Could veteran leadership put the Blues back in the playoffs?

The St. Louis Blues added some much needed veteran leadership to their organization when they signed Jason Arnott and Jaime Langenbrunner to 1-year deals on Wednesday. The veteran pair join a team that finished 11th in the Western Conference in 2010-11; their final standings would have been worse if it weren’t for a strong finish to their season. But even though the Blues were the Central Division’s 4th place team a season ago, there’s reason to hope the Blues will be a much improved team next season.

The most important trait that Arnott and Langenbrunner bring to the table is unquestionably their veteran leadership—both players have been around the block a few times. They’ve both been through the rigors of the Stanley Cup playoffs and both know what it takes to win a Stanley Cup.

It’s a perfect fit from the team’s point of view. The Blues are a team filled with young players with plenty of potential, but there’s very little veteran leadership to show the kids the correct way to play and handle themselves off the ice. That’s where the new acquisitions will come into play for GM Doug Armstrong.

Since this is the NHL, the newest members of the Blues will be expected to bring more than the sage wisdom of respected elders. Langenbrunner and Arnott may be on the downside of their respective careers, but both players are still capable of playing in secondary roles in the NHL. Jeremy Rutherford thinks the lines will look something like this on opening night:

With David Perron:

McDonald-Backes-Perron
Oshie-Berglund-Stewart
Steen-Arnott-D’Agostini
Sobotka-Nichol-Langenbrunner/Crombeen

Without David Perron:

McDonald-Backes-D’Agostini
Oshie-Berglund-Stewart
Steen-Arnott-Langenbrunner
Sobotka-Nichol-Crombeen

Rutherford isn’t the only one throwing out roster projections either. Any way you cut it, the Blues have plenty of forward depth for the first time in years. Players like Evgeny Grachev, B.J. Crombeen, and Scott Nichol will have to fight for their spot on the roster instead of having it handed to them in training camp. Remember, this is a team that only two seasons ago looked like one of the good, up-and-coming young teams in the NHL. The majority of the foundation is still in place—now they just have some veterans to point them in the right direction.

Andy Strickland gets to the heart of the matter in a roundtable over at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

“It’s hard to argue both players won’t be welcome additions on and off the ice. The Blues didn’t bring them on board to babysit and watch over the Oshies, Berglunds, and Perrons. They obviously bring a ton of experience and I think their game will benefit from playing in a youthful, enthusiastic environment. Doug Armstrong wouldn’t have signed either player unless he honestly believed they could upgrade the roster. Are they the players they once were? No, but they can still contribute and complement a core of offensive players lacking winning experience. They aren’t signed to eight-year deals and therefore won’t be fully ingrained in the Blues organization, but for one year they can certainly give some much needed direction. Signing these types of players is long overdue.”

Just as important as their play on the ice (or leadership in the locker room) is the symbolic nature of the veteran signings. Over the last few years, Blues ownership was either unwilling or unable to pull the trigger on veterans with higher price tags. They’d claim that they were in the midst of a rebuild—but sooner or later veterans needed to be brought in to augment the youthful exuberance. For a team that was consistently in the bottom third of payroll, fiscally responsible excuses were wearing thin for a hungry fanbase. As Jeff Quirin explained on Blue Note Zone, the credit for acquiring the proven veterans should be shared between the general manager and ownership:

“In Armstrong’s tenure the handling of personnel decisions has turned 180 degrees from his predecessor. With the rebuild complete, the next step was to convert all the Pleau era stockpiled potential in to results. Moving assets in and out is required once needs are identified. With the Halak and Stewart trades a willingness to gamble on transactions have been proven. Not just by the man brokering the deal, but the one who ultimately gives his blessing to make it happen.”

For the first time in a while, the Blues have put their money where their mouth is. They have young pieces in place through great work at the draft table. With Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart, and Kevin Shattenkirk, they’ve been able to add even more young talent to their strong prospect pool within the last calendar year. They’ve spent years putting together a finely-tuned machine of young players with the potential to compete with any stable of youngsters around the league.

Now with Arnott and Langenbrunner, they have someone behind the wheel.

Pre-game reading: A warning from Donald Fehr, about the NHL and the Olympics

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— Up top, even Patrick Kane seemed amused that he got into a little scrap with Jussi Jokinen on Saturday. The refs only gave them two minutes each for roughing. No rematch is planned.

— NHLPA chief Donald Fehr warns that if the NHL stops sending players to the Olympics, “the reaction from the players’ side — across the board — is not going to be a good one. And my guess is it’s going to last for a very long time.” Which certainly wouldn’t bode well for the next CBA negotiation. Fehr has vowed that players won’t bargain for the right to participate in the Games. (National Post)

— The Anaheim Ducks, after surging past San Jose into first place in the Pacific Division, are hoping to make some noise in the postseason. Said d-man Cam Fowler: “When you make a run in the playoffs, things have to line up for you, you have to be healthy, and a lot of things have to go right. We’re just hoping that it’s our time.” (ESPN)

— Florida forward Nick Bjugstad has just six goals in 46 games this season, and his ice time is way down. That’s not what the Panthers were expecting when they signed him to a six-year deal, and the 24-year-old is committed to turning things around. “Trust me, no one is more disappointed with this than I am. I’ll do my best to change things this summer.” (Miami Herald)

— Another young forward who’s endured a frustrating season is Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen. The sixth overall draft pick in 2014, Virtanen is currently in the AHL, where he only has seven goals in 56 games for the Utica Comets. “It hasn’t been all roses for Jake down in the AHL,” said coach Travis Green. “We’ve been very honest with him. Are we hard on him? Sometimes. But with that, there’s good dialogue. He understands that and is confident his game is going in the right direction, even though it’s hard sometimes.” (The Province)

— An interview with former All-Star Game MVP John Scott, who seems to be keeping busy in his post-NHL career. One of his hobbies? Making his own sausages. (The Athletic)

Enjoy the games!

Goalie nods: After blowout loss, ‘Hawks start Darling against desperate Bolts

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It wasn’t a good performance from Corey Crawford in Saturday’s 7-0 loss in Florida — the Chicago starter was hooked after allowing four goals on 25 shots.

Of course, it wasn’t a good night for the guy that replaced Crawford, either.

Scott Darling was torched for three goals on six shots against the Panthers, but now gets the first crack at redemption — Darling will start tonight when Chicago gets back into action in Tampa Bay.

The Lightning are hopeful they’ll have as much success against Darling — and maybe even Crawford — as the Panthers did on the weekend. Tampa Bay is desperate for points, and heads into tonight’s action sitting three points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins are idle tonight, but the Isles — who have 82 points, to Tampa Bay’s 81 — are in action, hosting Nashville.

So it’s a big night for Tampa, to say the least. Appropriately, Andrei Vasilevskiy will get the start, after stopping 29 of 30 shots in a big OT win over Detroit on Friday.

Elsewhere…

Eddie Lack is 5-1-1 in March with a .931 save percentage, so he gets the call as the ‘Canes host the Red Wings. Petr Mrazek goes for Detroit.

Roberto Luongo is still out, meaning James Reimer gets yet another start for the Panthers (he scored the shutout against Chicago over the weekend). Robin Lehner is in goal for Buffalo.

— We mentioned the Isles-Preds game above, and it’ll be Thomas Greiss in goal for the host team. It’s his second straight start, having played in Saturday’s loss to Boston, and it comes ahead of the recently recalled Jaroslav Halak. No word yet on a Preds starter.

Jake Allen‘s ridiculous month (7-1-1, .951 save percentage) continues with a start against the Coyotes. Mike Smith will be in goal for the visitors, looking to snap a five-game personal losing streak.

— The Flames will stick with Brian Elliott when they host the Avs tonight. No word yet on a Colorado starter.

Sharks’ Haley suspended one game for Jarnkrok sucker punch

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The NHL’s Department of Player Safety has come down on San Jose tough guy Micheal Haley.

On Monday, Haley was suspended one game for his sucker punch of Preds forward Calle Jarnkrok, near the end of Nashville’s 7-2 over the Sharks on Saturday.

“Haley forcefully punches a player who is off balance, not engaged in the confrontation and not even looking when the punch is thrown,” the DoPS explained, via video. “This is a forceful punch on an opponent who is not able to defend himself at the time.”

The DoPS did acknowledge Jarnkrok’s hit on Haley that preceded the punch — Jarnkrok was given a boarding minor on the play — and also noted that Haley explained he was seeking retribution for said hit.

In addition, the DoPS acknowledged this was Haley’s first offense.

As a result of the suspension, Haley will now miss San Jose’s next game — tomorrow at home against the Rangers — and will be eligible to return on Thursday, when the Sharks take on the Oilers in Edmonton.

Haley will also forfeit $3,472.22 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

 

Cassidy says Bruins ‘overused’ Rask early on

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Some interesting comments today from Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, after goalie Tuukka Rask returned to practice.

Cassidy’s remarks came in the wake of Saturday’s big win in Brooklyn — a game that Rask missed with a lower-body injury.

“He had a good practice today,” Cassidy said of Rask, per CSN New England“He’s a guy that’s played a lot of hockey this year … and he’s not a 240-pound goaltender that can handle all of the games, all of the workload every year. We know that. I’m not going to put limitations on him, but we probably overused him at the start of the year. At this time of year, it gets tougher and tougher with any player that’s been overplayed.”

It remains to be seen which netminder will get the nod tomorrow against Nashville at TD Garden. Anton Khudobin stopped 18 of 19 shots in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over the Islanders. After a 1-5-1 start to the season, the 30-year-old backup has won his last five starts.

But Cassidy insisted today that Rask is the Bruins’ “No. 1 goalie.”

“He’s our No. 1 and his health is very important,” said Cassidy. “When he’s physically ready to go and he tells me that, then we’ll make that decision.”