The St. Louis Blues have coveted Jay Bouwmeester since last summer.
They've been rumored to be in on the NHL's current top ironman, with a need for a left-handed defenseman and a guy that can complement Alex Pietrangelo on the team's top defensive pairing.
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong finally got his man Monday night when he swung a trade for Bouwmeester, acquiring the 10-year veteran from the Calgary Flames in exchange for defenseman Mark Cundari, the rights to goaltender Reto Berra and a first-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.
If the Blues fail to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Flames will receive the Blues’ fourth-round pick at this year’s draft, while the first-round selection will be deferred until 2014.
"It's taken the better part of 10 months to find the piece," Armstrong said via conference call. "It goes back through when we were looking to add a player (last offseason). Jay was one of those type of players that when you look at someone in our age group, someone that could log a lot of minutes, he's an iron man obviously playing 600-plus games. He’s a workhorse, he's everything that we had hoped to find."
Bouwmeester, 29, is the second left-handed defenseman to join the Blues in three days. The Blues acquired Jordan Leopold from the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday for a pair of draft picks in 2013. Bouwmeester has six goals and 15 points in 33 games for the Flames this season and is averaging 25:09 per game, which ranks 13th in the NHL.
"It's just exciting to have someone of Pietrangelo's caliber, [Kevin] Shattenkirk's caliber (and) Bouwmeester's caliber moving forward," Armstrong said. "You couple that with the rock-steady play of Roman Polak and Barret Jackman. So I'm really excited about our group now."
The 6-foot-4, 212-pound Bouwmeester has 300 points (71 goals) in 750 career games. He's played in 621 straight games. He's in the fourth year of a five-year contract.
"It's a real feather in the cap of our ownership group," Armstrong said. "It's one thing to buy a team and say you want to win. It's another thing to say you want to win and back it up with your money. Adding a player of Bouwmeester's caliber and also his contract at $6.6 million, I think shows everybody in the hockey community that we're in, we believe we're in our window now. This isn’t a trade just for 15 games and a player run. This is a trade for next year and hopefully many years past that."
Armstrong and Flames GM Jay Feaster both were playing a game of tug of war today, with Armstrong holding firm on what he was willing to part with and Feaster offering a package of what he wanted for Bouwmeester, who had his best offensive seasons with the Florida Panthers. The Panthers selected him third overall in 2002.
Feaster reached out to Armstrong again after the Blues had acquired Leopold.
"I was talking to Jay Feaster, he was obviously focused and rightfully so on the franchise face of Jarome Iginla but when that transpired, he called after we made the Leopold deal and said, ‘Are you still interested?’ I said yes we are," Armstrong said. "(I) reconnected with our ownership group. They were still committed. We never really talked names before, or what he wanted, because he was never at the point of trading.
"I think Jay is looking to add first-round picks and to recalibrate his group. He has Pittsburgh’s pick, he has his own pick and now he has our pick. So it's been a good week for Jay Feaster. But for our team, giving a first-round pick and Cundari and Berra is something we could afford to let go moving forward."
The Blues, who jumped back into eighth place in the race for the Western Conference playoffs after Monday's 4-1 win at Minnesota, made it very clear that they are going for it now.
"I think it tells our team we're committed to having success in St. Louis and we're not satisfied with our current standing," Armstrong said. "We’re willing to poke, prod and do our part as management to improve the team. But ultimately, the responsibility lies with that core group of players that we haven’t touched: David Backes, David Perron, T.J. Oshie, Pietrangelo, [Patrik] Berglund, [Alexander] Steen, [Andy] McDonald. That group is still here and we've added two pieces to that group. Ultimately they have to help us get the job done."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, an Edmonton, Alberta native like Bouwmeester, told reporters after the game he was glad to bring in another quality player.
"I've known Bouw, I've known his dad for a long time," Hitchcock said. "He's a minute-muncher, he's got great mobility, he's hard to play against because he's mobile, he's got a long stick, he knows how to defend.
"I've had Jay in international play and he's been a really, really good player at high-level games. He's going to be a real good addition for us."
Backes, the Blues' captain, told reporters the players found out during the game.
"Word kind of trickled in here but you can't get distracted by those things," Backes said. "He's not on the ice yet, so we've gotta win games and make plays without him until he gets in.
"It shows we're making some moves to bolster the group of guys we have in here. We feel we had a good group before but a great defenseman with a lot of experience never hurt anybody."