St. Louis Blues

Stastny ready to take on leadership role in St. Louis

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With T.J. Oshie dealt to the Washington Capitals in the offseason, Paul Stastny is ready to embrace more of a leadership role in second season with the St. Louis Blues.

“By the end of the year I started speaking up. The first year with a new team, you kind of fly under the radar and be quiet,” Stastny told The Denver Post. “As you get older you have to speak up. You want to win. If you see something go wrong, you’re not going to sit there and not say anything.”

The 29-year-old scored 16 goals and 30 assists in 74 games last season. He added one goal in six playoff games.

Following the Blues’ first round loss to the Minnesota Wild, GM Doug Armstrong said he needed more from Stastny moving forward.

“Paul Stastny needs to be a bigger part of our group,” Armstrong said. “He’s our highest-paid player, we need him to be a bigger and better part of our team.”

Heading into the second year of his four-year $28 million deal, Stastny feels better settled in his new surroundings.

“This summer and going into next season, we’re a lot more comfortable,” he said. “You see that in all sports. You move forward. You still have three or four of your best friends on your old team, but for us going forward we’re just a lot more comfortable. Last summer was just hectic with bachelor parties, weddings, and July 1 (free agency). There was a lot of traveling and this summer is a lot more low-key.”

Blues announce that Lehtera had ankle surgery last week

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The St. Louis Blues announced today that forward Jori Lehtera underwent successful surgery on his right ankle on Aug. 4.

According to the Blues, Lehtera “suffered the injury at the end of last season and is expected to be available to skate in six to eight weeks.”

More from Jeremy Rutherford of the Post-Dispatch, with a quote from GM Doug Armstrong:

The Blues open the regular season on Oct. 8, slightly less than two months from today.

Related: Blues re-sign Lehtera: three years, $14.1 million

Maple Leafs’ biggest question: Who will follow Kessel out the door?

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When Phil Kessel was traded, Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan called it a “recognition” that “what we’ve been doing here, and the group that we’d assembled here, wasn’t getting the job done, and it wasn’t good enough.”

But for all that Kessel was criticized during his time in Toronto, he was only one piece of the core that “wasn’t good enough.” Hence, the trade speculation that continues to surround Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak, and many others.

Basically, if you played for the Leafs last year and your name isn’t Morgan Rielly, if you’re still on the roster, you may not be for long.

Unfortunately for the Leafs, it’s not a great time to be dumping salaries. They had to eat part of Kessel’s contract to move him to Pittsburgh. They’d likely be asked to do the same in any swap involving Phaneuf, Bozak, or Lupul, the latter of whom may be untradeable, period.

And remember that a team can only retain the salaries of three players. Kessel is on the books through 2022. Carl Gunnarsson is on there (for a paltry $200,000) through next season.

In addition to the veterans, there’s the younger guys like Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner, and Jonathan Bernier. They still have to show management that they can be part of the long-term solution.

To illustrate, here’s what Mike Babcock said when Kadri re-signed for one year: “I expect him to be an elite player. He gets to come in and have a heck of a year and put the screws to us.”

Gauntlet: thrown down.

A youngish player like James van Riemsdyk isn’t safe either, even after leading the Leafs with 27 goals last season. The 26-year-old has three years left before he can become an unrestricted free agent. So, do the Leafs envision him re-signing? Because the way they’re talking, he’ll be closing on 30 when the team is ready to start contending.

“We are here to build a team that is capable of winning a Stanley Cup. There are no shortcuts to go around doing that,” said Shanahan.

“We’ve got to build this thing the right way, through the draft, with prospects. Sometimes that might take a little bit longer.”

In the meantime, expect the Leafs to be active on the trade front, as it’s out with old core and in with the new.

Related: Wings reportedly no longer interested in Phaneuf

JayBo admits groin injury meant he ‘couldn’t do some of the things that I was used to doing’

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Jay Bouwmeester is hoping that the groin injury that cost him his “Ironman” streak won’t be a recurring thing.

Because not only did the injury, suffered in November, mean Bouwmeester’s streak of 737 straight games was over, it kind of messed up the rest of his season with the Blues.

“I’m a guy that relies on my skating, so yeah, that’s a big part of my game,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It was a whole combination of things, but the bottom line is, I couldn’t do some of the things that I was used to doing. When you’re used to playing a certain way, things come naturally, and when you have to compensate a bit, it can throw some things off. It’s not a good position to be in.”

The 31-year-old defenseman finished with just 13 points in 72 games. He then went pointless in six playoff games, while averaging just 20:28 of ice time.

“So hopefully it’s nothing that keeps coming back,” he said. “I have no reason to think that I won’t be ready for camp or won’t be feeling good.”

Hitch says Backes’ role will be determined by play of Jaskin, Rattie, and Fabbri

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A pending unrestricted free agent, David Backes could be relegated to third-line duty next season for the Blues.

According to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch interview with coach Ken Hitchcock, Backes’ role will be determined by the readiness of youngsters Dmitrij Jaskin, Ty Rattie and Robby Fabbri. If one of those three can hold down a top-six role, Backes will likely be the third-line center. If not, Hitchcock is planning for Backes to play right wing in the top six, with Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera as the top two centers.

“I can tell you right now, (Backes) is going to play more right wing than he’s played since I got here,” said Hitchcock. “Whether he’s a full-time player there or not, we don’t know yet. That depends on those three young kids.”

Backes had 26 goals and 32 assists last season. The 31-year-old’s long-term future with the Blues is not clear at this point.