Stillman Shows Commitment to Winning

Kevin Lorenz, Wed, 03 Apr 2013 19:02:00 GMT

After seven years of enduring Depression-era ownership practices, Blues fans are partying like it’s 1999 and Bill Laurie is the owner (The monopoly-money spending Bill Laurie that is, not the lost our lease all Hall of Fame defensemen must go, Bill Laurie). The new Blues ownership led by Tom Stillman is actually spending money, and to be honest, it’s as much a shock as it is a breath of fresh air.

Let’s recap:

2005: Bill Laurie jettisoned Chris Pronger in an effort to keep payroll down to make the team more appealing for sale. It was the first time in a long time that Blues fans were concerned that the payroll was too high after several years of reckless spending by Laurie.

2011-2012: Just one year ago, ownership mandated that the Blues could not add one dollar of salary to a team that was a Cup contender. Sure, the team was for sale, and sure there were plenty of financial/economic issues beyond what normal teams faced, but for the casual fan it was a kick in the gut to see Ben Bishop leave for a future draft pick being the only significant move the Blues would make.

2013: All indications this season had been that the Blues could not add significant payroll. There were potentially expensive RFAs to be re-signed (Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart, Patrick Berglund, Jake Allen, Ian Cole, and Kris Russell all figured to get new contracts), and UFAs to be replaced (Andy McDonald, Jamie Langenbrunner, Scott Nichol, and Chris Porter were up). The Blues announced that they would sell their interests in the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen, and instead affiliate with the independently owned Chicago Wolves.

In 48 hours, Tom Stillman shot down the notion that the Blues would sink or swim in 2013 with the league’s lowest payroll. Sensing a(n obvious) hole on the left side of the defense, the Blues added a pro-rated $3million when they brought in defenseman Jordan Leopold from Buffalo for a couple of draft picks. Stillman and his GM Doug Armstrong gave the Blues and their fans an even bigger present when they added the highly coveted, and highly paid Jay Bouwmeester for non-roster prospects and a conditional first round pick. In 48 hours the Blues defense went from a group with much potential and even more question marks to one of the biggest, fastest, and talented groups in the Western Conference.

It should be noted that the cash commitment goes beyond the money owed to Leopold this year, Bouwmeester the next two years, and the raises that will be given to their RFAs this summer; a first round pick is considered gold to a franchise looking to keep costs down due to the possibility that that pick will contribute to the team while still under a cost-controlled entry level, or bridge level contract. Perhaps the salary situation gets remedied with big contracts being moved in the offseason, but for now ownership is taking an inflated payroll team (relative to STL standards) into a playoff push.

When trying to find perspective in terms of the bigger picture, this is the first time in the rebuild era that the Blues have added significant salary to their team (discounting the failed Paul Kariya experiment, which occurred before the influx of first round talent circa 2008-2009). When looking at previous rebuilds, the ones that gained prominent success did not reach that success until an influx of cash to supplement the cheap home-grown talent (Pittsburgh added Marian Hossa, and the next year Bill Guerin, Chicago added Marian Hossa and kept Brian Campbell at a high cost, Los Angeles added Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Simon Gagne). While this certainly doesn’t
guarantee playoff success (see the Capitals), it is an encouraging development.

Here is a look at the trades/signings the Blues made leading up to the deadline.

Jordan Leopold From Buffalo For a Second Round Pick and Conditonal Fifth Round Pick: If this were the only move, no Blues fan could be upset with Tom Stillman and Co. The Blues had an obvious need on the left side, and Stillman allowed the Blues to add salary, even if it was only a pro-rated $3 million. Leopold is a big puck-moving, transition defenseman with some championship pedigree. He has won an NCAA National Championship with Minnesota, has played in the World Championships, and the Olympics with team USA, and has been to a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Finals with Calgary in 2004. It looks like he’ll be paired with Kevin Shattenkirk providing defensive stability for the roving Shattenkirk and speeding up the transition game. He’ll likely see minutes on the penalty kill, and if Ken Hitchcock resumes using three power play units, he could see some time manning the point there.

Jay Bouwmeester From Calgary for a Protected First Round Pick, Mark Cundari, and Reto Berra: The crown jewel of the 2013 trade deadline, Bouwmeester has been on Doug Armstrong’s radar since last season. According to reports, he was nearly a Blue during last summer’s draft before trade talks broke down, but Armstrong finally got his guy without giving up that much in return (mid-level prospects Mark Cundari, and Reto Berra, along with a conditional first round pick). Bouwmeester carries with him a high price tag (earned in the summer of 2009 after his rights were traded from Florida for none other than Jordan Leopold and a third round pick). Unfortunately for him, that price tag ($6.6 million this season and the next) carried lofty expectations. Fans of blue-collar hockey won’t be impressed with Bouwmeester’s lack of a mean streak, but compare his game style (not skill) to Nick Lidstrom, and you’ll be happy. He’s able to use his size and speed to cut off skating and shooting lanes, and his elite skating ability (considered top 1% in the NHL) allows him to skate out of trouble in the defensive zone, and begin the transition game. Bouwmeester will gain one fair comparison to Chris Pronger; his outlet pass is considered elite.

Wade Redden to Boston For a Conditional Seventh Round Pick in 2014
: This is pretty self-explanatory. Having acquired two defensemen, the Blues weren’t going to keep nine on their roster. This gives Redden another chance to play instead of sitting in the press box, though he’ll likely have to battle for minutes in Boston. If he does manage to play in a playoff game, that pick becomes a sixth rounder.

Dmitri Jaskin: Who!? The Blues signed their right wing prospect to an entry-level deal on Wednesday. The 41st overall pick in the 2011 NHL draft, Jaskin plays a power forward-type game. In his only season of major junior, he scored 46g 53a 99pts in 51 games with the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL. Scouts may question his consistency, but he is a guy Blues fans will want to keep an eye on as he progresses through the professional ranks.

Odds and Ends:

According to Lou Korac, Jaroslav Halak’s groin re-injury is considered serious, and Ken Hitchcock is not sure if he will be back this season. Jeremy Rutherford has reported that Brian Elliott will start tomorrow in Chicago.

Former Blue Ben Bishop had received interest from up to five teams according to reports. He ultimately went to Tampa Bay presumably to resolve the goaltending farce that Steve Yzerman has built up down there. Early Calder candidate, current fader Cory Conacher will head to Ottawa.

In the Wild Western Conference, Minnesota loaded up with Jason Pominville from Buffalo, and Columbus has gone all in by acquiring Marian Gaborik from the struggling New York Rangers.