Blues hope free-agency shopping leads to a center addition

News-DemocratJuly 3, 2013 

After making an unsuccessful pitch to land free-agent center Vincent Lecavalier, the St. Louis Blues have reloaded for what could be a wild weekend of NHL free agency and potential trades.

Current league rules allowed teams to begin talking to prospective free agents ahead of the 11 a.m. Friday kickoff. The Blues were involved with several centers according to general manager Doug Armstrong.

"We're going to make a deal that will stand the test of time economically," Armstrong said. "Sometimes you make these deals the first or second day of free feel really good about them and sell some tickets, then you spend five years trying to get rid of the guy. We're not going to do something like that."

Lecavalier, whose previous contract was bought out by Tampa Bay, wound up with a new five-year deal worth a reported $22.5 million from the Philadelphia Flyers.

Does Armstrong like the new setup for early free-agent talks?

"To me it's just legalized tampering right now," he joked. "I was always amused that on July 1 at 11:01 Central time somebody signed for $45 or $50 million dollars. This just cleans up the process; it seems to be much more above board."

After gauging the trade market for goaltenders, Armstrong said Wednesday he is prepared to bring Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott and Jake Allen to training camp if necessary.

Earlier it seemed the Blues were likely to trade one of the goalies. They still could move one before the season begins.

"I would say now that all indications are that Jaro, Brian and Jake will be the three guys in camp," Armstrong said. "When the season ended and the emotion subsides -- and I talked to Ken (Hitchcock) about this more than anything -- ... I kept coming back to a year ago we won the Jennings (Trophy).

"Where would we have been if we didn't have one of these three guys last year? If there's something as a way to improve our team you always look at doing that. But it's a strength, again, for me after time of reflection."

Armstrong felt confident he would be able to sign restricted free agents Alex Pietrangelo and Chris Stewart to contract extensions. Stewart is also arbitration eligible.

"We've got some other guys signed now and we have a number in place with both of those guys, and with Stewie we have an arbitration number," Armstrong said. "There's enough contracts out there for Petro that I know the high and low end of that. We're comfortable that we're going to get these guys in the range that we have budgeted.

"Whether it's in, September, October or November, I don't know. But I'm comfortable we'll get them in areas that we and they believe are fair."

The Blues continue to surface in trade rumors involving several forwards.

Armstrong said that he and Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, adviser Al MacInnis and Blues staffers and former Lecavalier teammates Rob DiMaio and Tim Taylor all met with Lecavalier last Saturday in New York.

Among the selling points were MacInnis moving to St. Louis late in his Hall of Fame career and then staying there, the region's undervalued surroundings and lifestyle, plus the Blues' young nucleus of puck-moving defensemen that excel in the transition game.

Armstrong said he's using the same sales pitch with other free-agent centers the club has targeted.

"Ken described the structure of our play and Al was very strong and passionate about the city of St. Louis," said Armstrong, who added Lecavalier told him the Blues' presentation was among the best he encountered. "I thought we hit all the things that were important. At the end of the day I'm glad we went through the process."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, or on Twitter @NormSanders

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