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Ott returns to Blues; Sobotka looking at KHL

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- In a strange and surprising twist of events Thursday, the St. Louis Blues brought back a familiar face and might be about to lose another.

The Blues re-signed unrestricted free agent forward Steve Ott to a two-year, $5.2 million contract.

After the Blues signed free agent centers Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera, it was thought they would move in a different direction. However, that changed when St. Louis general manager Doug Armstrong learned restricted free agent center Vladimir Sobotka was considering signing with a team in the Kontinental Hockey League.

Sobotka had career-bests of nine goals and 33 points in 61 regular-season games, and three assists in six Stanley Cup Playoff games.

"I can't confirm that he signed in the KHL," Armstrong said. "It was probably late May, early June when I heard that the KHL might be an option that [Sobotka] might consider. … When I got that information I circled back with other players that we were talking to, Steve Ott being one, and we came to a conclusion."

Sobotka and the Blues have an arbitration hearing scheduled for July 21. Armstrong said he would attend but was not sure if Sobotka would be represented.

"We have arbitration pending on July 21," he said. "We're moving forward that we're going to go through that arbitration, an award will be given and that will be his contract for the 2014-15 season. We hope that he will be in training camp under that contract. If he's in the KHL, that contract will toll for future years."

Armstrong said there's no animosity toward Sobotka.

"I want to emphasize this is a business decision by Vlad that I respect," he said. "It does not change my admiration for him as a man and how he plays and what he's accomplished and what he's going to accomplish."

In the short term the Blues will go forward with Ott, 31, who was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres with goaltender Ryan Miller on Feb. 28. He had three assists in 23 regular-season games with the Blues and two points in six Stanley Cup Playoff games.

"[The Blues] were the team I wanted to go to," Ott said. "There was no question in mind of any other stuff. Obviously in unrestricted free agency there's ups and downs, ins, outs, all that kind of stuff. But from the very get-go we were very open with St. Louis and [Armstrong]. It's worked out perfect in the essence of where I want to be and the best chance I thought to win the Stanley Cup. Once I got a taste of it there last year, it was a no-brainer."

Armstrong said he was happy it worked out that he was able to bring Ott back.

"We brought him here for a reason," Armstrong said. "I think he's a really strong utility player. Obviously I think he's going to want to get that first goal as much as we're going to want him to get that off his back. But I think we all saw what type of competitor he was in the playoffs."

The loss of Sobotka could have left the Blues thin in the middle had they not signed Stastny and Lehtora early in free agency. But with those two as well as Joakim Lindstrom, the second-leading scorer in the Swedish Hockey League last season who signed a one-year contract in May, the Blues remain well-fortified up front. Along with Ott's versatility and Maxim Lapierre's ability to win faceoffs, Armstrong said he believes the Blues will be fine.

"When you look at the acquisitions that we made in Stastny, Lindstrom and Lehtera, I really think it's important to have that type of grit and determination in our lineup and that's why I have the admiration in Sobotka but also for Steve Ott," Armstrong said. "I look at Ott and [Ryan] Reaves, they really provide us with a real strong component of nastiness and then obviously you can put that in with [David] Backes, in the strong, competitive nature of [Alexander] Steen and [T.J.] Oshie, [Vladimir] Tarasenko and [Jaden] Schwartz. I like the makeup of our team and I like it having a little bit of sandpaper in there. Talking to the coach [Ken Hitchcock], he likes that element also."

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