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Vladimir Sobotka leaves Blues for KHL; maligned Steve Ott back as Plan B

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy
NHL: St. Louis Blues at Pittsburgh Penguins
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Mar 23, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; St. Louis Blues center Vladimir Sobotka (17) chases the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Blues won 1-0. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Vladimir Sobotka has a July 21 arbitration hearing with the St. Louis Blues. One problem: He’s now a member of Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League, potentially for the next three years. 

Is GM Doug Armstrong just going to show up to the hearing with the hope that Sobotka does the same?

“Yeah. Basically,” said Armstrong.

“This is a business decision by Vlad, that I respect. It doesn’t change my opinion on him as a man.”

Sobotka, 27, is one of the best faceoff men in the NHL, winning 61.9 percent of his draws last season. He had 33 points in 61 games, skating 16:44 per game. He was one of the team’s best possession players as well.

He made a paltry $1.3 million against the cap for the last three seasons, and was looking to exponentially increase that in his next contract. The problem for him: He is a restricted free agent, giving the Blues the negotiating high ground and the right to take him to arbitration for a 1-year deal.

Armstrong said talks on a new contract began in February, and the Blues thought they were close. They spoke again after the IIHF world championships, as Armstrong began to hear talk of KHL offers for Sobotka.

The Blues offered contracts ranging from one year to three years to five years. They offered an annual salary north of $3 million. One of their last offers to Sobotka was two years at $3 million per season.

As they negotiated to sign him, they sent him a qualifying offer to retain his rights and then went the arbitration route.

On July 4, Sobotka fired his agent and went with Petr Svoboda, the former NHL player turned agent that brought Jaromir Jagr to Omsk. Less than a week later, Sobotka opted to leave for the KHL.

“He was strongly considering signing in the KHL, said Armstrong on Thursday morning. “I circled back to other players we were talking to, and that included Steve.”

Steve Ott made quite an impression on St. Louis Blues in his 23 games last season, following a trade from the Buffalo Sabres.

There were his zero goals in 23 games. And his three assists. And a minus-12. And 37 penalty minutes, again, in 23 games. And being a drag on possession, as the Blues were plus-3.9 percent in corsi better than when he was on the ice.

But hey, he only had a minus-3 and 14 penalty minutes in six playoff games.

So there weren’t many champagne bottles popped on Thursday when the Blues announced that Ott has been re-signed for two years and $2.6 million annually. But it was a move made out of necessity.

This isn’t necessarily fair to Ott, who is a better player than those 29 games revealed. He remains one of the NHL’s better faceoff men (53.9 percent last season), a nasty little pest to opponents and a good locker room guy, as evidenced by the void he left with the Buffalo Sabres. He also saw his usage change dramatically with the Blues, starting more of his shifts in the defensive zone than he did with the Sabres.

Yet it’s what the Blues are losing with Sobotka that’s the focus.

His rights will be retained by the Blues after the arbitration ruling. Armstrong hoped he’d return to the team next season. But he said that there were larger issues at play here than Vlad Sobotka believing his worth more than $3 million annually.

Like having a restricted free agent go outside the system to force the Blues’ hand.

“The League goes on. No one person can be more important than the fabric of the CBA,” said Armstrong. 

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