Andrej Sekera

Buffalo avoids arbitration, signs Andrej Sekera to four-year, $11 million; Salary cap crunch awaits

Sabres owner Terry Pegula continued his spending spree today by avoiding going to arbitration with defenseman Andrej Sekera. Instead of going to court to settle their differences, the two sides settled on a long term deal. Inside NHL sources tell PHT that the deal is for four years and $11 million with a $4.75 million signing bonus included in that amount.

With Sekera’s deal coming in with a $2.75 million cap hit, CapGeek has the Sabres over the salary cap by just over $2.3 million and they’ve still got to get a deal done with restricted free agents defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani and backup goalie Jhonas Enroth. With spots on defense being locked up for most everyone and Gragnani figuring to be back in the mix for playing time, someone is going to find themselves on the outside looking in.

The leading candidate for that role is Shaone Morrisonn who has one year left on his contract worth $2.075 million against the cap. With guys like Sekera and Mike Weber capable of doing the same job Morrisonn does, he’s left to be a redundant player on a team looking to get under the cap.

The other player that sticks out as a potential cap victim is recently re-acquired winger Ales Kotalik. Kotalik is on the final year of a deal that pays him $3 million against the cap. Last season, Kotalik spent most of the year in the AHL to help the Calgary Flames stay under the cap. His production isn’t what it used to be when he was with the Sabres the first time around and with his cost being so high, the Sabres might be better off dumping him in the AHL as well. At least their salary cap would benefit from that if Kotalik can’t crack their lineup.

Sabres GM Darcy Regier hasn’t had to face these sorts of issues in the past and while this is a new role for the team to play, Regier is smart enough to make the right moves to get his team in cap compliance. While Regier will take heat for the deals given to Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino, the Sabres making bold moves like that have people looking at the team differently. Regier’s next trick will be to make sure he doesn’t cut loose a player that could help them go deep into May and June next season.

Also: The Sabres also signed Matt Ellis to a multi-year deal as well. Contract details for Ellis were not available.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”