While Peter Mueller boasts the advantage of at least having a contract (rather than just a tryout invite) with the St. Louis Blues, he must still make a strong impression since he signed a two-way deal.
(The 26-year-old’s contract is worth $700K at the NHL level but drops to $250K in the AHL, according to Cap Geek.)
As nerve-wracking as the prospect of fighting for a spot might be – particularly after going overseas last season, especially on a team Mueller referred to as a “powerhouse” – Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock gave the journeyman forward very simple advice.
With a history of concussion problems and a false-start or two in his career, it would be understandable if Mueller (pictured playing for Team USA) might fear over-thinking things, especially with a defensive-minded coach like Hitchcock. There’s plenty of logic in setting him loose, however, as there’s always the chance he could be a late-blooming prospect (he was selected eighth overall in 2006) like Benoit Pouliot.
Granted, with 13 forwards listed and Jaden Schwartz still in need of a contract, Mueller still faces a significant challenge in sticking around. Taking a positive approach can’t hurt though, right?
Ian Cole was taken in the first round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, but his climb up the ranks has been gradual.
He spent three years in college and then another three seasons bouncing between the AHL and NHL before he stuck with the Blues in 2013-14. However, he still only ended up playing in 46 games and averaged just 15:05 minutes per contest when he did dress. That could change next season though.
“This is a real opportunity for Ian,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He’s paid his dues. He spent time in the minors. He’s spent time as the seventh defenseman. He’s matured as a person and as a player. It’s his time.
“There’s an open spot, a regular shift. There’s everything there waiting for him, just step up and grab it.”
Hitchcock will be looking for Cole to play a physical game and join the rush. He also expects him to find a balance between playing aggressively and not making “irrational decisions” defensively. That being said, the Blues bench boss is willing to live with some defensive mistakes as a trade off for his work with the puck.
At the same time, Cole’s been focused on improving his positioning as he gets ready to compete for a top-six spot during training camp. Even if the opportunity is there, it’s not a given that Cole will stay out of the press box in 2014-15. Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Barret Jackman are all expected to play regularly when healthy, so Cole will be fighting for one of two spots with Jordan Leopold, Carl Gunnarsson, and Chris Butler.
The St. Louis Blues made perhaps the biggest splash of free agency locking down forward Paul Stastny to a four-year, $28 million deal to shore up their center position.
What did Ken Hitchcock think of the moves the team made? He’s a big fan and not just about the addition of Stastny as he told Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (paywall).
“It was really good news for us as coaches. But it was a combination of (Joakim) Lindstrom, (Jori) Lehtera and Paul,” Hitchcock said. “These are three point-producing players who really enhance our hockey club. All three are capable of playing top-six roles.
“Paul is a real good fit for us with the way he plays and the way we play. Lehtera is a real good fit, and we feel like Lindstrom has really improved his game. He has a number of good friends on the hockey club and he’s going to be given a real chance to play in the top nine and see where it goes. It gives us the competitive depth to keep up with what’s going on in the West.”
Never mind the Western Conference, the Central Division is going to be harsh enough to get out of.
The Chicago Blackhawks added Brad Richards, the Dallas Stars added Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky, the Minnesota Wild brought on Thomas Vanek, and the Colorado Avalanche may have lost Stastny but they added Jarome Iginla.
Hitchcock said he feels his team isn’t that far away from winning the Stanley Cup and this Blues team might be the best one he’s had. That might be true, but the competition out West got a lot stiffer this summer.
The St. Louis Blues have given head coach Ken Hitchcock a one-year contract extension, the club announced on Wednesday.
Hitchcock, who led the team to a franchise-best 52 wins last season but suffered a second consecutive opening-round playoff loss, will be back behind the bench next year along with assistant Ray Bennett and associate coach Brad Shaw.
The Blues did make a couple of changes following their disappointing defeat to Chicago, however, opting to part ways with assistant coach Gary Agnew — who had been with the club since 2012 — and goalie coach Corey Hirsch.
“I would like to thank Gary and Corey for their diligence and dedication as members of our organization, and wish them nothing but success in their future endeavors,” Blues GM Doug Armstrong said in a statement.
Hitchcock’s one-year extension is interesting, as it seems pretty clear his future in St. Louis will be decided by what the team does in next year’s playoffs. The Blues have enjoyed tremendous success over the last three regular seasons but have faltered in the postseason, advancing to the second round just once while getting dumped in consecutive years by the two defending Stanley Cup champions, Los Angeles and Chicago.
As we previously reported, the St. Louis Blues’ first round series against the Chicago Blackhawks looks eerily similar to their 2013 battle against the Los Angeles Kings.
In both series, St. Louis claimed the first two contests courtesy of Alexander Steen and then Barret Jackman game-winning goals and went on to lose the following three contests. The Blues also lost Game 6 in 2013, which means that they have one more chance to change the script.
“We have a chance to write our own legacy,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Everybody is probably writing, ‘Here they go again. They’re challenging the top teams, but can they get through the top teams?’ Everybody is going to write that stuff. But we have a chance to write the message that you guys have to print, so it’s in our control.
“I want to see us embrace this.”
To make St. Louis’ task harder, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook will return from a three-game suspension this afternoon. He was punished for his high hit on Blues forward David Backes, who was injured on the play but has since returned.
The contest will start at 3:00 p.m. ET and air on NBC.