Saturday, July 6, 2013

Recapping the Blues' activity on day one of free agency

By Andrew Allsman| Posted: July 6, 2013| Contact  |

In what was an exciting day around the National Hockey League, the Blues seemed to be anything but spectators. Though the club didn’t make any splashes on the first day of free agency, they were active, and trying to better their team.

 In all, the club made five moves, four of them were acquisitions, but none of them considered substantial.

The club’s main objective when the clock struck 11 a.m. (St. Louis time) on Friday was to reel in a top six center. The club had plans to pursue a bottom six center as well, but that was a much easier task. There were three unrestricted free agent centers that the Blues really liked in this year’s crop. One of them, Vincent Lecavalier, had already agreed to a contract with Philadelphia. The other two, Stephen Weiss and Valtteri Filppula, were able to field offers from any team that would show interest. And while the Blues had interest in both, the interest was not mutual.

Weiss, 30, was heavily pursued by the Blues. In fact, the Blues were one of just two teams that were in the running for Weiss’ services. In the end, the Blues’ competitors, the Detroit Red Wings, won the interest of Weiss, who was leaning towards Detroit the whole way. They inked him to a five-year deal.

It was at that point that the Blues shifted their attention to Valtteri Filppula. Filpulla ended up signing a five-year deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning not too long after Weiss had made his decision known. And with an already-thin group of free agents, the Blues were forced to regroup and reconsider their plans moving forward.

The club remains extremely interested in finding a top center for their squad, but the options are much clearer now. The Blues can continue to try to find a fit in a weak free agent market, or they can trade for a center. The second option seems more plausible at this point, and while the Blues are surely disappointed, Friday wasn’t a complete failure for the team.

St. Louis was able to add to their depth up the middle as they signed centers Keith Aucoin and Maxim Lapierre to contracts before the day concluded. The Lapierre signing means the club got the bottom six forward they had been looking for, along with some depth in Aucoin.

Lapierre received a two-year, $2.2 million contract Friday evening after the day’s excitement had dwindled down. Lapierre reportedly had drawn interest from multiple teams, but was happy when the Blues showed interest.

Lapierre, 28, has been a member of the Vancouver Canucks for the last three seasons. He isn’t a point-produce, but he is extremely effective at taking faceoffs, and is another gritty player that the Blues feel will complement their style of play. 

Since coming into the league in the 2005-06 season, Lapierre has played with three other teams, including: Montreal, Anaheim, and Vancouver. He has 113 points (54 goals, 59 assists) in 463 NHL games. His role on the Blues will likely be limited to third and fourth line action, but he is expected to center one of those bottom two lines.

The Blues' other acquisition on Friday, Aucoin, was signed to a one-year contract. He, unlike Lapierre, will be battling for a spot on the NHL roster in camp. Though he is 34 years old, Aucoin has appeared in just 143 NHL games. He has 49 points (17 goals, 32 assists) in eight NHL seasons. Since his NHL debut in the 2005-05 campaign, Aucoin has spent most of his time in the American Hockey League. He has split time between Carolina, Washington, and, most recently, New York. Aucoin played in 41 games with the Islanders last season, scoring six goals, and 12 points. His acquisition is purely for depth purposes.

The Blues also announced the signing of forwards Alexandre Bolduc and Mark Mancari to one-year deals. Bolduc, 28, and Mancari, 27, have played in just over 100 NHL games combined. Both, like Aucoin, are for depth purposes and will not likely be affecting the NHL roster.

Aside from the signings, the Blues did make a trade early into Friday’s “free agent frenzy.” The club parted ways with defenseman Kris Russell, sending him to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a 2014 fifth-round draft pick. Russell had spent the last two seasons sporting the note, but the Blues made it clear they were moving forward without him when they placed the 26-year old defenseman on waivers this past week. Russell cleared, and because the Blues had extended a qualifying offer to the defenseman, he remained a Blue. Calgary, who has done deals with the Blues in the past, felt Russell was worth a fifth-round draft pick.

For the Blues, it was not how they anticipated their day would go. They wanted a top center, and tried hard to land one, but it wasn’t in the cards. The team will continue to look for options at center moving forward, but their options are fewer now that day one is over. The team remains $11.85 million under the cap ceiling, so they have ample space to maneuver as they look to improve their team.