The Blues addressed one of their pending unrestricted free agents on Friday by signing Adam Cracknell to a one-year, $600,000 extension, as reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The one-way deal is a slight raise over the $550,000 contract he enjoyed during the 2013 campaign. The 27-year-old played in 50 AHL games with the Peoria Rivermen in 2013 and 20 games with the Blues. With the Rivermen, Cracknell scored 17 goals and added 15 assists. With the Blues, Cracknell's game was centered around physical play as he was a member of the brutal fourth line along with Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves.
This is a solid contract. Cracknell proved that he could be a strong grinding presence at the NHL level, especially when teamed with Porter and Reaves. The decision to extend Cracknell was one of the easiest decisions the Blues will have to make this summer.
This is probably the safest and least controversial move the Blues will make all off-season. Personally, I have no complaints whatsoever about Cracknell being back on a one-way deal. He, along with Porter, Reaves, Sobotka, and Schwartz, was definitely one of the guys out there in the postseason actually making his shifts count. I think it's fairly safe to look at this as the replacement for Scott Nichol's slot, since it's not as though the Blues are going to count on the fourth line to win desperation faceoffs.
The larger question now becomes: Which domino falls next?
@miendiem I agree that it's a safe move, and I fully expect him to see a lot of 4th line ice time this year regardless of what happens with the other dominos. Surprised at all that it's a one-way deal and not two? I thought that Armstrong might try to push for a two-way deal so that he'd have flexibility on the roster if he wanted to try moving things around a bit. Either way, no complaints here.
@lizardkingjl I'm not particularly surprised by it being a one-way contract. Note that this doesn't preclude the Blues from sending Cracknell down if the conditions demand it, just that they would have to pay him his full NHL-level salary if they do. That said, I'm of the opinion that he succeeded in the expectations that the coaching staff had for him, and that his place on the NHL club is secure. I know that that will leave the fourth line without a dedicated true center, but they seemed to work it out well enough after Nichol's injury and the advent of the CPR line this past season, so I doubt that Hitch tinkers with it as long as it keeps working. (We'll just ignore the fact that the abortive Tarasenko-as-fourth-liner thing happened in the LA series, shall we? heh)
@lizardkingjl One other thing regarding one-way contracts, as opposed to two-way, I believe that waivers enters the picture, or enters it sooner. I'm not sure how that might have been altered in the new CBA, but I expect it works similarly. Agreed on his contract numbers, but keeping them near the minimum seems to be the going rate for fourth liners - with the one year deal, he'll have that chance to prove himself and improve his payday if his play warrants it in the near future, something that Armstrong seems to be making a habit of, in terms of contracts.
As to Lehtera, he's been playing for Tarasenko's hometown team (Sibir Novosibirsk) in the KHL, and leading them in scoring, if I recall correctly. I don't generally follow prospects all that much, though I've been starting to more recently, just because it seems to be a common topic amongst fans.
The following I borrowed from Lehtera's Hockey's Future page:
Lehterä combines some abilities of a large all-around centerman and a flamboyant scoring winger. Above all he is an adept stick handler able to move in small spaces and a gifted set-up man, combining positioning and passes to create scoring opportunities by himself if need be. On the top of it, Lehterä is a cold-blooded finisher at short range. On the downside, he hasn’t developed his defensive skills properly, although he isn’t too bad at the two-way game. He also remains too much on the receiving end of physical play. His most limiting factor is his questionable skating."
I've heard from some folks who follow these things more than I do that he improved his skating and defense substantially this year. What that means in terms of a smaller rink and a more defense-oriented system like Hitchcock's is certainly more than I can say. Realistically, though, the Blues troubles recently have tended to stem more from the offensive side of the puck, and he should have a good chance to help the team improve there.
Also, because he's currently in the KHL, there is the question of whether or not the Blues can get him to come over here. The general consensus is that it'll take a one-way contract to do it, and probably some fairly substantial money for an unproven (in NHL competition) player.
@miendiem Oh, I didn't realize players could be sent down with one-way deals without any sort of rehab assignment. That being said, I don't expect them to do that with Cracknell if he provides the same power and energy he did this past postseason either. He deserves the contract, and frankly I thought he might've deserved a bit more of a pay raise, although that may've just been my recent memory of him speaking.
Any knowledge of this Lehtera kid? I know he's a centerman but I don't know anything about his play style or stature. Would 4th line be a place to let him get used to the NHL and sub Porter in elsewhere in the lineup as needed?
@miendiem As always, well said.
This was one player I was hoping the Blues would bring back. Obviously it's not a deal the likes of Pietrangelo or Shattenkirk, but I think he proved he deserves a role on this team and it's nice to see that team recognize it too. With some of the older guys likely moving on, it's nice to see the Blues lock him up and then focus on the bigger issues at hand.