Alex Pietrangelo

Blues expect to target defense this off-season, begin talks with Alex Pietrangelo


The 2012 NHL Awards represented a special evening for the St. Louis Blues’ front office, with head coach Ken Hitchcock winning the Jack Adams and Doug Armstrong winning the GM of the Year award. Next season will present one of the best tests in sports, however: can they maintain that success and then build on it?

Making shrewd decisions during the off-season will be a big part of that process. Both Hitchcock and Armstrong indicated that the team won’t make too many significant moves, yet both admitted that they need another defenseman.

Interestingly enough, Armstrong said that he’s looking for more than a seventh guy who might just be a regular healthy scratch, though.

“We’re not looking to add a seventh defenseman, we’re looking to add a defenseman in our top four,” Armstrong said. “Now, that’s easier said than done also. You look at that market out there right now, if we have to wait until July 1 there’s going to be a lot of people wanting those players so it might have to come via trade.”

Armstrong pointed out that the Blues still need to make some decisions on the team’s own unrestricted free agents, yet he believes that internal growth might be accelerated simply by improved health – especially at the forward position.

Pietrangelo negotiations?

One interesting negotiation process on the horizon comes regarding stud defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. He’s about to enter the final year of his current deal, so the Blues will get their first chance to re-up him on July 1, if they chose to go in that direction. With the whopping deals handed out to Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson, the price for high-end young defensemen is booming in the NHL, so we got Armstrong’s take on how that process might go.

“With the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations going on, we have the opportunity to decide if we want to do that,” Armstrong said. “It won’t be in early July. We’ll let the dust settle on free agency and the dust settle on building our roster. If they’d like to sign we’d certainly love to sign him, he’s a big part of our future. But if it goes into the next season or goes into next summer I’m not too concerned … I think we’ll be safe.”

Brandon Sutter didn’t have the greatest preseason

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When Brandon Sutter was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks, GM Jim Benning called the 26-year-old a “foundation piece for our group going forward.”

Sutter was quickly signed to a five-year extension worth almost $22 million, more evidence of how highly management thought of the player.

Fast forward to yesterday, when Benning was asked the following question:

“What does it say that you made the trade for Sutter, you called him a ‘foundation’ player, and it took him until the final night of the preseason to find a spot (with the Sedins) on the wing, which isn’t his natural position?”

Here was Benning’s response:

“Well, [head coach Willie Desjardins] wants to try that out, he thinks that’s going to be a good fit. At various times, the Sedins played with wingers with speed, with [Ryan Kesler], who could get in on the forecheck and had a good shot. Sutter brings some of those qualities, too.”

While all that may be true, Sutter was not signed to play the wing; he was brought in to play center, specifically on the second line. He finished the preseason with zero points in five games. And as mentioned, he’ll start the season on the wing, not his natural position.

Meanwhile, youngsters Bo Horvat, 20, and Jared McCann, 19, had outstanding camps and are expected to start the regular season (tonight in Calgary) centering the second and third lines, respectively.

Though Sutter did finish the preseason with 12 shots on goal, up there with the most on the Canucks, it’s fair to say he did not look like a “foundation” player.

“I haven’t seen him play his best,” Desjardins said last week. “I see a guy who’s big and a good skater and who understands the game real well, but just hasn’t got that involved.”

Now, we are only talking about the preseason here. New players often take time to get comfortable. Perhaps playing with the Sedins can provide Sutter with some confidence.

“I know he’ll be there and I totally believe that,” said Desjardins.

But it hasn’t been the best start, and if it wasn’t for the encouraging play of the youngsters, it would be a far bigger story in Vancouver.

Related: Canucks roll the dice on rookies, waive Vey and Corrado

Detroit waives Cleary

Daniel Cleary

Dan Cleary‘s time as a Red Wing could soon be over.

Detroit placed the veteran forward on waivers Wednesday afternoon, per TSN. The move comes after Cleary signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $950,000 just weeks before training camp, then proceeded to play in four of Detroit’s exhibition contests, scoring two points.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens now.

At 36, Cleary doesn’t have much left in the tank and is coming off a year in which he played just 17 games. But as we noted back in the summer, this seems to all be part of a larger plan.

From the Free Press:

A situation that bears the handprint of former coach Mike Babcock has put the Wings in the position of being honor-bound to keep Cleary, 36, aboard, even as he is coming off a season that saw him play just 17 games, producing two points.

This debacle began two years ago. The Wings had offered Cleary a three-year, $6.25-million contract before he became unrestricted July 1. He declined. The Wings then signed Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson, leaving little space under the salary cap. Then Cleary didn’t sign with anyone. September rolled around. The Flyers offered Cleary a three-year deal for $8.25 million, but Cleary then decided he wanted to stay in Detroit.

He ended up flying to Traverse City, where the Wings already had begun training camp. He met in a hangar with Holland and Babcock. Holland pointed to a near maxed-out budget. Babcock pushed hard for Cleary to be signed. What resulted was a one-year, $1.75-million deal with the understanding the Wings would take into consideration what Cleary left on the Flyers table.

After playing out that $1.75 million deal, Cleary re-signed in Detroit last summer to a one-year, $1.5 million pact — so, essentially, the Wings are now in final year of an unspoken three-year agreement that’s (sorta) aimed at repaying what got left on the table in Philly.

Got all that?

If Cleary gets through waivers, the Wings could send him to AHL Grand Rapids. Since he signed a one-way deal, he’d get his money regardless.

There’s also the option of Babcock and the Leafs claiming Cleary off waivers — a scenario that, as unlikely as it sounds, has already made the rounds on social media.