean years following the lockout and remembers what Davidson was able to do.

"He was unbelievable for this city," Janssen said. "He was an ambassador that came in and someone that this organization was basically striving for for a long time that could get the attention of the fans in the right way and bring them to the games and really promote the Bluenote basically like it's never been done before. He came in and kind of brought a whole new level of the fan base that I saw on a personal level.

"... Just an awesome guy, has played the game and understands it. What a great job he did in this town and it shows because you're on the bench and you look up in the stands and you see a packed house on a Monday night playing against Columbus, that just shows you. We weren't in first place, and we had a lot of young guys on the team, but JD promoted these young guys and kind of laid it out for the fans to see: here's what we've got, here's the talent we have and come watch us play. He did a great job on that because it definitely worked. At the time, St. Louis kind of dropped away from hockey there and he turned it around and it just blew up."

Davidson, known for his "Come Grow With Us" television spots, was a
first-round pick of the Blues in 1973, where he played in goal for two seasons before being traded to the Rangers, where he would finish out his abbreviated career before moving over to the Rangers' broadcast booth for the next three decades with Sam Rosen.

"There's a lot of guys that learned a lot from JD," said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. ... It's tough to see a guy like that go. He's the one that brought me here. I know there's a few guys that have been here since he's been here, so it's a bit of a change for us.

"Any time you develop a relationship with somebody, it's tough to see him go, whether it's a player or someone in management."

Davidson reportedly met with the Columbus Blue Jackets this past summer regarding an undisclosed position but nothing ever came of the situation. Davidson was recently handling work on the business side of the franchise but could move back into broadcasting or take up a position somewhere else in the hockey operations department.

"A former player, I don't think he knew anything but to shoot straight and let guys know what was going on so that they can make an informed decision for themselves," Backes said of Davidson. "You can't ask for much more from management than that."

Under Davidson, the Blues have molded a surplus of talent, including Pietrangelo, Backes, T.J. Oshie and David Perron as well as No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson, as well as bring in experienced coaches like Ken Hitchcock and Andy Murray. He also helped acquire Alex Steen and Andy McDonald, among other moves under Davidson's time here.


Pietrangelo begins skating after surgery;
players wait before deciding on going overseas

CHESTERFIELD, Mo. -- Among the skaters with fellow teammates and other NHLers Thursday included Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.

Pietrangelo, who had surgery to remove a bursa sac from his ankle a month ago, resumed skating on Monday after beginning off-ice workouts a couple weeks after the surgery, according to Pietrangelo.

"Yeah, I feel good. I feel better than I thought I was going to," Pietrangelo said after the informal skate at the Hardees IcePlex. "There's still a little bit of soreness. There's going to be a period to kind of get back into shape. Those guys are in top form right now; they've been skating for two months. For me, it's trying to get up to speed. Whenever you go through something like that, it's going to take a couple weeks to kind of get into regular form. I'm not too worried about it."

The surgery, performed on Aug. 29, was something Pietrangelo felt like he needed to do now since there was the possibility a lockout would keep players away from game action. The irritation was something that had been prolonged and bothersome for quite some time.

"When you've got so much pressure on your skate going on your foot, it just irritates it," Pietrangelo said. "It might sound like nothing, but it gets painful. After a full year, it was just something we had to take care of. It was just the right time to do it.

"We tried a few things to get rid of it and it didn't work, so especially with the time now that we have, we don't really know when it's going to turn back around. We thought it would kind of be a good time to do it, get it out of the way. At that time, there was still lots of time if camp started on time."

Pietrangelo was joined on the ice Thursday by Scott Nichol, T.J. Oshie, David Backes, Matt D'Agostini, Jamie Langenbrunner, Kevin Shattenkirk, Barret Jackman, Jaden Schwartz, Mike McKenna, Sergei Andronov and Evgeny Grachev as well as Calgary's Chris Butler, Chicago's Brandon Bollig, and former Blues Ben Bishop and Cam Janssen.

* Playing overseas a possibility? -- The Blues already have more NHLers playing overseas in leagues throughout Europe during the lockout.

Alex Steen and Patrik Berglund are in Sweden, Vladimir Tarasenko is in Russia and the KHL, Chris Stewart is playing in Germany, Roman Polak and Vladimir Sobotka are in their home country playing in the Czech Republic, Kris Russell will be playing in Finland and Jaroslav Halak could latch on with his hometown Slovakia club HC Slovan Bratislava, which competes in the KHL.

But depending on the length of the lockout, others could join them as well but not certain.

Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, one of the Blues' player reps for the NHLPA, said he'll stick around and feel out the negotiation process.

"I've thought about it. As of right now, I'd like to wait and see and maybe feel the temperature of this thing at the end of October," Shattenkirk said. "If it looks like it's going to be something that's a little longer, then I'll really start to entertain the ideas of overseas. There have been a few opportunities, but I just still think it's a little too early for me at this time."

Any ideas where?

"The plan is to just throw my name out and see who might be interested and see what league fits well and fits best," Shattenkirk said. "I really haven't done too much research on the whole thing."

Veteran Andy McDonald is another one considering options overseas but like Shattenkirk, will wait a couple weeks before deciding.

"I'm definitely considering it," McDonald said Thursday. "I kind of want to get a better sense of which way things are going here with negotiations. There's no sense of me personally rushing over there right now.

"I definitely want to play hockey and want to play in some games. If it looks like this thing's going to be long, then I definitely will be going over there to get some games in and making sure that I'm staying on top of my game."

Pietrangelo, who like Shattenkirk doesn't have the option of joining Peoria and playing in the AHL because they don't have two-way contracts, will take his time deciding when and/or if he will look elsewhere.

"I would tell you if I had any idea, but right now, with the ankle, I'm just kind of taking it slow and see how it goes," Pietrangelo said. "Once I get back up to how I feel I can play a game and feel when I'm ready to jump into real speed, then I'll decide what I want to do. For now, it's just working with my ankle and trying to get that healed up.

"I'm not even considering anything right now until I feel like I can jump into a game, which is not anytime soon with the way it's feeling."

* Remainder of preseason canceled -- The NHL announced on Thursday that the remainder of the preseason schedule has been canceled due to the lockout.

The initial cancellation eliminated the first five games for the Blues, and with the recent wave being wiped out, the Blues lost games on Oct. 2 vs. Nashville, Oct. 3 at Dallas and Oct. 6 vs. the Stars.

The Blues are scheduled to open the 2012-13 season Oct. 11 in Colorado but with no progress being made between the league and players, regular season games could start being canceled as early as next week.

* Hitchcock coaching clinic -- Blues coach Ken Hitchcock should be firmly entrenched in training camp getting the team ready for the 2012-13 season. But with the lockout in place, he will be giving back to area coaches instead.

The Blues announced Wednesday that the 60-year-old Hitchcock, who won a Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999, along with assistant coaches will run a three-day coaching clinic Oct. 9-11 from 6-8 p.m. at the Ice Zone inside St. Louis Mills.

The seminars are free and open to travel coaches on the 9th, high school coaches on the 10th and house league coaches on the 11th. Space is limited so to register, go to the team's website here:

Blues players say NHLPA is strong, unified

There's hope season can be salvaged, skaters unsure
CHESTERFIELD, Mo. -- They came off the ice wearing their brand new National Hockey League Players Association jerseys. Some sported black ones, some in white and some in gray.

The NHLPA logo on their chests are big and bright, but on the left crest were in bold letters "#THE PLAYERS."

But for members of the Blues along with a handful of fellow NHL players from St. Louis that continue to skate on their own while the owners are locking players out, they continue to keep in shape and hone their skills in case one day -- any day -- they all wake up and the only game they know is back.
(Getty Images)
Blues' Barret Jackman (5) and Kevin Shattenkirk (right) are part of the team
training in St. Louis during the lockout.

"You can't really forget that ... right now you'd rather be gearing up for a preseason game getting ready for the season," Blues defenseman and team player rep Kevin Shattenkirk said after today's players-only informal skate at the Hardees IcePlex. "This is where the patience starts to come in and you really have to stay focused and really just be ready to be called upon at any time."

Nobody knows when that will be, but for the time being, the NHLPA is unified in its stance against the owners, who feel like they're paying the players too much money. The players see it otherwise in a game that has grown in not only popularity since the 2004-05 forgotten season but also in revenue as well.

Instead of playing their third preseason game in as many nights Thursday in Minnesota, the Blues were renting out their own ice time but doing so as part of a larger unit.

"The players are definitely unified," veteran forward Andy McDonald said. "We had our meetings a few weeks back in New York and the guys are aware of the issues and want a different system going forward. I don't see the players changing their stance at this point. We're willing to negotiate and get a deal, but we want a different system so we don't have the same problem when this next deal gets done.

"We try and stay positive and think things are going to get done quickly and we'll be back playing games, having training camp and getting into the regular season. You try not to get too down about it. You certainly try to keep yourself ready for when it does get done."

For younger players like Alex Pietrangelo, who's rehabbing his surgically-repaired ankle in which he had a bursa sac removed, staying mentally strong comes from a veteran presence that has been through the mental and physical wars of a lockout.

"We're lucky to still have a few guys around here," Pietrangelo said. "We have a pretty good group that are keeping each other company. Everyone's staying in shape. We're lucky we have guys who are competing with each other here. We're able to kind of stay in form.

"It's a tough thing to go through right now. It's the first time for me, but luckily we've got the older guys around here that are kind of guiding all of us through it and how to treat it."

Staying positive may be the only leverage the players have at present time. The stalemate has already canceled the entire league's preseason and now threatens to go beyond into the regular season, which is supposed to begin Oct. 11 for the Blues in Colorado.

As Shattenkirk said it, being locked out and not having access to team-owned facilities is a way to try and break the players' union down.

"It definitely worked for them last time," Shattenkirk said of the owners. "Why wouldn't they at least try something along the same lines?

"Hearing from guys involved in the last lockout, it seems much more cordial than the last negotiations. Just the fact that they're meeting (Friday) to keep negotiations open, I think, is great and I think both sides have been ... at least open to any ideas and listening and trying to maybe keep the talks going as much as possible. Maybe there's something reached eventually."

That "eventually" could be today, could be tomorrow, next week, next month or unfortunately for everyone involved -- next year or longer. The players are prepared for whatever happens.

"I think it's definitely a possibility," Shattenkirk said when asked if the lockout could go the entire season. "I think we're (the players) definitely not going to give in and take something that's unfair. It's upsetting for us because we know there's plenty of people affected by this, especially more than us. I think right now it's a matter of really fighting for what we believe is right."
(Getty Images)
These were happier times for (from left to right)
Patrik Berglund, Jason Arnott and Andy McDonald
and the Blues.

The players believed in what was right in 2005 and eventually conceded. But this time around, they're dug in with claws firmly entrenched.

"Don has done a great job this summer really preparing us for this and keeping everyone informed, which I think is important," Shattenkirk said of player union chief Don Fehr. "We've kind of been collectively talking to each other as teams and making sure that everyone's up to date on everything. That has kept everyone unified together through this whole process.

"It's definitely going to hurt the game. There are a lot of people out there who are really disgusted by this and really frustrated over it. I see the reason. ... This is something we don't want to have come around every six or seven years. Hopefully, people that are turned off to it, we can win them back and get the game popularized again like it has been the last six or seven years."

But when can this game be "popularized" again? There seem to be mixed feelings on when that time will be.

"It's tough to say," Shattenkirk said. "I'd like to say there's definitely going to be a season, but you really can't say that. They missed a year in 2004-05. I'm sure guys thought it would be resolved sooner than that. But I think it's promising that they're keeping negotiations open and there hasn't been anything where the sides have said we're (holding off on) this for now and we're waiting it out."

McDonald, who at 35 was part of the last lockout, was more optimistic when asked if he felt like there will be a 2012-13.

"I do. I really do," he said. "At some point, both sides will get a deal done and this will all be behind us."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

NHL cancels first slate of preseason games

League wipes out games through Sept. 30; Blues lose five games 

The National Hockey League announced Wednesday that it has canceled all of its pre-season games through Sept. 30 because of the league lockout.

The announcement was just a formality, as preseason games were slated to get underway next week.

From the Blues' perspective, they had five games wiped out, including their opener on Sept. 25 at Nashville. Also canceled are games Sept. 26 in Tampa Bay, Sept. 27 at Minnesota as well as home games on Sept. 28 against Tampa Bay and Sept. 29 vs. Minnesota.

The Blues, who are slated to open the regular season Oct. 11 at Colorado, have three preseason games scheduled in October, including a home game Oct. 2 vs. the Predators, Oct. 3 in Dallas and Oct. 6 at home against the Stars. However, it's expected that those games will be wiped out at some point next week.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Colaiacovo signs with rival Detroit

Veteran defenseman gets two-year, $5-million contract;
Blues' search for d-man on hold with impending lockout

ST. LOUIS -- When Carlo Colaiacovo was traded from his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs team to the Blues in 2008, there was an obvious element of the unknown.

But Colaiacovo, 29, would soon settle into his new home and realize that this wouldn't be a bad place to play out the rest of his career.

"Ultimately that was my wish and my hope," Colaiacovo said Friday afternoon.
(Getty Images)
Carlo Colaiacovo, in a game against Detroit last season, will become a
teammate of the Red Wings' Danny Cleary (11) next season.

Unfortunately for Colaiacovo, the business
side took center stage with his career, and on Friday, he was trading in his Bluenote for the Winged Wheel of Detroit when the veteran unrestricted free agent defenseman officially left St. Louis, signing a two-year contract with the Red Wings for $5 million in total.

Colaiacovo, who was traded to St. Louis along with Alex Steen from Toronto in 2008, has spent the greater part of the last four seasons playing for a Blues team that was near the bottom of the league when the Toronto native got here to now being one of the elite teams after last season's 109-point run.

But after a summer of uncertainty and not knowing whether the Blues had interest in bringing him back, Colaiacovo felt the opportunity to join a Central Division rival in Detroit was too good to pass up.

"It's been a long summer in many parts, contract-wise and the uncertainty of hockey, where I'm going to be next year," said Colaiacovo, who will make $2.15 million this season and $2.85 million in 2013-14. "... At the end of the day, I wasn't really stressing out about it, I wasn't really worried about it because at the end of the day, I knew something was going to work out for me. I'm glad it has.

"It's a team in Detroit that's got Stanley Cup aspirations and a team that competes every year and a team full of world-class players that I'm happy to be a part of. It's a great situation for me."

Colaiacovo, who had 19 points in 64 games last season, averaged 19 minutes playing alongside mainly with rising defenseman and close friend Alex Pietrangelo. He was one of the top remaining free agents available in this 2012 UFA class, and the main reason was he was holding out hope that something in the end could be worked out with the Blues.

"It's been sort of a torn summer, too, because I think deep down inside, my heart was in St. Louis in the fact that I was there for four years through tough times and through great times," Colaiacovo said. "To be part of something great moving forward and to develop friendships and relationships with the people there, you would hope that it would be something you can continue moving forward and be a part of.

"I had a great time in St. Louis. I have nothing bad to say about it. I wish things could have still worked out there, but it's a business, it's a game. People move on, there's changes every year and unfortunately, it was a decision for myself too to move on. I have a lot of great friends and people I'm leaving behind there, but they'll be people I hopefully can still keep in touch with. ... You never know. One day, the opportunity might present itself again (in St. Louis). But right now, my mindset has moved on and the excitement to join the Red Wings is overwhelming right now."

Colaiacovo didn't mention specific teams that became interested in his services, but after talking with his family and fiancee and having a great familiarity of playing against Detroit six times a year, it was a pretty easy choice.

"Being in St. Louis and playing against Detroit, every time we played them, it was like playing an all-star team," Colaiacovo said. "They're a team full of world-class talent. Hopefully joining a team like that will present the opportunity for myself to be a part of that elite group.

"... Detroit was a team that we both targeted as a team if we were to move on. It was a team and a situation that we both wanted to pursue. Obviously St. Louis was a team we were both in favor of and were hoping something could still be worked out, but it didn't seem like the feeling was there. They were a team that looked like they pretty much had their roster set."

Colaiacovo said it will be weird looking down and seeing the Winged Wheel instead of the Bluenote on his chest. He feels like the Blues will be in good hands moving forward.

"Doug Armstrong was a guy I respect a lot, has done a lot for me in my career, really helped me out with a lot of things," Colaiacovo said of the Blues' general manager. "The coaching staff there, Ken Hitchcock and Brad Shaw are two of the great coaches I've had in my career.

(Getty Images)
Carlo Colaiacovo (left) and Detroit's Johan Franzen (middle) will be
teammates for the Red Wings next season.

"I think they've got a good thing going for them. We're going to be enemies now. But i think the transition will be easy because I'm coming to sort of a similar situation where the coaching staff is here, a team that has aspirations of winning, a team full of talent. It really makes the transition easy."

The Wings were looking for a veteran to replace some of what they will be missing from Nicklas Lidstrom, who retired after last season. But Colaiacovo is by no means comparing himself with the future Hall of Famer.

"I know losing a guy like Lidstrom on defense is a top hole to fill and by no means and I'm going to come in there and be a Nick Lidstrom because Nick Lidstrom is an irreplaceable player," Colaiacovo said. "He's a future Hall of Famer, he's one of the best defensemen to ever play the game. But I think going in there, I can be a good compliment to what they have right now."

Meanwhile for the Blues, the search for a top-tiered left-handed defenseman continues.

Earlier in the summer, Armstrong talked about the Blues having a desire to obtain through trade of free agency a top-four defenseman; one to potentially compliment Pietrangelo.

But with the NHL on the verge of a lockout (set to begin at 11 p.m. Saturday night St. Louis time), talk of acquiring a d-man is on hold and when the Blues do finally return to the ice, there will still be that hole for Armstrong to fill.

"I think we had talked about trying to improve the left side of our defense if possible," Armstrong said last week. "There hasn't been a lot of player movement, quite honestly, since I made the statement I wish I didn't make five months ago. I sort of put ourselves on the clock there. But we believe in the six guys that are here, Ian Cole being one of the six. Bringing in (Taylor) Chorney and (Jeff) Woywitka gives us some depth there."

The Blues did add Chorney and Woywitka over the summer but as Armstrong said, they were brought in for depth purposes. The Blues have Barret Jackman, Kris Russell and Cole on the left side. Cole, a first round pick in 2007, will have his best shot at making the big club out of camp after the Blues had made a pitch for free agent Matt Carle and were mentioned in trade talks for Calgary's Jay Bouwmeester and Phoenix's Keith Yandle.

The price tag on Carle, who signed in Tampa Bay for six years, $33 million, was too high and the asking prices for Bouwmeester and Yandle apparently involves NHL-ready talent. In both teams' cases, that would likely include forwards in the Blues' top core.

Armstrong would prefer to deal draft picks and/or prospects.

"I think that the (new CBA) system will tell us what players will be available, and we're going to wait and react to the systemwhatever it may be," Armstrong said. "If there's player movement because the system changes, then there will be player movement. If not, we have a stock pile of draft picks moving forward (and) we have a stockpile of what we think are good prospects, and we're entering that level now where we believe is our time to take it to the next level. And at some time you have to sacrifice a little bit of the future for today and I think as an organization, that's the area that we'll go to.

"Instead of moving an apple for an orange, taking an NHL player for an NHL player, we might look at getting into future draft picks to try and improve this year's team."

Thursday, September 6, 2012

'Vova' introduced to St. Louis

Tarasenko makes first comments, proclaims he is
"happy to help (the Blues) win Stanley Cup this year"

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- As Vladimir Tarasenko walked into a crowded room at his introductory press conference, the 20-year-old was starry-eyed and in awe.

The Blues' 2010 first round pick will need some getting used to press conferences and the lifestyle of being a NHL player and living in North America, but the first steps have been taken. Getting the 20-year-old Tarasenko here and becoming acclimated with his new teammates are the first steps, ones he was finally willing to take after leaving more money to play in the NHL.

Tarasenko, who was the 16th pick in 2010 and two spots after teammate Jaden Schwartz, totalled 100 points in 176 career games in the KHL spanning four seasons. The last two were spent playing with Sibir (Novosibirsk) and SKA (St. Petersburg).
(Photo by Mark Buckner/St. Louis Blues)
Blues GM Doug Armstrong (left) and Vladimir Tarasenko hold up the
new jersey for Tarasenko at his introductory press conference Thursday.

But after playing a game of tug-o-war with St. Petersburg officials and negotiating with Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, Tarasenko felt like the time was right to jump across the Atlantic Ocean and play in what he called the best league in the world despite the very strong possibility that the NHL will see another lockout when the current collecitve bargaining agreement is set to expire Sept. 15.

"I am very excited to be here in St. Louis to be playing for the St. Louis Blues," Tarasenko said through a translator, Irina Sandler of the law firm Armstrong Teasdale. "I am happy to help the team win the Stanley Cup this year.

"I have received very good experience in the last two years in the KHL, and I believe this is the right time for me. I am ready to play in the best league in the world."

The Blues, who finished with 109 points at 49-22-11 and reached the second of the Stanley Cup playoffs a season ago, see Tarasenko -- nicknamed 'Vova' or 'Vladi' -- penciled in among their top nine forwards. Armstrong also believes the time is right to make the transition.

"We believe and Vladi believes that he's accomplished all the things necessary to become a player in the NHL," Armstrong said. "I know in talking to him over the last couple years, spending time with he and his (North American) agent (Mike Liut). Everyone felt that the time was right for him to come over. We're very excited to have him here.

"We think he has the chance to be a good player on a very good team. He's not someone that we expect to come in here and re-invent the wheel. We're not there now. Because of the great work that the players have done last year winning the division, getting 109 points ... we're just looking for another compliment player [to come] in here to play. There's no pressure on Vladi to be something that he can't be. We're going to allow him to develop at his own time and come along at his own pace. When we signed him, we believed that he was NHL-ready. As I said to him before, now it's up to him to prove that. There's going to be great competition for ice time on this roster, and Vladi's excited -- through out conversations -- to fight for that ice."

(Photo by Mark Buckner/St. Louis Blues)
Vladimir Tarasenko listens to questions at his
introductory press conference Thursday.
Tarasenko, who signed a three-year entry-level contract that will pay him a base salary of $900,000 a season plus incentives, is a left-handed shot who prefers to play on his off-wing. He arrived in St. Louis Friday and has been on the ice with fellow Blues teammates skating during informal workouts and claims that, "I can score. I get excited about scoring, but my main ambition is to help the team ... whatever it is that I do.

"I am playing for the best league in the world and I have seen my current team members on TV and have never played with them," said Tarasenko, who followed Blues players through news reports and video clips on the internet. "Now I have an opportunity to play with them and learn from them.

"My ambition is to do the best I can to help the team and also to prove to myself that I am capable of playing with the best players in the world. ... I am thrilled to be here."

Tarasenko may be here now, but there is the possibility that he could return to Russia should there be no hockey in the NHL. There's the option of playing with the Blues' AHL affiliate in Peoria, but the difference in salary will be too great to pass on.

"We're going to talk about that," Armstrong said. "There's advantages in both really. There's the advantage of staying in North America. A) playing with some of the players that he might play with if we don't start on time ... some of those players might be down in Peoria. Getting to understand the North American culture off the ice. Also playing on the smaller ice. But then going home, he's developed over there, he's become a very good player over there. I think it's going to be a win-win [situation], and whatever we jointly decide is best for him is the area we'll go. With that being said, Vladi and I both talked, we're hoping the NHL and the NHLPA get something settled by Sept. 15 and this is a non-issue."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

McDonald looking forward to healthy season

Veteran winger feeling "25 again;" feels healthier than he was last season


HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Andy McDonald is a voice of reason.

The Blues' winger understands that an athlete's biological clock doesn't last forever and Father Time catches up with everyone.

For McDonald, who turned 35 on Aug. 25, it's only natural to have those after-hockey thoughts and think about how much more time's left in the tank, especially with the lifespan of a hockey player.

(Getty Images)
A healthy Andy McDonald gives the Blues a
much-needed offensive weapon.

But as McDonald enters his 12th season in the NHL -- his fourth full season in St. Louis -- he feels like Father Time will have to take a backseat and wait a while longer before the Strathroy, Ontario native checks out of his skates.

If McDonald's as refreshed and energized as he was while the Blues were skating informally at their practice facility, there are quite a few more miles remaining in those speedy skates.

"Physically I feel 25 again and I'm really looking forward to this year," McDonald said. "... I'm really looking forward to it. I feel better this year than I did last year. I think you play so many years with injuries and things going on, you don't realize what good health is. I feel great. I had a really good off-season. I'm healthy."

McDonald, who has 468 points in 648 career games, was also healthy going into last season, one in which the Blues had one of their best seasons in franchise history going 49-22-11. However, McDonald's season was unexpectedly derailed when he suffered yet another concussion the third game of the season in Dallas. That was on Oct. 13. He wouldn't see NHL action again until Feb. 12, missing 51 games.

It was the sixth concussion of McDonald's career, and at one point during the recovery process, he admitted there were times where he didn't know if he would ever play again. With a wife and two young kids to think about, the long-term future was definitely in play.

But McDonald went through the treatments, the rest and took the proper channels of concussion protocol, vowing to return. He played an abbreviated 25-game schedule last season and finished with 22 points as the Blues finished tied with the second-most points in the NHL with 109. McDonald would go on and tear it up for the Blues in their opening round playoff series win against San Jose with four goals and four assists in five games before the Blues were derailed by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

But the return to action was a different feel for McDonald, considering it wasn't the customary off-season program that builds a player up for the ruggedness of an 82-game season.

"Physically, I probably wasn't where I wanted to be because you really take advantage to having the off-season to get your strength," McDonald said. "When you go through a concussion, there's a good portion of the time where you're not doing anything, you're not training. To come back in and try to play and not kind of have that summer to train and get ready made it a little bit tougher. But I was probably just a little bit lighter and probably strength-wise, I could have been a little bit stronger.

"I was so happy to be back playing and I was pretty happy about my health at that point. I feel like I'm in better shape this time around. I will have my conditioning back, I will have my strength back. I'm a lot better off now."
(Getty Images)
When Andy McDonald was in the Blues' lineup in 2011-12,
he was nearly a point-per-game player. But a sixth career
concussion forced the veteran to miss 51 games.

McDonald, who is experimenting with wearing a new helmet, one that will help protect from the vulnerabilities of a concussion, is projected to be playing the upcoming season on a line with Alex Steen and 2010 first round pick Vladimir Tarasenko. It has the potential to be one of the more lethal third lines in the league.

And for McDonald, who's entering the final year of a four-year, $18.8 million contract and can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2013, he's eager and anxious to play a full 82-game season. That's only happened twice. Plus, McDonald would love to prolong his NHL career here, perhaps finish it in St. Louis.

"I feel better now mentally than I did last year," McDonald said. "I had some lingering things from years with concussions.

"I don't think I realized what 100 percent was until last season being able to come back and get the treatments and go through all that and to get to a point where I really felt confident that I was 100 percent. That's why I'm so upbeat about this season. I've had a great summer and I'm really looking forward to playing a full year with this kind of health."

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tarasenko a hit with teammates, fans

2010 first round pick hits ice for first time
wearing a Bluenote; large crowd at Ice Zone to see it

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When Vladimir Tarasenko hit the ice for the first time as a member of the Blues, the applause from the large summer crowd at St. Louis Mills was probably something the 20-year-old wasn't expecting.

But getting to see the Blues' 2010 first-round draft pick (16th overall; Jaden Schwartz was picked 14th also in 2010) live for the first time in person was too good to pass up.

"Half the jerseys, you didn't know what they said. They were all in Russian," joked Blues defenseman Ian Cole of the various Russian Tarasenko jerseys. "That's a good sign that they're here. ... They're really kind of sending a jolt of excitement, a little electric shock through the fan base.

"I think it's pretty cool, especially with this lockout that may or may not happen."

(Photo by Scott Neer/TSN-Photography)
Blues' 2010 first round pick Vladimir Tarasenko
took the ice Tuesday morning for the first time.
Even the teammates he will be playing with this season -- if there is a season -- were impressed as Tarasenko -- all 6-foot, 215-pounds of him -- took part in drills and conditioning as the Blues continue to work out with their informal skates preparing for what they hope is a 2012-13 season. Tarasenko totaled 100 points in 176 KHL games spanning four seasons.

"It's exciting to have (Tarasenko) here," said veteran forward Andy McDonald. "... Obviously he's got a big impact. He looked good out there. He's getting his feet wet and I think it's a big transition for him. For us, we just want to make it as easy as possible."

Tarasenko, who bolted Russia, the KHL and a more lucrative present-day contract for a dream of playing in the NHL and with the Blues, arrived in town Friday and is getting acclimated with North American life after signing a three-year entry-level deal in July. It's going to be up to his teammates to help him with the transition of living life in the U.S. initially; something they're ready to help him do.

"The most important thing is to make him feel comfortable off the ice, and especially on the ice," said center Patrik Berglund, who was in Tarasenko's shoes not too long ago when the Blues picked him 25th overall in 2006. "He's new. I know how it was. If you need help, I hope and he hopes that he asks for help so that we can help him. He looked really happy when he walked in. He didn't look shy or anything. He looks good."

Added veteran winger Jamie Langenbrunner, who's the oldest player on the Blues along with Scott Nichol at 37: "You want him to feel comfortable. I think we have a group of guys to do that. It's a good locker room when it comes to that. It's a good group of guys. It's very welcoming, not clicky at all so to speak. Those things take time. He's got to learn what we're all about and we've got to learn what he's all about. What buttons you can push, what buttons you can't.

"I think he looks like a guy that just wants to fit in and be a part of the group. If he comes with that attitude, he's going to be a great addition to this room."
Not only to the room, but according to Cole, on the ice as well.

"I think it can be huge, a guy that can put up 40-50 points maybe," Cole said of Tarasenko's potential initially for point production. "He's got that kind of skill-set. Having a guy on the ice like that, what's the downfall of that?

"I obviously don't know about him defensively or his two-way game. You can't really comment on that, but as far as his pure skill-set goes, you see him in the World Championships and you see him in the World Juniors, it's unbelievable. It's exciting to have that kind of skill level joining the rest of the guys with our top-end skill. It's going to be awesome."

(Photo by Scott Neer/TSN Photography)
Vladimir Tarasenko arrived in St. Louis on Friday and took part in his first
practice with the Blues Tuesday morning.

Tarasenko, who could go back to the KHL if there is a lockout rather than play for minimal dollars in Peoria, is projected to slot into the Blues' third line along with McDonald and Alex Steen.

So far, he's displayed a wicked wrister, he's a pinpoint passer and displays good speed.

"He's (got) good size. He's pretty stocky," McDonald said of Tarasenko. "Obviously that's a big factor in the NHL. You've got to be strong on your skates. But you've also got to be fast. He's fast, he's big. He's probably the complete package."