Bluenotes: Tarasenko & Schwartz Decide, Perron & Berglund Updates

Bluenotes is a weekly does of news, notes, analysis and opinion on the St. Louis Blues. Catch my (sometimes) daily Bluenotes at BlueNoteZone.com.

Tarasenko Chooses Sibir over St. Louis

Photo Credit: Fanny Schertzer

As reported on Tuesday May 24th, St. Louis Blues top prospect, Russian sniper Vladimir Tarasenko, has elected to complete the final year of his two year KHL contract. He will not be joining the Blues for the 2011-12 NHL season.

The news brought a initial shock to the St. Louis Blues and General Manager Doug Armstrong, but is far from cataclysmic. Certainly the Blues wanted the captain of the 2011 WJC Gold Medal winning squad on their roster for the 11-12 campaign. Not having enough NHL quality depth up front really hindered efforts at the high point of the injury epidemic this past season. Tarasenko’s skill and compete levels are NHL ready.

Tank coming over would have given the Note four highly skilled options on right wing for their top three lines. Providing tremendous depth and even some wiggle room for Armstrong to shift strength to address other weak points via trade.

That said, it’s too easy to make much to do about nothing. Armstrong will just shift focus from adding Tarasenko to finding a serviceable, veteran option to improve depth.

As far as Vova goes in the KHL, he will be fine. The kid is still a kid. At age 19 he may not be mentally ready to make the jump from the club his father coaches (Sibir)  to a city half a world away. The KHL is argueably the second best league in the world. At least on par with the AHL. Which is where Tarasenko “should be” if not in the NHL or KHL.

He will continue to develop. He will come over. Judging by the comments made by Sibir’s GM, they’re not counting on him past the end of his contract.

Schwartz Sticks With Colorado College

Photo Credit: Bhockey10

Speculation at the conclusion of the regular season pointed to Colorado College forward and the Blues top selection in the 2010 draft (14th overall), Jaden Schwartz, leaving the college ranks for the WHL. A definitive answer seems to have come Monday morning. The Colorado Springs Gazette reported that Schwartz confirmed via text to the Gazette Sunday that he will return for his sophomore year.

American College or Canadian Juniors? Doesn’t really matter. Either way Schwartz is playing high level and pushing his development forward. Having big brother Rylan around for their first full school year / hockey season without sister Mandi is probably the best thing for Jaden at this point. Jumping to the WHL may marginally improve his growth over NCAA quality competition, but remove him from his partnership with his brother.

Perron Progressing, But Not Ready Yet

St. Louis Post Dispatch Blues beat writer Jeremy Rutherford wrote Tuesday that concussed forward David Perron’s condition is improving, but he is not back to normal yet. He quoted Armstrong for an appraisal of the situation.

“We’ve talked to David, and he’s feeling better, but he’s not at the point where he’s coming back to St. Louis to take the necessary tests before he can train.”… “He’s taking small steps ahead, but not to the point where he has passed his tests to begin his summer training program.”

Photo Credit: Matthieu Masquelet

Armstrong also indicated that if Perron’s concussion symptoms continued in to July, the team would plan to start the 2011-12 season without tinted visor wearing left winger.

There isn’t much that can be said of Perron’s concussion anymore. Fans are upset that he continues to struggle to recover and Joe Thornton escaped the correct amount of retribution in the three games against the Sharks after the injury. The franchise is upset to lose one of the more marketable and lovable fan favorites. It’s a sad lose, lose situation that everyone involved is waiting for a silver lining to appear.

As Armstrong indicates, the line in the sand is quickly approaching to say when to not factor Perron in to next season’s plans. Does that mean adding a left winger who can shuffle between the 2nd, 3rd and 4th lines? The answer is likely affirmative as we come back to the depth theme. Bringing in someone like a Pascal Dupuis, Max Talbot, Ethan Moreau, Scottie Upshall or Chris Higgins provides a player who can ratchet up and down as needed and also fit in to payroll constraints. Then if Perron were to return mid season the player brought in is not totally out of place and can fulfill a different role.

Dupuis and Talbot should be targets if Ray Shero doesn’t keep them in Pittsburgh. Both have Cup winning experience and were a part of the top rated penalty kill in the NHL last season. An area the Blues must improve on. They dropped from 1st in 2009-10 to 18th in 10-11.

Contract Offerings

As Andy Strickland of TrueHockey.com reported Monday, the Blues and Swedish Center Patrik Berglund appear to be close on contract negotiations.

The Blues have made a two-year offer to forward Patrik Berglund.  The two sides have agreed on the term but have yet to settle on a number. Look for Berglund to eventually sign a two-year contract that pays him between $2.1-$2.5 million per year.

Photo Credit: Bridget Samuels / Flickr

 

Strickland later reported on Thursday that an announcement on a deal should be expected soon and around his previously reported $2.1 million/year for two years range.

Such a deal would be both responsible and generous. The Blues would avoid over paying based on his second half and World Championships performances and keep the hit on the payroll low enough that the front office can continue to add more pieces. The offer is well over double both is ELC salary and his Qualifying Offer.

Assuming Berglund’s late winter and spring display of dominance is the dam breaking, a powerful Swedish flood is coming to St. Louis. David Backes is more than a respectable centerman, but Berglund was drafted with the expectation and projection of becoming a number one center. No time like the present to realize some of that potential.

Off Season Plans According to National Media

Off Season prognostication and analysis is beginning for those hockey clubs no longer in the NHL playoffs. Scott Cullen of TSN and Lyle Richardson of Spector’s Hockey made mention of the Blues this week.

While Cullen provides more of an informative and accurate, high level overview of the Blues off season as a whole, Lyle goes in to a little more detail. At least in regards to a little tinfoil hat speculation. Suggesting that Armstrong will not just sit back and roll the same lineup from the March/April 2011 out 6 months later for the start of the 11-12 campaign. The move to be made? Trading away one of the Blues many RFAs along with one or more of the Blues second round draft picks for an upgrade at forward. Then pursue an experienced free agent defenseman.

A wise hockey man will always take such banter with a grain of salt. Just don’t unscrew the top of the shaker. It will certainly take “the right deal” for Armstrong to consider moving the restricted winger 29 other teams would love to have, Oshie, he will not balk at pulling the trigger. Even if it would be a fan favorite like number 74.

The Aces are Aces!

The Blues ECHL affiliate, the Alaska Aces, defeated the Kalamazoo Wings 5-2 on Saturday May 21st to win their second Kelly Cup in the last six seasons. In the 4-1 series win the Aces were lead by playoff MVP Scott Howes who registered 7 goals and 19 points in 12 games. He had been playing for months with a torn labrum in his left shoulder according to the Anchorage Daily News. Now that’s a “hockey player”. Also according to ADN, Howe is the first non goaltender to win the award since Aces winger Mike Scott won in 2006.

FYI – That 2006 squad was coached by current Blues bench boss Davis Payne.

A Quick List of Names

A question consistently coming up this spring is who will the Blues pursue in free agency. As discussed already in this blog, there are holes to fill and a few more that haven’t been discussed.

Assuming the Perron void is filled and key RFAs return (Berglund, Oshie, Matt D’Agostini, Roman Polak), the three most obvious holes are a left handed top two pairing defenseman, a 3rd/4th line center and a backup netminder.

Here is a short list of who the Blues could end up going after.

Defenseman
Andrei Markov
Christian Ehrhoff
Joni Pitkanen
Roman Hamrlik
Scott Hannan
Jan Hejda
Hall Gill
Andy Greene

Center
Marty Reasoner
Eric Belanger
Zenon Konokpa
Scott Nichol
Rob Neidermayer
Vernon Fiddler
Marcel Goc

Goalie
Johan Hedberg
Mike Smith
Josh Harding
Thomas Greiss
Brian Boucher
Pascal Leclaire

* Don’t count out Blues RFA netminder Ben Bishop as taking the backup gig.