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Blues continue busy summer with Patrick Maroon signing

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The summer of being aggressive in the free agent market landed another player in St. Louis on Tuesday.

Doug Armstrong and the Blues snapped up another free agent, inking bruising forward Patrick Maroon to a one-year contract worth $1.75 million.

The Blues have been on a tear this summer, already having bolstered their front 12 with the acquisition of Ryan O’Reilly through trade, and the additions of Tyler Bozak and David Perron and backup goalie Chad Johnson — all of which were signed since the free agency period opened on July 1 — as they try to rekindle their perennial playoff status.

The departure of Paul Stastny is looking less and less like a loss these days as Armstrong has been able to bolster his lineup and then some thus far.

Maroon, a St. Louis native, adds the physical chops needed in a tough Central Division. And he can score with the right linemates.

He is a year removed from putting up 27 goals with the Edmonton Oilers, albeit with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Last season wasn’t what 2016-17 was and was ultimately traded to the New Jersey Devils at the trade deadline.

Still, the potential is there with the right playmaker, and while he’s not going to have McJesus feeding him, he could provide the secondary scoring the Blues need after having shored up their top-six this summer.

“This is a one-year opportunity for him to come back, hopefully play with some really good centermen and get back to that 27-goal performance he had in Edmonton, or close to it,” Armstrong told the team’s website. “We think he can help our team. I talked to some of our players about him, competing against him, and they spoke very highly about how hard he was to play against, how difficult he was to move in those high traffic areas. It’s just another player we add to our group that makes us a little better than we were yesterday.”

St. Louis is now pretty tight up against the $79.5 million salary cap for this coming season, counting Just over $76 million against it.

They also have a pending arbitration case with Joel Edmundson set for July 25 (he made just over $1 million last year and is due a raise after posting career highs in goals, points and ice time last season.) and Jordan Schmaltz still needs a new deal as well. Both are restricted free agents.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a Blues fan that isn’t happy with the way Armstrong has strong-armed the free agent market.

The Blues were certainly disappointing last year, but they were a team hampered by injuries for large chunks of the season and couldn’t muster enough down the stretch to squeak into the playoffs.

Armstrong angered some when appeared to give up on the Blues after trading Stastny away. But he’s certainly shown his commitment to getting the Blues back to the playoffs this summer.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Paul Stastny ‘absolutely’ open to St. Louis Blues return

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Winnipeg Jets forward and pending unrestricted free agent Paul Stastny says he’d be open to returning to the St. Louis Blues.

Talking to Hockey Sense host Andy Strickland on The Fan 590 in St. Louis, Stastny, who was traded by the Blues to the Jets at the trade deadline in a deal that brought a first-round pick and a prospect forward Erik Foley the other way on Feb. 26, said he would welcome a return to the Gateway to the West if St. Louis showed interest in bringing him back.

“Absolutely,” Stastny told Strickland during the interview. “I don’t think I’ve closed the door on anything. I know it’s a business, getting older, you see it.

“I always keep everything open because you never know what’s going to happen.”

Stastny is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

The 32-year-old had 28 points in 37 total games with the Jets (regular season and playoffs combined), including a memorable three-point outing that included two goals in Game 7 of Winnipeg’s second-round series triumph against the Nashville Predators.

After Winnipeg’s season ended at the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final, Stastny told the media that waiving his no-trade clause to move to Winnipeg was likely he best decision he’s made in his career.

But it wasn’t easy.

“Trades are tough,” Stastny told Strickland. “I think when you’re so emotionally invested in a team and you think your an important part or your battling with the guys all year, you don’t expect that.”

Stastny said Winnipeg’s coaching staff put him in a great position to succeed.

Stastny played between superstar sniper Patrik Laine and speedster Nikolaj Ehlers for much of his time spent with the Jets, helping Laine to a 15-game point streak near the end of the season.

“We had the right fit right from the start,” Stastny said.

Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff kept his cards close to his chest when he spoke to the media following

“It was a great experience talking to him in the exit meeting, and hearing about his decision-making process in coming here, and his thought process after being here, and moving forward,” Cheveldayoff said. “There is lots of business to be done here. First and foremost, we have to wait for the cap to be set. We have a lot of work ahead of us from the business side.

“It’s amazing how a player like [Stastny] can come into your lineup and feel like he’s been a part of it forever. That type of chemistry and symmetry that is testament to the type of person he is, and how tight our group was.”

Cheveldayoff is going to have to do some wizardry with the numbers to keep the bevy of young talent he has on his team. No fewer than nine restricted free agents will be looking for paydays this summer, and Patrik Laine — who will be an RFA next season — is likely to receive a hefty deal this year (although that wouldn’t kick in until the following year).

There’s the possibility of Stastny signing a one-year pact with the Jets and take another run at the Stanley Cup. Keeping Stastny would mean keeping a center that found chemistry with both Laine and Ehlers and providing mentorship to the young Scandinavians as they continue to develop.

There’s no shortage of other NHL teams that want a top-six center either. And some teams (let’s say the Montreal Canadiens, for instance) have some cash to throw at one.

This all sets up for an interesting month as we head toward July 1.

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Guide


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Vladimir Tarasenko will have surgery on dislocated left shoulder

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Three days after missing the playoffs, the St. Louis Blues learned their star forward Vladimir Tarasenko will need surgery on Wednesday for a dislocated left shoulder.

Tarasenko was hurt in the first period of the regular-season finale on Saturday in Colorado. The Blues needed a point in the game to reach the playoffs, but lost 5-2.

Tarasenko revealed he had a dislocated shoulder while standing with his left arm in a sling Tuesday as teammates cleared out their lockers. The recovery after surgery can take up to six months.

”We’ll see how it goes,” Tarasenko said. ”It was a hard year all the way around.”

The 26-year-old led the team with 33 goals and 66 points. It was his lowest point total in four seasons. The Blues won 44 games this season and finished with 94 points.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Mike Yeo wrapped up his first full season as the Blues coach. St. Louis is 66-40-8 since Yeo replaced Ken Hitchcock as coach on Feb. 1, 2017. That’s the 10th-best regular-season record in the NHL in that period.

But it’s little consolation for a team missing the playoffs for the first time after six straight seasons. Two years ago, the Blues were playing for the conference championship.

”We understand we’ve taken a step back this year,” General Manager Doug Armstrong said. ”That lies firmly on my shoulders. My job is to deal in reality. The formula we had this year did not breed success and we need to find that formula.”

Armstrong said the play of special teams needs to improve.

The Blues were 30th on power-play success at 15.4 percent. They finished 18th in penalty killing at 79.7 percent. During the previous six seasons making the playoffs, the Blues ranked No. 1 in the NHL in penalty killing with a rate of 84.3 percent.

However, the Blues scored only 38 power-play goals.

”As a coaching staff, I promise you we won’t just sit around and just assume things will get better next year,” Yeo said. ”We have to look at everything from the way we manage it, operate it and holding guys accountable and the personnel we’re using and the tactics.”

When Yeo coached the Minnesota Wild, the power play also was stagnant.

”I’ll take responsibility for it,” Yeo said. ”I don’t dodge that. That’s on me.”

Armstrong backs his coach.

”Mike and I are tethered together and we’re going to figure this thing out,” Armstrong said.

St. Louis was just 24-17 on home ice this season.

”You can’t have the home record we had and be satisfied,” Armstrong said. ”The people that come here work for a living and we need to send them home happy. If we’re in the top 10 in home records, we’re in the playoffs.”

The salary cap should increase about $4 million for next season. Armstrong said the Blues ownership will continue to spend to the cap.

”We spend to the cap,” Armstrong said. ”We’ve had a good run here. We’ve got to get back to that.”

Goalie Jake Allen was signed to a four-year, $17.4 million contract on July 1, 2016. He finished with a 27-25-3 record, a 2.75 goals-against average, a .906 save percentage and one shutout.

”I definitely need to be more consistent,” Allen said. ”I know I’m capable of it. I don’t think I need to change much. I’m a pretty good goalie.”

Backup goaltender Carter Hutton is an unrestricted free agent. Hutton was 17-7-3 with a 2.09 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage. He had three shutouts.

Armstrong said he wants to bring Hutton back.

Duncan Keith’s late winner helps strike blow to Blues’ playoff hopes

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Duncan Keith‘s goal with 8.5 seconds to go broke a 3-3 tie and gave the Chicago Blackhawks a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues Wednesday night.

The Blues are still in pursuit of a wild card spot in the Western Conference, but with the loss remain a point behind the Colorado Avalanche with two games to go, including a Saturday night tilt vs. the Avs.

Chicago wanted to play spoiler for their Central Division rivals, with Blackhawks forward Alex DeBrincat saying before the game, “They’re a good team and they’re fighting for a playoff spot right now. We’re not going out there and just letting them take it. We want to crush their hopes.”

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

It was looking good for the Blues early in the second period when Vladimir Tarasenko gave the home side a 3-1 lead. But St. Louis and Jake Allen began to falter minutes later. Blackhawks rookie Blake Hillman jumped into the rush and scored his first NHL goal with Chicago on a power play to cut the deficit to 3-2 midway through the period.

With DeBrincat wanting to “crush their hopes,” he backed up his words and tied the game with 11:30 to go, thanks to some more questionable goaltending by Allen.

The self-destruction of the Blues continued as Chris Butler took a holding penalty with two minutes to go. The Blackhawks waited until the very end of that power play to capitalize, with Keith finally notching his second goal of the season and also sending the Los Angeles Kings to playoffs in the process.

Your thoughts, Doug Armstrong?

And as if the Blues haven’t been demonized enough by the Blackhawks, the two teams meet again Friday night at United Center. How soon will St. Louis be able to erase this one from memory and focus on the two biggest games of their season this weekend?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Chicago Blackhawks at St. Louis Blues

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Wednesday night as the St. Louis Blues host the Chicago Blackhawks at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

St. Louis Blues
Jaden SchwartzBrayden SchennVladimir Tarasenko
Patrik BerglundKyle BrodziakAlex Steen
Dmitrij JaskinVladimir SobotkaTage Thompson
Ivan BarbashevOskar SundqvistChris Thorburn

Joel EdmundsonAlex Pietrangelo
Vince DunnColton Parayko
Chris Butler – Roberto Bortuzzo

Starting goalie: Jake Allen

[NHL on NBCSN: Blues need to pick up valuable points against Blackhawks]

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET]

Chicago Blackhawks
Brandon SaadNick SchmaltzPatrick Kane
Dylan SikuraVictor EjdsellAlex DeBrincat
Tomas JurcoArtem AnisimovAndreas Martinsen
Patrick SharpDavid KampfVincent Hinostroza

Duncan KeithBrent Seabrook
Erik GustafssonConnor Murphy
Jordan Oesterle – Blake Hillman

Starting goalie: J.F. Berube

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.