This won’t be easy news for St. Louis Blues fans, or at least a fair majority of them. Vladimir Sobotka was a fierce and versatile competitor and a man who could be counted on for many things when he took the ice. He played liked he was seven feet tall and could win faceoffs, score a goal and rarely got knocked on his ass. He went into the dirty areas of the ice and held his own. He was a tough guy and will be missed by the team and fans who loved to see #17 get out there and make something happen.
This has been a bittersweet offseason but a logical practice being put forth by General Manager Doug Armstrong. He traded fan favorite Roman Polak for a more versatile higher skill set defenseman in Carl Gunnarsson. Armie made a splash and signed Paul Stastny. Today, he was informed that Sobotka will be heading to KHL to play the coming season and departed for a reported 4 million dollar contract. There will be an arbitration hearing but I doubt Sobe will be there. When the Blues offer came in at less than 4 million, he thought it may be best to go closer to home and play a year there before making a return to the NHL. These deals aren’t easy folks and I am sure Armie and Sobotka’s agent didn’t engage in Russian Roulette over the phone. This was another smart move from the Blues brass.
Let’s get this straight. 4 million a year for Sobotka is outrageous and highly sentimental if the trigger is pulled. He made 1.4 million in 2013-14 and that raise wasn’t happening in St. Louis. He is a solid utility guy for a hockey team to deposit in multiple spots but in no way is he making close to T.J. Oshie and David Backes money. Luckily, Ken Hitchcock doesn’t have a pack of guys like local manager Mike Matheny does who are nearly untouchable. I won’t compare Sobe to Daniel Descalso in the slightest sense but in the end this move had to be made.
Sobotka is 27 years old, reaching the prime stage of his career and took a nice paycheck to play closer to his home. Blues fans will be outraged and just for a second, question Armie’s efforts. Once the story is put out there and each side is given, a clarity will come to light. I wasn’t a fan of giving Patrik Berglund 3.5 million to stay three more years but somewhere in that framework there is a bigger plan. With Sobotka, it was presenting him with an offer and seeing if he took it and became a part of something special.
This doesn’t close the book on Sobotka and the NHL. He can come back next year. The KHL doesn’t wish to hold players to multi-year contracts. Sobotka more than likely had options elsewhere but didn’t want to act rash and head to a hockey team where he wouldn’t be utilized. There could be a chance for Vladimir to play a bigger role on the KHL team. He isn’t going to the minors folks. He is merely heading home. I would be surprised if he wasn’t wearing an NHL uniform in 2015-16. Keep in mind that by going to the KHL, Sobe is keeping an idea in the back of his head that the Blues may need him next year. Anything is possible.
It’s quite alright to be sad about the departure of Sobokta. I enjoyed watching him play and respected his ability to do whatever role Hitchcock placed on his plate. He’s a special player and a man who stays in fantastic shape and someone who may just get better with age. He trains with MMA fighters in the offseason and craves physicality. To the most casual hockey fan, that was appreciated.
The Blues did immediately redirect that Sobe money towards resigning Steve Ott to a 2 year deal worth 5.2 million. The return of Ott adds a level of toughness and veteran leadership that is needed on this team. Ott may have sleepwalked through March but he woke up in April and performed well in the playoffs. While I was confused at the signing at first glance(Chris Porter is a poor man’s Ott), I can recognize a team’s need for a guy like Ott. Someone needs to be the Marshall out there when the sheriff(Ryan Reaves) is in the box.
I still don’t think Armstrong is done. Another signing or two may happen. I wouldn’t believe him if he said he was done because he said that last week. The roster isn’t set until the regular season starts folks. That is three months away.
Before you hit the message boards and storm the beach, remember this. Sobe owes the Blues one year of service via his arbitration once he does decide to return to the NHL.
Vladimir Sobotka may have decided to leave, but he isn’t gone for good.
Thanks for reading,