Blues ownership committed to improve

2012-07-14T00:25:00Z 2012-07-19T14:00:05Z Blues ownership committed to improveBY JEFF GORDON • On Hockey
July 14, 2012 12:25 am  • 

The Blues have the resources needed to win a Stanley Cup.

Ladue's tony neighborhoods are well-represented in Tom Stillman's ownership group. Old money, new money: It adds up quite nicely.

The franchise is no longer a ward of the National Hockey League. The team can meet payroll without calling Commissioner Gary Bettman for help.

The local investors are committed to sustaining hockey here at a high level.

But fans remain anxious. Other teams are making splashy moves in free agency, and the Blues are not. Other teams are rumored to be making blockbuster trades, and the Blues are not.

Their only notable veteran addition thus far is journeyman defenseman Jeff Woywitka, who returned to the organization as a depth player.

Surely you remember Woywitka. He arrived from Edmonton in the unfortunate Chris Pronger trade back in 2005, after the franchise decided to quit spending what it took to keep its top players.

Woywitka and fellow defenseman Eric Brewer became symbolic of another bleak period in franchise history. Billionaire owners Bill and Nancy Laurie pulled their financial chute and fled the NHL, leaving behind a shell of a team.

Today, the Blues are building up, not selling off. The hockey operation is eschewing quick fixes while aiming for major long-haul success.

Forward David Perron got a four-year deal for a shade under $16 million. The team hopes to strike a new long-term deal with forward T.J. Oshie to avoid arbitration later this month.

Retaining cornerstone defenseman Alex Pietrangelo through his prime years will require a massive investment, one the team is now capable of making.

The Blues built a foundation of emerging players during the transitory Dave Checketts Era. The franchise rose from last overall in 2006 to last season's 109-point finish.

Now, Stillman's regime hopes to build something special atop that foundation. Blue-chip prospects Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko are ready to join this group, and fellow youngsters Phil McRae, Cade Fairchild and Ty Rattie may not be far behind.

The current talent base is strong, and general manager Doug Armstrong will continue exploring every possible avenue to make it even better.

He hoped to add a high-end defenseman through free agency this summer until the pricing became outrageous. Wisely, he decided not to spend money just to spend money.

Dennis Wideman? The former Blues power-play specialist remains suspect in his own zone, but he still got $26.25 million over five years in Calgary.

Matt Carle? The Blues liked this prototypical No. 4 defenseman a lot, but not for the $33 million over six years he will earn from Tampa Bay.

Ryan Suter? Armstrong knew Suter would command silly money and, sure enough, he got $98 million over 13 years in Minnesota.

None of these defensemen is in the same class as Pietrangelo, who is emerging as a perennial contender for the Norris Trophy. Overpaying Suter, Carle or even Wideman on long-term deals could have handcuffed the Blues down the road.

Those oversized contracts made Armstrong's retention of free-agent defenseman Barret Jackman ($9.5 million over three years) a real bargain.

The Blues are fortunate. While some rival franchises are doomed by overmatched leadership, this team has an excellent hockey operation.

Armstrong makes smart trades (Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart. Jaroslav Halak, Matt D'Agostini) and spends well in free agency (Brian Elliott, Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner).

So fans should trust him to keep shopping with an eye toward value. Armstrong is still seeking a defenseman, since unrestricted free agent Carlo Colaiacovo (19 points in 64 games last season) appears headed elsewhere.

Center Jason Arnott (17 goals in 72 games) could also move on as a free agent. His exit would subtract size and skill from the front lines, something Armstrong would have to address.

But the key Blues pieces are already in place. Coach Ken Hitchcock likes his team a lot and knows it will only get better.

The incumbent scorers have even more to give than we saw last season, when Andy McDonald (57 games) Alex Steen (39 games), D'Agostini (27 games) and Perron (25 games) missed huge chunks of the campaign.

The young newcomers will add energy and skill. Returning veterans Langenbrunner and Scott Nichol will help the group retain its grit.

Armstrong remains focused on winning games next spring, not making headlines this July. When it's time to spend, the Blues will spend.

Stillman and his well-heeled backers are willing and able to bleed blue.

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