Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Blues re-sign Leopold; Russell clears waivers

By Andrew Allsman| Posted: July 3, 2013| Contact  |

The Blues announced on Wednesday that they had agreed to terms with defenseman Jordan Leopold on a new two-year contract. Leopold and the Blues had been negotiating for several weeks, after the Blues indicated that they were interested in re-signing the veteran.

“His professionalism (is what impresses me),” said Blues general manager Doug Armstrong. “He has that personality that I’m starting to understand. He is an easy guy to talk to and an easy guy to be around. Brad Shaw told me he is an excellent communicator on the bench. He knows right from wrong and what it takes to get to the next level. Those are things, when I look at this group moving forward, having him here for the next couple of years solidifies our group.”

Leopold’s two-year contract is worth $4.5 million ($2.25 million annually). The veteran blue liner took a pay decrease in his new contract, down from the $3 million annually he was being paid in his last contract. That contract was signed with Buffalo in 2010.

Leopold, 32, was acquired by the Blues in a trade last year with the Sabres. He played in 15 games for the Blues after his acquisition, playing a few games paired with young stud Alex Pietrangelo before being placed with Kevin Shattenkirk. Leopold had two assists in those 15 games and was a minus-2 rating. Leopold played in all six Stanley Cup Playoff games with the Blues, but had no points. Still, the Blues considered him an important part of their group.

“He was here for just a short period of time, but I thought his experience was something that was beneficial to our team,” said Armstrong. “He and Shattenkirk found a comfort level with each other and I think (we have) one of the strongest defenses in the league with both experience and youth.”

The defenseman was set to become an unrestricted free agent on Friday, and could have negotiated and signed with any club at that point. It is conceivable to think that he would have been able to fetch more money in the free agent market, which has so little defensive help.
Leopold has spent 10 seasons in the National Hockey League. He has played for six teams, including: Calgary, Colorado, Florida, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and St. Louis. He was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the second round of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, but was traded to the Flames as a prospect, and never suited up in an NHL game with the Ducks.
Since being drafted, Leopold has appeared in 625 regular season games, accumulating 204 points (65 goals, 139 assists). Leopold will be 34 when his new contract with the Blues expires.

The news of the Leopold signing comes on the heels of the Blues placing defenseman Kris Russell on waivers in what was viewed as a strange move by the team. However, Russell cleared waivers on Wednesday, going unclaimed. He remains a member of the Blues for now.

Russell and the Blues have attempted to agree on a new contract, but it appears that they are not close. Russell is a restricted free agent and has arbitration rights, which he will likely use if a contract is not agreed upon in the next few days. The Blues sent a qualifying offer to Russell, so they maintain his negotiating rights, but their plans for the defenseman aren’t exactly set in stone yet.

“We are talking to Kris,” said Armstrong. We talked earlier about to see if we could come up with a compromise when the season ended, but we just couldn’t agree on the compensation. Best or worst case scenario, however you want to look at it, we will come to training camp with eight defensemen. Kris has shown the versatility to play left wing also. So, right now we plan on having Kris on the left side as a forward. If there is a chance to find Kris a spot where he can flourish in his career, we will certainly do that.”

As it stands right now, the Blues have six defensemen returning to the NHL roster from last season. If the Blues re-sign all restricted free agents, as Armstrong has said the club will do, the team will have eight NHL defensemen on their roster. Armstrong has always been a fan of defensive depth, but having eight defensemen on the NHL roster when training camp concludes seems unlikely, which is why the club may opt to either trade a defenseman or move Russell to the wing.

Along with Russell, the Blues announced on Tuesday that they had sent qualifying offers to Alex Pietrangelo, Chris Stewart, Jake Allen, Evgeny Grachev, Philip McRae, Cade Fairchild and Tyler Shattock.

The team will continue to work towards deals with those players.