In an unexpected turn of developments, the St. Louis Blues re-signed forward Steve Ott to a two-year, $5.2 million-dollar contract on Thursday. But even more unexpectedly, ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun is reporting that center Vladimir Sobotka will depart to join Omsk of the Russian Kontinental Hockey League, which presumably is the reason the Blues suddenly decided to bring back Ott after GM Doug Armstrong had previously said his NHL roster was set. (For what it’s worth, Armstrong has yet to receive confirmation on the Sobotka report.)
The Blues kind of brought the Sobotka move on themselves by filing for arbitration against the 27-year-old. Rumors indicated that he wanted $4 million per year, and clearly the Blues weren’t willing to make that type of financial commitment. They’ll have to dish out payments to young cornerstone players Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, so perhaps they were wary of having Sobotka taking that type of cap space with how much they’ve already spent on others.
Though Sobotka is by no means a superstar, he was a valuable role player who delivered a big impact to the Blues last year. He played much bigger than his 5-foot-10, 197-pound frame would indicate, and he had nine goals and 24 assists. And after being moved to center full-time early in the season, Sobotka was the Blues’ most efficient face-off man and one of the best in the entire NHL, winning at a 61.5 percent rate. Without him, the Blues will have to hope that recently-added center Jori Lehtera can be counted on to adequately fill the second line center role.
Ott is capable of being a solid contributor, but he’ll need to perform better than he did last year, when he had no goals and three assists over 23 games with the Blues after being traded by the Buffalo Sabres. The 6-foot, 189-pound Ott does provide a nice physical presence, but it will be interesting to see where he fits in the Blues’ lineup. He provided a nice presence in the face-off circle during his time in St. Louis, so perhaps he slides into a center role rather than the Blues having to move Patrik Berglund or David Backes back to the middle.
If you didn’t know how much he was getting paid, though, it wouldn’t seem like Ott is a guy who fits into the lineup on a nightly basis. Since his 11-goal, 28-assist season fro Dallas in 2011-12, h hasn’t been a significant offensive contributor, and he hasn’t done a good job of covering himself in the defensive end either. It was reasonable to assume that he’d have a better plus-minus rating after getting traded from the struggling Sabres to the more defensively-responsible Blues, but he still registered by far the worst rating on the team, finishing with a minus-12 over 23 games.
Ott has a nice skill set when he’s on, including the ability to provide a little bit of offense, dominate in the face-off circle, and provide major physicality. But on a Blues team that has already has a couple of grinders in Maxim Lapierre and Ryan Reaves and has plenty of talented offensive forwards, including Dmitrij Jaskin, Magnus Paajarvi, and Joakim Lindstrom, battling for spots, Ott will have to stay on his game if he wants to crack the lineup night-in and night-out.