Blues Could Have Majority of Lineup Dressed for Game 1 against ‘Hawks

Allergic reaction or not, Blues’ fans can thank Miley Cyrus for an extra day of rest in preparation for the much-anticipated Western Conference First Round series against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks beginning Thursday night at Scottrade Center.

The Blues benefitted from the extra off-day. When they lost 3-0 to the Detroit Red Wings in the regular-season finale last Sunday, a number of starters were unable to play due to injury.

Now, mere hours before the puck drops, the Blues’ walking wounded are making legitimate progress.

“The cavalry is coming,” forward Brenden Morrow told Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Morrow, who had been in a walking boot and was thought to have a fractured foot, made a surprise appearance on the ice during Tuesday’s optional practice. T.J. Oshie, who was the recipient of a vicious hit to the head from Minnesota’s Mike Rupp, was also present going through practice drills with his teammates. Vladimir Tarasenko shed his cast shielding his right hand following hand surgery and has been a regular during practice. Other notable injured players that were on the ice Tuesday included defensemen Barret Jackman and Alex Pietrangelo.

Finally, the Blues are getting some positive news as they look to rebound from their six-game losing streak which dealt them a playoff series against the Blackhawks.

Though captain David Backes (foot) and Vladimir Sobotka (lower body) weren’t on the ice Tuesday, they participated during Wednesday’s full team practice, a good sign for a team looking to right the ship.

Oshie did not practice Wednesday, neither did Patrik Berglund, who is unlikely to be available for Game 1 with an upper body injury.

“Obviously it’s up to the coaching staff who is going to play,” forward Steve Ott told Dan O’Neill of the Post-Dispatch. “But the more guys we have in the lineup makes us a stronger team.”

The Blues will need as many of their regulars as possible against the Blackhawks, who will reunited by the off-injured Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Ken Hitchcock No Stranger to Late-Season ‘Blues’

Not a month ago the St. Louis Blues were top dog in the NHL. The President’s Trophy was in reach, along with the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and the Central Division crown.

My, oh my how four weeks can alter the entire landscape of a team.

Since going 11-3-1 in March, the Blues went just 2-6 in April and concluded the regular season riding a six-game losing streak – the longest skid the club has encountered in eight years. In a division that saw them go 20-0-2 before losing their first game in regulation, the local six dropped six of their final nine to the same competition. The streak cost the Blues the division, the No. 1 seed in the conference, and assured them a date with the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference quarterfinals, beginning Thursday night at Scottrade Center.

“We ran out of gas,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told reporters following a 3-0 loss vs. Detroit Sunday.

Injuries have depleted the lineup (see: Vladimir Tarasenko, Vladimir Sobotka, David Backes, Patrick Berglund, T.J. Oshie and Brenden Morrow, etc…), the defense has been subpar and goaltender Ryan Miller, who was acquired as the final piece for the Blues to get over the hump, has lost his confidence if not his game.

Fans are on edge, preparing for what could be another disastrous, heartbreaking letdown following a record-setting regular season that saw their hometown team set the franchise record for points, with 111. Players, though remaining calm, seem to have no answers for their lack of focus and attention to detail. The Blues have gone astray from their own game. Instead of punishing the opposition, the Blues are letting their opponents skate uncontested, unchecked.

However, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock isn’t a stranger when it comes to tough times and extended losing streaks, especially late in the season.

“I’ve had it happen and been successful with it, I’ve had it happen and not been successful with it,” Hitchcock said. “I’ve seen it both ways. The times I’ve had success, it was a slow build-up. There was an overtime win in Game 2.”

Hitchcock was most likely referring to his Dallas Stars’ 5-4 overtime win against the Blues in the Western Conference semi-finals in 1998-99, the year he let the Stars to their first Stanley Cup.

With an extended break before gearing up for Chicago, Hitchcock believes his club will benefit from time away from hockey.

“This break will do us a lot of good,” he said. “We can get re-energized, refocused and come back ready to play.”

With the assortment of problems, Hitchcock isn’t sounding the alarm, nor is he raising the white flag. He remains patient, firmly believing that his squad will regroup and build momentum heading into the postseason tournament.

“You look at the big picture, we set a record for points,” Hitchcock told reporters during Sunday’s post-game news conference following the Blues’ 3-0 loss to Detroit. “We had a brutal stretch here at the end. Everybody went through a brutal stretch. Teams that had the Olympians had some period of time when they hit the wall. Chicago’s stretch was right after the [Olympic] break, ours happened now.”

The Blackhawks’ ‘brutal stretch’ was from Feb. 27 to March 30, in which they went 7-9-1.

For the Blues to go through a slump of this magnitude isn’t unheard of. A number of teams, including those that will compete for Lord Stanley’s Cup have gone through similar periods of frustration much like the Blues. Colorado had a horrid month of December, going 5-5-4, including dropping four straight from Dec. 21-31.

Putting the Blues’ nightmarish stretch aside, can we really expect (heck, imagine?) a sudden change of course from this downward, depressing spiral? In all honesty, it’s good to hear the positive words from Hitchcock and the players. What’s done is done. But time is of the essence. Hitchcock assured that every player that wasn’t in the lineup against Detroit in the regular season finale, at some point, will be on the ice come playoff time.

It’s expected forwards Backes (foot), Oshie (upper body) and Sobotka (lower body) will be available for Game 1. The statuses of Berglund, Morrow and Tarasenko remain uncertain, although, Tarasenko continues to skate with the team wearing a cast on his surgically repaired hand. Playing without Berglund and Morrow will be challenging for Hitchcock, who has utilized his club’s depth by spreading it across all four lines. Offensive consistency during 5-on-5 play against the Blackhawks could prove questionable.

Despite the ailing bodies, the Blues have a bigger problem: the play of their stopper, Miller. The Blues landed Miller because of his world-class talent and nifty resumé. During his short tenure in St. Louis, Miller has had some spectacular moments between the pipes. Still, he’s had too many moments that have fans scratching their heads as if to say, “Did we get the right guy?”

Miller is 1-6 in last seven starts and has allowed four goals in six of his final 11 regular-season starts. Not exactly spectacular. Over those six games, Miller’s save percentage is a woeful 85.5 percent, while his goals allowed average is nearly four.

Yet, Miller says he feels good, and believes he isn’t too far off his game.

Just how much farther will he need to go in order to carry the Blues? Even when the Blues’ offense is rolling, scoring comes in spurts. Last I checked, the Blackhawks are more than capable of putting (at least) four goals on the board in the blink of an eye. Is Miller capable of stealing a handful of games during the playoffs?

He’ll have to, otherwise the Blues could easily be making reservations for a round of 18 in two weeks if they don’t find their game.

 

 

 

Blues Reeling After 4-2 Loss to Wild

The Blues are in the midst of their worst stretch of hockey this season. In the middle of a four-game skid, the Blues are battling adversity and a cluster of injuries.

Playing without captain David Backes (lower-body injury),  the Blues not only fell 4-2 to the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center Thursday night, they lost prized forward T.J. Oshie to a vicious hit by Wild enforcer Mike Rupp. To make matters worse, Colorado took over first place in the Central Division by defeating Vancouver. Both the Blues and Avalanche have 111 points on the season, but the Avalanche own the tie breaker.

The Blues trailed 1-0 at the first intermission. Wild forward Nino Niederreiter scored his 14th goal of the season to put the hometown team ahead.

The Blues evened the game in the second period, but paid a hefty price.

With 10 minutes remaining, a delayed penalty was coming against the Wild. Oshie skated around the Wild net and, with his back turned, was blindsided by a vicious shoulder shot to the head by Rupp. The bone-crushing hit left Oshie lying motionless on the ice before being helped to the Blues’ bench. Oshie did not return. Neither did Rupp, who was given a match penalty and a five-minute major for intent to injure.

With 5-on-3 advantage, the Blues rallied with a power-play goal by Kevin Shattenkirk, who fired a wrist-shot past Wild goaltender John Curry to tie the tilt 1-1. However, the Blues got sloppy on their extended power-play, and the Wild answered with a short-handed goal from Kyle Brodziak.

Down by a goal, Blues’ forward Maxim Lapierre was whistled for tripping with less than five minutes remaining in the period. The Wild coughed up the puck in the Blues’ zone, and Alex Steen and Jaden Shwartz skated into the Wild zone on a 2-on-1 break. Gliding inside the offensive zone, Steen fired a pass to Schwartz, who backhanded the puck into the net for his 25th goal of the season.

With the score tied at 2-2, it appeared the Blues had a pulse. However, that pulse lasted less than two minutes. Just one minute, 29 seconds later, the Wild scored. Matt Moulson netted his 23rd goal of the year, which proved to be the game-winner. Brodziak added his second goal of the night to cement the victory for the Wild.

The Blues are in Dallas Friday to round out their 41-game road schedule, and close out the regular season with a matinee against Detroit Sunday.

 

Blues gear up for challenging road ahead

Three days after the closing ceremonies in Sochi took place, the St. Louis Blues were back on the ice in what will surely be a daunting final stretch of the regular season.

The Blues were in Vancouver, British Columbia Wednesday night, pitted against a desperate Canucks club that had lost seven straight before posting a 1-0 win over the Blues at Rogers Arena.

As expected, the Blues weren’t sharp, missing the net 17 times and failing to generate consistent traffic in front of Canucks’ goalie Eddie Lack, who is now 3-0 against the Blues this season. It was a disappointing loss, for sure. Many expected the Blues to kickoff the final 25 games of the regular season in style with a win against an inferior opponent. However, the desperate Canucks dealt the Blues their first shutout of the season.

Despite the loss, there are a lot of positives to take away. Gold medal winners Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester continued to look sharp on the backend, generating three shots and three blocked shots on the evening. The chemistry between the two defensemen continues to trend in the right direction. Blues’ coach Ken Hitchock must be pleased with the way they are playing.

Blues’ goalie Jaroslav Halak, who had an embarrassing outing in Sochi for Slovakia, was stellar against the Canucks. Halak kept the Blues in the game from the opening face-off, stopping 34 of 35 shots. Halak was especially brilliant in the first two periods when the Canucks outshot the Blues 28-17. Sure, Halak would’ve liked to have that lone goal he surrendered to Jannik Hansen back. It was a tough shot, one Halak probably should’ve stopped. However, the game could’ve been over well before Hansen lit the lamp with 8 minutes, 47 seconds left in the third period. The Canucks were all over the Blues in the first period, firing shots from every direction. But Halak stood his ground. He gave his team a chance to win, and that’s all you can ask for.

Halak’s performance is something to build off of from here on out. A big question mark for the Blues has been consistency between the pipes. But Halak proved why he’s the No. 1 guy with his outstanding performance against the Canucks. His confidence will continue to grow.

The Blues must forget about this loss and focus on what lies ahead. Two games remain on this three-game road swing, including tilts against Western Conference-leading Anaheim (87 points) and a hungry Phoenix (64 points) club. The Blues are a combined 1-2-1 against the Ducks and Coyotes this season, and are winless against the former. The Blues have their work cut out for them. They begin the final push with 11 of their first 15 games on the road, six of their first seven. Following the current trip, the Blues return home against Tampa Bay before facing Central Division rivals Nashville, Colorado and Minnesota – three teams looking to make a final push of their own. On a positive note, the Blues are a perfect 7-0-0 against the Predators, Avalanche and Wild on the season.

I’m not concerned with the Blues’ lack of offense against Vancouver. It was their first game back from a 17-day hiatus. Not to mention, nine players flew halfway around the world and are still recalibrating their body clocks. The Blues own the second-best goals per game mark in the league at 3.3. The offense will come. The defense will continue to gel and rediscover its rhythm. Yes, the power-play has been a concern lately, as the Blues have gone 0 for their last 23 on the man-advantage, a season-long mark. However, even with the power play in a funk, the Blues still boast the fifth-best power play unit in the league, scoring over 21 percent of the time.

Moreover, the Blues want it. They want to make an extended playoff run deep into the heat of summer.

“We have a group of guys that has that team-first mentality, Blues’ captain David Backes told Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We had a lot of success the first part of the year and we’ll be looking for more in the second part, really gearing up for the playoffs … playing hockey when it’s 100 degrees in St. Louis.”

Pietrangelo said it best following Canada’s gold medal win over Sweden Sunday.

“I saw ‘Hitch’ on the ice after the game, and I said, ‘That’s one championship, one more to go this year,” he said. “It’s special to share that (gold medal) with them. We’ve obviously been through a lot together and now back to reality, to win here in St. Louis.”

 

 

Blues ink Shattenkirk to long-term deal

St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was set to become a restricted free agent on July 5. That won’t be happening as the Blues signed the 24-year-old blueliner to a four-year, $17 million contract extension Wednesday, the club announced. 

The announcement came on the heels of forward Patrik Berglund’s one-year, $3.25 million deal on Tuesday.

“So excited to be a part of this Blues’ team for the next (four) years,” Shattenkirk tweeted. “Grateful for the opportunity and happy to be back with the boys.”

Shattenkirk began his career in Colorado before being traded to St. Louis in 2011 in exchange for Erik Johnson. Since then, Shattenkirk has been a consistent force on the backend for the Blues. He played in 26 games after arriving in St. Louis in 2010-11, and notched 17 points, including a pair of goals and 15 helpers to boot. In 2011-12, Shattenkirk recorded nine goals, 34 assists and was a plus-20 in 81 games. Moreover, he averaged 21:36 of ice time per game. During the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Shattenkirk tallied five goals and added 18 assists and was a plus-2, tying him for the 24th most points in the league among defensemen. He also averaged over 21-minutes of ice time for the second straight season.

“He’s been an interesting three-year study because his numbers have almost stayed flat across the board for three years,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said recently, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “There hasn’t been a spike in his second year, or a decrease in his second or third year. He’s been almost the same player from his first year pro to his third year pro. I look at that as a real positive, that he’s defining himself relatively quickly.”

Armstrong nailed it right on the head. This was a signature move by Armstrong and the rest of the front office, one that shows confidence in the future of this organization. With Shattenkirk and Berglund signed, the Blues must now turn their attention to negotiating long-term commitments with forward Chris Stewart, who netted 18 goals last season and cornerstone defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.

 

 

 

Thoughts on Matheny, Rams, Blues and Ball State

Good morning and happy Friday…There’s been a circus of events taking place in the St. Louis sports world and here at Ball State, so let’s dive right in:

When the Cardinals announced the hiring of Mike Matheny as the successor to Tony La Russa, a few thoughts popped into my head. First, it was the right choice for a multitude of reasons. Secondly, Matheny has proven himself to the Cardinals, the fans and the organization.

Rooting against Matheny would be foolish. His interview with general manager John Mozeliak and chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. was thoroughly impressive and ultimately led to his hiring. Throughout his playing days in St. Louis, Matheny has earned the respect from current and former teammates, staff, fans, various media personnel and countless opponents. Matheny is an all-around leader.

Does this mean Matheny will be a successful manager? Absolutely not. Don’t forget that Matheny has zero coaching experience in the big leagues. He served as an instructor for the team over the last two seasons, but was Mozeliak’s and La Russa’s right-hand man. Matheny and La Russa spent countless days talking baseball in terms of philosophy and coaching among other things. When debating whether Matheny will be a good manager, the truth is simple: One can’t determine this outcome. There’s no evidence to base an opinion off of. Sure, Matheny possesses great leadership skills, which could carry over to his managerial days, but this job is one of the hardest in all of sports. Not to mention filling the shoes of TLR is a daunting task altogether. The pressure can be extreme and the expectations are higher than ever. As much as I hate to say this, there is no clear cut way of knowing how this will pan out. Sure, it’s a gamble and a huge one at that. Of course there were other options for Mozeliak and DeWitt Jr. to explore, but Matheny was the chosen one, which says a lot. Mozeliak is willing to take the risk, placing all of his marbles on Matheny’s potential. Of course, if it backfires, it’s all on Mozeliak.

Baseball analysts and other hardcore media experts will try jump to conclusions on Matheny’s hiring. That’s a given. The Cardinals will be ripped for hiring a guy who some say “took the easy route” into managing, leap-frogging over other potential managers who have waited years for this opportunity. I don’t buy that at all. It’s absurd. How can you be so quick to judge Matheny? There’s no track record to base an argument on. Like I said, it’s certainly a gamble, but I’ll go with Mozeliak and DeWitt Jr’s. decision here. There’s a chance they know more about the situation than I or any other  expert.

With all decisions comes the question of political correctness. This topic is both amusing and frustrating. Critics will ask why Mozeliak gave the job to Matheny while passing on longtime third-base coach Jose Oquendo, who is a native of Puerto Rico. Mozeliak chose Matheny over five other candidates, four of which were white guys. So why did Mozeliak choose Matheny? To put it bluntly, Matheny was already an insider. A close ally, already a member of the Cardinal family. Enough with all of the PC garbage. It’s irrelevant to the situation.

Mozeliak is now the boss. When TLR retired, Mozeliak knew his first chance to gain sole power in the organization would come with his first hire. Other alterations within the organization will likely take place. Consider what Mozeliak has done this past season. He made the risky trades that became a huge factor in the Cardinals’ Cinderella-like run to their 11th World Series championship in franchise history.

Moving on…

Steve Spagnuolo deserves a lot of credit for coming away with a much-need victory over the Cleveland Browns last Sunday. This season has turned for the worst, and critics, including myself have constantly blasted Spags and his staff for the results of what once was thought to be a promising season.

Steven Jackson appears to be in full swing now that he is back in the lineup for the Rams. Over the last three weeks, SJ has racked up 417 yards on the ground. He’s rushed for more than 100-yards three weeks in a row and has been a huge relief for quarterback Sam Bradford, who has struggled with an ankle injury. Jackson has also taken pressure off the offensive line, who continues to have problems with pass protection.

The Seattle Seahawks come to town on Sunday and many will tune out to this one, but make no mistake, this is a huge game for the Rams. At 2-7, a victory would tie the Rams with the Seahawks in the NFC West and put them within reach of the virtually unbeatable 49ers, who have a commanding five-game lead in the division.

Moving on…

What a job Mike Hitchcock has done with the St. Louis Blues. When the Blues canned Davis Payne and lured Hitchcock away from Columbus, a new team has emerged from the dead. Let’s face it, prior to the Hitchcock hiring, the Blues were struggling in all facets of the game. They were 6-7 and falling fast under Payne. Many questioned why general manager Doug Armstrong was so quick to pull the plug on Payne, but the reality is simple; the Blues weren’t producing and Payne didn’t get the most out of the club. I will say this though; It’s sad that when everything goes wrong, the coach receives all of the blame. Shouldn’t the players be held accountable for playing lousy hockey? Just my opinion.

Anyway…Hitchcock, who is a no-nonsense coach, has transformed this team into a contender. At least for the team being. The Blues are 4-0-1 under Hitchcock, and are rolling on all cylinders. The Note have allowed just four goals and have received points in all four games. Against division rival Detroit, the Blues came away with a 2-1 victory at Scottrade Center, and Thursday night’s 4-1 win over the Florida Panthers capped a noteworthy five-game home stand. When up against adversity, this club doesn’t back down like it used to. Rather, they stand together. Midway through the first period of Tuesday night’s game, forward Chris Stewart put a vicious hit on defenseman Niklas Kronwall, and received a game misconduct. The Blues were also dealt a five-minute major. Already down 1-0, it looked as if things were going to get ugly quick. But the PK unit stood their ground, blocking shots at will, killing off six penalties on the night.

Moving on…

The Ball State men’s basketball team came within minutes of pulling off a major upset in its season opener vs. No. 16 Arizona, but couldn’t seal the deal, losing in the final minutes of regulation…Kudos to head coach Billy Taylor for preparing his team. Not only did they hold their own, they could and very well should have won the game. Just 28 seconds into the second half, the Cardinals held an 11-point lead over the Wildcats, who clearly underestimated the underdog Cardinals. So what they didn’t win. Arizona is one heck of a basketball program, historically speaking and honestly, few thought the game would be close, much less witnessing the team from the Mid-American Conference dominate for the majority of the game. If anything, this game should serve as a reminder of what this team is capable of accomplishing this season. Heck, if they can nearly upset the No. 16 team in the country, what would they do to teams within the MAC?

Moving on…

Speaking of basketball, the women’s team is off to a slow start. The Cardinals have dropped three straight to open up the season. Dating back to last season, including the Mid-American Conference tournament, the Cardinals have lost 13 straight. The stat certainly doesn’t sit well with coach Kelly Packard, who is in the midst of her fourth season behind the bench for the Cardinals, and is one win shy of 50 for her career.

Youth has plagued the Cardinals and will most likely trouble them throughout the 2011-12 season. The departures of last season’s leading scorers Emily Maggert and Ty’Ronda Benning leave a huge hole in the offense. With eight underclassmen, Packard is still in search for a winning formula. The Cardinals return to John E. Worthen Arena for a brief two-game home stand, which begins Saturday night against Murray State.

Thanks for reading…

-Poz

Perron won’t be ready for start of camp

The Blues are six weeks away from opening their 2011 training camp, and according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the team plans to open camp without forward David Perron, who is still suffering from postconcussion symptoms.

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong commented on the issue, saying, “David has shown improvement, but it’s not to the point where he’s ready to come in and work out and start training yet.”

Perron’s condition improved dramatically a couple of months ago, but it’s been slow and steady since.

“We’ve decided to just move forward with the idea that David won’t be ready for training camp,” Armstrong said. “He’ll just continue to progress and when he is ready, he’ll jump back in and start his training.”

Perron was injured Nov. 4 when he was blindsided by San Jose’s Joe Thornton, on what many believe was a cheap shot. Perron briefly left the game and returned to score the second goal in the Blues’ 2-0 win. Thornton was hit with a two-game suspension, or a slap on the wrist by the NHL.

Initially, Perron said he was OK, but his symptoms worsened the next day when the team traveled to Boston. Consequently, he didn’t play for the rest of the season, missing the remaining 72 games.

Perron, 23, who broke into the NHL at the age of 18, recorded 53 goals and 131 points in 235 games. After signing off on a two-year, $4.3 million contract extension last summer, Perron scored just five goals and tallied two assists in 10 games before suffering a concussion.

Despite the lingering symptoms, the Blues are confident that Perron will resume his NHL career.

 

 

Blues re-sign Bishop

The St. Louis Blues announced the re-signing of goaltender Ben Bishop Tuesday. The one-year, two-way contract, enables Bishop to battle it out with Brian Elliott for the back-up role behind starter Jaroslav Halak.

Bishop, who will make $600,000 in the NHL and $105,000 in the AHL, will keep the competition level high among the reserve goaltenders on the Blues roster.

A third-round draft pick in 2005 by the Blues, Bishop, 24, owns a 4-5-1 record in 13 career NHL games. With a 2.83 goals-against average and a .896 save- percentage, there’s plenty of room for improvement for the six-foot-seven youngster, who has shown flashes of great potential in his short stint with the big club.

In his 121-game minor league career, Bishop has a 57-50-8 record, with a 2.70 GAA and a .904 save-percentage.

Blues ink Oshie, D’Agostini

The Blues announced early Thursday morning a contract extension for forward T.J. Oshie. The initial word had many die-hard St. Louis hockey fans thrilled about the return of their most energetic and exciting young forward. But, after hearing of what the extension consisted of, a one-year $2.35 million deal, many were quick to question why the Blues didn’t add more to the pact.

The answer to all of the questions is simple: Oshie, who has yet to play a full season up to his potential, still has to prove himself not only to the National Hockey League, but to team president John Davidson, general manager Doug Armstrong, and the rest of the Blues organization.

The deal will give Oshie time to prove he’s worthy of the Blues’ top dollar, as the organization wasn’t quite willing to make a larger investment in the fourth-year forward.

Oshie, who held arbitration rights, will be paid slightly more for one season annually than forwards Patrik Berglund ($2.25 million) and David Perron ($2.15 million), who remain on their two-year contracts.

Oshie, 24, who missed significant time in two of his first three seasons due to injury, will need to perform at his highest level yet for the Blues to cash in on him 12 months from now.

“It’s a contract that I believe is right in a lot of ways,” Armstrong told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “With the arbitration rights he had, he obviously had different rights than some of the other players that we’ve negotiated with to this point.

“But I think coming off the (ankle) injury, it’s important that T.J. comes in and establishes himself with a healthy season and contributes at a 75-plus game mark. Then we’ll move on to looking at a longer-term deal after that.”

In 182 career games with the Blues, Oshie has tallied 121 points, and said he was grateful that a deal was finalized.

“I couldn’t imagine playing anywhere else,” Oshie told the Post-Dispatch.

But, it has yet to be seen what Oshie can do when 100-percent healthy for an entire 82-game season.

“I think there’s more to spell out,” Oshie said. “I think I’ve done pretty well in the defensive zone. I think I need to excel in the offensive zone. I think that comes with a lot of video, a lot of realizing when you can and can’t make plays and just building chemistry with the players.”

Oshie has yet to eclipse 50 points in his three years in the league, and his career-best 18 goals and 30 assists came in his lone full season (2009-10). In 49 games in 2010-11, Oshie recorded just 12 goals and 22 assists, missing 31 games after breaking his ankle, which eventually required surgery, on Nov. 10 in Columbus.

Armstrong believes Oshie is “certainly a top nine NHL forward,” and is optimistic about Oshie becoming a top six or top three forward. Typically, a top six forward is a consistent 60-to-65 plus point player, while a top three forward is a 70-to-75 plus point player.

Early Thursday morning, Matt Oates, Oshie’s agent called him, asking if him if he “wanted to go for more (money).”

Oshie responded by saying, “That’s plenty, that’s all I need.”

***

Less than 24 hours after signing Oshie, the Blues agreed to terms on a two-year, $3.3 million deal with fellow forward Matt D’Agostini, eliminating him from free agency. D’Agostini will earn $1.5 million in 2011-12 and $1.8 million in 2012-13.

“Matt had a solid year for us last season,” Armstrong told the Post-Dispatch. “We look forward to his continued growth as a Blue and in this league.”

D’Agostini, who was acquired via trade with Montreal for Aaron Palushaj during the 2009-10 season, posted a career-high 21 goals and 46 points last season for the Note.

The Blues payroll for the upcoming season is $44, 758, 332, according to a source.