With more scoring and a vacancy at center high on their shopping list, the St. Louis Blues are headed into NHL draft weekend and the league's annual free-agency frenzy hoping to make progress.
"We're going to be active in the free-agent market to see if we can improve our forward group," Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong said Wednesday
The Blues have been linked to potential trade rumors with Ottawa center Jason Spezza and Vancouver center Ryan Kesler and free-agency rumors with Colorado center Paul Stastny, among others.
"I think this is just the time of year where names are circulated and they're not circulated by the teams, they're circulated by social media," Armstrong said. "I feel bad for the players, quite honestly, at this time of the year. There's very little fire behind a lot of smoke with some of these names that you hear."
That being said, Armstrong has never shied away from bold moves. He has traded some big names during his tenure here, including former first overall pick Erik Johnson.
A year ago he shipped out starting goalie Jaroslav Halak and forward Chris Stewart for veteran goalie Ryan Miller. That one didn't work out and Miller is back on the free-agent market, but Armstrong can't be accused of not trying.
Armstrong has also dealt former first-round picks David Perron, David Rundblad and Lars Eller with the Blues still searching for that elusive Stanley Cup championship.
"We've been at the forefront of teams in the league as far as making trades over the last four or five years," Armstrong said. "That's a result of where we were in the league, our needs then, and the growth of our players because they were improving."
Armstrong said he has spoken with all of the Blues' unrestricted free agents. There may be interest in bringing back veteran forward Steve Ott at the right price, but Armstrong said Ott and fellow unrestricted free agents Brenden Morrow, Derek Roy and Carlo Colaiacovo will be allowed to re-enter free agency.
"We don't close the door on anyone, but they're going to look and we're going to look," Armstrong said. "Our goaltending is set and we have seven defensemen signed."
Armstrong admits the club needs more scoring, but he really liked the way youngsters Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz impacted the offense last season.
The 22-year-old Tarasenko has 29 goals and 62 points in 102 NHL games, including 21 goals and 43 points in 64 games last season. The Russian winger also had four goals in the Blues' six-game playoff loss to Chicago.
Schwartz, also 22, was fourth on the Blues scoring list with 25 goals and 56 points in 80 games. He has 34 goals and 72 points in 132 NHL games.
"With our goal scoring, we need to find goals at more important times and that's obviously been an issue the last two playoffs," Armstrong said. "I'm excited about where Tarasenko is, he might be the home-grown talent we need but you can't discount the number of goals that Schwartz had at 21 years old, either."
Schwartz is a restricted free agent, but the Blues control his rights. Center Patrik Berglund, who just finished a one-year deal worth $3.25 million, and versatile forward Vladimir Sobotka is also a restricted free agent.
Sobotka had nine goals and 33 points in 61 games last season while being one of the team's top faceoff artists and penalty killers.
On defense, Armstrong said former first-round pick Ian Cole -- who was hardly used down the stretch and didn't play at all in the playoffs -- will be given a chance to nail down a job.
"I view Ian as a guy that's going to be given every opportunity in our group of six next year," Armstrong said. "He's paid his apprenticeship dues and now he's going to be given an opportunity to take a larger bite out of our team."
Defenseman Barret Jackman has one year remaining at $3.16 million, Roman Polak has two years remaining at $2.75 million per season, and Jordan Leopold is in the final year of a deal that will pay him $2.5 million.
Defensemen Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester and Kevin Shattenkirk are all locked in with long-term deals.
With the NHL salary cap ceiling at $71 million for next season, Capgeek.com report the Blues' current payroll at $49.3 million and $21.7 million in cap space.
"We have a committed ownership group that wants to continue to push," Armstrong said. "It's time to move forward. We didn't win and we have to find ways to get better. You have to always be trying to improve and our goal is to compete with the teams at the top of the league and fight for the championship."