ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong has not ruled out forward Vladimir Sobotka returning to them this season.
Sobotka, 29, who last played for the Blues in the 2013-14 season, reported earlier this week to Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. He has one year remaining on his contract with the KHL team, but, according to Armstrong, wants to return to the NHL this season.
"Strange enough, he's gone back to the KHL, but he's left his family in Prague and he's still working on trying to get out of his deal [with Avangard Omsk]," said Armstrong, who returned to St. Louis on Friday after being in Toronto as Team Canada GM for the World Cup of Hockey 2016. "It was complicated, more complicated as I found out when we got into Toronto and met with him directly.
"The cold notes version is he signed a deal there, the [Russian] ruble crashed, they renegotiated and from my understanding is they told him, 'No problem, sign this and took the out clause out.' Whether that's true or not, I don't know. It's been a difficult one. I know he's not happy with how it's gone on. I don't want to say he's not happy playing there, but I know he wants to play in the NHL. He had a tough ending to the season last year with an injury that got him to look at things a little bit differently.
"He still wants to come back to the NHL, he's still trying to get out of that contract there. It's been very tough on him. It's certainly been tough on our fans. It's something I've tried not to talk about. I don't want to not answer the questions when they're asked. It's sort of growing a life of its own now. I don't need to put a timeline on it because we're not playing for a couple weeks if he needs more time to see if he can get out of it, but at some point, they're probably at 25 percent into their schedule now. And it's just an economic situation."
Sobotka, who had 29 goals and 72 assists in 247 regular-season games for the Blues from 2010-14, was awarded a one-year, $2.725 million contract in arbitration in 2014, but then left for the KHL. That would be his salary if he returns to the NHL and also roughly the amount he would have to pay to get out of his KHL contract.
"There's a dollar value that they want and there's a dollar value he doesn't want to pay, and at some point if they can find a middle ground ... what we're trying to do is tell him it's an investment in his future," Armstrong said. "For any free agent, not just him, it's a great time to be entering a free agent year. There's 30 teams, next year there's 31. Everyone's losing one player off their roster that they would not want to lose, because of the expansion draft, and he'll be 30 years old. It's a great time for him to come back, but as I said to him, 'It's easy for me to spend your money. Like, you just pay it,' but it's not my money.
"I understand it's a difficult decision, and I feel for the player because he ... probably in hindsight, we should have been able to find a deal and kept him here. I think he feels that way too. But that's water under the bridge now. I'm not worried about that. I'd love to have him back here. He's a good kid, he's a good man and he's a good player, but our team was very competitive the two years he wasn't here. This team went farther than they'd gone in 15 years last year without him here. I'd love to have him back; he's a good player, but like it was with an injured player, you just have to move forward. If he comes back, that's great. If he doesn't, we're ready to move forward."
Armstrong was under the impression earlier in the offseason that Sobotka was coming back to the Blues.
"Talking to the agent (Petr Svoboda), it was 100 percent he was coming back," Armstrong said. "So I just proceeded that it was 100 percent he was coming back. They were working on the details. Dealing with the KHL, it must be difficult. I don't have to deal with them very often, and it's something that went from 100 percent to 90 to 80 to 50/50. So now we're going to have to find out. It's more he has to find out for himself now."