The St. Louis Blues entered the NHL's free agency period searching for a top-four defenseman. They are still searching.
They were priced out of the Ryan Suter sweepstakes and quickly turned their attention to Plan B: Matt Carle. But although St. Louis was heavily involved in talks with the former Philadelphia Flyer, Carle signed a six-year, $33 million contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Carle's deal with the Lightning included a $3 million signing bonus, which appears to be a priority of the players this offseason with a potential lockout looming.
"I guess I'm never really surprised at what happens in the NHL on certain dates," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "We certainly saw some very lucrative contracts handed out, some lucrative contracts with signing bonuses handed out, which seems to be a phenomenon that you only have as you're entering into the expiration of a collective-bargaining agreement. I don't know if surprised would be the right term as it is eye-opening."
So the Blues' search for a left-shooting defenseman leads the club to the trade market. However, Armstrong said recently that he's not inclined to deal from his group of forwards. He'd prefer to deal draft picks if possible.
"One of the things that this new system has created is you see after a while you rob Peter pay Paul," Armstrong said. "If you have a hole, you create another hole to do it.
"I'd like to try doing it with non-rostered players if possible because I like our group of forwards, but I don't think we have an excessive amount in any one position. If we can do it with spending a little bit of our future, I think we're in a spot to do that. I think our cupboard is fairly stocked that we could go a year if necessary without a pick or two."
But if the Blues enter the 2012-13 season with the defensive personnel they have on the left side -- Barret Jackman, Kris Russell and Ian Cole -- then Armstrong says he's fine with that.
"I am satisfied we can start with that group that we have back there, and then if we do stub our toe or stumble, we'll have to get very aggressive in the trading market if necessary," he said. "But right now, if this is the group we go to training camp with, this is the group we go to training camp with."