HAZELWOOD, MO - July 1 can be classified as the day that the NHL begins its Black Friday.
Unrestricted free agents are up for sale, and teams can line up waiting for some sort of blue-light special, with checkbooks in hand, looking for that big, home run-type signing thinking they're getting a great deal despite ponying up a lot of dollars.
Among some of the top forwards that came off the board on the first day (Andrew Ladd, seven-year, $38.5 million with the New York Islanders; Milan Lucic, seven-year, $42 million with the Edmonton Oilers; Frans Nielsen, six-year, $31.5 million with the Detroit Red Wings; Loui Eriksson, six-year, $36 million with the Vancouver Canucks; Kyle Okposo, seven-year, $42 million with the Buffalo Sabres and the Blues' own David Backes, five-year, $30 million with the Boston Bruins and Troy Brouwer, four-year, $18 million with the Calgary Flames), they cost a cool $238,000,000 million.
The Blues didn't get the John Hancock on any of those contracts. They instead chose to spend within, but Blues general manager Doug Armstrong didn't completely stay out of the market, and when he reached out to a familiar name in forward David Perron, it may not have been the home run signing at two years and $7 million, but the Blues have to feel like they got one considering the body of work thus far.
For 23 games, or a little more than a quarter into his first season of a second stint, the 28-year-old Perron has given the Blues exactly what they were hoping for, if not more.
When the Blues host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday, Perron will look to increase his career-high point streak to nine games; he has three goals and eight assists during an eight-game streak that has him second on the Blues (behind Vladimir Tarasenko's 23 points) in points with 16 (seven goals, nine assists) in 23 games.
And consider that (prior to Wednesday), Ladd had two goals and an assist in 21 games, Nielsen has 13 points in 23 games, Eriksson has 10 points in 23 games, Okposo leads the Sabres with 15 points in 21 games, Backes has nine points in 18 games and Brouwer has nine points in 25 games. Only Lucic (17 points) had more than Perron.
Considering Perron, who the Blues drafted in the first round in 2007, started last season with four goals and 12 assists with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 43 games before finding his game again after a trade to the Anaheim Ducks. The Blues did their homework on what he could bring in the absence of some key veteran departures that needed replacing.
"We saw him play last year with heavier players," Armstrong said. "We want to play quicker but we're not the quickest team in the league, and so we felt with the style that we wanted to play, there was certainly a spot for him on either of the two wings in our group of nine, and he's taken advantage of it."
This was a homecoming for Perron, who played the first six games of his career before a trade to the Edmonton Oilers on July 10, 2013. And despite entering free agency for the first time in his career, Perron saw a chance to return where it all began.
"I got a sense with Hitch and knowing what he wants from players," Perron said of Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. "If you play the right way and you play hard, you're going to get the right chances, right opportunities. When I came in, people maybe saw me as an offensive guy only, but when I was younger, I wanted to win as much as anybody in this room. ... I want to help out, block shots and make sure I do all the right things."
Perron's production, along with that of Jaden Schwartz (seven-game point streak and seven goals and five assists in the past 11), has been a blessing with Alexander Steen (upper-body injury) sidelined the past six games.
Perron was more known as a player with the offensive flare his first bout with the Blues. But he's grown up, has a family and son (Mason) and has altered his style of play as a veteran of 10 seasons to prolong his career effectively.
"He doesn't cheat to score," Hitchcock said of Perron, who has 148 goals and 200 assists in 593 NHL regular-season games. "He plays the game the right way, on the right side of the puck. He has a base where he understands that part of the game now. He's not fishing for pucks, he's not hoping pucks pop free to create offense, he's not looking to cheat the game. He plays the game real honest right now and I think it makes him a way better player. We use the term loosely, but man, he's a 200-foot player and he's made himself a 200-foot player.
"I really liked him as a player. I watched him play in Edmonton; he played fine. I watched him go to Pittsburgh and he was lost. He didn't play well there and he didn't look like he fit there. The way they wanted to play and the way he played didn't fit. Then when I saw him go to Anaheim, I thought I saw the same player that was in Edmonton. Doug and I talked about it. We both felt like if that's the player we're going to get, we have similar style players to (Ryan) Getzlaf and (Corey) Perry. Our players aren't quick, but they're strong on the puck. David fit that style and we thought he could could fit here. He's grown up, he's 28 years old, he's been 10 years in the league, his game has maturity, he's got maturity in his play, he's really competitive on the puck. I like that, and I trust him. I trust him offensively and I really trust him defensively."
Perron's season started with four points in the first 12 games (three goals, one assist), but they all came in one game at Calgary on Oct. 23. Then he scored Nov. 6 against Colorado and it was four goals and one assist in 15 games; about what one might expect for a player with a $3.5 million average annual value contract.
But Perron has taken off since, and it's no coincidence. He feels like his game hasn't changed at all. Now he's just finding plays and shots going in more frequently.
"I really do. I had a good game in Calgary points-wise, I felt like my game was there, feel one of my best games was playing with 'Steener' and I think 'Vladi' in Vancouver (on Oct. 18). I'm trying to build and keep building and make sure even when the legs sometimes aren't 100 percent there, the puck making decision, everything is there and playing the right way.
"It's nice for sure. I think coming back here, I knew I would have some good opportunities, just knowing Hitch, knowing the staff, how much he pushed to get me back also. I think I could feel that from the start of free agency there when we started talking. It was a natural for me to come back. I got older, your game started to come together a little more. I was always trying to play that way, even back then and maybe you come in at 19 and people see a certain way and it's tough to change a perspective on a guy even if he's trying to do the right thing at all times. I'm trying to do that, keep improving and certainly I think we have the type of coaches and leaders in this room to make sure everyone's on board to play the right way. Obviously Hitch is never going to go away from that, so we've got to be on board and we are on board with that."
Perron is in a situation now where the Blues are winning and expected to win. That wasn't always the case when he was first here when the Blues were experiencing some lean years in the mid-to-late 2000's when he was on board and reaching the playoffs was not within reason.
He helped get that rebuild off the ground before seeing it through. Now he's glad to be back trying to push St. Louis over the top.
"I got traded a couple times since those years and I don't mean that negatively, but I still don't accept the trade," Perron said. "I wish I had been here all those years. I just know there's a business side of things and I'm just happy that I get a second chance here. Not everyone gets a second shot at something that you like or a place that you like, whatever it is. I'm fortunate for that. I'm happy and I'm glad it worked out. We had different options, but certainly this was one of the tops ones out there and I'm glad I came here.
"... I know it's different because as you get older, the experience of everything comes together. Sometime, it's just letting go of a mistake more easily. It's also letting go of a good performance quicker and move onto the next game, so that you don't get caught up in, 'Oh, I had a great game.' You want to turn the page as soon as you can on any kind of performance so that you can regroup, refocus and get back to work either in practice the next day or whatever it is that you need to do to get prepared for your next opportunity."
Perron is getting his opportunities often these days, and it's been a shot in the arm for the Blues, who have won six of seven since an 8-4 loss Nov. 12 at Columbus.
"He's come in and done a tremendous job for us, carried a lot of weight, a lot of responsibility and has been playing really well," Steen said.
Lately, playing with Schwartz and Paul Stastny has given the Blues a formidable No. 1 line.
"I think our line is finding a way to find chances on most shifts, and the shifts that we don't get chances we make sure we play defensively and that's the staple that needs to make sure it's there every shift," Perron said.
Music to Ken 'Play a 200-foot game' Hitchcock's ears.