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Trio of additions bolsters Blues' center depth

Monday, 07.08.2013 / 2:56 PM / NHL Free Agency 2013

By Louie Korac - NHL.com Correspondent

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Trio of additions bolsters Blues' center depth
St. Louis general manager Doug Armstrong added three centers to his roster through free agency, addressing a need for more depth and playmaking ability at the position.

ST. LOUIS -- After being bounced in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it was quite clear what the St. Louis Blues needed to take more necessary steps in their push for their first Stanley Cup.

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, though happy with the roster as it was following a six-game series loss to the Los Angeles Kings (who also eliminated the Blues in 2012), entered the summer searching for ways to tweak and not overhaul a highly competitive group.

After scoring 10 goals in the series against the Kings, it was clear the Blues could use an influx of scoring -- more specific, some playmaking ability down the middle.

Though the team didn't necessarily address those needs at the 2013 NHL Draft a week ago -- the Blues chose a pair of defensemen and two wings -- they did so when the free agency period kicked off.

After missing out on top targets Stephen Weiss, who went to the Detroit Red Wings for five years and $24.5 million, and Valtteri Filppula, who chose the Tampa Bay Lightning with a five-year, $25 million deal on the first day, as well as targeting Vincent Lecavalier, who picked the Philadelphia Flyers (five years, $22.5 million), the Blues were able to land center Derek Roy with a one-year, $4 million contract one day after adding Maxim Lapierre (two years, $2.2 million) and Keith Aucoin (one year, $625,000).

"Right now, when I look at our center ice, we have David [Backes], we have Patrik [Berglund], we have [Lapierre]," Armstrong said. "I like the size that we have down the middle. I think getting [Lapierre] really gave us the opportunity to bring in a smaller, but skilled guy in Derek. I think [coach] Ken [Hitchcock] has a lot of tools at his disposal. Whether [Roy] finds chemistry with [Vladimir] Tarasenko or he finds it with [T.J.] Oshie or [Chris] Stewart or [David] Perron, he’s bringing an element to our group that we don’t have."

There are center-ice options with Vladimir Sobotka and Chris Porter, so looking at the Blues today as opposed to, say, two weeks ago, the team is much deeper down the middle and better equipped to throw out more talent at any given point among their top four lines.

"We're still bringing back the same centermen that got us home-ice advantage the last two years in the playoffs," Armstrong said. "We [were] looking to add to that group. We weren't looking to drastically change the makeup of our team. That's a big difference from what other teams are doing. Some teams lost guys and had to add guys just to stay equal. We were looking to improve our team."

It started at the draft when the Blues, who did not have a first-round pick after trading it away late last season to the Calgary Flames to acquire defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, were picking in the second round and targeted the best player available when it came to No. 47. They traded three later picks in the draft to acquire another second-round pick.

"We chased more talent than need," said Bill Armstrong, the team's director of amateur scouting. "I think sometimes when it comes to a tie, we'll chase the need, but more importantly, we chased talent. At the same time, we can always trade that talent to acquire something that the Blues will need later on."

St. Louis was in a precarious position when it came to what kind of dollars it could spend when free agency began. A lot of that had to do with the fact the team was going to increase payroll after signing many of their important pieces who were set to become restricted free agents.

The Blues were able to get deals done with center Patrik Berglund (one year, $3.25 million) as well as lock up defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk (four years, $17 million) and Ian Cole (two years, $1.65 million). They still have work to do with cornerstone defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, power forward Stewart and goalie Jake Allen. The Blues traded defenseman Kris Russell to the Flames after signing veteran Jordan Leopold to a two-year, $4.5 million contract, to alleviate the glut of NHL-ready players on defense.

It's not out of the realm of possibility Pietrangelo could get an offer sheet, but the Blues have already claimed they will match one. Stewart and the team could go to arbitration. Armstrong is confident about getting deals done for each.

"We're having constant communication," Armstrong said on the progress with the remaining restricted free agents. "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."

After the Roy signing, the Blues' salary cap number is at $56.4 million, or just less than $8 million for next season's cap of $64.3 million. They can be over that number by 10 percent in the summer but must be at or below it by the start of the season. In order to get contracts for Pietrangelo, Stewart and Allen, it's likely the Blues will be dealing players before the season starts in order to avoid being over the cap.

"I think we’re going to be able to get everyone under the umbrella and if need be, we have very valuable pieces … if we have to move players, that’s not going to be an issue finding a home for them," Armstrong said. "… 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.

"You can never have too many good players."

That is why Roy chose to sign with the Blues. The 30-year-old said he views the situation in St. Louis as a good fit, one he feels can bring him closer to the Stanley Cup.

"I wanted to go to a team that was a contending team," said Roy, who is coming off a 28-point season with the Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks. "[Hitchcock] coached me at the World Championships in Halifax and we had a good rapport. He played me a lot and I was excited about that.

"I think coming to a team, a young skillful team like this, with a ton of grit, was right in my wheelhouse. I want to win a Stanley Cup, and I thought this team was on the verge of becoming a great team and a contender for the Stanley Cup."

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