Blues patience pays off with addition of Morrow; roster moves are imminent

News-DemocratSeptember 23, 2013 

— It wasn't all rest and relaxation during the offseason for St. Louis Blues defenseman Barret Jackman, who also found time for a little recruiting.

Jackman's summer place in Idaho isn't far from the one owned by new teammate Brenden Morrow, the former Dallas Stars captain who signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Blues on Monday.

The pair trained hard together during the summer and now will join forces. Morrow will be in the lineup for Friday's exhibition game and will wear No. 10, with Keith Aucoin switching to No. 15.

"We had great conversations all summer about it," Jackman said. "He's definitely a guy that brings a lot to the table and there's a lot of teams that were after him. It was our good fortunate that he was still around at this point.

"He's willing to sacrifice some money to come to a team that he knows he can contribute to and that he sees as a real contender."

Morrow said it took time for the Blues to sign their own free agents before waiting to see if he was still available.

"The (Alex Pietrangelo) deal probably had a lot to factor into whether this was even going to be possible, knowing the type of dollars that were going to be going out on a special player like that," he said.

Told that Morrow recalled their Western Conference battles over the years, Jackman returned the favor.

"If he hates playing against me, it was the same way back," Jackman said. "He's a guy that never stops, it doesn't matter what the score is or the time of the game. He's always coming at you and he's always got a chip on his shoulder. That's something that's going to translate very well to this dressing room."

Also helping with the transition is Morrow's familiarity with Hitchcock's coaching style and system. The two were together in Dallas.

"I started in the league with Hitch," Morrow said. "In Dallas our system was still kind of tailored to a lot of the things and the success they had in the late '90s and early 2000s when Hitch was running the ship. That's what I've grown up with, that's what I knew as a player."

Hitchcock has a pretty good idea what to expect from the veteran forward.

"Familiarity," Hitchcock said. "He knows me, he knows Doug (Armstrong). He knows the way we operate. He's played against our team and he knows how hard we are to play against. I think he feels like hey, this team's got a chance to knock off some of the big dogs here.

"He sees us as a team getting better and wants to be part of it."

Hitchcock believes Morrow has a lot left to give a contending team.

"I don't think Brenden's looking at this as a one-year window, either," he said. "I think he's looking at proving the fact that he's still got three or four years left in the tank and he wants to continue to play hockey."

Hitchcock also has experience when it comes to coaxing a few more miles out of proven veteran players like Morrow. He cited former Dallas players Kirk Muller and John MacLean as examples.

"It's understanding the balance between work and rest," Hitchcock said. "When you play as many minutes as he's played and the style that he's played, you have to put your focus on the hockey games themselves rather than everything around it."

Roster moves on the way?

The signing of Morrow has left 15 forwards under contract and the Blues approaching the ceiling of the NHL salary cap.

The biggest logjam appears to be on the fourth line with the Blues' forward depth better than it has been in years. The Blues signed free-agents Maxim Lapierre and Keith Aucoin over the summer and already have Chris Porter, Ryan Reaves and Adam Cracknell returning.

Aucoin has already cleared waivers.

"We haven't closed the door on anybody, but the competition has dictated where guys are going to be at," said Hitchcock, whose team has two more exhibition games remaining. "We've got lots of time before the first game of the season to decide what we're going to do. By Sunday morning, we're going to get a real good evaluation."

The Blues' decision to bring in Morrow almost forces the team to make a move.

"It's no real difference than if you had a young emerging player," said Hitchcock, who cited impressive rookie winger Dmitrij Jaskin as an example. "To me, the way Jaskin's played in the last week I'd be nervous if I was anybody. He's getting better by the moment and that's just competition, that's the way it goes.

"If a veteran can't cut the grade in training camp, then that gives you options. Or if there's other positions that Doug decides to move a guy out, then that's the way it goes. You're here to make an impression now."

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

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