ST. LOUIS — A step forward, a step back. Only a week after the euphoria over the free-agent signing of center Paul Stastny, the Blues appear to be losing one of their toughest and most complete players, winger Vladimir Sobotka.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sobotka has signed a three-year contract with Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. The paper reported that his deal is valued at more than $4 million per season.
At a press conference Thursday in which he discussed the team’s re-signing of free agent Steve Ott, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong could not confirm the Sobotka signing, though he believed reports to be true. Indeed, the re-signing of Ott was a strong indication of the club’s belief that it had lost a key forward.
Armstrong said the team had been negotiating with Sobotka, a restricted free agent, for several months but that it couldn’t compete monetarily with the KHL.
"I wanted to stretch to the absolute end of fairness under our collective bargaining agreement, but I can’t, and I don’t think we should be asked to, negotiate against the KHL," he said.
LET’S GO BLUES: Check out these photos of the fans, ice girls and others who support the St. Louis Blues all season long.
Armstrong said the team’s final offer to Sobotka was for one year at $2.7 million, and that other offers — including multi-year deals north of $3 million annually — also had been on the table earlier in negotiations.
The Blues, who had filed for arbitration with Sobotka’s camp in an effort to bring him back on a one-year contract, still plan to go to Toronto for the hearing July 21. Though Armstrong was uncertain of the KHL contract language, he said he thought there were out clauses that would allow Sobotka to return to the Blues if he decides to accept the arbitration ruling.
"We hope that he’ll be at training camp under that contract," said Armstrong, who added that the arbitration-determined contract would advance to future years in the event Sobotka decided to come back to the NHL before his KHL deal expired.
"If he shows up at training camp, good for us — I’ll have to get my dancing shoes on and get back under the cap at that point," Armstrong said. "But we’ll do that to keep a valuable player like Vladi in the organization."
Sobotka’s apparent departure leaves the Blues minus a hard-nosed, gritty competitor who, pound for pound, could be the toughest player in the NHL. Or, as it looks now — the KHL.