Thursday, July 4, 2013

Blues moving forward as free agency gets underway

By Andrew Allsman| Posted: July 4, 2013| Contact  |

The Blues' offseason, to this point, has been relatively quiet. It’s not as though the Blues haven’t been trying to make some moves to help their team, but they have seemingly come up empty to this point. Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said it best when he appeared on KTRS radio earlier this week.

“We are like a duck. On top of the water, it may not look like we are doing much, but underneath, we are paddling like crazy,” he said.

To this point, the Blues appear, at the surface, to be sitting idle. However, that is not the case, as behind the scenes, the Blues have been actively searching for ways to improve their team.

Part of that search led the Blues to Vincent Lecavalier. Lecavalier was a great fit with the Blues, and the club flew to meet with the veteran and his agent last weekend. Armstrong, accompanied by head coach Ken Hitchcock, Al MacInnis, Tim Taylor, and Rob DiMaio met with Lecavalier for a lengthy period of time. The presentation was good, but Lecavalier ultimately chose to become a member of the Philadelphia Flyers.

“We met with ‘Vinny’ and his agent on Saturday,” said Armstrong. “We probably spent the better part of an hour with him describing our team, the structure of our play. I thought we hit all of the things that were important. I actually talked to ‘Vinny’ two days ago and he thought our presentation was at the top of the teams that made them. We are disappointed we didn’t get him but appreciative of the work that went into it by the rest of our staff.”

But it has been an offseason of swings and misses for the Blues.

The club began its search for a center when they received the news that prospect Jori Lehtera was staying in Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League. By all means, the Blues were banking on having Lehtera in North America for next season, giving them more flexibility with their forwards. When Lehtera chose to stay in Russia, the Blues were placed in a tough spot. Now the club is searching for a center, but so far, they have been unlucky.

Perhaps that luck will change in the near future.

Already, the Blues have begun scouring the free agent market, testing the waters to see if there might be a fit. That search began on Wednesday morning according to Armstrong, thanks to a new period put in place in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

“In a new wrinkle in the CBA, you are allowed to talk to the unrestricted and restricted free agent players starting (Wednesday),” he said. “We had some communication with some center icemen, trying to see if they see us as a fit and if we see them as a fit for our team.”

Officially, a free agent cannot be signed until Friday, but as Armstrong pointed out, teams have already begun talking to players they may have interest in when free agency opens up on Friday. However, Armstrong pledges to not overspend on outside help.

“We are going to make a deal that stands the test of time economically,” he said. “Sometimes you make deals in free agency where you feel really good about yourself and the signing and then you spend five years trying to get rid of the guy. We are not going to do something like that. If we can find a player that can come in and help us, and do it with what we believe is the right economics, we are going to do it. If not, we are more than comfortable coming back and attacking next year with this group.”

“I have a hard time giving guys from outside organizations 50-60 percent more than guys we have drafted and developed. That’s a hard sell for me. We value these players, but we value them in regards to how they fit into our team. “
With the market thin, talent is sure to be overpaid, just like in years past. The Blues could get lucky, but it’s unlikely they can bring in outside help without overpaying, unless the team does so via trade.

The Blues have been exploring the trade market the past few weeks. There has been reported interest in both goaltender Jaroslav Halak and forward David Perron. The draft, which is often times the hub of rumors, has since passed, but that doesn’t mean the Blues aren’t still exploring. However, Armstrong indicated that the plan, for now, is to keep Halak on roster, and head into camp with three goaltenders, despite early speculation that the club was looking to move one of their netminders.

"I would say now that all indications are that Jaro, Brian (Elliott) and Jake (Allen) will be the three goalies at camp," Armstrong said. "And that's an interesting one. When the season ended, and the emotion subsides, I talked to Ken probably about this situation more than anything, where we would have been if we didn't have one of these three guys last year? So if there's something that's a way to improve our team, we always look at doing that. But it's a strength, for me, after a time of reflection."

What remains to be seen is whether the club will keep all three goalies on their National Hockey League roster when camp concludes, assuming all three goalies are on the team when camp arrives. Allen is a restricted free agent and will likely be signed to a one-way contract, making it harder for the Blues to place him in the American Hockey League. Armstrong has explored trading away a goaltender, and all signs point to him still shopping Halak, but it appears, at least for now, that there are no trade options out there that Armstrong feels comfortable with. Whether or not one presents itself before the season remains to be seen. Until then, the Blues will focus on their own players.

The club has yet to re-sign two of their everyday NHL players; both of them are of significant value to the team.

Alex Pietrangelo and Chris Stewart are the two remaining big-name free agents for the Blues. Both received qualifying offers from the Blues, but neither is expected to be re-signed by Friday, meaning teams, if they desire, can attempt to sign the players to an offer sheet. The Blues are not worried about this, and while the deals don’t appear to be imminent, Armstrong has an understanding of the direction they are heading with both in terms of numbers.

"We have a number in place for (Pietrangelo and Stewart). Stewy, we have an arbitration number. Ryan Miller (The Blues cap specialist) has done very good work at giving us the high and the low end of that. There's enough contracts out there for Petro that I know the high and the low end of that. So we're comfortable that we're going to get these guys in the ranges that we have budgeted. Whether it's now, September, October or November, I don't know that answer. But I'm comfortable we'll get them in the areas that we and they believe are fair."

It’s certainly not going to be a quiet offseason for the Blues. It is only just beginning, but the club will be searching over the next few months for ways to better their team. That process has started, and the Blues can get a better understanding of where they must head when free agency opens on Friday.