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Blues get defenseman Leopold in trade with Sabres

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues are on the cusp of falling below the Stanley Cup Playoff cutoff line in the Western Conference, and with the NHL trade deadline four days away, general manager Doug Armstrong isn't waiting around for asking prices to escalate.

The Blues on Saturday acquired defenseman Jordan Leopold from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a second-round and a conditional fifth-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft that can become a fourth-round pick if the Blues win one playoff round.

Leopold, 32, has eight points (two goals) and is a minus-6 in 24 games for the Sabres this season. The Blues will be his sixth team in a career that began in 2002-03.

With Douglas Murray traded from the San Jose Sharks to Pittsburgh Penguins for a pair of draft picks earlier in the week, Armstrong said he felt the barometer was set and he was ready to strengthen the left side of his defensive unit as a result.

"The first couple deals set the market," Armstrong said on a conference call Saturday afternoon. "Pittsburgh set the market for defensemen when Murray went for a second [round pick] and I think a third that goes to a second based on a certain number of things.

"Pittsburgh was willing to pay for a premium because they saw that specific player in the style that they needed, but it showed that NHL players are what their values are going to be for draft picks. So the market was set, and we had an understanding of what we were willing to pay.

"[Sabres GM] Darcy [Regier] might have been able to hold and see if the market goes up, but with that you're always in the risk of an injury and getting nothing for the player. Everybody has to weigh the proper time for their team, and I know it was the proper time for us."

Leopold, who has played the past three seasons for Buffalo, will be an unrestricted free agent after this season. He will join the Blues in time for their flight to Minneapolis on Sunday and could make his debut Monday night against the Minnesota Wild.

"He's obviously a good player," Regier said. "His contract's up at the end of the year and, where we are as an organization and where the team is, it’s an opportunity to get something that’s more focused on the future."

The Blues, who entered Saturday holding eighth place in the Western Conference, have made it known they have been in the market for a left-handed defenseman since last summer. Jay Bouwmeester of the Calgary Flames has been linked to the Blues for months, but with St. Louis holding a plethora of draft picks acquired through various trades, Leopold was a player they were willing to pay for at this time.

"He provides us with stability and experience back there," Armstrong said of Leopold. "Robby DiMaio (Blues director of pro scouting) works in the Toronto area and has seen quite a bit of him over the last couple years. He's touched every aspect of Buffalo's game. He's second on their team in ice time per game for defense. I think he's third in penalty killing for defense and second in power play for defense. He's a guy that's going to come in here and give us a good, steadying influence on our back end."

Armstrong said the Blues will carry eight defensemen for the remainder of the season, which could mean limited minutes for veteran Wade Redden and 2008 first-round pick Ian Cole.

"I think our goal is first and foremost, we have to get into the playoffs," Armstrong said of the Blues, who are 17-14-2 (36 points). "We've put ourselves in a position now where we're going to have to work hard to maintain our position and improve it. But if you want to get in there and have a potentially long playoff run, you have to have eight or nine quality defensemen. Right now we have eight guys that we know can play and a very good NHL depth player with experience in [Jeff] Woywitka. I think our depth on defense now is much stronger than it was before."

Leopold is a Golden Valley, Minn., native who was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the second round (No. 44) of the 1999 NHL Draft. correspondent Chris Ryndak contributed to this report.

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