The St. Louis Blues might have lost center Vladimir Sobotka to the Kontinental Hockey League and tried to mitigate that loss by bringing back unrestricted free agent center Steve Ott on a two-year, $5.2 million deal.
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said Thursday that he couldn't confirm that Sobotka had indeed signed with the Russia-based league, but he said that was his belief.
"In late May, early June, I heard that the KHL might be an option that he might consider," Armstrong said on a conference call. "We certainly take that at face value and we negotiated trying to get him to sign here."
In June, they offered him a three-, four- or five-year deal "north of 3 million," Armstrong said. "Our last offers were a one-year deal at 2.7 or a two-year deal at 3 million. Those haven't gotten it done at this point."
When Sobotka changed agents for a second time in early July, that's when the Blues chose to take him to arbitration to protect the club's rights
Sobotka, one of three NHL players that teams are taking to arbitration, has a hearing scheduled for July 21.
"We're moving forward that we're going to go through that arbitration, an award will be given and that will be a contract for the '14-15 season," Armstrong said. "We hope that he will be in training camp under that contract. If he's in the KHL, that contract will toll (carry forward) until future years."
The general manager said he understood that Sobotka's decision, if he has left, is an economic one.
"I can't, and I don't think we should be asked to, negotiate against the KHL," he said.
"At the end of the day, we were both very comfortable to reconvene," Armstrong said. "I know the last few days, he's been talking to more teams again. ... Steve was at that top end of the players who were still available. Teams were circling back with him and we were one of them."
Ott had been acquired from the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 28, along with goalie Ryan Miller, in a bid to help St. Louis advance in the tough Western Conference playoffs. But Miller struggled and Ott had no goals, three assists and a minus 12 rating down the stretch and the Blues were knocked out in the first round.
His grittiness was important to Armstrong, though.
"He's a really strong utility player," he said. "Obviously, I think he's going to want to get that first goal as much as we're going to want to get that off his back. But I think we all saw what kind of competitor he was in the playoffs. ...
"I like the makeup of our team and I like having a little bit of sandpaper in there and talking to the coach, he wants that element in there also."
The loss of Sobotka will be tough because he centered a highly effective line with Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. But the Blues earlier signed Finnish center Jori Lehtera, who previously played with Tarasenko in the KHL.
The Blues also had signed coveted center Paul Stastny to a four-year, $28 million contract on July 1.
If the KHL has, in fact, landed Sobotka, it would be a coup for the league. New Jersey Devils star Ilya Kovalchuk joined the league last summer.
Armstrong made clear that he holds no animosity toward Sobotka.
"If he's gone to the KHL, it doesn't change my outlook on Vladdy as a player or a person," he said. "I have the utmost respect for him as a player. I have the utmost respect for him as a member of the organization. ...
"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, but we'll do that to keep a valuable player like Vladdy in the organization."