Bluenotes: More Housekeeping Signings, Two Not Returning, Schwartz News

Bluenotes is (usually) a weekly dose of news, notes, analysis and opinion on the St. Louis Blues by NHL Hot Stove team correspondent Jeff Quirin.

Blues Sign Four Depth Players and a Prospect

St. Louis Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong has been busy the last couple weeks. Since the Roman Polak five year extension was announced Armstrong has averaged a signing every three days. Bringing back four role players and inking a prospect to an ELC.

Scott Neer / TSN Photography

Nikita Nikitin agreed to a one year, one way deal worth $600,000. The 25 year old Russian defenseman appeared in 41 games for the Blues and 22 for their AHL affiliate, the Peoria Rivermen. In 63 combined games “N64″ totaled 4 goals and 23 points.

TJ Hensick signed a two year deal at $600,000 per season in the NHL. In AHL salary the deal breaks down to $105,000 in 2011-12 and $300,000 in 2012-13.  In 13 games with the Blues Hensick only mustered 1 goal and 3 points. Back in Peoria he lead the Rivermen in scoring with 21 goals and 69 points in 59 games.

Checking winger Chris Porter will hang around for another year. He agreed to a one year, two way deal worth $600,000 in the NHL and $105,000 in the AHL. The former North Dakota forward has played all 51 of his career NHL games with the Blues. Amassing 3 goals and 9 points.

Vladimir Sobotka’s three year, $3.9 million dollar deal was “announced” the same day as Polak’s extension, but the paperwork was not complete. The contract became official on June 15th. The $1.3 million AAV breaks down in to $1.2 million in 2011-12, $1.3 million in 12-13 and $1.4 million in 13-14. The , Czech Republic native excelled in all roles and he was put in all roles. Registering 7 goals and 29 points in 65 games last season.

The Blues 2nd round pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Sebastian Wannstrom, agreed to a three year Entry Level Contract on June 16th.The Gavle, Sweden native is part of the Brynas organization in the SEL. While he only tallied two assists in 45 SEL games, the 20 year old forward registered 4 goals and 11 points in 15 games of international competition. Including 2 goals and 5 points in 6 games at the 2011 World Junior Hockey Championships. Wannstrom will play out his final year of his Swedish contract before entertaining a move across the pond. Talent Assessment: Top 9 forward.

All signings that may lack the pizzaz of the Berglund extension or a big UFA fish on July 1st, but important housekeeping items none the less.

Expect Nikitin to battle Ian Cole for the 7th defenseman role in training camp. A battle he likely wins over Cole due to their respective contract statuses. Cole is on a two way and protected from waivers by his ELC.Hensick largely failed to grab a foot hold in Davis Payne’s lineup when given a significant opportunity. He remains a critical producer for the Rivermen. The carrot of another chance to make it in the big show will keep him motivated in Peoria. Porter likely fills the 14th forward spot on the depth chart assuming Armstrong signs a few free agent fillers. If not, Porter will be the 4th left wing. Sobotka slides comfortably in to the 3rd center position. The replacement for Jay McClement is being paid more than his predecessor for a simple reason, offense. McClement’s raise came with some added offensive responsibility under Payne and he regressed. The commitment from the Blues proves belief he’ll excel.

As far as which name is the next in the headlines for a new deal, one isn’t expected ahead of Friday’s NHL Entry Draft.

Scott Neer / TSN Photography

Thank You, But We’re Moving On

According to Blues insider Andy Strickland, two UFAs from last season’s squad will not return. Local boy enforcer Cam Janssen and backup netminder Ty Conklin.

There should be little to no surprise in this news. Conklin’s inconsistent efforts and inability to push Jaroslav Halak paved the way for his exit. The emergence of other tough guys supplanting Janssen in the lineup on a regular basis spelled the end of Bam Bam’s hometown days.

Not to say that both are not excellent figures in the locker room and with the fans. Because they are. Janssen especially is well loved by the fans for not only his on ice antics, but his community involvement.

Conklin may seek out another reserve role with the 29 other teams. Old friends in Detroit come to mind. Ben Bishop is an obvious choice to replace Conk-Block by keeping payroll on non essential positions down to spend elsewhere. But there could be a snag in contract talks. Bishop has paid a good chunk of his AHL dues and is likely looking for a one way deal. The Blues greatly prefer flexibility. Depending on who gets what they want, will determine if an external replacement comes after July 1st.

Janssen will have to take a hard look at the changing landscape of the league. His role, pure enforcer, is on its death bed. Try as he might to bring his game up to an adequate level, and try he certainly did, efforts were just not enough. The days of mindless late hits and chasing down boarding calls are past Cam. The rest of his skill set just isn’t up to where yan Reaves and BJ Crombeen’s are. Both of which exceed physical needs.

Schwartz Watch Alert

Jaden Schwartz, Blues prospect and the 14th overall selection in the 2010 draft, is in the news once again.

The Colorado College sophomore was named to Team Canada’s summer development camp. Considered to be a stepping stone to selection for the World Junior Championships roster.

Inside College Hockey named Schwartz to their 2011-12 Hobey Watch List.

Schwartz may be the most talented player in the country, and if he’s not, he’s certainly in the discussion. Consider that he led the Tigers in scoring even though he missed one third of the team’s games. Had he played the entire schedule, he likely would have approached 25 goals and 70 points—as a freshman. If he stays healthy and scores at a rate similar to last year, it’d be shocking if he wasn’t one of Hobey Hat Trick selections.

For Blues fans it’s very difficult not to get excited for Jaden’s potential future. He will be closely monitored by all, the team and the fans, closely next season.

Filling a Hole? Stats Help.

The primary roster holes to fill this summer are depth forward positions where expertise and experience are needed. Multi-purpose veterans who can move up and down the line up and help on the penalty kill to be specific. A 4th center who can win face-offs is also desired.

Timo Seppa of Puck Prospectus may help determine which centerman should be on Armstrong’s shopping list.

On Monday he unveiled the Ultimate Face-Off Percentage (UFO%). A pretty interesting name (and acronym) that should grab attention for more than the obvious reason.

The Blues were one of the worst teams on the draw last season. Ranked 28th with a 47.3% win rate. Simply not good enough to be a playoff contender. To remedy the ailment Armstrong will have to dabble in to the market.

Seppa’s Top 20 highlights a few UFAs meeting needs:

Zenon Konopka – NYI – 3rd
Marty Reasoner – FLA – 10th
Vernon Fildder – PHO – 14th
Eric Belanger – PHO – 18th

Konopka makes the most sense given Payne’s preferred “philosophy” of rolling three effective lines and using the fourth as a tenderizer in the right situation. The other three could all help the Blues regressing penalty kill.

My choice: Konopka

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