Blues summer vacation- Not a vacation for all

By Chris Irvine

It may be a vacation for many including players, families and many others but not quite a vacation for the likes of Larry Pleau. Pleau has been very active throughout the summer and the following is a recap of his moves thus far.

The first bit of news was the announcement to some veterans that they would not be a part of the blues future. These players included: Center Bob Bassen, Right Wing Stephane Richer, and Defensemen Dave Ellet and Rudy Poeschek. It was also made clear that minor leaguers Jim Campbell and Derek King would not be offered contracts and would become unrestricted free agents.

Next was the signing or releasing of the 98 draft picks. For junior draft picks, you retain their rights for two years after the draft, for European draft picks, you retain their rights for four years after the draft and for college players remain your rights until their college eligibility is up. In keeping with the rules, no decision had to be made at this time on defensemen Christian Backman, Andrei Trochinsky, Yvegeny Pastukh and John Pohl. For the remaining players in the system the blues elected to sign only defensemen Matt Walker of the Kootenay Ice of the WHL. For others, Maxim Linnik, Brad Voth and Brad Twordik were all released. Along with the 98 draftees, 21 year old James Desmerais was not given a contract and became a free agent, he was selected in the final round of the 99 draft.

Next on the agenda was the NHL expansion draft for the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blues Jackets. The Blues elected to protect prospect goaltender Brent Johnson and in doing so, the blues were only capable of protecting 7 forwards and 3 defensemen. As a result, the blues lost some depth in their line-up as Backup Goaltender Jamie McLellan and Checking forward Scott Pellerin were both selected by Minnesota. In reality this is what the blues organization expected to lose. One surprise to many was the blues protection of minor league defensemen Bryce Salvador. The blues have high hopes for Bryce and figure he is the closest of all defensemen to making the big club this upcoming season.

The NHL entry draft took place the two days following the expansion draft and the Blues filled in some holes in the depth chart by Adding Centers, Jeff Taffe, Justin Papineau and Troy Riddle, they selected two wingers, Dave Morisset and Brett Lutes, two defensemen, Craig Wellar and Lori Kinos. The blues also selected Reinhard Divis, a goaltender from the Swedish elite league. It is expected that Taffe, Riddle, and Wellar will all be playing in the college ranks next season. Also Brett Lutes and Kinos will suit up for the Montreal Rocket of the QMJHL. Papineau and Divis will both likely be playing with the blues minor league affiliates.

After the results of the expansion draft came the decision of qualifying offers. The blues offered qualifying offers to youngsters, Lubos Bartecko and Michal Handzus. Not receiving a qualifying offer was defensemen Rico Persson. Minor leaguer Derek Bekar was offered a qualifying offer and it is said that this may his make or break season which will determine his future with the blues organization. Around the same time came the announcement of Libor Prochazka signing a deal to play in the Czech league this upcoming season.

The big announcement of the free agent signing came a day before the free agent pool opened. The blues signed defensemen Mike Van Ryn who was a top rated prospect of the New Jersey Devils and also a 1st round selection in 98 taken after the blues prospect Christian Backman. Van Ryn is expected to make a bid for the big club come training camp and should give Bryce Salvador a run for his money.

July 1st was when the doors opened for Pleau to add some necessities to his roster, On day one of the Free Agent market, the blues picked up the option for the final year of defensemen Marc Bergevin’s contract, also announced was the re-signing of center Mike Eastwood and winger Tyson Nash. Also was the key signing of the number three D, Sean Hill of the Carolina Hurricanes, and the gritty forward, Dallas Drake of the Phoenix Coyotes.

Of the blues signed by other teams, the only ones to date are Rico Persson who signed with the Ottawa Senators and minor league enforcer Sylvain Blouin who signed with the Montreal Canadians. There are rumours that the Canucks have signed Bryan Helmer but this is not confirmed as of yet. Derek King has since signed with the Ottawa senators on a multiyear contract.

With the departure of blues backup goalie Jamie McLellan, Pleau added some depth with the signing of goaltender Dwayne Roloson of the Buffalo Sabres. At the same time, they announce the signing of defensemen Todd Reirden to a multiyear contract.

In terms of blues prospects, with the exception of Salvador and Low, Ladislav Nagy will likely be the only other player seriously competing for a position with the big club. Roloson may look like the bonified backup as of now but don’t count out the youngster Brent Johnson who has been the best goalie in camp that last two seasons in a row.

All of the 2000 draft picks with the exception of Jeff Taffe were in camp in Thunder Bay, along with Ladislav Nagy, Mike Van Ryn, Barret Jackman, Tyler Renette, Cody Rudkowsky, and defensemen Jame Pollock, Petr Smrek and Didier Tremblay.

This is something new that Larry Pleau felt would help player development as well give the blues organization a little more time to evaluate players prior to the blues training camp which should get under way around the first week of September.

The blues have also told Kelly Chase that he would not be returning next season and he has since joined the Blues radio staff. The blues went out and signed journeymen Chris Murray to fill in the hole left by Chase.