After looking for defensive help all season, the St. Louis Blues pulled the trigger Saturday on a deal for veteran Buffalo Sabres defenseman Jordan Leopold.
The Blues acquired the offensive defenseman in exchange for a second round pick and conditional fifth round pick in the 2013 draft. That fifth-round pick becomes a fourth-rounder if the Blues win a playoff round.
"He's going to come in here and give us a good steadiness on the back end," Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong said Saturday. "This is a deal that we were looking to try to make using a pick or a prospect to improve our team. Right now I think our depth is strong and we didn't have to trade a roster player to improve our team."
Also on Saturday, the Blues assigned rookie goaltender Jake Allen to the Peoria Rivermen to make room for Leopold on the 23-man roster. Veteran goalie Brian Elliott was assigned to Peoria on Thursday as part of a conditioning assignment and is expected to rejoin the Blues on Sunday.
"Our goal is first and foremost, we have to get into the playoffs," said Armstrong, whose 17-14-2 club began Saturday with the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot, but just one point ahead of the next three contenders. "We've put ourselves into a position now where we're going to have to work hard to maintain our position and improve it."
The 32-year-old Leopold has two goals, eight points and 14 penalty minutes in 24 games with the Sabres this season.
"I think his biggest area of strength is his ability to touch all the areas of the game," Armstrong said. "He's just a good pro. He's not flashy; he doesn't bring you out of your seats, but we're not looking or that. We're looking for consistent ice time and a guy that can help push the game along."
Leopold should feel right at home when he makes his Blues debut on Monday in Minnesota against the Wild.
He is a native of Golden Valley, Minn., who also helped the University of Minnesota win a national championship as a collegiate player.
Leopold was the 44th overall pick in the 1999 draft, selected by the Anaheim Ducks.
Leopold is known as an offensive defenseman who has plenty of power-play experience. Since the Blues are happy with the third defense pairing of Roman Polak and Kris Russell, Leopold likely will be paired with Alex Pietrangelo or Kevin Shattenkirk.
Armstrong said the Blues will carry eight defenseman for the rest of the season with Wade Redden and Ian Cole also competing for time.
"It gives us a little bit of flexibility and we'll find out where the proper chemistry is," Armstrong said. "To potentially have a long playoff run, you have to have eight or nine quality defenseman. Right now we have eight guys we know can play and a very good depth player with NHL experience in (Jeff) Woywitka . I think our depth on defense now is much stronger than it was before."
In 10 NHL seasons with Calgary, Colorado, Florida, Pittsburgh and Buffalo, Leopold has 65 goals and 202 points in 610 games.
His salary is $3 million for this season, but Leopold can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. Will the Blues look to sign him for the future?
"The beauty of this is we're going to get a look at him, he's going to get a good look at us and see if there's a fit," Armstrong said. "We're hoping that he comes in and plays real well, finds chemistry. He's certainly got some miles left on the tires so if it's a good it...it's something we can certainly look at."
Armstrong made the trade after consulting with Blues Director of Pro Scouting Rob DiMaio, a former NHL forward who lives in the Toronto area.
"He knows his players and if he puts his stamp on him, that's enough for me," Armstrong said. "He's going to give us minutes and give us consistent minutes. We're not looking for players that are going to give us a lot of surprises. We're looking for consistency and we think that's what he he's going to be for us."
Leopold's best recent season was 2010-11 with the Sabres, when he had 13 goals and 35 points in 71 games. He also had 10 goals and 24 points in 79 games last season for Buffalo.
Armstrong said the Blues are still looking to improve before Wednesday's trade deadline.
"I think you're always looking, the phones aren't going to stop ringing until Wednesday at 2 o'clock, so we're always going to be listening," he said. "But we feel a lot stronger; we feel our depth is much more improved as of 3 o'clock today than it was at 3 o'clock yesterday."
It was an up and down season for Leopold and the Sabres, who are hovering near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
In a recent interview with the Olean Times Herald, Leopold talked about the possibility of being traded again.
"I have three kids and a pregnant wife," he said. "I'm pretty settled here in Buffalo. I look at it as a family aspect. Playing the game of hockey is the same wherever you go. You just have to go out there and do your job."
Allen was 8-3 in 12 games with the Blues, posting a 2.45 goals-against average and .906 save percentage.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Jaroslav Halak will start Monday against the Minnesota Wild.
"Our focus now is to go with two goalies for a while and get back to a more normal practice and travel routine," said Armstrong, whose team had been carrying three goaltenders on the NHL roster.
In there anything to be read into the recent goaltending moves?
"I think Ken is probably better equipped to answer that question than I am," Armstrong said. "But right now I see Jaro and Ells as our two goalies."
In Elliott's first game on his conditioning assignment with Peoria, he allowed three goals on 29 shots Friday in a 4-2 loss to Oklahoma City. He was scheduled to get another start Saturday before rejoining the Blues on Sunday.