The St. Louis Blues have been busy since July 1st kicked off the open market for free agents, signing Brian Elliott (one-year, two-way), Kent Huskins (one-year), Brett Sterling (one-year, two-way) and most recently, Scott Nichol (one-year).
While none of the above listed players qualify as stars or major signings, each skater fills a void the team needed to fill, and each comes at a very low cost. Considering the Blues are still without an owner, the budget is assumed to be quite tight, meaning whatever pieces the Blues bring in need to be small, short-term contracts.
With the Blues not bringing Ty Conklin back into the mix, the backup duties were going to land on Ben Bishop by default, which would leave the responsibility of the Peoria Rivermen with Jake Allen. The Blues needed to bring in another goaltender that would compete with Bishop for the backup job, and could play in Peoria if they failed to win a job at the NHL level.
Several goaltending options jumped off the board following the July 1st deadline, so the Blues decided to go with the former member of the Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators. While his career is still in the early stages, Elliott has seen both the highs and lows of being a goaltender in the NHL. With the Ottawa Senators, he enjoyed one incredible season (2009-10) where he went 29-18-4 with a tidy 2.57 GAA. Unfortunately, the wheels fell off in 2010-11 and caused the Senators to deal a struggling Elliott to the Colorado Avalanche, where the season crashed and burned further, to the tune of 2-8-1 with a 3.83 GAA.
Now he heads to St. Louis and looks to recapture the momentum he displayed in 2009-10, before things took a nasty turn last season. Look for Elliott to compete with Bishop for the backup role. Due to his contract being of the two-way variety, Elliott could spend time in Peoria if his struggles from last season persist.
On the team’s shopping list of pieces they needed to acquire there was a slot for a new left-handed defenseman.
Enter Kent Huskins formerly of the San Jose Sharks.
The Blues have plenty of young defenseman that can contribute boatloads to the offense, but were lacking a hard-nosed, left-handed defender. Listed at 6’4″ and 210 pounds, Huskins brings plenty of physicality to the blueline and has shown the past four consecutive seasons that he can be on the positive side of the plus/minus rating.
Perhaps the skater with the most upside of the group is Brett Sterling. He joins the Blues with a one-year, two-way deal, and has a chance to finally make a name for himself at the NHL level following some tremendous seasons in the AHL.
At 27, Sterling is quickly shifting away from his former “prospect” label, and needs an extended opportunity to prove he can be a contributor at the NHL level. To date, Sterling has appeared in 319 AHL games while scoring 316 points.
His size (5’7″, 175 lbs.) might deter some, but he makes the most of his frame and fights for the puck in the tough areas on the ice. He isn’t afraid to mix things up, as evidenced by his 422 penalty minutes he has earned in the AHL.
Sterling should compete for a role on the NHL roster at left wing, and might make the opening roster depending on what moves the Blues make the rest of the summer and what pans out in training camp.
The second former member of the San Jose Sharks, Nichol fills the need the Blues have at center. More importantly, Nichol brings needed talent in the face off circle and veteran experience to a fairly young roster of skaters.
Nichol has been in the league since the 1995-96 season and has spent time with five different clubs (Buffalo, Calgary, Chicago, Nashville and San Jose) before joining his sixth, the St. Louis Blues.
Aside from being talented in the circle, Nichol adds extra depth and size to the back of the Blues roster. He has no problem throwing his body around and creating havoc for opponents, which will be a needed asset following the team’s decision to not bring back Cam Janssen.