James O'Brien

ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 14:  Vladimir Sobotka #17 of the St. Louis Blues lines up against Boyd Gordon #15 of the Phoenix Coyotes for a faceoff at the Scottrade Center on March 14, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Blues believe Sobotka is still coming back

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This is part of St. Louis Blues day at PHT…

September is rapidly approaching, and the St. Louis Blues still don’t know if a fairly important player will return to their mix or stay in the KHL.

In this specific case, the confusion revolves around Vladimir Sobotka.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that GM Doug Armstrong said he’s still under the impression that the 29-year-old forward is coming back to the Blues. That’s the stance even though Russian reports from sources including Champion.at indicate that Sobotka may just remain where he is.

St. Louis Game Time’s sub-headline really captures the spirit of the situation:

There should not be this much drama concerning a third-line center.

Indeed, the thing is, Sobotka isn’t likely to be a tide-turning piece one way or another. He’s not the sort of player who will invalidate any Blues day materials if he manages to suit up for St. Louis.

That’s not to say that he can’t help the Blues, mind you.

With David Backes out of town and head coach Ken Hitchcock readying to rely on some younger forwards, Sobotka could serve as a security blanket of sorts.

He is unlikely to light scoreboards on fire – whether he’s in the KHL or NHL – but solid possession stats from his two most recent seasons in the NHL (2012-13 and 2013-14) back up the impression that his return would be welcome.

Honestly, it’s risky to pencil him into the Blues lineup at this point. Like the Blues themselves, we’ll just have to see how the situation shakes out.

Vesey signing caps an impressive, value-heavy summer for Rangers

TAMPA, FLORIDA - APRIL 08:  Jimmy Vesey of Harvard University and Hobey Baker Award winner poses with the trophy after the 2016 Hobey Baker Memorial Award ceremony at Tampa Theatre on April 8, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.The Hobey Baker Award is given to college hockey's best player.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Jimmy Vesey is likely to fall short of expectations for those who were embittered by his free agent process and all the hype he generated.

It’s difficult to place what kind of forward the 23-year-old will be, especially right off the bat. Few view him as a star, but the Rangers paid a modest price to get someone who can boost their top-nine or, even better, be a top-six guy.

There are plenty of reasons to be excited, yet there are also red flags for those who are expecting star-quality work. Just consider where he stands compared to other forwards who’ve enjoyed a more traditional – if also more restricted – journey to the NHL:

The aim here isn’t to assess Vesey. Instead, let’s just take a step back and admire what the Rangers have done this off-season, especially after the occasional chaos that ensues during the very beginning of free agency.

While their defense remains troubling, the Rangers boast still-outstanding goalie Henrik Lundqvist and quite the deep group of forwards.

Every forward except Rick Nash and Tanner Glass (both 32) is under 30 years old, and there’s a nice variety of rugged types, speedy finesse players and mixtures of the two:

23: Vesey, J.T. Miller, Mika Zibanejad (five years younger than the guy he was traded for, Derick Brassard)
24: Kevin Hayes, Jesper Fast, Oscar Lindberg
25: Chris Kreider
26: Derek Stepan, Josh Jooris
28: Mats Zuccarello, Michael Grabner
29: Nathan Gerbe

The Rangers signed Kreider, Miller and now Vesey to deals that should be very friendly to the team’s cap situation. Grabner and Gerbe are guys who were low-risk veteran signings who could still have something in the tank. Zibanejad falling in the same age range as Vesey really makes that trade look promising.

It really lowers the stakes of Vesey’s signing in some ways. He can blend into the group a bit more in New York (much like he’d be able to with certain other choices, like the Chicago Blackhawks) than he might with a team that would need a little more from him.

Does this propel the Rangers to contender status?

Probably not, but that forward group looks that much deeper thanks to what’s been a great summer for the franchise.

Jimmy Vesey chooses the New York Rangers

TAMPA, FLORIDA - APRIL 08:  Jimmy Vesey of Harvard University and Hobey Baker Award winner listens as his father is interviewed on stage during the 2016 Hobey Baker Memorial Award ceremony at Tampa Theatre on April 8, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.The Hobey Baker Award is given to college hockey's best player.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Exhale,* hockey fans: the decision is in. Jimmy Vesey officially chose the New York Rangers as his free agent destination.

One would assume that Vesey will sign a two-year, entry-level contract loaded with bonuses. We’ll need to wait and see about official details, however, but the important thing to note is that the CBA limits the cap impact for the Rangers.

(That’s a big reason why he drew so much attention; it’s a pretty low-risk move.)

This completes quite the road for the 23-year-old. He went from spurning the Nashville Predators, the team that drafted him, to deciding against signing with the Buffalo Sabres after they spent a third-rounder to acquire his rights.

Stars from Sidney Crosby to Patrick Kane to John Tavares all came out to try to lure him to their respective teams. Many believed he might lean toward the Boston Bruins, a team so close to home for the Harvard forward.

Instead, he’s going to the Rangers. It will be interesting to hear Vesey go into his reasoning for choosing this team, whether that comes tonight or sometime in the future.

Kevin Hayes (another guy who cut his teeth at the college level before playing for the Rangers) already welcomed his pal aboard.

* – Or, if your team was turned away, mutter angry words …

DiPauli on why he didn’t sign with Capitals, his fit with Penguins

LAKE PLACID, NY - AUGUST 06: Thomas DiPauli #10 of the USA Blue Squad skates against Team Finland at the USA hockey junior evaluation camp at the Lake Placid Olympic Center on August 6, 2012 in Lake Placid, New York. Team USA defeated Finland 5-4.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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When it comes to breaking down coveted free agent forward Jimmy Vesey,* you’ll read a lot about why one team may be a better fit than another.

Thomas DiPauli isn’t creating the same kind of whirlwind, yet his decision-making process is apparently quite similar.

Simply put, the Washington Capitals prospect instead signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization because of his belief in “fit.”

Of course, it probably doesn’t hurt that he grew up rooting for Sidney Crosby

Granted, childhood dreams tend to fade when you get down to the often-harsh realities of professional sports. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey reports, DiPauli believes that he should (eventually?) fit right in with the system Mike Sullivan is running.

“I play with a lot of speed, a lot of grit and competitiveness,” DiPauli said. “Kind of like the Penguins forwards right now.”

His Notre Dame coach believes that he really learned to match better decision-making with that speed during his most recent NCAA hockey season, so he really may become a nice asset for Pittsburgh.

Picking the Penguins over the Capitals should give him a boost with fans, if nothing else.

* – DiPauli might not appreciate too many Vesey comparisons, by the way.

Blues would make a big mistake if they traded Kevin Shattenkirk

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Kevin Shattenkirk #22 of the St. Louis Blues skates against the San Jose Sharks in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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This is part of St. Louis Blues day at PHT …

We’ve seen some twists and turns in the “Will they or won’t they?” saga regarding the St. Louis Blues trading Kevin Shattenkirk.

The truth is, it shouldn’t even be a discussion. Shattenkirk is far too valuable to be shipped away in what would likely be a panic move.

The main issue for the Blues is that Shattenkirk needs a new contract after 2016-17, and it’s easy to flinch at what would likely be a big jump from his bargain $4.25 million cap hit.

Easier to stomach than you might realize

Still, the situation is a lot more manageable now than it looked heading into the off-season.

St. Louis let David Backes and Troy Brouwer walk. There’s not a big hike for Brian Elliott looming any longer after they traded him, too. Jaden Schwartz‘s extension didn’t break the bank.

Yes, they’ll need to lock up Alexander Steen, but Steen is 32 and Shattenkirk is 27. By GM Doug Armstrong’s logic regarding letting Backes leave, wouldn’t their younger blueliner be just as valuable – if not more of a priority – as Steen?

(Colton Parayko will need a deal after next season, too, but St. Louis has the extra leverage of the blueliner being an RFA.)

Cap Friendly pegs the Blues’ 2017-18 spending at about $53.6 million. Adding Shattenkirk would likely make for a tight squeeze, but he’s worth it.

Underestimating Shattenkirk?

Maybe the real problem is that Shattenkirk isn’t treated like the core piece he should be.

A lot of people probably believe that he’s an offense-only presence, and some of those people may reside in the Blues organization.

Let’s look at how he compares to Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester via fancy charts, though.

First, the “Own the Puck” comparison for Shattenkirk vs. Pietrangelo.

shattpet

The Shattenkirk vs. Bouwmeester battle is especially lopsided:

shattbou

In both cases, Shattenkirk stands taller in shot suppression and possession categories. In Bouwmeester’s case, it’s a landslide by both offensive and defensive metrics.

Now, we can quibble about certain details. As solid-to-fantastic as his possession stats can be, he enjoys cushy zone starts and maybe some matchup advantages.

At worst, Shattenkirk stands as Pietrangelo’s near-equal and it would be tough to make an argument for Bouwmeester instead, at least at this point in their respective careers. Shattenkirk should be on the Blues’ short list of guys who would be almost impossible to pry away.

Puzzling priorities

If you were Armstrong, wouldn’t you strive to move Bouwmeester, even if you needed to get him to waive his no-trade clause and might even be forced to retain some of the 32-year-old’s $5.4 million cap hit?

Wouldn’t you note that Paul Stastny‘s $7 million cap hit expires after 2017-18, so St. Louis would get some breathing room after the first year of Shattenkirk’s hypothetical next contract?

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It’s difficult to imagine the Blues getting equal value for Shattenkirk in a trade, especially given the context of teams realizing that Armstrong isn’t necessarily dealing from a position of strength.

Frankly, the biggest problem might be that the Blues simply don’t understand Shattenkirk’s true value.