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St. Louis Blues pickup of Kariya brings buzz back to NHL franchise

But that doesn't mean the franchise's next move will be balancing the ledger with the payroll now at about $44 million, or about $4 million higher than new ownership had projected. Team president John Davidson said Tuesday no corresponding transactions are planned, and added the franchise isn't out of the dwindling free agent market yet.

"Are we going to go out and trade people because we added Paul Kariya? No," Davidson said. "If we ice the team we have now for opening game, we're happy. But if something comes along that makes sense for us, we'll do it."

Kariya, 32, is the biggest free agent pickup for the Blues since Brendan Shanahan in 1991, and ranks with the short-term rental of Wayne Gretzky in 1996 as the bigger splashes made by the franchise in decades.

New ownership entering its second season took note of the buzz Kariya has created, taking out a two-page ad in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Tuesday and pledging to do "whatever it takes" to build a Stanley Cup contender.

"People are talking about him," Davidson said. "We competed last year, but this is something fresh. This is a very significant time for our franchise."

The Blues missed the playoffs the last two years after a remarkable run of 25 straight trips to the post-season, but surged after signing coach Andy Murray in mid-December. Adding Kariya, still one of the speediest players in the NHL and the Nashville Predators' leading scorer the previous two seasons, capped a busy weekend in which the Blues also reacquired centre Keith Tkachuk and re-signed defenceman Barret Jackman.

"I know we're a playoff team," Kariya said after donning a No. 9 jersey at his introductory news conference. "Let's go win a Cup."

Kariya announced a week ago his desire to leave the Predators, who are for sale and shedding talent, and quickly became the Blues' No. 1 target. He was attracted by the team's potential, and won over by numerous testimonials from the ownership group and players, present and past, who pointed out the many improvements on the ice along with a quality of life that has led dozens of ex-Blues to settle down in the city.

Forward Jay McClement, who wore No. 9, willingly surrendered his jersey to Kariya.

"When you're sitting there making decisions on where you want to go, you want to go to a team that really wants you," Kariya said. "All those things made it a very easy decision for me to make."

The Blues made an offer early Sunday and then had to wait it out while Kariya, who had been visiting relatives in Vancouver, flew to Anaheim after a lengthy airport delay. During the wait, the franchise decided against a backup plan.

"We decided we're just going to close down shop and wait," Davidson said. "It doesn't matter what else is out there, we want Paul Kariya.

"Finally we got the call and 'I want to be a St. Louis Blue.' Man, you should have seen the reaction in that room!"

Kariya isn't the 50-goal threat he once was, totalling 24 last year, although he finished with 76 points after racking up 85 points in 2005-06. The Blues prize him for his undiminished speed, work ethic, influence on younger players and potential impact on a power play that was dismal last season.

Kariya, a seven-time all-star, said he's in the "best shape of my career."

"I feel like my best hockey is ahead of me," Kariya said. "I never want to be playing this game if I'm not at the top of my game. It's a great situation here, a terrific fit, and I'm really excited to be a part of it."

Murray suggested that the way Kariya has been used may have held down his goal totals, and expects the number to ramp up with the Blues.

"He's scary," Murray said. "Every time he was on the ice you were worried because you knew something was going to happen, and you were just hoping your goaltender was sharp.

"He makes things happen on the ice and he's going to excite people."


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