A two-time Stanley Cup champion, Team USA captain and Olympic silver medal winner, new Blues forward Jamie Langenbrunner admits that he lost his passion for playing hockey last season.
The New Jersey Devils had asked Langenbrunner, the team's captain since 2007, to waive his no-trade clause in the preseason. The 16-year NHL veteran declined, but in January he finally accepted a deal to Dallas, where the Stars missed a playoff berth on the final day of the season.
The combined record of New Jersey and Dallas when Langenbrunner was on their respective rosters was 27-44-8. At the two stops, he totaled just nine goals and 32 points, a career low in goals and his third-lowest point total in seasons in which he played more than 14 games.
"Jersey had weighed on me so much," Langenbrunner said. "I've always been the type of guy that plays with a lot of emotion and heart, and when you feel like you're not really part of it, it was tough, especially when you're the captain. I didn't enjoy playing hockey anymore, and that is no way to play in this league."
Langenbrunner, 36, said he feels rejuvenated after signing a one-year, $2.5 million base contract with the Blues. He said it was "tough" to walk into a new locker room when he arrived for the club's informal practices last week but, sandwiched between the stalls of Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart, he likes his new company.
"This is a team that I feel is on that doorstep and has the ability to take that next step into that upper group of teams," he said. "I haven't seen this team a ton, but just from watching games when you get home at night, I thought it was a team with a lot of young talent and a goaltender that's proven he can play in big games. That's a big start, and hopefully we can put the other pieces together."
The Blues believe in their core group, but in signing Langenbrunner and veterans Jason Arnott and Scott Nichol, both also 36, the club was looking to add experienced depth and leadership. The moves were met with some skepticism around the league, but general manager Doug Armstrong says the players can still contribute.
"We think Jamie's got real good hockey left in him or else he wouldn't be here," Armstrong said. "As you mature and gain experience, you rely on different parts in your game. He knows why he's here. He's come in here to participate and be a part of a team that's moving forward. He's not 27 anymore, but he's not 57 either."
Langenbrunner might be on the decline based on last season's production. But in two previous years, he posted the two highest point totals of his career: 69 in 2008-09 (including a career-high 29 goals) and 61 points in 2009-10.
"I was given the opportunity to play on a line with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, and we gelled pretty good," Langenbrunner said. "I got some power play time, and I was able to cash in and play well."
The Blues don't expect Langenbrunner to step into a top-six role or line up on the power play. Going into training camp, which begins Sept. 16, he's slotted for the third line with Alex Steen and Arnott, and he's scheduled to be on the penalty-killing unit.
"We feel he's going to provide some work, some defensive responsibility," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "If there's a guy not performing and all of a sudden he takes that responsibility, that's what we're going to find out. That's the role we've discussed."
Langenbrunner said: "Just looking at the talent in this room, that's not going to be my job here, to put up big numbers. It's going to be to chip in and be a secondary guy, and I feel comfortable doing that. If I can do my job and the guys ahead of me are doing theirs, it's going to make our team that much better. The same guy can't be the hero every night. Every championship team that I've been on has had that mentality and had those kind of guys that are willing to win in different roles. That's what I want to do — win again — I don't care about much else."
Although he has a decorated résumé, including serving as captain of Team USA at the 2010 Winter Games, Langenbrunner said his leadership role with the Blues will be a feeling-out process.
"I'm definitely not one that's going to come in here and start stepping on toes," Langenbrunner said. "There's more than one way to do things, and there's more than one way that can be successful.
"But in saying that, there's got to be a little bit of accountability among the guys. From my standpoint, if you see something that doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. I know there's some great leaders in here, guys that have proven themselves over and over again, and those of us coming in are just going to try to add to the message."
Berglund looked up at Langenbrunner's nameplate in the Blues' locker room and said: "It's huge for us to have Jamie here. He's a veteran and a hard-working player, and you can always count on him. We all have so much respect for the guy. We'll all listen to him. Whatever he decides to do, we will support him."