Blues come up short twice on centers, but find one in Lapierre

News-DemocratJuly 6, 2013 

After failing twice trying to land a free-agent center earlier Friday, the St. Louis Blues signed former Vancouver center Maxim Lapierre.

Lapierre received a two-year, $2.2 million deal.

"We were talking with five or six teams and we got the call from the Blues out of nowhere," said the 28-year-old Lapierre, who typically has been a physical third or fourth-line center. "They're a team we talked about in the past and we respect the way they play. They're a hard working team and they're physical. We thought it was the perfect match for me, so that's why we signed right away."

A second-round pick by the Canadiens in 2003, Lapierre had four goals and 10 points in 48 games last season with Vancouver. Known as a physical, agitating forward, he spent the last three seasons with the Canucks. He had nine goals and 19 points in 82 games in 2011-12 ad his best season was 15 goals and 28 points with Montreal in 2008-09.

Lapierre liked the Blues' young nucleus, pointing to the close games Vancouver would seemingly always have against them.

"I personally feel they're a contender and they're a team that can go all the way this year," Lapierre said. "I'm a guy that likes to win and I wanted to play on a team that fits well with the type of player I am. St. Louis is a team that has good defense and is physical and that's a good fit for me."

The Blues and General Manager Doug Armstrong made no secret of their desire to pursue centers in free agency. Their two top targets Friday were former Florida center Stephen Weiss, who wound up signing a five-year, $24.5 million deal with the Detroit Red Wings, and Valtteri Filpulla, who signed with Tampa Bay (five years, $25 million).

The Blues were in the hunt for both, each time making it to the final stage before their potential catch wriggled off the hook, according to Armstrong. They also were heavily involved in talks for veteran center Vincent Lecavalier, who signed a five-year, $22.5 million contract with the Flyers.

"Talking to Stephen Weiss the last couple days, he looked at our team and Detroit as very similar and very good homes for him," Armstrong said. "At the end of the day he wanted an opportunity to play with (Detroit stars Pavel) Datsyuk and (Henrik) Zetterberg -- and that's something we couldn't offer."

If Armstrong was frustrated, he didn't show it during the interview.

"We made what we thought were offers that would be good today and moving forward and ultimately the players chose different directions," he said. "I'm very satisfied with the effort we made to sign them. Our job is to look at this free agent group and we pinpointed guys. It's not like we have to sign someone today. We had two guys that we had primary focus on and we went after those guys."

The Lapierre deal was done later in the day after the Blues had failed to sign another center.

"Sometimes it gets overstated, but when we looked to add players we're looking to add to a team that I'm very comfortable with," Armstrong said. "I know that we have to find a way to perform better in the playoffs. But this is a center ice (position) that got us home ice the last two years in the playoffs. We were hoping to improve it, but it's not like it was broken."

In some earlier moves Friday during the NHL's free agent frenzy, the Blues traded defenseman Kris Russell and signed veteran center Keith Aucoin.

Aucoin was signed to a one-year deal worth $625,000. He had a career high six goals last season along with 12 points in 41 games for the New York Islanders. Aucoin (5-foot-8-inches, 172 pounds), who played previously with Carolina and Washington, has 17 goals and 49 points in 143 NHL games.

Armstrong recently talked about the importance of locking up the Blues' home-grown talent while at the same time trying to improve the core group.

"We don't want to overpay," he said. "Rightly or wrongly, I have a hard time giving someone from outside the organization 50 to 60 percent more than giving guys that we've developed and drafted and are here. We value these players on how they fit into our team."

Translation? Armstrong like the current roster a lot.

"If you go out and do something very aggressive, it's hard then to pick up the phone and say to your own guys 'You can't get that type of finances from us, we only give that to guys that don't play here," Armstrong said. "That's a a hard sell."

The Blues got a fifth-round pick in 2014 for Russell, who recently cleared waivers after receiving a qualifying offer from the Blues.

In other moves linked to the Blues' new Chicago Wolves' minor-league affiliate, the team signed forwards Mark Mancari and Alexandre Bolduc to one-year, two-way deals. Mancari, 27, had 22 goals and 61 points in 76 games last season for Rochester in the AHL. The 6-4, 208-pound veteran has three goals and 13 points in 42 NHL games.

Bolduc had no points in 14 games with the Phoenix Coyotes last season, He had 24 goals and 51 points in 56 games for the AHL's Portland Pirates. In 62 previous NHL games, Bolduc has two goals and five points. He was a fourth-round draft choice by the Blues (127th overall) in 2003.

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

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