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STL Blues: A new look for a new era

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  • STL Blues: A new look for a new era

    A new look for a new era
    By Jeremy Rutherford
    Of the Post-Dispatch

    The NHL's free-agent frenzy has crawled to a stop as teams get set to open training camp in two weeks and then drop the puck for real in 33 days.

    Only four transactions were reported Thursday, down from more than two dozen on the busiest August days.

    "It was active," Blues general manager Larry Pleau said. "There were lots of spots to fill, so you knew it would be active. Most teams are going to have a lot of different faces. For the fans, it will be real exciting."

    Blues fans may be among those excited about the return of hockey, but the enthusiasm has been curtailed by their team being one of the least active in the free-agent market since it opened Aug. 1.

    The club signed only three free agents who will be in training camp Sept. 14: forwards Dean McAmmond, Aaron Downey and Trent Whitfield. Those three players will account for about $1,825,000 of the team's $31,573,800 payroll for the 2005-06 season.

    The pending sale of the franchise did not allow the Blues to offer any long-term or megabuck contracts. The sale, in fact, led to the club's biggest splash of August, trading fan-favorite defenseman Chris Pronger to the Edmonton Oilers.

    "We weren't going to get tied up in long-term contracts," Pleau said. "We're working off certain figures, and we'll continue to work that way."

    With that as the scene-setter, the Blues are preparing for camp hoping the signings of McAmmond and Downey, and trades that brought them defenseman Eric Brewer and goaltender Patrick Lalime, can keep the team competitive.

    It appears offense will be the Blues' biggest challenge when the regular season opens Oct. 5 in Detroit. The only returning players who scored in double digits in 2003-04 are Keith Tkachuk (33 goals), Doug Weight (14), Dallas Drake (13), Mike Sillinger (13) and Petr Cajanek (12).

    Pavol Demitra, the Blues' second-leading scorer in 2003-04 with 23 goals, signed a three-year contract worth $13.5 million with the Los Angeles Kings last month.

    "His better years, he was a top-10 scorer in the league," Blues coach Mike Kitchen said. "He's very creative, loves to be a playmaker. In fact, we'd always be on him to shoot more. Any organization would miss a player like that."

    None of the three forwards signed by the Blues has the tools of Demitra.

    McAmmond, 32, is better known for his speed than his scoring. He has 135 career goals, but he has scored more than 20 goals in a season only once (21 with Calgary in 2001-02).

    "He will have the opportunity to get good ice time," Kitchen said. "His role might be more than with some other teams. And put in that situation, I think he'll play well. I expect a real good year number-wise."

    McAmmond has said that scoring 15 goals this season shouldn't be a problem.

    "But I've learned in the past years that I play my best when I just prepare properly," McAmmond said. "I think I can bring a lot of experience. I have a lot of speed. And with the new rule changes, I think that it'll probably be an advantage for me."

    Downey, 30, and Whitfield, 28, bring even less offense, combining to score 12 goals in 264 games. Downey is an energy guy who isn't afraid to engage in heavyweight battles.

    "He's definitely going to bring some leadership to the dressing room," Blues winger Reed Low said. "It's not a surprise what him and I bring to a lineup. We bring the toughness, the energy. He knows his role, and he plays it well."

    McAmmond, who played in Calgary before joining the Blues, said he's not worried about the team's lack of scoring wingers.

    "The one year Jarome Iginla had 52 goals in Calgary (2001-02), we didn't even make the playoffs," McAmmond said. "In 2004, we had a number of guys that had 16, 17 goals, and we (advanced to the Stanley Cup finals). I see that as the situation here. I think you'll get good performances out of guys who are willing to make that sacrifice."

    Of course, what the Blues do defensively will make a huge difference on the demand for offense, and the team's most notable additions have come in the defensive end, with Brewer and Lalime.

    Pleau said Brewer, acquired in the Pronger trade, would become the team's No. 1 defenseman, and Blues players don't doubt that.

    "Just playing against (Brewer) in Edmonton, he's one of those players that can take up a lot of minutes and can play all positions," defenseman Bryce Salvador said. "It's a great addition."

    Forward Jamal Mayers said: "I think it's unfair to compare him to Prongs, but I do think he's a world-class defenseman in his own right."

    Brewer would like to improve his scoring - he had seven goals in 2003-04. Other than that, Brewer is unfazed by comparisons to Pronger or the idea of becoming a leader for the Blues.

    "Once I get into the room, I don't talk a lot, but I'm ready to play," Brewer said. "My teammates and people realize that quickly. I'm ready to go, and I expect that of other guys. If that's not the case, things have to change. You've got to stick together."

    Kitchen said: "You always know what you're trading away, but you're not 100 percent of what you're getting in return. I think people will be pleasantly surprised when he gets here and starts playing."

    That was the case with Lalime, who arrived earlier this week at the Blues' practice facility. Blues players were awed by Lalime's size (6 feet 2, 191 pounds).

    "He takes up so much of the net," Mayers said. "It's tough to find any holes, and it's not even a real game situation."

    Lalime said size is "a big part of my game, taking up a lot of net, trying not to give them much."

    The Blues got Lalime from Ottawa for a fourth-round draft pick in 2004, after Lalime shouldered much of the blame for the Senators' first-round playoff exit that year.

    Kitchen said the Blues' confidence in Lalime would soar once the season begins. "And the more we play, he's going to feel more comfortable," Kitchen said.

    "I'm just ready to get camp going," Lalime said.

    That appears to be the case for all of the Blues' players - new and old.

    "We all have to prove who we are by how we play," Pleau said.

    "Can't buy what I want because it's free...
    Can't buy what I want because it's free..."
    -- Pearl Jam, from the single Corduroy

  • #2
    25 YEARS!!!!!!!1 :P


    • #3
      When are they going to name a new C???
      Official Lounge Sponsor of:
      Brett Hull & St. Patricks Day


      • #4
        While I'm with the contingent of throwing Larry into the Superdome for a few nights, I'm of the mind that it's good for Blues fans that he didn't blow his wad all this year.

        The fact of the matter is, there were way too many stupid contracts that did not at all appreciate the new collective bargaining agreement (Mike Modano and your five year $17.5m contract at age 35, COME ON DOWN!) and those teams will suffer mightily as a result.

        Let's hope that the new owner does with Larry what should be done to Larry and the team starts off with bountiful payroll opportunities and a blessed new General Manager.
        The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life. -TR


        Madyaks2 Thought Of The Day: I'm just as dumb as madyaks1.


        • #5
          Originally posted by BlueBrained@Sep 2 2005, 12:12 AM
          When are they going to name a new C???
          Keith Tkachuk or Doug Weight???


          • #6
            He should've been fired with Quenneville.

            I can't wait for the new owner(s) to clean house.
            RIP Chris Jones 1971-2009
            You'll never be forgotten.


            • #7
              Originally posted by TC+Sep 2 2005, 01:38 AM-->
              QUOTE(TC @ Sep 2 2005, 01:38 AM)