Sunday, June 30, 2013

Blues deal three picks to gain second pick in Round 2

Team takes defenseman, left winger early,
don't pick again until sixth, seventh rounds

ST. LOUIS -- Blues general manager Doug Armstrong talked about the Blues going after "the best available player" when it came time to making their draft picks Sunday.

It seemed that going with the best available center was the way to go since the Blues are trying to reinforce the depth up the middle.

But when Armstrong said best "player," he certainly meant it as the Blues went for another defenseman with their first pick of the day, then traded away three picks to get another pick in the second round.

Thomas Vannelli
The Blues didn't pick until the second round (No. 47) after trading away their first round pick -- which would have been No. 22 -- to Calgary in the Jay Bouwmeester trade but were able to nab defenseman Thomas Vannelli from Minnetonka (H.S.) in Minnesota.

Vannelli, 18, was ranked No. 77 in the midterm rank among North American skaters but finished with a final ranking of No. 44.

"It's a very good feeling," Vannelli said. "I couldn't imagine this day going any better to have your name called.

"I interviewed with (the Blues) a few times. I talked to them a lot at the combine. I got something in the back of my head (and) an idea they'd take me. It's just good to hear your name called."

Vannelli had eight goals and 31 points in 25 games for his high school team before moving onto the USA U-18 squad, where he had two points in 14 games and had another six points in five games for the 2012 USA hockey select 17-player developmental camp.

"An offensive-defenseman," Vannelli said when describing his game, comparing it to Chicago's Nick Leddy and Edmonton's Justin Schultz. "I like to move the puck to my forwards and join the rush. I'm always thinking offense, but I'm responsible in my own zone, too."

A native of Minneapolis, Minn., Vannelli is 6-foot-2 but weighs only 165 pounds and is definitely a project in the Blues' system that is deep on defense.

"He's a kid who's got top-4 upside," Blues' director of amateur scouting Bill Armstrong said of Vannelli. "He's a skinny kid who's got a lot of room to grow with some strength. He’s far away from the National Hockey League right now, but he’s got anywhere from three to four years of school in front of him.

"We really liked the way that he came on and he played for the U.S. team. We thought he played to make a difference and we were really happy and excited to get him."

The Blues then traded up to pick No. 57 with the Edmonton Oilers, giving up a third round pick (83rd) and two fourth-round picks (94th and 113th) to select left wing William Carrier from Cape Breton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

"I'm pretty excited," Carrier said. "I had a rough year with the injuries (torn ligament in right ankle), so getting drafted in the second round was a dream come true.

"Yeah, 12 weeks to heal. But the ankle is 100 percent, so I'll be good for next season."

William Carrier
At 6-1, 198 pounds, Carrier finished with 16 goals and 42 points in 34 games for the Screaming Eagles, where he was the leader on his team after adding 27 goals and 70 points in 66 games in 2011-12 who's known for a strong two-way game and a physical presence.

"We liked this kid, he was a super sleeper for us," Bill Armstrong said of Carrier. "He was injured a majority of the (last) year. He’s got some real good poise, he’s got some real good offensive ability, so we’re pretty excited and we think he can be a top-six forward.

"... We were looking for a top-six player and we were willing to give up (three picks). We felt he was a top-six guy."

Carrier was ranked 18th among North American skaters.

"I'm a power forward," Carrier said. "I score goals, a little bit of everything, a bit like Brian Bickell on Chicago."

Quick links to profiles from both players:,

The Blues were wheeling and dealing once again when they traded away their seventh round pick (No. 203) along with a 2014 fourth-round pick to the Nashville Predators to acquire the Predators' fourth round pick (No. 112). They used the pick to select 6-1, 161-pound left winger Zach Pochiro of Prince George of the Western Hockey League.

Pochiro, who is 19 and born in St. Louis, tallied 15 goals and 39 points in 65 games last season while picking up 104 penalty minutes. His profile page:

The Blues completed their draft with only four selections this year, as they picked defenseman Santeri Saari, a 19-year-old defenseman from Helsinki, Finland who played last year for Jokerit Jr. of the Finland-JR League.

Saari, who is 6-2 and 191 pounds, five goals and 23 points in 46 games for Jokerit last season:

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Blues not expected to work back into first round of draft

Team has six picks Sunday; free agent to-be
Lecavalier reportedly talked to St. Louis among many suitors

ST. LOUIS -- After trading away their No. 1 pick to acquire defenseman Jay Bouwmeester last season, the Blues will be left without a first round pick for the second time in 11 seasons when the NHL Draft unfolds Sunday.

That is unless the Blues are somehow able to trade back into the first round, which is something that was asked of Blues general manager Doug Armstrong earlier this week.

The 2013 NHL Draft commences Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. (St. Louis time) and concludes around 9:30 p.m. with seven rounds in all at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. NBC Sports Network will have coverage from 2-7 p.m. NHL Network picks it up from 7-9:30 p.m.
(Getty Images)
Vincent Lecavalier reportedly spoke with the Blues on
Saturday, one of many teams interested in the center's
The Blues will have picks in the second (47th overall) and third rounds (83rd), two fourth round picks (94th and 113th), sixth (173rd) and seventh rounds (203rd).

But unless something extraordinary happens, don't bet on the Blues moving up, according the Armstrong. It's not because they wouldn't like to, but since the Blues are positioning themselves to win now, dealing away current pieces just isn't conducive in that scenario.

"It will be difficult right now to move up into the first round," Armstrong said. "I think we're a team that's positioning itself to try and compete at the upper echelon right now.

"One of the things I've talked about internally and to a couple of you guys is that we could walk out of here with 10 first round picks if we want, but that's not where we're at. I'm not saying it's impossible for us to trade a player for a first round pick, but I'm not sure we have an access of any one position that we could give a player away to get a pick now. All that could change if someone offers us a pick that we just can't pass up. But right now where we're currently sitting at, I wouldn't forecast us moving into the first round."

The bigger news surrounding the Blues could come in the form of trade talk surrounding some big names. Goalie Jaroslav Halak has already been thrown out there, and according to a link from (, the Philadelphia Flyers appear to have some form of interest in Halak, who has one year remaining on his four-year contract. It's not to say the Blues will deal Halak, who battled through a pair of groin injuries last season, but his name has been thrown out there.

"I think this is one of the times where managers get together and there's a lot of conversation, a lot of feeling out," Armstrong said prior to departing for the draft. "My experience is that things should pick up maybe Friday or Saturday. ... I think there might be a little calm before the storm, but I think there will be a lot of discussions on Friday-Saturday leading into Sunday.

"Last year, we thought we were going to be very active at the draft. We were looking to do some things and we really did nothing at the draft. It's hard to tell how this thing is going to play itself out. You see compliance buyouts ... obviously (Danny) Briere's name is there now, (Ilya) Bryzgalov's name is out there. The next week is also going to decide if the free agent pool is going to get bigger than anticipated."

Another name is that of Vincent Lecavalier, who will be a compliance buyout with the Tampa Bay Lightning and who is drawing a ton of interest from teams, including the Blues according to a TSN report. Lecavalier, who has 383 goals and 874 points in 14 seasons with the Lightning. Lecavalier is 6-foot-4 and weighs 214 pounds and would compliment the Blues' center corps quite nicely but is a longshot at best to land here with so many suitors and the potential of Lecavalier wanting a longer-term contract for top dollar, which would be difficult for the Blues to match. Lecavalier had seven years and $45 million remaining on an 11-year, $85 million contract before the Lightning decided to buy out their 33-year-old captain. 

Lecavalier does have ties with the Blues though. Rob Dimaio, the Blues' director of pro scouting and Tim Taylor, the Blues' director of player personnel, both were teammates of Lecavalier in Tampa.

Briere, whose contract will be bought out by the Flyers, would be a more cost-effective pickup should the Blues have interest but is thought to want to remain on the east coast to be near his family.

(Getty Images)
Danny Briere is a possibility for the Blues after his contract
will be bought out by the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Blues are also still working on getting contracts done for some of their own players, including guys who can become restricted free agents on July 5. Those players include Alex Pietrangelo, Chris Stewart, Kris Russell and Jake Allen among others, as well as potential unrestricted free agent Jordan Leopold, who could walk on July 5 if the two sides don't work anything out prior to that.

"I think based on where we're at now, I see us getting through the draft with no further conversations," Armstrong said referring to Leopold. "As you get closer to July 5th, it's sort of like trades heading into the draft. The phones pick up regardless one way or the other. It's really not July 5th now, it's more like July 3rd because you have the opportunity to talk to unrestricted free agents early.

"We've had conversations. We respect (Leopold) as a player and as a person and what he brought to our team. If there's a way there that we can bring him back and to satisfy what his needs are, we'll look at doing that, but there's no talks right now that are on the front-burner."
* Allen gains honor -- On Saturday, the NHL announced the 2012-13 NHL All-Rookie Team, and it includes Blues goaltender Jake Allen, forwards Brendan Gallagher (Montreal), Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida), Brandon Saad (Chicago) and defensemen Jonas Brodin (Minnesota) and Justin Schultz (Edmonton).

The 22-year-old Allen led rookie goaltenders with nine wins, a 2.46 goals-against average and .905 save percentage while ranking second in appearances (15) and minutes (803:53).

The 6-2, 195-pound Fredericton, New Brunswick native won eight of his first nine decisions, including five straight from March 7-16 and became the third goaltender in league history to win his first NHL start in Detroit (Damian Rhodes, 1991 and Rastislav Stana, 2004 were the others).

Allen, a second-round pick in 2008, made a career-high and Blues season-high 39 saves March 12 vs. San Jose and posted his first career shutout March 14 against Phoenix (28 saves).

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Shattenkirk deal with Blues a formality after trade from Avs

Defenseman is one of six to be among
top 25 in his position in scoring last three seasons

ST. LOUIS -- From the moment the Blues traded for a defenseman, who wasn't even the focal piece coming back to St. Louis that cost No. 1 pick Erik Johnson, Kevin Shattenkirk immediately felt this is where his hockey growth would blossom.

All it took was one conversation with Blues general manager Doug Armstrong to hammer that point home after Shattenkirk and Chris Stewart were acquired from Colorado that sent Johnson, the No. 1 overall pick in 2006, to the Avalanche in 2011.

And the Blues justifiably rewarded the 24-year-old Shattenkirk with a new four-year contract worth $17 million ($4.25 million per season) that will enable him to play out some of his best years in the only uniform he's ever really known despite being drafted by the Avalanche 14th overall in 2007.
(St. Louis Blues file photo)
Kevin Shattenkirk (pictured) said one conversation with Blues general
manager Doug Armstrong was all he needed to hear he belonged here.

"With the Blues, I've always felt comfortable," Shattenkirk said Thursday. "I've always felt comfortable in this locker room, with the guys on the team, with management. I think from the very first meeting with Army, when he sat me down, he told me that we weren't going to make this trade unless you were involved. I think from that moment on, I knew how much he valued me and what he thought of me as a player. I've always had that appreciation for him from that point on. It's just made it easier to play in St. Louis when you know that the coaches and the management have that confidence in you to be an elite player. You feel like you're just wanted and the team wants you there.

"I wouldn't say I felt obligated to do it, but I felt like I really wanted to be here. This is the place I can definitely grow as a player and become the player I think I can be."

Shattenkirk, who would have become a restricted free agent July 5, is coming off a five-goal, 23-point season in 48 games. He has 23 goals and 109 points in 201 career games.

Both sides called the negotiations swift and simple.

"We started this maybe about three weeks ago," Armstrong said. (Shattenkirk's agent) Jordan Neumann and I talked about Kevin. The first part of the equation was letting Kevin know that he was part of our core group now and part of our core group moving forward. We wanted to see if we could do something to make sure that he was here for not just one or two years but past that. When both sides were in agreement that we wanted him here and he wanted to be here, it just became an economic issue.

"... What Kevin has done, which has made this easier to do for us is he's probably been the most consistent player we've had in our organization, meaning his first three years of pro, he's been a very good system offensive producer. I was looking at his career today. His first three years of pro, he's been in the top 25 in scoring among defensemen in each year (along with teammate Alex Pietrangelo as well as Chicago's Duncan Keith, Winnipeg's Dustin Byfuglien, Nashville's Shea Weber and Phoenix's Keith Yandle), which is a testament of how he came into the league and his consistency. Now that he's had three years in the league, we think he's just scratching the surface of how good of a player he could be. He can affect our team in different areas moving forward. Offense is a very difficult thing to teach. He has the natural abilities. We're real excited to have him as a part of our core group of players moving forward."

And Shattenkirk is feeling the after-effects of what have been some of the best days as a pro.

"Obviously I'm on cloud nine right now," Shattenkirk said. "This is a great opportunity for me. To have the type of commitment that the Blues made and the faith that they have in me to perform and showing it, I guess, in this way is pretty special.

"It really didn't take too long at the time. We both wanted to get something done. I think there was a deal to be had all the way through. ... I obviously thank Army for it. He was very good to me. I'm just grateful all the way through. It's nice to have this weight off of my back and be able to focus on things going forward the rest of the summer."

That focus entails becoming a better player in general but particularly in the defensive end.

"That's always the area that I think ... it's always been labeled as a question mark for me," Shattenkirk said of the defensive part of his game. "I know my offensive abilities come a little more naturally and I think defensively, that's an area especially as a small defenseman that I need to keep getting more experience. You look at a lot of guys who have played in this league who have been considered undersized defensemen, when you watch them in their later years and their career, they seem to have such a great understanding for how to defend and how to have the right body position. I try to really work on that every year and it comes from a lot of experience, which luckily I'm able to get night in and night out. It comes with just challenging yourself every night.

"I think I set pretty high goals for myself to be the best defenseman on the team. We have a lot of good defensemen on this team, but I think the only way you can get better defensively is to strive to be the best on your team and that's what I aim to do every year."

With Shattenkirk locked up, the Blues also have Jay Bouwmeester, Barret Jackman and Roman Polak locked into contracts. Alex Pietrangelo and Kris Russell (who can become restricted free agents) are expected to be resigned at some point and it hasn't been ruled out that veteran Jordan Leopold (who's set to be an unrestricted free agent July 5) will come back. Ian Cole was signed for two years recently as well.

"We have a tremendous blue line. I really believe that we have probably one of the best defensive corps in the league," Shattenkirk said. "We just have a great collection of players who can do it all. Everyone labels Jacks and Roman as this defensive pairing and shutdown pairing, but I think they've embraced the fact as a d-corps, that we're a team that joins the rush. We have to offer that extra wave of offense.

"Obviously with Petro, we all know he's a special player and he's someone who I love having around because he's someone that I can bounce ideas off of and we can talk about plays and we can relate to each other with the style of plays that we have. To add Jay to the defensive group at the end of the year was very important for us. It really locked down that veteran and sort of assured defensive position that we needed. Going forward, we have as solid a blue line as anyone. And to think that we had guys like Kris Russell and Jordan Leopold as well. Russell was playing some of best hockey at the time, it's pretty nice to have that luxury. I think going forward, the more experience that we get and the more time we have to play with each other, we know we're going to get better."
(St. Louis Blues file photo)
Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (right) defends Colorado's Chuck
Kobasew in a game last season.

Armstrong agreed.

"Now we have three very speedy players in Petro, Bouw and Shatty," Armstrong said. "That's very, very important to the team and then having very good, defined NHL players in Roman and Jackman in our five and then with Russell, Cole and potentially Leopold, I think our defense is going to be stable, it's going to be stable for many years moving forward now. It's going to be one of the strenghs of our team."

Getting a bigger contract into the mix like Shattenkirk's very likely helps the Blues get a clearer focus moving forward what they feel they can/cannot do, particularly when looking at players they would entertain bringing in from the outside.

"Of our 22-man roster, plans are to carry 23 players again next year, we've got more and more pieces in place," Armstrong said. "Each contract does define what we're going to be next year and the economics that we have to spend in different areas. ... Having Shatty wrapped up not only this year but knowing he's going to be part of that group moving forward for the next four years is very important for us."

Shattenkirk is particularly eager to grow after the Blues were eliminated by the Los Angeles Kings for the second consecutive postseason.

"This year we lose in the first round. It's easier to say we did better the year before because we lost in the second round, but when we played the Kings two years ago, we really were dominated," Shattenkirk said. "That was our first true playoff test. I think we had a pretty easy series with the Sharks. We really were caught off-guard by how good the Kings were playing (two seasons ago) and I think we saw what it takes to play a Stanley Cup team. This year, we went into that series ... we played great hockey. Personally, I think we really won that series, we dominated that series and we really weren't able to put some chances in the net. Hats off to the Kings because I think they showed their experience and how winning a Stanley Cup can give you that confidence that it's never over. They were able to play through a lot of adversity. It was another growing step for us.

"I think we were a better team this year in the playoffs than we were two years ago. For us, that's what we have to hold onto because I think this team, with how young we are and the lack of experience that we had going into this playoff year, now we're there. It's on this core group of young guys to really push forward and emerge as, really, playoff players and clutch players."

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Blues finalize deals with Shattenkirk, Berglund

Defenseman gets four-year, $17 million contract, Berglund signs one-year deal

ST. LOUIS -- One player was seeking long-term security and financial terms, the other opted for a one-year deal to prove himself for a bigger contract next summer.

The Blues locked up two key pieces of their future Wednesday.

After announcing they reached agreement on a one-year, $3.25 million contract with center Patrik Berglund, the Blues announced they also agreed to terms with defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to a four-year contract worth $17 million.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk will be in the fold with the Blues for the
next four seasons after signing a $17 million contract Wednesday.

Shattenkirk, 24, who along with restricted free agent Alex Pietrangelo were the two biggest names the Blues were looking to lock up this summer, finished his third season in the League with five goals and 18 points in 48 games. He will average $4.25 million per season after averaging $875,000 the last three seasons.

Shattenkirk was acquired by the Blues in a February 2011 trade with the Colorado Avalanche that also brought forward Chris Stewart in exchange for former No. 1 overall pick of 2006, defenseman Erik Johnson. Shattenkirk, the 14th pick of the 2007 NHL Draft, has 23 goals and 109 points in 201 career games.

Berglund, 25, who was second on the Blues last season in goals (17) behind Stewart (18), chose a one-year deal rather than a long-term contract in hopes of parlaying a solid 2013-14 season into a bigger deal next summer, when the Swede will be a restricted free agent again.

"When I talked to Patrik and his agent (Peter Wallen), we talked about different lengths and Patrik felt that a one-year deal was something he was most comfortable with," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said via conference call Wednesday before announcing the Shattenkirk deal. "I think that he believes that he wanted to come back and have a very good season and take his game to another level. He wanted to put the focus on this year and put his best foot forward. I was very impressed by that thought process. In today's game, when everybody wants term, Patrik was a player that said, 'You know what, I'd rather just come back on a one-year deal and prove to myself and to the League where I stand.'"

Armstrong and the Blues have handed out one-year deals to their pending restricted free agents before. They did so with forward T.J. Oshie for the 2011-12 season at $2.35 million. He went out and had a career year in goals (19), assists (35) and points (54) and was able to get a five-year, $20.875 million contract. Stewart got the same treatment last season, signing for $3 million. He then led the Blues in goals and points (36), and as a restricted free agent and is looking for a similar reward.

"We're more open to discussing some term with Chris now," Armstrong said. "We're in conversations with all these players. We don't want to get into greater detail, but at the end of the day, he was our leading scorer. And you look at his numbers over his career, I think the next challenge for Chris is to smooth out the edges, meaning becoming a consistent player, not only on a year-to-year basis but on a nightly or a weekly basis.

"When you put all our numbers together, he led the St. Louis Blues in goal-scoring and points. We don't lose sight of that either."

Armstrong added that once the term and dollars match up to their players they resign, there will be a better idea of what's next on the ledger.

"The term has to equal out the dollars also," Armstrong said. "We're in a very good space with Patrik signed now and with the other contracts we have, we have a lot of flexibility with the NHL salary cap and also our internal budget. (Blues owner) Tom (Stillman) and the ownership group have been very supportive of us adding a player like Jay Bouwmeester and (Jordan) Leopold last year, especially knowing that Bouwmeester was going to be $6.6 million this year.

"We understand our internal salary structure is going up. With that goes the expectations of our team, too, which excites me. We want to be viewed as a team that has expectations to win."

Berglund, who had 25 points in 48 games in 2012-13, now looks to benefit entering his sixth season.

"I think that Patrik's entering that prime of his career right now, so if he was looking to go longer, we would have looked to see if there was common ground there," Armstrong said. "The good thing for us and for Patrik is that he can come back, he's on a one-year deal and we'll be back at this spot again next year as a restricted free agent. If both parties are willing, we can go with a long-term deal then.

"I start these by asking the player what's important to them. There's a number of things that go in there."
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Patrik Berglund (right) opted for a one-year contract instead of a long-term
deal now. he will make $3.25 million in 2013-14.

The Blues still have work to do with other restricted free agents. At the top of the list are Pietrangelo along with Stewart, defenseman Kris Russell and goalie Jake Allen.

"We're having constant communication," Armstrong said on the progress with the others. "I sort of think of myself as [Blues television analyst Darren Pang] on these things. John Kelly gives the play-by-play, I do the analysis after the fact.

"When there's something to be talked about, I'll talk about it. Other than that, all these guys are fluid and we hope to get them all signed as soon as possible. It could take a while or it could become very quickly."

With Berglund signing a one-year contract, there's the possibility it could open some doors for the Blues' pursuit of unrestricted free agents, but there will be a clearer picture once their players are taken care of first.

"It doesn't really affect anything," Armstrong said. "This was a heavy summer for us as far as having five players up and four players that are huge components of our team in Shattenkirk and Petro on the back end, with Kris Russell also needing a contract, and then you have Bergy and Stewy.

"A one-year deal (with Berglund) is going to be good. It's obviously good for both sides. I would imagine the other guys will try to get a little bit more term, two or more years, but at the end of the day, they all can opt for one-year deals ... you never know. I think this was more Patrik's feeling than being pushed at it by the team."

There's been early word that Blues coach Ken Hitchcock would like to try Berglund out at wing.

"I've always seen him as a centerman myself," Armstrong said of Berglund. "Ken is the one that says he might have success on the wing. I view him as a centerman. I've only seen him play the center position. I think that Patrik has the ability to be a consistent 50-point player. I think if we take out his season last year, I think he was on pace for 29 or 30 goals. In a league that's difficult to score, if he can become a 30-goal scorer on a consistent basis, that would be good for us. But as a centerman, you'd like to see the assists get a little higher. Part of that has to be the guys on his wing scoring, too. I view him as a centerman, but ultimately that's Ken's decision on Patrik and what's best for him."

Armstrong talked about the potential of signing free agents, including those who will be part of compliance buyouts. Philadelphia Flyers center Daniel Briere, who has been linked as a good fit for the Blues moving forward, will become a compliance buyout of the final two years of his contract.

"We're going to wait and let the pool fill up and then take a look at all the possible ways to improve our team," Armstrong said.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Blues, Berglund have verbal agreement on one-year contract

Center who was to be a restricted free agent will make $3.25 million in 2013-14

ST. LOUIS -- Scratch another restricted free agent off the list of players the Blues are looking to sign to contracts.

Center Patrik Berglund, who was second on the team with 17 goals this past season behind Chris Stewart's 18, has agreed in principle on a one-year contract worth $3.25 million, which was confirmed by general manager Doug Armstrong.
Patrik Berglund

Berglund, 25, made $2.4 million in the second year of a $4.5 million contract last season.

There was the possibility of a long-term contract, but Berglund, who will be a RFA once again next summer, and the Blues were satisfied with the terms of playing under a one-year deal.

In similar fashion what Armstrong did with T.J. Oshie and with Stewart -- who's also an RFA -- last summer, Berglund, who finished with 25 points in 48 games this past season, is playing under the proverbial "prove it" contract that Oshie parlayed into a five-year deal and one Stewart is looking to turn into a long-term contract.

The Vasteras, Sweden native was a first-round pick (25th overall) by the Blues in the 2006 NHL Draft who has 92 goals and 188 points in five seasons along with nine points in 19 career playoff games.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

2013 Stanley Cup Final prediction

(1) Chicago vs. (4) Boston
Pick: Boston in 6
Reason: This will be a helluva series. Both teams are playing at their best right now, so it's fitting that they decide this with hockey's prized holy grail on the line. But I'm going with Boston to win its second Stanley Cup in three years and seventh overall. I thought the Pittsburgh Penguins were an offensive machine and the Bruins held them to two goals ... in four games! That's borderline sickening and downright good. And although the Blackhawks were impressive in dispatching the LA Kings in five games, there were some stretches of play the Kings were able to control, as strange as that sounds in a five-game series defeat. I just see Zdeno Chara as a difference-maker, and the likes of David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand will score the timely goals needed to persevere. And this will be a heck of a story to see the ageless Jaromir Jagr win his third Cup overall, with the last coming 21 years ago -- that's astounding. Tuukka Rask and Corey Crawford will wash each other out. Both are playing so well. Both teams are so balanced from top to bottom, but I give the edge to Boston's group. I just find the Bruins' forwards to be a little better defensively. And some of the aforementioned guys seem to find ways to score timely goals. They'll look to neutralize Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Co. Chicago plays its best with speed. Boston seems to have the know-how in slowing that style down. Should be a great series. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Blues' McDonald plans to call it a career

Reports indicate 12-year veteran plans to hang it up;
Nichol retires, hired by Nashville to head up their player development

ST. LOUIS -- A prosperous career that included a Stanley Cup in 2007, unfortunately for Andy McDonald, the ride has apparently been cut short because of injury.

After a history of concussions, McDonald will retire from the NHL because of potential concussion concerns (McDonald was unavailable for comment).

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Andy McDonald (10) is reportedly calling it a career after 12 seasons in the
NHL, including the last five-plus with the Blues.
The Strathroy, Ontario native, who has had a history of concussions throughout his 12-year career (including the last five-plus seasons with the Blues), was part of the Anaheim Ducks' Cup-winning squad that beat the Ottawa Senators in 2007. He ends his career with 689 games played (294 with the Blues) and 489 points (230 with the Blues) as well as 56 playoff games played and 37 playoff points, including 10 goals and 14 points in 21 games for the Ducks' championship team.

But after suffering six concussions over an 11-year career, stating concerns over the injury issues moving forward and the possibility of having to make another move if he wasn't brought back into the fold with the Blues, the 35-year-old McDonald has decided it might be best to call it quits while he still maintains his health.

McDonald has been one of the more outspoken players regarding concussions and has lobbied the league to take a more permanent stance in changing the rules of the game that helps eliminate head injuries. He was especially outspoken when rookie Vladimir Tarasenko suffered a concussion earlier this past season in Colorado.

"I'd like to see the league get away from those types of hits," McDonald said then. "You can still have a physical game, an intense game. Obviously the fans love that, but the players that are making hits, we've got to get away from going in and making contact with the head.

"... It's too dangerous ... the health implications on those hits are too severe. It's not worth it. You can still have a physical game without that part of it. It's unfortunate for our team and for Vladi. I'm biased, I've been through it and you hate to see those hits. Every time I see it, it's frustrating."

After suffering a second concussion with the Blues in a 10 1/2-month span in 2011 and wasn't sure then about returning to the game after going through another lengthy rehab stint. But he vowed to return and even came into last season (before the lockout lengthened the off-season and felt better than ever. It's quite the contrast to where McDonald is today.

"Physically I feel 25 again and I'm really looking forward to this year," McDonald said in September of 2012. "... 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 went on to post 21 points in 37 games this season - he missed 11 games with a left knee injury -- but was shut out in six playoff games in a first-round loss to the Los Angeles Kings.

McDonald is set to become an unrestricted free agent in July and there were no guarantees he was part of the Blues' plans moving forward. With that thought in mind as well, the idea of moving his family could have also played a factor in McDonald's decision. He just completed a four-year, $18.8-million contract he signed in 2009.

An undrafted free agent signee out of Colgate University, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound McDonald began his career in 2000 as a center with the Ducks before eventually moving to left wing.

McDonald spent the first six-plus seasons with the Ducks and was an important catalyst on the Cup-winning team. He was ultimately traded to the Blues in what turned out to be a cost-cutting move for the Ducks, who got veteran center Doug Weight, prospect Michal Birner and a 2008 seventh-round draft pick in return.

McDonald has become a partner with R.E.A. Homes, LLC and the likelihood of keeping his family in St. Louis is a high probability.

McDonald is the second Blue to announce his retirement in two days after veteran center Scott Nichol announced his retirement after a 662-game career that spanned 13 seasons with Buffalo, Calgary, Chicago, Nashville, San Jose and the Blues.

Nichol, who missed the final 14 games of the regular season and the entire playoff series against the Kings with an abdominal injury and was also set to become an unrestricted free agent in July, was immediately hired by the Predators to become their director of player development.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Scott Nichol (12) has also called it a career in the NHL after 13 seasons. He
spent the last two playing in St. Louis for the Blues.
Nichol spent the last two seasons with the Blues, who signed the faceoff specialist to be a key cog to their fourth-line success, which included winning faceoffs and being a stout penalty killer. He totaled 56 goals and 127 points after being drafted by the Sabres in the 11th round in 1993.

The Blues also took in a bit of surprising news that center Jori Lehtera, a third-round pick in 2008, has decided to pass up the chance for the time being to play in the NHL after signing a two-year contract extension to remain with Sibir Novosibirsk of the Kontinental Hockey League.

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said at the team's cleanup day following the conclusion of the season recently that the Blues wanted Lehtera.

"We've talked to him about what his plans are for the summer and next season," Armstrong said. "We'd like to have him. It's up to him whether he wants to come."

Apparently the 25-year-old Lehtera, who is coming off a 17-goal, 48-point season in the KHL, received a lucrative offer than the one-way NHL contract the Blues offered, which has been reported to be at least $1 million per season.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

2013 Stanley Cup conference final series predictions

(1) Chicago vs. (5) Los Angeles
Pick: Los Angeles in 6
Reason: Just like the Blues, the Kings were pushed again by the Sharks but handled the adversity and persevered because of 1) Jonathan Quick and 2) experience winning this time of year. The Kings are battle-tested, physical and have enough talented skaters that I believe can match up with the Blackhawks' speed and skill. For all the flack Corey Crawford continues to get, he's done a good job and will push Quick in this series. But the 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner seems to have found his groove again in these playoffs and will be the difference. And although the Hawks are a good road team, the Kings seem untouchable at home. This series smells seven games but I'll go against the grain and say LA steals one in Chitown and sweeps at home. Something about the Kings at Staples Center.

(1) Pittsburgh vs. (4) Boston
Pick: Pittsburgh in 7
Reason: Apologies to the Bruins. I didn't think the Bruins could solve Henrik Lundqvist quite like they did but what's impressive about this Boston squad is the balance it displays from lines 1-4. A good balance of skill and toughness for sure. But this will be a terrific series between the two best teams in the conference. I give the Penguins the slight edge because I like their skill a tad bit more. But I wouldn't be surprised if the Bruins find a way -- just like they did against Toronto in the opening round. Crosby and Co. will be out for blood trying to exploit some of the inexperienced Bruins d-men but what a great story Krug is for Boston. Iginla and Morrow are hungry veterans. Morrow wants another Cup, Iginla knows his window is closing.